In this post, we will be exploring the main differences between a gas BBQ grill and a pellet smoker.
The main points we will be covering are:
What is a Gas BBQ?
Gas BBQs are the most common type of grill you will find in any Australian household. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are built-in, while some are nice little portable units that you can bring around.
While they have been the status quo for a long time, they lack one key feature you would expect when you hear BBQ: A natural wood-burning fire.
That’s right, while gas BBQs are often compared with charcoal burning BBQs, the gas option, in reality, is a lot more closely related to you gas-fired hotplate rather than a BBQ.
Gas BBQs are designed to cook your food through direct heat which is great for a hot and fast sear, but it also means that you will not get the benefits of hours of low and slow smoking.
In some cases, you may be able to use a smoking tube couple with a heat diffuser that sits between the flame the the grilling surface, but without a fan, you will struggle to get the the same results as a BBQ designed for smoking.
What we like
- Great for searing – Most gas grills can get to a roaring temperature relatively fast which is what you want to get a good sear.
- Affordable – Gas grills have a wide price range. You’ll surely be able to find one if you’re tight on a budget if you don’t prioritise quality.
- Widely available fuel – Gas bottles are available just about anywhere. You can always do a quick run to your servo to stock up if you need to.
What we don’t like
- Gas leaks – There is always a certain amount of caution needed when using a gas grill. Almost every summer we see a video like this surface on the internet.
- Flavour – You are not going to get that irreplaceable wood-fired flavour when you cook on a gas BBQ.
- Not good for smoking – While some gas BBQs have lids and sell accessories for smoking, these grills are simply not built for smoking low and slow.
What is a pellet smoker?
Pellet smokers, like the name suggests, is a BBQ smoker that runs on wood pellets. The concept of using pellets as a fuel source in BBQs has been around for a few decades but it only recently took off here in Australia.
In the states, they are quite commonly referred to as pellet grills which are essentially the same thing.
Unlike its gas counterpart, the main fuel source of pellet smokers is BBQ-grade wood pellets, which are made from compressed sawdust shaped like chicken feed.
Just like a convection oven, pellet smokers use indirect heat to cook food which means you can use it to not just BBQ and smoke, but you can also cook up anything that you would otherwise cook in an oven.
How does a pellet smoker work?
A hopper shaped like a funnel is usually found on the side or back of the smoker which is then filled with wood pellets. These pellets are then fed into the firepot by a motorised corkscrew where it is ignited by an ignition rod.
An intake fan within the unit feeds air into the firepot to maintain a steady flow of oxygen and to also distribute the heat evenly throughout the smoker just like your convection oven.
All you need to do when you are ready to cook, is to choose the desired temperature on a controller and it will automatically feed just the right amount of pellets to heat the grill up.
What we like
- Flavour – Unlike gas (which is odourless) wood pellets impart that beautiful smokey flavour into your food. You can experiment with different kinds of wood pellets according to taste.
- Convenience – Pellet smokers are designed to be set and forget. There is no need to babysit your grill and check on the fire all the time.
- Versatility – Pellet smokers are more than just smokers. You can use them for grilling, baking, and even searing your food and switch between different cooking methods with ease.
- Ease of Use – Pellet smokers are very user-friendly. They are perfect for beginners and there are no special skills you need to start using your pellet smoker.
What we don’t like
- Requires power – Running a pellet smoker requires electricity to power the fan and ignition rod.
- Not cheap – Pellet smokers require a bit of an upfront investment. The cheapest pellet smoker will still cost a couple of hundred bucks.
Pellet Smoker vs Gas BBQ
The classic gas grills fall short of pellet smokers by a huge margin in this aspect. Food cooked on a gas grill taste no different compared to cooking it on your stove. Gas BBQs are really just a gas-powered hot plate.
Pellets are not just a fuel source, it also imparts a beautiful smokey flavour into your food. Think American BBQ, wood-fired pizza and even smoked ice-cream.
You can easily experiment with different flavours of pellets depending on what you are cooking and according to taste.
Hickory, Southern Hardwood, Apple, and Ironbark, these are just some of the kinds of wood pellets you can get, and they will allow you to get a unique flavour.
On a Z Grill, there is even a dedicated smoke setting to give impart maximum smokey flavour into your food.
Where pellet smokers really shine is how versatile it is. Due to how pellet smokers are designed, it offers the benefits of both indirect and direct heat.
Foods like ribs and briskets require hours of indirect heat and smoking to breakdown the connective tissues while foods like pizzas can be done in a matter of minutes in a pellet smoker.
To sear hot and fast when it is time to throw a barbie, simply drop in a cast iron BBQ plate which will get roaringly hot.
Gas BBQs, on the other hand, are basically built to do one job – grilling over a gas burner. It is a bit like using a gas stove with grilling grates. You can easily change the size of the flame, but that’s pretty much all you can get out of a gas BBQ in terms of versatility.
As mentioned, gas BBQs come in a big price range. You can find smaller, entry-level models for as low as $100, but if you want a top-of-the-line model with all the bells and whistles, it might cost you thousands.
If you are after a cheap BBQ, you’ll surely be able to find it, but it’s questionable how long it will last – the cheaper versions often lack in quality, therefore, the lower price doesn’t automatically mean better value.
With pellet smokers, the initial investment will be higher. However, it is something that will definitely pay off over the years.
In addition, the prices don’t rise so dramatically like with gas BBQs when you start looking for high-quality models. When you buy a pellet smoker, you get exactly what you are paying for – a high-quality smoker that you can use for years to come.
Temperature Control and Range
As suggested, pellet smokers are designed to be an all-rounder BBQ and excels particularly well in low and slow smoking. The usual temperature range that it can reach is between 80°C and 250°C under the hood.
Cast Iron BBQ Hot Plate
This is generally the perfect temperature for most types of cooking including your typical Aussie barbie recipes.
Most gas grills manufacturers use BTU – British Thermal Units to indicate the maximum heat it can output which can be a misleading metric. Temperature under the hood is a much more better indicator of the actual temperature range of the grill.
With that said, gas grills are undoubtedly excellent at higher temperatures but the cheaper models will really struggle to maintain a steady temperature especially at lower settings as most of these will be made from thinner and lighter components that hold less heat.
In theory, pellet smokers having a natural wood fire would see big temperature swings due to the irregularity of natural wood. However, by using a series of complex algorithms in the controller, it limits these temperature swings to +/- 5C° in most cases.
Most gas BBQs can run indefinitely if the bottle of gas is swapped. Realistically, even if you are cooking for a whole party, grilling meat or searing steaks is not going to take more than a couple of hours.
Unlike gas BBQs, pellet smokers are perfect for low and slow cooking. Most pellet smokers have a hopper capacity big enough to run for at least 8 hours without any interventions on your part. You just need to load your smoker with enough pellets, set it, and literally forget it.
Common Questions Answered
Are pellet grills better than gas?
Yes. In most cases, pellet grills will be the better choice due to flavour, versatility and temperature control. However, you are on a tight budget, a gas grill may be a better option.
Do pellet grills use a lot of electricity?
No. As pellet is the main source of fuel, pellet grills generally only use a small amount of electricity to power the ignition rod, motor and controller. The Z Grills pellet smoker range peaks at 300W to get the pellet ignited, but really only uses under 100W for most of the time.
Are pellet smokers bad for your health?
Cooking meat at high temperatures may cause carcinogenic compounds to form. However, pellet smokers are designed to perform well at lower temperature, therefore may be the healthier option in contrast to gas grills.
Are pellet smokers worth it?
When you buy a pellet smoker, you get exactly what you are paying for – a high-quality smoker that you can use for years to come. If you are going to get a grill, you should invest in something that you will actually use, therefore we think pellet smokers are worth every penny.
You may want a pellet smoker if:
- You want an all-rounder BBQ that is versatile.
- You appreciate and like the wood-fired flavour tasting food.
- You want a smoker easy enough to use that you can use it daily.
you may want a gas BBQ if:
- You are on a tight budget and want the cheapest grill available.
- Speed is more important to you than flavour.
- Smoking meat is not really your thing.
We hope we were able to help you work out which grill is best to suit your needs. Want to get yourself a pellet smoker? Be sure to check out the Z Grills pellet smoker range or reach out to us through our live chat.