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For many people, pellet grills offer the convenience and ease of use of a grill all while still being able to deliver the unique smoke flavor from a smoker. A common question many people interested in pellet grills have, is if they can grill on it. I personally think both have their place, but whether you do not have the space for both, are looking for a grill that can do it all, or want to replace your gas grill, pellet smokers are a viable option. Whatever the reasoning is, to answer your question, you can grill on a pellet grill.
Most pellet grills are able to reach temperatures of 500° Fahrenheit making them suitable for grilling. Additionally, many pellet grills allow you to remove or open the heat deflector allowing you to sear over direct open flame. If you are looking for a grill that doubles as a smoker, pellet grills are a great option.
Okay, so I may have led you on a little. Technically pellet grills are smokers and not grills, yes there is a difference. You can still use your pellet grill as a grill, but just know they are not the same and will give you different results. If you are looking for your pellet smoker to double as a grill, here is what you need to know.
What Is The Difference Between Smoking And A Grilling?
Let us get this straight, smoking and grilling are two different things. Now, you can grill on some smokers (pellet smokers being one) and smoke on most grills, but just know that they are two different things designed to cook food differently. This difference comes down to three factors:
Heat Source: Unlike grills which use direct heat to cook meat, smokers use indirect heat to cook meat. This allows you to cook meat for long periods of time without burning it.
Temperature: Grilling is generally reserved for a hot and fast style of cooking at temperatures from 350° to 500° Fahrenheit, whereas smoking is generally done low and slow at temperatures from 225° to 275° Fahrenheit.
Type Of Meats: Smokers are used to cook tough, fatty pieces of meat such as brisket, ribs, or pork shoulders. The low temperatures and long cook times are needed to break down the connective tissue and render the fat. Grills on the other hand, are used to cook lean pieces of meat like steaks and hamburgers.
Is A Pellet Grill A Grill?
Because pellet grills do not cook meat over direct heat, they cannot be classified as a grill; however, unlike most smokers, pellet grills are able to reach temperatures up to 500° Fahrenheit thus replicating the hot and fast style of grilling allowing you to cook meats you would normally grill such as steaks or burgers.
The main difference between a grill and pellet smoker, and the reason that pellet smokers technically are not considered grills, is the fact that pellet grills use an indirect heat source and a convection style cooking method to cook meat. This is the same style of cooking your oven uses, and in fact pellet grills more closely resemble an oven than a grill. So let me ask you this, would you consider your oven a grill? What makes the grill unique is the fact that you are cooking over direct flame, and while this difference might seem minor, it creates a much different flavor.
In addition to that, pellet smokers are going to have their own unique flavor in that they are burning wood pellets and generating more smoke. I am not here to tell you that one is better than the other, as they are both good ways of cooking meat. Comparing the two would be like trying to compare apples to oranges. But if you are looking to replace your grill with a pellet grill, I do think it is important to know this. You will get the same functionality from the two but grilling on a pellet smoker is going to give off a different flavor than grilling on a gas grill.
Can you sear on a pellet smoker?
Pellet grills are capable of reaching temperatures up to 450° Fahrenheit which is hot enough to sear meat; however, meat is best seared at temperatures around 600° Fahrenheit. To get temperatures of 600° on your pellet grill for optimal searing, you will need to use special grill/sear grates.
The effective sear range of meat is from 300°-500° Fahrenheit making pellet grills more than capable of searing meat. Additionally, most pellet grills have a slidable heat shield that allows you to cook over direct heat; however, if you are looking to improve your searing on your pellet grill, you will have to get grate temperatures in your pellet grill up to 600°. This is most easily done by purchasing special grill grates made for searing meat. These grill grates are usually made of cast iron or anodized aluminum which are great conductors of heat allowing the grates to get hotter than your common pellet grill grates. They also evenly distribute heat throughout the grates to ensure that you are getting an even sear. If you are looking to improve the quality of your sears, I highly recommend heading over to grillgrate.com and picking up a set of these grates. You can see these grates used in action in the video below and just look at how well they sear that steak! (Skip to 3:05 to jump straight to him putting the steaks on the grill).
Are Pellet Grills Good For Steaks?
Pellet grills are great for cooking steak as they are able to impart a smoky flavor into the meat you cannot otherwise get on a gas grill. Cooking a steak low around 250° and finishing with a hot and fast sear, know as reverse searing, is one of the best ways to cook a steak on the pellet grill.
Some of the best steaks that I have ever made were cooked on a smoker using the reverse searing method. If you have never tried a reverse sear steak, you are missing out! If you do not already know, searing meat can drastically help improve the flavor of your meat. This is the result of a chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction when the naturally occurring proteins and sugars in meat react to high temperatures causing the meat to brown and creating new flavors and aromas.
When cooking a steak on your pellet grill, we want to ensure a great sear to help add to the flavor; however, searing at the beginning of the cooking process will keep the meat from taking on smoke. Instead, we first allow the steak to cook at low temperatures 225°-275° to absorb the smoke flavor before finishing with a hot and fast sear. Doing so will help add a smoky element to your steak that you cannot get using a gas grill.
Tips For Grilling On A Pellet Smoker
- For a true grilling experience, set your pellet smoker to its max temperature This will allow the grates to get hot enough to sear the meat. Grilling is usually done at medium high heat to high heat. You can use this table below to help you determine what temperature to cook at.
|Temperature||Temperature Range (Farenheit)||Best Use|
|High||400° – 450°||Grilling & Searing|
|Medium High||350°- 400°||Grilling|
|Medium||300° – 350°||Baking or smoking poultry|
|Low||225° – 275°||Smoking|
- Using your pellet grill at max temperature is going to cause you to burn through pellets faster.
- Spraying the cooking grates with oil before placing the meat will help to prevent meat sticking to the grates.
- If your pellet grill has a slidable heat shield, opening it can help you cook over direct heat for a more authentic grill taste.
- Do not cook directly over your fire pot as grease drippings can fall in there and create a grease fire.
Does it take longer to grill on a pellet grill?
Using your pellet grill as a grill will not increase the total amount of cooking time. On average, it takes about 10-15 minutes for both a pellet grill and a gas grill to come up to temperature. Once, both grills have reached temperature, the cooking times of like meats are the same.