Pellet smokers are relatively new to the market. They are quickly gaining a reputation an easy way to make great tasting wood fired smoked meat and foods. Simply load the hopper with wood pellets, set the temperature, and turn it on.
The self sustaining fire is automatically fed pellets at the proper rate to maintain perfect smoking temperatures. Imagine having all the benefits of a wood fired pit smoker with just a fraction of the work and mess.
You can find pellets made from your favorite smoking woods. Manufactures are even now producing spiced and flavored wood pellets. See if a clean and easy pellet smoker is right for you.
Pellet Unit Basics
Pictured here is the Traeger Lil’ Tex. It’s based on the classic Pit Smoker design. Other designs are modeled after cabinet smokers, or smoke and grill units. However, they all operate on the same basic principal.
Temperature is automatically controlled by the feed rate of wood pellets into the burn box. The higher the temperature setting the faster the pellets are fed. A ventilation fan brings air to the burning pellets, which then circulates through the smoking /grilling chamber.
The fan also creates “Convection Cooking,” similar to today’s popular convection ovens. This prevents hot spots and decreases cooking time.
Keep in mind, you need an electrical outlet for the initial lighting of the pellets, the motor driven feed-auger, and the blower fan.
Pellet smokers are extremely versatile. Most models can smoke, grill, and barbecue. Depending on the model there will be temperature settings. Expensive models have a full range temperature control, making them as easy to use as a Gas Smoker. With a maximum temperature of over 500 degrees they make fine grills as well.
Flavored wood pellets are now available. Imagine the incredible taste combinations possible when experimenting with pellets made from your favorite smoking woods with flavor added. Now add a pan of your favorite liquid to the smoking chamber! You get the picture.
Purchase and Operating Cost
Pellet smokers are expensive, for that money you buy a lot of convenience. However, they are coming down in price as more people get on the wagon. The Lil’ Tex pictured above has a suggested retail for under $700.00. So in the next year I would expect to see competitors models in the $500.00 range. That’s not bad for a decent pit style smoker.
One big consideration is that you are limited to using only smoker pellets as fuel. Right now they stand at under a dollar a pound. When you consider the convection cooking feature reduces cooking time, and fuel use, that’s not a bad price. Lil’ Tex uses around one-half pound per hour for smoking. An eight-hour smoke would cost under five bucks.
Care and Maintenance
Care and maintenance of these smokers is minimal. Occasionally empty the ash pan. Regularly inspect the burn box for cleanliness and clogged air holes. Clean the grates and surfaces as you would any gas smoker or grill. If it doesn’t come with a cover order one or have one made. This kind of investment deserves to be protected from the elements.
Is a Pellet Smoker Right for You?
The biggest factor is budget. If you can afford one it’s time to seriously consider if one is right for you. Not since the introduction of propane smokers has there been such excitement in the food smoking community.
The advantages are:
Convenience and easy use
Novices and pros can master them quickly
Temperature control is a breeze
Cooking time is reduced
The units are very clean and easy to maintain
Endless flavoring possibilities
The disadvantages are:
Cost, they are expensive
Limited portability, need an outlet
New on the market, what’s long term performance?
Limited fuel, must use pellets
After taking the pro’s and cons into account I think pellet smokers are a great idea that will only get better with time. I never had the confidence to lay out the money for a big pit smoker. With the arrival of these types of smokers I soon will.
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