Author Topic: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER  (Read 211 times)

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Offline Hub

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EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #-1 on: December 04, 2017, 02:58:32 AM »
Pellet cookers are expanding in popularity, but mistakes are being made . . .

A post by a new member who was trying to decide which pellet cooker to buy gave me pause to think about his dilemma.  I’ve authored articles about pellet cooking for several years, been a moderator of a pellet cooking website, and a strong proponent of the pellet heat source for almost a decade.  I’ve seen a lot of people make mistakes using pellet cookers and I’ve also known some that have made mistakes buying them.  So, I made a list that should be useful if you’ve decided to make the leap to this modern cooking medium and I’ll share it for fun and utility.

I don’t have any sponsors or agendas other than just liking pellet cooking.  I don’t have a favorite brand, but I own two different pellet cookers, very different from each other in looks and usefulness.  I like them both.  If I were to buy a new one tomorrow (not likely) I’d make myself think through this:

One.  Size and Capacity


Fact:  You can cook a small meal on a big cooker but you can’t cook a big meal on a small cooker.  Barbecue is slow food and, except for fast grilling (e.g. burgers), doesn’t lend itself well to multiple small batches.  If you know you’ll occasionally need a big cooker, get one.

Will it cost more?  Yes.  Will it consume more pellets?  Yes.  But unless you’ve got a friend who’ll loan you another when you need extra capacity, buying it up front makes more sense than buying a small cooker, regretting it, selling it, and buying a larger one.  Looking back over the years I probably use around 50-60% of my cookers’ capacities at any one time.  But, many times, I’ve filled them up.  No regrets.

Two.  Heat Range

Similar to capacity above, this is something you may not need often but there’s no substitute for it when you need it.  Think about what you’re going to cook and how.  Wide heat range costs extra and specialized, dedicated cooking abilities do, too.  If you want to sear steaks you’ll need a pellet machine that can get mighty hot (and burn a lot of pellets doing it).  If you’re mainly going to be smoking critter chunks, that extra heat won’t be used (smoking is low temperature work).

Looking back again, I think I do a lot more smoking than searing or grilling but one of my cookers is a great searing machine and I’ve used it there quite a few times.  If I didn’t have it I’d have to fire up some other cooker like a charcoal grill or a gasser to do the hot work.  Flexibility is nice but isn’t free.  My wide-range pellet cooker is a premium machine.  You might not need one or may not see the need for it often enough to justify the cost. 

Three.  Heat Control

The greatest improvement I’ve seen in pellet cooker manufacturing in the last few years is in the controller – the device that tells the auger to add pellets and may also do some other things depending on the design.  Early controllers were “loosey goosey” about this but still got it done well enough to produce great groceries for the users who learned their quirks.  Newer ones have gotten smarter but there’s still a cost for high accuracy.

Skipping all the technical hoo-hah, some pellet cooker manufacturers employ higher technology in the controller and skimp on other aspects to control costs.  Some provide great controllers and great construction (read that high cost and proud of it).  Some provide just the basic control and quality and aim at the bottom of the price ranges.  What fits you?

Some of this is, honestly, ego.  Some of it is love of precision.  Some of it is budget.  But, there is a practical side.  A good controller will cause a cooker to heat up to desired temperature faster, hold it better if you are a frequent lid-lifter, change temperatures more gracefully, smoke more and more frequently, and satisfy your “need for speed” pellet-wise much better than a “standard” or less advanced controller.  You get what you pay for.

Four.  Efficiency

This really means pellet consumption per unit of time for degree of temperature.  Pellet cookers lose heat through their skins and up their stacks or out their vents just like any other type of cooker.  Not all the heat gets used to cook.

If you read the ads and web pages you’ll see some cooker manufacturers are serious about insulation and some aren’t.  This may or may not mean anything to you and there are ways to get around the problem.  Like size and control, there’s a cost to it.

If you live in a cold climate and still like to cook in the colder times of the year you’ll likely be happier with a well-insulated cooker.  You’ll just flat use less fuel to do it.  Whether it will be worth the extra cost depends on how hot you cook and how often, but you’ll likely enjoy not getting the heebie-jeebies watching the hopper level decline quickly on a cold day.  If you live in more temperate climes, this isn’t such a big deal.

Cheap solution:  Welding blanket.  One of my cookers isn’t insulated at all.  For about twenty bucks I found a welding blanket that just fits over the chamber.  I’ve used it on a few cold days and nights.  It keeps the heat in. 

Five.  The Quality/Cost Trade-Off


Do you get what you pay for?  Pretty much but the relationship is relative and not exactly linear.  I’ve always maintained that a good cook can do fabulous grub on a cheap pit.  Likewise, a poor cook can ruin the meat on a costly cooker.  It’s our skills as cooks far more than our equipment that determine whether tasty stuff hits the table.  But . . .

Barbecue cooks, like golfers and fishermen know the value of the gadget, right?  If one wishes to drive from point A to point B it can be done in a Yugo or a Rolls Royce.  What amount of money are you willing to part with, and for what?  As a general rule, more money gets you more quality and that translates to durability, style, capability, and good old ego-pleasing class in some cases.

Less expensive pellet cookers are made of thinner metal, have less or no insulation, often less capable controllers and few or no gee-gaws and blippits to ooh and aah over.  More expensive ones are robust of construction, generally well insulated, have high-tech controls, and knobs/swtiches/buttons befitting their price tags.  Name your madness.  How fat is your wallet?  Do the kids need new shoes?

Six.  Bells and Whistles


Every pellet cooker will give you a pellet hopper, a controller, a fire pot, and some sort of grid or shelf arrangement, but other things are possible.  Add-ons, options, upgrades, and improvements exist and may or may not be a part of the deal depending on how the manufacturer views them.

Some models feature specialized “cold” smoke drawers for things like nuts and cheeses.  Some have arrangements for faster pellet flavor changes, facilitating emptying hoppers and augers.  Controller upgrades are common and relatively inexpensive, particularly for certain brands.  All-weather covers abound in the aftermarket as well as from the manufacturers.  Specialized searing burners are a common feature for some.  Built-in temperature probes and sensors linked to the controller keep things roasting, toasting and “parked” after they’re done.  Remote control by cell phone is popular.   Forums are full of modifications, too.

So, what do you need “extra” and what do you have to have “added” to make your cooker the best that it can be for you?  It’s all out there.  Just write a bigger check.

Seven.  Reputation

What folks talk about and what they say and report concerning how cookers work abounds on the Internet forums.  Some manufacturers seem to have attained “lofty” status or great general popularity and that attribute becomes important for some.  Is it important to you? 

The only problem with perceived status or exclusive ability in a pellet cooker is that everyone who owns one purports their brand and model to be the very best or at least close to perfection.  Brand loyalties run high, particularly for one or two very popular cookers.  Can you be a maverick and not follow the crowd or are you happiest when you’re in “good company” with your purchase?

A couple of brands are “notorious” for malfunctioning bits and/or for having to come through several product innovation cycles before getting it right.  Those foofaraws have been fixed but the echo of them remains.  Can you live with a tainted name on the lid?

There are several manufacturers who don’t advertise a lot or promote in the forums, but that make an excellent product.  Does “famous” matter to you?

None of this is silly or not applicable.  Reputation sells more goods and services than advertising.

Eight.  Looks

No, I’m not kidding.  Some pellet cookers look like purpose-built smokers.  Some look like drums, both vertical and horizontal.  Some are square.  Some have smokestacks and some use vents, instead.  Some are shiny stainless steel.  Some are brightly colored.  Some look like refrigerators.

Is any of this styling important to your future satisfaction?  I once overhead a competition barbeque cook at a contest say he’d like to have a particular brand of cooker but just couldn’t put up with the way it looked.  Image sells cookers just like reputation does.

Recap

You can get into pellet cooking for a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars.  Most new pellet cooker buyers seem to gravitate somewhere between those extremes.  Money will get you what you want it to get you, but what’s more important is your cooker’s fit to your situation, space, and menu.

Good luck.  My experience with pellet cooker buyers has been that too many are impulse purchasers or buy them out of curiosity later to discover that they’ve made a mistake.  They really needed something else, maybe not even a pellet cooker but some other type.

Try this.  First be sure you want to cook with pellets.  I’d suggest reading my two articles on how pellet cookers work and how to get the most out of them.  If you’re still okay after that . . .

•   Get the biggest one you can for your budget
•   Get the one that fits your grocery list
•   Get the one that most satisfies you technically
•   Get the one that fits your ego
•   Get the one that satisfies you most overall
•   Don’t get the one that everyone else did just because they said it was best

Happy pellet cooker shopping . . .

Hub
« Last Edit: December 04, 2017, 03:18:44 AM by Hub »
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Offline Old Dave

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Hub, great post and thanks for your input on pellet cookers. Wonderful information for the folks that are interested in purchasing a pellet cooker.
Old Dave
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Offline HighOnSmoke

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2017, 06:16:40 AM »
Excellent post Hub!
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Offline tomcrete1

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2017, 08:12:05 AM »
Nicely Done Hub! :thumbup:
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Offline TMB

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2017, 10:47:15 AM »
Great post Hub!   :thumbup:
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Offline Pappymn

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EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2017, 12:37:56 PM »
You forgot the gravy


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Offline ClimberDave

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2017, 12:50:22 PM »
 :thumbup: :thumbup:
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Offline CDN Smoker

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2017, 08:23:49 PM »
Very nice write up ;D
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Offline Big Dawg

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2017, 01:21:57 PM »
Thanks Hub ! ! !

If I ever decide to go the pellet route, you will be my first phone call.





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Offline smokeasaurus

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2017, 02:05:09 PM »
Now this is a great write up.
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Offline Jaxon

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Re: EIGHT THINGS YOU SHOULD PONDER BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR PELLET COOKER
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2017, 04:34:50 PM »
My son is thinking about a pelletizer.
I sent him this info.
He was very thankful.
<><

I enjoy cookin' outdoors AND sous vide and learnin' from folks like you.