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Best Pellet Grill of 2023

This group of quality pellet grills cook with plenty of wood-fired flavor.

One of the best ways to satisfy your backyard cookout cravings is to invest in a pellet grill. These contraptions merge the smokey goodness you get from cooking over a campfire or charcoal with the automatic ease of gas.

These days however, store shelves are lined with tons of options. That can make choosing a grill model that's right for you tricky. Don't worry, though. I've gathered some of the most popular pellet grills and put them to the test.

Multiple rounds of burgers, chicken, and ribs later, I've settled on my favorite picks. So if you've been mulling over a pellet grill from Traeger, Weber, Z Grills or others, you've come to the right place. This list is updated periodically. (You can also check out our tips for becoming a grilling expert and the best grilling tools and gadgets you can buy this season.)

Chris Monroe/CNET

I'm just as impressed with this Traeger wood-fired pellet grill today as I was a few years ago. Whether searing at high heat or smoking low and slow, the Timberline 850 exerts tight control over its cooking temperature.

It's also well insulated against the elements. That means you can operate this grill in any weather, be it in snow, rain or blazing sunshine. It's an extremely efficient grill too, burning through pellets relatively slowly.

Best of all, everything I cooked inside the Timberline came out with a deliciously smokey flavor. That includes barbecue standards like pork ribs and beef brisket. The Traeger also elevated more mundane fare. For example, burgers were lightly seared yet juicy inside. Likewise, roasted chicken had nicely crisp skin and tender meat.

There are hundreds of recipes within Traeger's library too. All are accessible through the company's mobile app. And when linked to Wi-Fi, the grill can run these recipes as cooking programs on command right from your phone. 

Brian Bennett/CNET

The SmokeFire Stealth Edition is Weber's latest iteration of its SmokeFire line of pellet grills. Revamped for 2022, this model sports an almost all black exterior save for a few silver highlights. The Stealth Edition is also equipped with a built-in lighting system for cooking under the cover of darkness.

The SmokeFire EPX6 provides more cooking area to work with than the Traeger Timberline 850 as well (1,008 square inches as opposed to 850). That said, the SmokeFire didn't demonstrate as much control over its internal temperatures, keeping it from the top spot on this list.

This was especially noticeable while cooking low and slow for barbecue. During these cooks, heat levels at times oscillated between 15 to 20 degrees above my target temperature (225 F). Even so, pork ribs cooked on the Weber had lots of delicious smoky flavor.

This tendency to run hot did have some advantages, though. When I set the grill for 400 degrees F, the SmokeFire roasted a 5-pound whole chicken in 58 minutes. It was also hands-down the best tasting bird I've ever personally cooked this way on a pellet grill. The skin was fantastically crisp yet phenomenally juicy.

The Smokefire also managed to give a decent sear to burgers. At its highest heat setting though, the grill slightly overcooked the interior of these patties.

Brian Bennett/CNET

You don't have to spend an exorbitant amount of cash to net a quality pellet grill. A perfect example of this is the Z Grills 700D4E. Despite its relatively low price, this backyard cooker offers quite a bit.

The grill handled low and slow cooks well, staying within about 10 degrees of my target temperature (225 F) for hours on end. Pork ribs I cooked this way were tender and packed plenty of smoke flavor.

Chicken I roasted on the Z Grills 700D4E wasn't bad either. While its skin was nowhere near as crisp as I like, the meat was tasty and not overdone. With a maximum temperature of 450 degrees F though, searing burgers isn't this grill's strength. While these patties were juicy and cooked through, they had virtually no crust to speak of. 

Z Grills does bundle some nice extras with the grill. These include a pair heat-resistant gloves plus two meat temperature probes.

Other models we've tested

Cuisinart Woodcreek 4 in 1 Pellet Grill

This $497 Cuisinart model is even more affordable than the Z Grills 700D4E. It offers a sizable 862 square inches of cooking space too. Even so, it burned through its Cuisinart-branded pellets faster than other grills consumed their own fuel. The grill also couldn't manage to sear my test burgers either. 

Weber SmokeFire EX6 (2021 model)

The $1,299 second-gen SmokeFire EX6 from 2021 is a decent pellet grill option. However, I recommend the newer SmokeFire EX6 Stealth Edition model. Not only does the Stealth come with grill lighting, it also lacks the pellet flow issues I encountered on the EX6 from 2021.

How we test pellet grills

To determine the best pellet grill and figure out just how these products perform under a variety of cooking scenarios, we conduct three tests. Based on different meats, methods and heat settings, these tests show us how efficiently and evenly a grill does (or doesn't) cook.

Smoking pork ribs low and slow is a perfect test for pellet grills.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Ribs

We wired each grill with a sensitive thermocouple thermometer at grate level. This sensor is also attached to a laptop running data logging software.

Nicely smoked ribs should be juicy, tender, and deliciously smokey.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Next we ignite the grill and set the temperature to 225 degrees F and start recording. Then we remove the outer membrane on a rack of pork back ribs and season it with an all-purpose rub we use for ribs and chicken. Once the grill's thermometer reports that it has hit our desired temp, we place it on the grates for at least three hours with the lid closed the entire time.

We roast whole chickens while testing pellet grills.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Chicken

To test a midrange cook time at medium heat settings, we grill a whole chicken at 400 degrees F. Once we've trimmed and seasoned the bird, we insert one temperature probe into each chicken breast, for a total of two probes per chicken. To keep our results as fair as possible, all the chickens are as close as possible to 5.5 pounds.

These temperature probes are connected to a data logger and laptop with software that records the internal temperature of each chicken breast. Each chicken cooks until the temperature in both breasts reaches a food-safe 165 degrees F. We also record the temperature at grill grate height. Grilled chicken should have a crispy skin and meat that is cooked through fully but not dry.

Cooking burgers at high heat helps us see how a pellet grill sears meat.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Burgers

Burgers are our final test for our grill reviews. We measure out 5.3 ounces of 80/20 ground beef and press them into uniform patties. Those patties go into a grill basket and we insert a temperature probe into the center of each patty at a 45-degree angle.

With the grill preheated for 10 minutes at its highest temperature setting, the basket goes onto the grill. After six minutes of cooking, we flip the basket and monitor internal temperature. Once the last burger in the basket reaches 145 degrees F, the batch is finished. A good burger in this test is one that has both a nice outside char and a slightly pink center.

Burger testing points out any hot spots across the grill's cooking surface if one burger consistently reaches 145 F before the others in every round.

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