What Is a Pellet Smoker? (Explained)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: June 20, 2024

With all the various products on the market, it can be hard to determine which barbeque style is the right one for you.

Fortunately, our team of grilling experts has some insight into one of the most popular cookers: pellet smokers!

With so many different brands of pellet smokers on the market, it is worth doing a deep dive to explore their other aspects.

Quick Summary

  • A pellet smoker is an outdoor stainless steel cooker that combines charcoal grillers, gas grillers, and ovens.
  • Pellet smokers are fuelled by wood pellets made of compressed wood. Various models provide extra features such as PID controllers, induction fans, and thermostats.
  • While wooden pellets may be safer than charcoal, a 2021 study on ScienceDirect, found burning wooden pellets produces contamination (from particulate matter) ranging between 0.2 and 12.5 vol %.
  • Pellet smokers are a good investment but expensive and require high maintenance.

How Do Pellet Smokers Work?

Grilling using a pellet smoker. Pellets and meats

Pellet smokers work by heating a cooking chamber, a firepot, which circulates heat and smoke via fans to create a convection cooking method.

The firepot lights wood pellets to produce heat while meat and other food items sit on a series of grill grates near the top of the cooking chamber.

When the fire pot is near depletion, a storage unit called a pellet hopper feeds more wood pellets into the cooking chamber by an auger pushing the pellets down a chute and into the firepot.

The heat is controlled by the user through airflow from fans.

This is done by various interfaces and feedback systems, depending on the model of the pellet smoker used.

The following link provides access to Tom Horseman's YouTube video “How Does A Pellet Grill Work?” and it'll help you visualize the process:


The Right Way to Use a Pellet Smoker

Top view of a pellet smoker

To get the most out of a pellet smoker, there are some essential tips that new owners should be aware of:

  1. Pellet smokers need to be cleaned and maintained. Grills should be cleaned before and after every use. You can achieve this by preheating the smoker for 15 minutes and then brushing the grates with a grill brush,
  2. Wood pellets burn cleaner than other types of fuel. As such, care should be taken to restock the pellet hopper with new pellets and old pellets removed,
  3. Although some pellet smokers come with a temperature probe, they are often of mediocre quality. Therefore, it is advisable to invest in a digital thermometer to measure heat for precise cooking accurately,
  4. Wood pellets come in a variety of materials. As such, users are encouraged to mix and match a variety of pellet combinations to achieve the desired smoke to complement specific meats,
  5. While pellet smokers are versatile, they do not get as hot as other outdoor cookers; therefore, a user should invest in a sear box attachment that allows for searing with wood pellets.

Also Read: How to Use a Smoker?

Pellet Smokers VS Other Outdoor Cookers

A smoker hopper filled with wood pellets

While pellet smokers are known for their ease of use and versatility, it is worth comparing them to other outdoor cookers to determine if you should purchase a pellet smoker over a gas or charcoal grill.

The primary difference between a pellet smoker and a gas grill is the flavors provided by a pellet smoker.

The smoke produced by wood pellets adds an extra layer of sweet, spicy, and smoky flavor to cooked food.

This smokiness and variety of flavors can be adjusted by using different types of wood pellets while also providing the added benefit of temperature control that cannot be accurately achieved with traditional gas grills.

While charcoal grills are known for their smoky flavor compared to gas grills, this is diminished in light of how a pellet smoker acts as a convection oven for a greater all-around smoky flavor.

Furthermore, while charcoal grillers can reach a high temperature, this isn’t easy to maintain for extended periods without removing the grill and reigniting the flames.

Pellet smokers thus have a distinct advantage over charcoal grills in terms of longer burn time, which helps maintain a steady temperature [1].

Some pellet grills even come with internal thermometers that integrate with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, allowing the user to monitor and control the heat remotely.

While wooden pellets may be safer than charcoal, a 2021 study on ScienceDirect, found burning wooden pellets produces contamination (from particulate matter) ranging between 0.2 and 12.5 vol % [2].

Tips for Shopping for the Ideal Pellet Smoker

Shopping online on a laptop while holding credit card

While the basic design of pellet smokers is relatively simple and standardized, there are some key considerations to look out for if you want to invest in such an expensive product:

  1. The pellet hopper is manual or has remote connectivity via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This is of particular importance for those wanting to do long, overnight cooking,
  2. The size of pellet smokers varies from portable to commercial-size models. Buyers should ensure they have ample outdoor space, accounting for smoke production and the usual number of people they intend on cooking for,
  3. While most brands have dependable pellet smokers, finding a seller that provides a warranty is still advisable. A standard warranty for a pellet smoker is two years,
  4. Pellet smokers are usually made of wrought iron or stainless steel. Despite the general quality of these materials, having an in-person inspection of any would-be purchase is worthwhile to ensure the smoker is of good quality.

Related Articles:


  1. https://jwoodscience.springeropen.com/counter/pdf/10.1007/s10086-009-1061-1.pdf
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S259016212100040X
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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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