Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill: What’s the Difference and Which to Choose?

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Last updatedLast updated: March 15, 2021
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Grilling is a summer-time staple. What’s better than firing up the grill, hanging out with friends, and at the end of the day, getting to enjoy a delicious meal? Before you can reach the finish line, however, you need to decide what tools you plan on using. This is where the debate between pellet grill vs gas grill comes up. Both types of grills have their own advantages and neither is superior to the other. Instead, each has their own abilities and it’s up to you to decide which one will best suit your needs. We’ll explain all the details of both a pellet grill and a gas grill so you can decide which will produce the feast you’re envisioning.

Overview table

Here is a brief overview of how gas grills and pellet grills stack up against each other.

Gas grillsPellet grills
Pros:
  • Many models to choose from
  • Price is affordable
  • Takes less time to cook
  • Able to control flavor better
  • Can set up grill and leave food to cook
  • Wood pellets are usually less expensive than propane
Cons:
  • Less flavor options
  • Propane is more expensive

 

  • Can’t achieve solid grill marks or good searing on meats
  • More expensive to purchase

How do they work?

Before we get into the nitty gritty and compare pellet grills with gas grills, let’s first examine how they work. While these two devices serve the same purpose, their construction is vastly different.

Gas grills

Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill: What's the Difference and Which to Choose?There’s a good chance that you either currently own a gas grill or have used one in your life. They are the most common types of grills and the go-to when looking for a grill.

Gas grills need gas to power them, usually propane, although some can also be hooked up to a home’s natural gas source. The propane is then slowly released and after a flame is used to start the fire, continues to burn until you turn off the gas source.

Because gas grills are the standard grilling option, there are many models to choose from. You can find single burner ones or massive six or eight burner options.

Pellet grills

Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill: What's the Difference and Which to Choose?Pellet grills, you might have guessed, use pellets. However, while the pellets do work to cook and flavor the meat, you also need an electrical source to power the entire grill. The electricity works to power a convection fan that helps evenly distribute the heat.

One important part of a pellet grill is the hopper. This is usually at the side of the main grill and can look like a funnel. Pellets are placed into the hopper, and then they are distributed into an auger, which then directs the pellets into the heating element, also known as a firepot.

Once in the firepot, the pellets are ignited, thus becoming an important heat source. Because the pellets are made from wood, they also give off smoke which in turns flavors the meat you are cooking.

Finally, the convection fan comes into play at this stage. The fan controls the heat and allows you to indirectly cook your meat, rather than provide direct heat, like a grill will. Thus, you can slow cook your food, allowing more flavor from the smoke to penetrate it.

Pellet grills vs. gas grills: the comparison

Not that we’re all familiar with how pellet grills and gas grills operate, it’s time to get into the specifics of how they compare.

Food flavor

By far, the biggest reason that people invest in a pellet grill is to flavor their food. Pellet grills use wood pellets and the beauty is that you can purchase pellets specific to what you want your flavors to be. For example, if you love a smokier taste, try mesquite pellets. Or, if you want a subtle, earthy flavor, try cedar pellets.

Furthermore, with pellets, you can match the type of wood with the types of meat you are grilling, for a truly delicious flavor outcome.

With gas grills, the flavor of your food is entirely dependent on how you season your meat. While you can certainly add marinades and spice rubs, ultimately, a gas grill will only cook what you want it to cook. Therefore, more detail needs to be attached to the preparation side of grilling.

Another factor that can affect taste is that he grilling methods are quite different. Pellet grills are usually used to slowly cook meat so you will get more even cook throughout. On the other hand, gas grills usually use high heat which will sear the outside into a crispier texture. Then, inside can be more challenging to reach the desired temperature and doneness.

Many amateur grillers will start by burning their meat and leaving it underdone in the middle, before realizing that more attention needs to be paid through the entire cooking process. Those that use pellet grills, however, have a more relaxed cooking experience. They can simply fill the hopper with wood pellets and relax knowing their meat is slowly being cooked to perfection.

Ease of use

Pellet grills may look more complicated to use but that is only because gas grills are the norm, and so are more common. Once you understand how a pellet grill works, using it becomes quite easy. The main thing to know about pellet grills is that the type of pellets will determine the smoky flavor of your meat.

Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill: What's the Difference and Which to Choose?Gas grills are straightforward to use, as well. The most overwhelming step may be in getting the propane to light but after a few tries this becomes the norm. Once your gas grill is lit, you may have to monitor your meat, making sure that the temperature is not too hot to burn everything. Furthermore, you may need to experience taking you meat off the direct heat source and letting it cook further on a warming rack.

Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill: What's the Difference and Which to Choose?One aspect that gas grills and pellet grills have in common is that they both need a fuel source. There’s nothing worse than being mid-grill only to find that you’ve run out of either propane of wood pellets. Always make sure you have an adequate supply of either fuel source so that you can grill to perfection.

Safety

Overall, pellet grills are a bit safer than gas grills. This is because of the danger that propane or natural gas poses. While gas grills will have plenty of safety features in them, at the end of the day, the safety of your gas grill is entirely up to you.

Too often, people forget to turn off the propane line after they are done grilling. Or, children might be playing around the grill and accidentally turn the valve. If propane is leaking, all it takes is one spark to cause an explosion. It’s important to both turn the dial off on a gas grill and turn off the actual source of the propane. This way you are better covered against accidental leaks.

With pellet grills, once the fire is out, there is little risk of an accident happening. Without a fuel source in the form of wood pellets, a pellet grill is harmless. The only thing to think about is with the ashes as they can remain quite hot and need to be disposed of safely.

Carcinogenic

There is a belief that grilling meat is carcinogenic, in that the process may cause cancer. Basically, as the  fat drips down into the flames, it then coats the meat above, which can increase the risk of cancer. While there have been many studies around this, the evidence is that it is nominal and shouldn’t be a concern if you occasionally grill.

Wood pellets may decrease this risk as pellet grills don’t reach the high temperatures that gas grills do. If this is a particular concern for you, then pellet grills may be the better option.

Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill: What's the Difference and Which to Choose?Versatility

While gas grills and pellet grills are definitely made for different purposes (grilling vs smoking) one does have a bit of an advantage.

With a pellet grill, you can really only use pellets to smoke and slow grill food. Because there is no other heat source, you have to rely on the low temperature of burning pellets. However, some smokers are able to reach high temperatures, some as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit. With this high temperature, there are more ways to cook meat.

The caveat with smokers is that while high heat is achievable, it just won’t be the same as with a grill. There are some foods that just need to be grilled on a gas grill and if you try to cook them on a pellet grill, you could end up ruining a really nice cut of meat.

With a gas grill, while its primary function is grilling, it is possible to adapt it into a smoker. Technically, you could add wood pellets to a conventional grill, which will provide a smoky taste to your meats. Furthermore, there is the option to turn down the temperature of a grill, close the lid, and slow cook meat. Also, most grills will have warming racks or more than one burner so you can place meat in the grill without having to put it on direct heat.

Price

It shouldn’t surprise you that gas grills are a lot cheaper than pellet grills. Part of this is because there are just more gas grills on the market and thus you can find a grill that is well within your budget. Sure, there are behemoth grills that can cook enough for the whole neighborhood, but there are also small grill, like the Weber Spirit, that is perfect for a simple date night.

Gas grills use pretty simple technology so their costs are lower. You can even find gas grills under $100.

On the other hand, pellet grills are more expensive. Again, there are just less models to choose from. While a grill company will have multiple types of gas grills to choose from, they may have just one or two pellet grills in stock.

Furthermore, the technology behind pellet grills is a bit more complicated. There needs to be the right balance in feeding the pellets to the heated area and so you can expect to pay more of a premium for pellet grills.

Portability

The issue of portability is a bit hard to judge but overall, gas grills win in this category. The reason is that pellet grills have both the grill area and the pellet hopper. Ideally, they should be set up in one spot and left there.

Gas grills, however, are more portable because there are less parts. However, size is a huge issue in this category. If you have a small grill, then it will definitely be the most portable. Just remember that not all gas grills are the same and there are some that are incredibly large. If you have a wide gas grill it will definitely not be portable, and similar to a pellet grill, you will want to find one place in your backyard and keep it there.

The one good thing about both gas grills and pellet grills is that as long as they are not too big, they should have two wheels on one side to move them. For example, the Z Grills has two movable wheels and two solid legs. So, the portability of either grill may come down to your strength and how willing you are to actually move them.

Ease of ignition

Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill: What's the Difference and Which to Choose?When it comes to how easy it is to get either a pellet grill or a gas grill started, they are actually about the same. Thanks to every-advancing technology, both types of grills can start with the press of a button. While an initial flame is still needed, such as a long match or a piece of paper, there is little risk that you will burn your eyebrows off.

Fuel cost

It may seem like wood pellets are the more expensive fuel source but in actuality they are created to be long-lasting and can actually be cheaper in the long run than propane.

The biggest thing to consider with propane is that its price really varies by region. In some places, propane is incredibly expensive, with in others it is a lot cheaper. Furthermore, propane can fluctuate throughout the year and is not as consistent as the price of wood chips.

If you have a gas grill and are able to hook it up to a natural gas line, then this is the cheapest fuel source option. While it still depends on where you live, almost always, natural gas is the cheaper option.

Cleaning

While on the outset it might look like pellet grills have more cleaning to do, really, they’re pretty easy thanks to new designs. Pellet grills should come with an ash tray as once the pellets burn down to ash, this needs to be removed. Thankfully, most models have an easy to remove tray that can be quickly sprayed down with a hose and re-inserted.

Both gas grills and pellet grills will need to have their actual grills cleaned. However, there are plenty of BBQ brushes that allow you to clean off any gristle or fat.

Final thoughts

Grilling is both a past time and an art form. You want to have the perfect flavorings, enough food for everyone, and the ability to craft exactly what you want. To do so, you need to invest in the right equipment, and that involves the perfect grill. Gas grills are the mainstay and come in all different sizes with plenty of accessories. They can grill both steaks and veggies and allow you a lot of versatility in what you’re cooking. Pellet grills provide a slower cooking time and the chance to add a smoky flavor to your meat. They require less cooking maintenance. When it comes to deciding pellet grill vs gas grill, the choice can be difficult. If you just can’t choose, remember that many people decide to throw in the towel and purchase both, just in case.

 

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