For a long time, choosing a grill for most people was all about deciding to go for either a gas or charcoal model. But with the coming of new types, the choice is much wider than this.
One of the most common choices that many BBQ lovers will be forced to make nowadays is whether to go for the pellet or charcoal grills.
Both types are quite popular as more and more barbecue enthusiasts prefer them for their ability to give foods a nice smoky flavor.
However, these two grills will cook differently and as much as they have many similar features, they also have several differences which should help you decide which one to buy.
Here we highlight what each of these amazing grills has to offer and how it works, its pros and cons and also provide an in-depth comparison to help barbecue lovers decide which one to buy.
Pellet Grill Overview
Pellet grills are one of the new kids in the grilling world, but despite not having been around very long, they are slowly gaining a massive following as more and more people opt for them over the many other types.
These grills are mostly electric grills that are designed to heat the food using compressed wood pellets which besides providing more even heat distribution also produce lots of smoke to give the food an extra flavor kick.
Also, pellet grills will have digital temperature control that makes it easy for users to regulate the temperature more precisely. While they are ideal for both grilling and smoking, they tend to be better suited for smoking.
Unlike charcoal types such as the briquettes, pellets will not have any additives, and so they will burn up cleanly and completely leaving behind little ash for easier cleanup.
However, these grills tend to be quite expensive to buy and pellets are often pricier when compared to both briquette and lump charcoals.
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- Delivers a delightful smoky flavor
- Fairly easy to use
- Highly precise temperature control
- More fuel-efficient
- Relatively easier to clean
- Pricier to buy
- Relatively higher fuel costs
- Requires plugging into work
Charcoal Grill Overview
Anyone looking for a classic grill that makes some amazing foods whether you are grilling or smoking food, the charcoal grill is the best option.
This traditional grill type uses either briquette or lump charcoal, and like the pellets grills, these fuel sources will not only cook the food well but will also give it a nice smoky flavor.
Cooking on a charcoal grill takes some practice because unlike the pellet grill, there are no electric components to help with lighting and temperature control. While lump charcoals light up quite fast, briquettes will take more time and effort.
Cleaning up charcoal grills can be hectic especially if you are using briquettes as your fuel source because most have a lot of additives that leave a huge pile of ash behind.
But, overall charcoal grills cook at higher temperatures than the pellet grills which makes them more ideal for grilling and searing foods than for smoking, but they can also smoke food fairly well.
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- Gives food a strong, smoky flavor
- Cheaper to buy and operate
- Most models are lightweight and more portable
- Attains higher cooking temperatures
- Temperature control is harder
- Takes more effort and time to light
- Can be quite messy
Food-grade wood pellets
Lump charcoal or briquettes
Impact on Flavor
Mild smoky flavor
Strong smoky flavor
Up to 500°F
Up to 800°F
Ease of Use
Takes a little more effort
Maximum Run Time
$350 to $1,300
$30 to $300
Pellet Grill vs. Charcoal Grill
With a pellet or charcoal grill, you can always be confident of making some delicious foods with a distinct smoky flavor. But, the similarities probably end there as these are quite different grills, and here are some of their key differences.
1. Fuel Source
The fuel source is what sets these two grill types apart because while both use wood-based fuel sources, the wood is in different forms, and will hence burn differently.
As their name implies, the pellet grills are designed to use compressed food-grade pellets that burn slowly and evenly and will be great for smoking meats. Also, the pellets are available in different varieties based on the wood type used.
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The charcoal grills, on the other hand, can either be powered by lump charcoal which is a natural fuel source made by heating leftover wood or logs in minimal oxygen conditions or briquettes which are more like pellets but larger and made by mixing sawdust with other additives.
2. Impact on Flavor
One of the reasons why pellet and charcoal grills are highly popular is the distinct smoky flavor that they will give food which is something you cannot get with any other grill type.
While both grills produce enough smoke to add flavor to the foods, the resultant flavor that you get with the two grill types is not entirely the same.
When using the pellet grill, you will get a mild smoky flavor as they will not be as smoky as charcoal. But, with charcoal, on the other hand, you can be confident of getting a strong smoky flavor, and it is easy to tell that the food was grilled over charcoal thanks to the unmistakable smell and taste.
Also, adding some wood chips or chunks to the fired-up charcoal grill can deliver an even stronger smoky flavor than what you would get with a pellet grill.
3. Temperature Range
Temperature range matters a lot when it comes to grills as it is the key determinant of what you can and cannot cook on the grill and also the cooking speed.
A typical pellet grill can cook at temperatures as low as 200 degrees or as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit which means besides being perfect for low and slow cooking, it is also good enough for grilling.
With the charcoal grills, on the other hand, you can easily get up to the 800-degree mark which makes them perfect for high and fast cooking such as searing and grilling. If you are using briquettes instead of lump charcoal, you can also easily do slow and low cooking as you would with pellet grills.
4. Temperature Control
Besides being able to get high or low enough temperatures, you also need to be able to regulate the temperature easily. But, when it comes to temperature control, the pellet grills will outperform charcoal ones.
Pellet grills make use of digital or electric temperature control that is both easy to use and more precise. With these grills, temperature control only requires you to turn a dial.
Controlling the temperature is also possible with charcoal grills, but it is not very precise, and it will take more effort as you will need to master how much to open up or close the air vents.
4. Ease of Use
Pellet grills also seem to have an edge over the charcoal ones when it comes to the ease of use. With most of these grills, using one is all about adding pellets to the side hopper, setting your desired temperature and firing it up to heat up before you can start cooking.
When cooking with a charcoal grill, there will be relatively more work involved. First getting the charcoal to light up, and this is more so when using the briquettes will take more time and effort. Secondly, getting the precise temperature you want for cooking or grilling will be a hectic task.
Charcoal grills can take up to 30 minutes to be ready to cook while the pellet models will hardly ever take more than 10 minutes to get ready which also shows they will give you an easier time.
5. Maximum Run Time
The average run time with both of these grills will depend on various factors such as the cooking temperature and also the particular charcoal or pellet type you are using.
However, with typical pellets, you can expect to get a maximum run time of up to 8 hours when low and slow cooking. And in case you run low on pellets when still cooking, adding more will be as easy as opening the side hopper and pouring some in.
Charcoal grills, on the other hand, will have a surprisingly long run time than pellet grills whether you are using lump charcoal or briquettes. For low and slow cooking, you can easily achieve up to 12 hours of run time when using charcoal. But, it is still possible to burn through your charcoal in as little as 1 hour if you are cooking high and fast.
6. Average Costs
When it comes to the costs, the pellet grills are generally more expensive to buy and operate than charcoal grills.
To get a good pellet grill, you will have to part with at least $350, and the prices can go up to $1,300 or even more, but for the charcoal grills, you can get a basic model for as little as $30 and even the larger and more feature-rich ones will hardly retail for more than $300.
When it comes to the operating costs, this will typically depend on the wood pellet and charcoal type you are using.
Some brands of wood pellets can be quite pricey which means you will have higher operating costs. On the other hand, lump charcoal is also relatively pricey, but if you are using the more affordable briquettes, running a charcoal grill will be more economical.
Although both pellet and charcoal grills are quite versatile and effective at grilling, they are quite distinct in features and performance, and will hence be ideal for different kinds of situation and individuals.
If you are looking for an easy-to-use grill that will not require more input from you and still provides a nice smoky flavor, the pellet grill is your best bet. Also, if you cook low and slow or smoke foods a lot, go for the pellet grill.
However, if you are one of those barbecue lovers that prefer a more traditional hands-on approach to barbecuing and are also looking for something that will give you a strong smoky flavor, the charcoal grills are your best bet. Charcoal grills will also be more appropriate for fast and high heat cooking thanks to the higher burning temperatures.
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