Pellet vs. Gas grill: What’s the Difference? Which is better FOR YOU!

Gas grills have been increasingly popular as an alternative to messy charcoal grills, thanks to their convenience and easy cleanup.

The advent of clean-burning, cost-effective natural gas has further helped to propel the availability of gas grills to new heights.

Though some people complain that gas grills don’t impart the same smoky flavor that many people associated with grilled meat and barbecue.

In recent years, wood pellet grills have emerged as an alternative way to make smoky flavorful meat with maximum convenience. They use special wood pellets in an automated process to create smoke and heat to cook the meat via indirect heating.

If you are looking for a convenient way to take your outdoor cooking experience to the next level you might be wondering which is better a wood pellet grill or a gas grill?

The answer can depend on what you want to grill. If you just want to grill meat over a direct open flame, then a gas grill is probably the best answer for you as it can replicate just about anything a charcoal grill can. Though if you love smoky grilled food and you also like to barbecue on occasion, then the wood pellet grill might be the better option.

To find the right grilling option for you, we will need to roll up our sleeves and look at the strengths and weaknesses of gas grills and wood pellet grills.

What’s the Big Difference Between A Gas Grill & A Wood Pellet Grill?

There are several mechanical differences between a gas grill and a wood pellet grill, but the biggest one is how they produce heat.

With a gas grill, the hydrocarbon chains of propane or natural gas are ignited to release the stored chemical energy they hold. This flame can get extremely hot and cooks the meat via a direct heating method.

With a wood pellet grill, the wood pellets are delivered to an internal fire pot via an automated internal electric auger.

They are ignited by a small electric element and fed air by an internal fan.

The heat and smoke then rise up into the primary cooking chamber to cook the meat via an indirect heating method.

CATEGORY

GAS GRILL

WOOD PELLET GRILL

Cost

Varies but lower

Higher price for the comparable size

Cost Of Ownership

Relatively low

Higher cost for wood pellets

Convenience

For direct heat, gas is easier but inconvenient for smoking

Much more convenient as a smoker. Especially if the model has digital controls or an app.

Temperature Control

Somewhat less accurate

Very accurate, especially for models with digital controls.

Flavor

Inferior to charcoal

More smoky flavor

Temperature Range

Achieves Higher Temperature easier, but struggles to burn cleanly at low temperatures.

More consistent low-temperature range, but most models are can’t get as hot as a gas grill.

Weather

Strong winds can be a problem

Deep cold and strong winds can make it hard to maintain a consistent temperature

Maintenance

Minimal

Minimal, so long as you clean out the wood pellet hopper.

Ease To Clean

Most are easy to clean

Most models are designed to be easy to clean.

Capacity

Varies but similar to the same size of a wood pellet grill.

Varies but similar to a gas grill of the same size.

Versatility

Only really cooks on a direct flame.

Can be used as a smoker and a grill, especially models with an optional broiler plate.

Gas Grill Overview

Propane and natural gas grills both burn hydrocarbon gas to produce a flame. While some need to be ignited by a match or stick lighter, most of the best gas grills have some sort of internal ignition system that lets you fire up each burner element independently.

Most have heat tents or some type of metal diffuser over the burner elements to protect the flame ports.

When drippings land on the heat tents they tend to vaporize which adds a little smoky aroma.

Any grease, juices, or excess marinade that makes it past the heat tents and burner elements is then deposited into some type of grease collection bin or tray. 

Some of the best gas grills have sophisticated grease management systems that divert drippings to a collection cup for easy cleanup.

One of the arguable weaknesses of a gas grill is that they struggle to replicate indirect heating, which doesn’t make them a good option for backyard chefs who love barbecue.

With some of the larger models, you might be able to turn on a single burner element with a wood chip tray over it to produce some low-and-slow smoky heat.

Though this is more of an improvisation than it is a go-to way to produce competition level barbecue.

It’s also worth noting that propane grills in particular struggle to burn cleanly on low heat.

A yellow propane flame in particular tends to release some unburned hydrocarbon chains that can potentially alter the flavor of the meat.

Though this problem doesn’t happen with clean-burning natural gas grills.

Here are the best gas grills you can buy

Gas grills have been around for a long time, and some of the best grill manufacturers have spent decades engineering high-quality gas grills that are a good value. The following list is just the tip of the iceberg in this broad niche.

1. Weber Spirit II E-310 3-Burner Liquid Propane Grill

The Weber Spirit E-310 is just big enough to grill for a family, yet compact enough to not dominate your deck or patio space.

This gas grill is infused with Weber’s telltale quality and backed by a superior warranty. The three independent propane burners let you create dual heat zones across the porcelain-coated cast iron grill grates.

This lets you do things like hybrid grill a bone-in piece of chicken on low heat to cook it through, then move it to high heat to crisp and mark the skin.

2. Char-Broil Signature 425

Char-Broil made its name by offering quality grills at a price that was slightly less than some of the larger names in the industry like Weber.

This has garnered them a loyal following from models like the Signature 425. It largely features stainless steel construction and a cabinet base.

This model of the Signature has three burners in the primary firebox, as well as a side burner conveniently tucked into the right-hand side table.

This lets you cook your side dishes or boil water without having to run back and forth to the kitchen every few minutes.

3. Royal Gourmet SG6002 Cabinet Propane Gas Grill

The Royal Gourmet SG6002 is an astonishing value for a 6-burner stainless steel gas grill.

It has the size and capacity to really feed a large herd of people. Yet if you want to use it to grill a small weeknight supper for your family of three the burners can be independently controlled to heat up just a portion of the massive grill grate.

There’s even a side burner tucked into the right shelf to let you prepare your side dishes at the grill side.

Gas Grill Pros

Convenience – A natural gas grill stays permanently connected to a municipal line, and a propane grill’s tank will still last a long time.

Easy To Clean – Compared too charcoal gas grills are much easier to clean. Especially those with a built-in grease management system. There’s also zero ash unless you add wood chips to a foil bag for smoke.

Stainless Steel – More gas grills are made from stainless steel, which arguably looks better and is more corrosion resistant.

High Direct Heat – With most gas grills you can apply flame directly to the meat to sear it. Gas grills also tend to reach higher temperatures and preheat faster.

Optional Rotisserie – Some high-end gas grills come with or as set up to work with a rotisserie spit for roasting chicken and other bone-in meats.

Portability – There are a lot of portable gas grills that are easy to take with you. Even larger ones tend to be lighter and can be wheeled easily into storage.

Lower Price – In general most gas grills carry a smaller initial price tag than a wood pellet grill of the same size.

Gas Grill Cons

Not Good For Smoking – While you can place a foil pack of wood chips over a burner element for some added smokiness, a gas grill can rarely replicate true barbecue.

Propane Isn’t Clean Burning – Propane grills have a knack for not burning cleanly at low temperatures, which can give the meat an artificial “Butane Flavor.” Though natural gas grills don’t have this problem.

Natural Gas Isn’t Portable – Natural gas only has a third of the energy density of propane and must be connected to a municipal gas line, which limits the range to 10-feet or less.

Wind Problems – Some smaller gas grills can be prone to blowing out in a strong wind.

Wood Pellet Grill Overview

Wood pellet grills are a somewhat recent innovation in the grilling industry. They use prepared wood pellets produced from the excess shavings left behind by hardwood processors.

In a sense, they are more “Green” than gas grills that burn hydrocarbons leftover by refining oil into gasoline.

To use one, you first have to pour the wood pellets into a large hopper and plug the grill into a standard electric outlet.

Wood Pellet Grill Overview

You then need to set the target temperature and give the grill sufficient time to heat up. The wood pellets are delivered to an internal firepot by a small electric auger, where they are slowly burned by an electric element. An internal fan helps maintain the flame while also moving the smoke and heat up into the primary cooking chamber.

In this way, wood pellet grills act very much like an innovative smoker. They tend to produce indirect heat, which isn’t necessarily as good at searing pieces of meat.

If you are looking for a great steak house sear on a T-bone, chances are you will be underwhelmed by the results of a standard wood pellet grill.

Though you can get around this by putting a corrugated cast iron griddle in the wood pellet grill and cranking the temperature up to the max. After 15 to 20 minutes the cast iron will be hot enough to sear a steak.

It’s also worth noting that some wood pellet grills have sliding broiler plates.

This is a relatively new innovation, where you simply fire up the grill and use sturdy tongs to slide a metal plate at the bottom of the primary cooking chamber.

This essentially exposes the flame of the fire pot to let you grill directly over the heat and sear a piece of meat just like you would on a wood-fired direct heat grill.

Some wood pellet grill manufacturers also sell models with a built-in or optional gas grill installed on a side table.

If you want to make something like chicken leg quarters, you can slow smoke them to juicy perfection inside the primary cooking chamber, then take them out at the last second to sear and crisp the skin on the propane grill.

One of the big advantages of a wood pellet grill is that you can easily set it up to smoke a competition-level barbecue.

The temperature controls automate the entire process, letting you truly “Set It And Forget It.” There are even some wood pellet grills that have wireless companion apps that let you walk away from the grill, yet still stay informed about what’s going on under the lid.

Some barbecue purists argue that the wood pellets are largely made from oak, which isn’t always the preferred option for people who believe that beef brisket should be smoked with mesquite or that pork shoulders need to be smoked with applewood.

However, more and more wood pellet manufacturers are starting to offer wood pellets that have specialty woods infused directly into the pellet. This way you get true mesquite, hickory, or applewood smoke.

It’s also worth noting that the higher you turn up the temperature on a wood pellet grill the less smoke it will produce. You can factor this in with the type of meat you are preparing.

Some wood pellet grills even have a preheating mode that produces a lot of smoke at a low temperature before ramping it up to the higher heat.

That way you get greater smoke density even if you are making something like a steak or pork tenderloins.

Some Of The Best Wood Pellet Grills

1. Weber 23510001 SmokeFire EX6 Wood Fired Pellet Grill

Weber was arguably late coming to the wood pellet grill party.

Though this seemed to be intentional as their engineers took the time to pay attention to the competitor's foibles and create a machine that is superior in nearly every possible way.

The Weber Smoke Fire EX6 is the largest of their two wood pellet grill models.

It can range in temperature from as low as 200-degrees to as hot as 600-degrees Fahrenheit. 

This means that with proper preheating you can truly sear a steak on the massive grill grates.

It also has a specially engineered ventilation system that prevents ash from lifting through the smoke to land on the food.

The internal auger was also designed to run on DC, which gives it superior torque to help prevent accidental wood pellet jams.

2. Pit Boss Austin XL 1000 sq. in. Pellet Grill w/ Flame Broiler & Cooking Probe

Pit Boss is another high-quality grill manufacturer that has made its presence felt in the wood pellet grill niche.

One of the nice things about this version of the Pit Boss Austin XL is the broiler plate built into the lower portion of the smoking chamber.

You can simply slide the broiler plate over with tongs and you have access to direct flame for searing things like steaks and chops. 

Then a simple slide closes the broiler plate turning the Pit Boss Austin XL back into a traditional wood pellet grill.

3. Traeger Grills TFB89BLFC Grill Ironwood 885

Traeger was one of the first, if not the first name in wood pellet grills. As a pioneer, they have a solid reputation for material build quality.

Their Ironwood 885 is one of their larger models, which means you can cook for a small family on any given Tuesday night, but it still has the overall capacity to cook for a big family reunion on the weekends.

This model also comes with Traeger’s new WiFire wireless controls. 

This lets you sync with the digital control center to operate the Ironwood remotely via an intuitive smartphone app.

Wood Pellet Grill Pros

Accurate Temperature Controls – You set it to the temperature you want and the auger system maintains within 10 degrees +/- the target temp.

Smoky Flavor – The smoke produced by the indirect heating effect imparts a flavor that rivals or arguable exceeds charcoal.

Wide Temperature Range – The automated process of a wood pellet grill makes it possible to maintain consistent lower temperatures. Some can even get low enough to replicate “Cold Smoking” for sausages jerky and cheese.

Durable Build Quality – Wood pellet grills are typically made to be robust, and many are covered by superior warranty programs to give you greater buying confidence.

Capacity – A wood pellet grill is capable of thoroughly cooking more meat than a gas grill of the same size, as the “Warming Rack” can also double as a cooking grate, thanks to consistent temperature throughout the primary smoking chamber.

Cons Of A Wood Pellet Grill

Cost – Wood pellet grills have robust materials, sophisticated engineering, and a fair number of moving parts. All of which adds up to a higher initial purchase price.

Indirect Heat – Unless you improvise with some preheated cast iron, or the wood pellet grill has a sliding broiler plate, you won’t be able to get the same kind of steakhouse sear you get on a direct flame gas grill.

Ash – While most wood pellet grills burn efficiently, you will still have to deal with a modest amount of ash. Though some this just calls for letting everything cool down and sucking the ash out of the cold fire pot with a shop vac.

Assembly – Wood pellet grills often take longer to assemble than a gas grill of the same size. Though some models are designed to be easy to put together or come partially assembled.

Weight & Portability – Wood pellet grills are heavy and only a few have portable models that are still quite a load to lug around.

Comparing Gas Grills & Wood Pellet Grills Head To Head

Wood pellet grills and gas grills have several things in common and some features that are unique onto themselves.

To find out which type of grill is best for you it helps to compare them both side to side.

Initial Purchase Cost

Gas grills vary in size from small portable models to giant backyard kitchen drop-in grill heads. When you compare them to the relatively same size wood pellet grill, the gas grill generally carries a smaller price tag. Though there are some exceptions with premium models.

This is largely due to the sophisticated mechanical components in a wood pellet grill as well as the robust materials that go into them.

Cost Of Ownership

The cost of ownership for wood pellet grills is slightly higher than a propane burning gas grill and significantly higher than a natural gas burning grill.

In a per-unit cost wood pellets simply carry a higher price tag and you’re likely to go through them faster, especially in a long smoking session, or if you like to cook at high heat on your wood pellet grill.

Convenience

Natural gas grills are the most convenient type of gas grill, as you have natural gas available via a municipal line on demand. Propane grills are still convenient, though you will need to get replacement tanks or liquid propane from time to time. Otherwise, gas grills give you flame at a moment’s notice, with the twist of a knob or pressing an electronic ignition button.

Temperature Control

Wood pellet grills have more accurate temperature control. Especially those that come with a digital control system or a wireless companion app.

This is part of the engineering of these grills and their inherent automated internal auger process. Gas grills usually need closer monitoring to make sure the heat isn’t building up too much under the lid.

Flavor

Gas grills at high heat burn clean, especially natural gas grills. Though all you get is the inherent flavor of the meat itself with a little bit of fire-kissed flavor.

With a wood pellet grill, there is a lot more smoky flavor in the equation, which most people love.

Temperature Range

Gas grills tend to have a higher heat potential when cranked up to the max. Though they struggle to maintain lower temperatures.

In contrast, wood pellet grills excel at maintaining consistent temperatures throughout their range. 

Some are even capable of “Cold Smoking” temperatures.

A few high-end wood pellet grills can also produce the high temperatures of a gas grill, though they do tend to take more preheating time to get there.

Versatility

Gas grills tend to be less versatile than wood pellet grills as they are really only good at direct heat grilling.

With a wood pellet grill, you can smoke, bake, roast, and even braise. A wood pellet grill with a broiler plate can even sear meat with direct flame.

Weather Concerns

Small gas grills and gas grills with a shallow firebox can sometimes be prone to wind blowing out the flame. Wood pellet grills don’t have this concern, though if you are smoking on a cold or wet day, temperature control can be a little bit challenging.

Though you can combat thermal loss by covering the wood pellet grill with a grill blanket.

One area where the weather is a little less obvious factor is the influence of humidity on the wood pellets.

Left long enough in humid conditions the natural, water-soluble lignin binder in the wood pellet can break down. As this starts to happen it can jam the auger before your next smoking session.

If the local weather is humid, you should always remove the wood pellets from the hopper after every smoking session.

A lot of wood pellet grill manufacturers are aware of this and engineer their models with some type of pellet purge or hopper cleanout system.

Maintenance

Both gas and wood pellet grills are relatively easy to maintain. With a wood pellet grill, you need to give a little extra focus on keeping the thermal probes clean.

If soot and grease start to build upon a temperature probe it can greatly affect accuracy.

Ease To Clean

Wood pellets and gas grills are relatively easy to clean. Most gas grills have a grease management system that’s easy to pour out and then both need to have the grates scraped down.

With a wood pellet, there’s usually an external drippings cup. Some are disposable, others need to be poured out and washed.

Capacity

When you compare two models of a similar size, you will typically find the wood pellet grill can hold and cook more food at one time than gas grill.

This is thanks to the indirect heating effect that effectively lets you use the warming rack as additional cooking space.

Pellet Grill vs Gas Grill Frequently Asked Questions

Do Wood Pellets Have Chemical Binders?

The shavings used in wood pellets are typically bound with all-natural lignin. This is a water-soluble material already found in trees and many other large plants, and won’t produce any toxic smoke.

Though since lignin is water-soluble, it can break down during prolonged periods of high humidity. So, it’s a good idea to empty the hopper after every smoking session.

Does A Gas Grill Make Food Taste Strange?

Some lesser quality propane grills struggle to fully oxidize all the hydrocarbon chains emitted by the burner element. When this happens stray hydrocarbon particles float around the firebox and can land on the meat, imparting an artificial “Butane Flavor.” It typically only occurs at low temperatures when the flames are yellow.

Just make sure that your propane burner has a rich blue flame, before placing the meat over top. You should also note that this isn’t a problem with clean-burning natural gas.

So, if you are concerned about impurities in flavor, you might want to prioritize a natural gas grill over a propane-burning one.

Are Pellet Grills Better Than Gas?

There are strong arguments to be made for both gas and wood pellet grills. Though wood pellet grills tend to be more versatile, as they can smoke meats, bake, roast, and even braise. While the initial purchase price is a little higher and they have a slightly higher cost of ownership, wood pellet grills still offer superior versatility and long-term value.

Though if you aren’t interested in smoking meat, and you just want a high-quality grill to quickly make steaks and burners for supper, then there are definitely a lot of great gas grills on the market at nearly every price point.

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