Saturday, February 16, 2013
Selecting a Pellet Cooker
Purchasing a new pellet cooker presents somewhat of a challenge as there are now about 20-25 different manufactures or importers of these units and they come with many features that are desirable and make some of these units very easy to use and clean after each use and they also need to cook a fine product at many different temperatures. Features cost money and these cookers or grills will run from a low of about $300 dollars to a high of about $2800 dollars for a standard backyard size cooker that has most of the desirable features.
To help with your choice are a couple of pellet cooker forums although one of them is very biased and the other is somewhat biased but does have very good information and is helpful in finding the information on a particular pellet cooker. Finding unbiased reviews on these cookers can be difficult but there are a couple of other places on the web with good information and some reviews.
After a few months of study I will concede that the best of these cookers and there are about four of them are all American made and do have most of the features that are desirable to make the very best backyard pellet cooker. And of course....you will pay for all the features and the quality of a fine cooker / grill as all these American made cookers will run from about $2000 dollars and above depending on size and features.
Now, just what kind of features will the two grand get you in a new pellet grill??
Longevity...most of the best cookers are made out of all Stainless Steel or at least have their main running gear and most of their parts they are prone to rust made out of Stainless Steel.
Size...while 400 or above square inches of cooking space is nice, the height of the cooking chamber is very important in a pellet cooker. Some of the better cookers have above 13” in height in this cooking chamber and this will allow you to cook items like beer butt chicken or turkey. Might be enough room to add a rotisserie unit to the cooker. In most cases, with the addition of a second raised cooking grate, you might be able to double the square inches of cooking space inside the cooker. You like jerky...the 5 grid high jerky grid setup will fit inside this larger cooking chamber.
Digital Controller...the better cookers do have the better controllers and will maintain your set temp without big swings in temperatures and may also have features like a jack for a temperature probe for the meat. Some of them may compensate for colder weather and add more fuel during warm up or after loading the cooker. A good controller will have temp swings under 5-8 degrees at most temps.
Operating Temperatures...a lower operating temperature is great for items like smoking fish, sausage, jerky, and others at a range of say 150 degrees to about 190 degrees. A higher operating temperature of say above 600 degrees is great for steaks and chops. Again, you pay for the lows and highs of the temperature range on the better units.
Direct Cooking Grid...this is a device that is called by several names but is just an insert of some type that allows you to cook somewhat direct over the flame of the firebox to sear and cook steaks and chops at a very high temperature. This is a great feature as these cookers cook indirect and aren’t very good at high temp searing and grilling. In some units, this device is an option and costs extra.
Insulation...the better cookers are insulated or partially insulated. This is great for cooking in a colder climate as it cuts down on the fuel costs. Some of the lower cost units have thermal blanket covers that work about as well as the insulated cookers and do fit the cookers well. It’s much better than throwing a welding blanket over the cooker!
Warranty, Dealer, Support...read the warranty closely and understand how it works if you have a problem and these cookers do have several problems. Some of the cookers may have local dealers. Might be easier dealing with a local dealer than working thru a mail order place in Timbucktoo. Need a replacement part of some type...a local dealer is by far the best way to deal with any type of problem with these cookers. Check the pellet forums on the web about the warranties of the various cookers and how their problems are solved. Any cooker is only as good as it’s support.
Another Option...”The Best of the Rest”...stepping down in the price range to about $600 to $1000 dollars and you will find the majority of the cookers. Some of these are made in the USA but most are made offshore. There are a few jewels in this group in my opinion that will cook just great and have good support. A few of them have most of the seven above features that I feel make a great pellet cooker. I decided that two grand is just more than I wanted to pay and I selected one of them and will explain about it in another article.