As the best pellet grills improve their technology, they are becoming more and more popular with many backyard chefs beginning to favor them over their traditional gas grill.
With slogans like “kicking gas in the ass,” it’s easy to see that the manufacturers have noticed it as well.
And this is perhaps why, in recent times, ‘pellet grill vs gas grill’ has become a more commonly searched term. And so we thought we’d tackle the topic.
In this article, we’ll dive in and dissect what it is about each grill type that sets them apart, how they’re similar, and weigh out the pros and cons of each.
By the end of this post, you should have a good idea why one might choose a particular type over the other, and be better informed if it’s a decision you are about to make.
Note: This is one article in a series that compares grills that use many different types. Please do also check out the following comparisons to ensure you make the right choice: Pellet Grill vs Charcoal Grill, Charcoal vs Gas Grill and Electric vs Gas Grill.
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Gas v Pellet Grills – Contrasts and Comparisons
While gas and pellet grills have many things in common, they are still two very different types of cooking equipment.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the things to keep in mind when choosing which type of grill to buy.
Impact on Flavor
When you cook on a pellet grill, you are burning wood pellets made up of 100% compressed sawdust. In other words, you are cooking with 100% wood. Needless to say, you can expect your food to have a distinct smoky flavor.
By contrast, food that is cooked on a gas grill will not directly benefit from any added flavor. Rather, the meat will simply taste like cooked meat. Any added flavor for food that is cooked with gas will have to come from any seasoning you first apply.
(Note: With the advice in our guide, you CAN also smoke on a gas grill!)
Gas grills can be found for cheap in most any big box store across the globe and the best models can go for in excess of thousands of dollars. If you’re frugal, you can sometimes sniff out a good deal in your neighborhood classifieds for a used unit.
Pellet grills, on the other hand, are typically much more expensive out the gate. Even the cheaper units you find at your local big box store will still run you over $500, and that’s for a smaller, less reliable unit.
A pellet grill will in theory only need wood pellets and electricity for it to operate. The number of pellets burned depends on the size of your model and your desired temperature. The larger the grill and the hotter your fire = more pellets per hour. That said, Stephen Raichlen of Barbecue Bible points out that a 20-pound bag can last up to 40 hours @ 250°F.
Likewise, gas grills will mostly only need propane to operate (unless you’re running a natural gas grill). How much grilling can you do with a single tank? That will also depend on the size of your model and your cooking temperature.
Ease of Use
Both types are similar in their startup and fire management techniques. Pellet smokers start with the switch of a button, and gas grills start with the lighting of propane. You can increase or decrease the temperature of a pellet grill by changing the settings, and with a gasser you simply turn the burners up or down.
Clean up is a different story. With a pellet grill, you typically have some kind of barrier between the fire pot and the cooking grates. To avoid the mess, many will wrap them in aluminum foil that can be replaced every couple of cooks.
With a gas grill, you tend to have similar deflectors called ‘flavorizer bars’ that will catch dripping fat and food. In my experience, simply turning the heat up at the end of every cook will burn up most of the fat and food until it becomes carbon that is easily scraped away.
Either way, you’re going to want to give your grills a deep cleaning about once per year. Remove the grates, and heat deflectors, then clean with hot soapy water. Any dried up pieces of carbon can be sucked up with a shop vac before the units are reassembled.
Let’s be clear: it is easier to grill on a gas grill and smoke meat on a pellet smoker. With that said, most gas grills can easily be set up to smoke meat by adjusting the temperature knobs and adding wood chips. Will the result be as good from something cooked on a smoker? No, but it will work in a pinch (plus there are of course dedicated gas smokers.)
Likewise, many pellet grills can reach temps of 500°F+, and with the help of a product like GrillGrate, can potentially even get the grate level-up to 600°F. Just don’t expect the world’s best sear on your ribeye.
A pellet grill can easily be programmed to cook at low and slow temps of 225°F for long periods of time, but can easily be cranked up to 500°F if you want to try and use it to direct grill meat. Most gas models are able to easily manage temps as low as 225°F and can reach temps as high as 600°F+, depending on the number of burners and their BTU.
We’ve already touched on this a little bit as both types are similar in how you manage and control their temperature. A pellet grill is electronically controlled to provide a constant steady temperature, while a gas grill is controlled by the lighting of gas burners and the turning of the knobs.
Run Time (Before Refueling)
Your runtime varies on both cookers because of a few variables. With a pellet grill, the number of pellets you burn per hour will depend on the temperature you are cooking it. With as little as half a pound per hour if you are smoking meat, and as much as 2 pounds per hour if you are trying to high-heat sear. The good news is that you as long as you have some 20-pound bags of pellets on hand, you’ll never be stuck.
With a gas grill, the amount of propane you burn per hour will depend on the total number of BTU’s your burners are, the number of burners you are using, and how high you have your temperature, but David Galloway of Life Hacker boasts that most grills will get 20 hours of cook-time on a 20 pound tank.
If you are ever unsure if you have enough fuel to cook on, simply pour some warm water over the propane tank; the areas that are cold to the touch is where your propane level is. From here you can decide if you should get more gas before you start, or roll the dice and cook on!
Almost all manufacturers will have aftermarket toys you can purchase to add to your grilling experience. Many pellet grills have available options that allow you to cold smoke at low temps (100°F – 150°F) and add smoke flavor to foods like cheese. Some have options for added shelving inside the cooking chamber to allow you to increase your cooking capacity.
Gas grills will have some toys that can be added, but will likely not be in the same vein as pellet types. Many manufacturers will have aftermarket items like pizza stones, rib racks, cleaning brushes, etc that can be added but are largely similar to other available options on the market.
Summing It All Up
You May Prefer Gas if…
- You like being able to cook up a meal quickly
- You mostly want to be able to sear meat at higher temps
- You like the ability to control temp with the turn of a knob
What We Like About Gas Grills
- Able to fire it up and reach cooking temp quickly and easily
- Clean up is a breeze, just scrape the grates after each use and give a deep clean once per year
- Temperature is easily adjusted with the turn of a dial
What We Don’t Like About Gas Grills
- You have to work hard and take preparations if you want to slow smoke meat with them
- If you run out of fuel halfway through your cook, you’re in trouble
- Propane gas can be a real safety concern
A Gas Grill is Best Suited to Those Who
- Do not care if your food has a smokey flavor
- Don’t want to have to clean up their equipment on a regular basis
- Like to quickly and easily cook dinner from start to finish
You May Prefer a Pellet Grill if…
- You like the added flavor of smoke from real wood
- You want to be able to cook with fire, but not have to manage a real fire
- You want to smoke meat at lower temps mostly
What We Like About Pellet Grills
- Their quick and easy ability to fire up – just push a button and it’s lit
- Their ability to maintain constant and steady temp by simple programming
- Different flavors of wood pellets mean different tasting meats
What We Don’t Like About Pellet Grills
- They run on electricity, so you will need to be near an outlet to throw down
- They require a regular cleanup every couple of cooks
- In most models, once you load up the hopper, you’ll need to burn all the pellets before you can change wood flavors
A Pellet Grill is Best Suited to Those Who
- Want to be able to smoke meat low and slow, without having to manage a fire
- Love the idea of adding smoke flavor to meat, and the ability to use different types of wood pellets to change the flavor
- Want to be able to occasionally turn up the temperature and sear some meat with direct heat
While it’s easy to both light and manage their fires, at the end of the day pellet grills and gas grills are very different. And owners of each type will line up to tell you what makes their particular choice superior.
At the end of the day, we love that you get added smoke flavors when cooking with wood pellets, and while it may not be easy, you can sear meat with them.
How about yourself? Do you have a preferred type? Do you currently own a gas or pellet grill and secretly want to try the other? Leave us a comment down below with your thoughts.