With the leaves beginning to change colors, and the scorching temperatures behind us, the idea of firing up the bar-b-que might seem a bit odd. But for die-hard outdoor cooking enthusiasts, the season is just beginning.
If you’ve been considering buying an outdoor grill, any grill, it’s common to find good sale prices after Labor Day. If you’ve been thinking about buying a pellet-grill, now might be the perfect time.
What goes better with football than bar-b-que? The holidays can be spiced up with some smoked turkey and ham. If you want to impress guests, how about a nice brisket or tri-tip for Christmas dinner?
What are pellet cookers?
As the name suggests, these cookers use pellets for fuel. These pellets are comprised of flavorful wood such as hickory, oak, mesquite and apple. The hardwood is ground up into sawdust and compressed to form the pellets. These are fed into a burn chamber by an auger, and are lit by an electric igniter. A fan is used to stoke the flames. Temperature is controlled by adjusting the rate at which the pellets are fed into the burn pit. Typical pellet grills have a maximum temperature of 450 to 500°.
At lower temperatures, the pellets produce more smoke, and are used to add a nice smokey flavor to the food. At higher temperatures, little smoke is produced, making them suitable to cook pizzas, pies and even baking bread. Think of them as a high-tech version of the wood fired ovens that people have been using for centuries.
Unlike a wood or charcoal bar-b-que, a pellet grill uses a diffuser to distribute the heat, meaning there are no hot-spots which can cause uneven cooking. Also pellet grills use a sheet to collect drippings, preventing flare-ups which can cause off-flavors. Pellet grills use a thermostat, taking the guess work out of setting the proper temperature.
While you can cook burgers and hot dogs, pellet grills are ideal for slow cooking. Larger cuts of meat that require a low and slow approach such as ribs, tri-tips and briskets can be cooked to perfection, with the right amount of smokiness. Most grills incorporate temperature probes, taking the guess work out of cooking, whether you prefer rare or well-done.
As mentioned before, anything you can cook in an oven, you can cook in a pellet grill. Wood-fired pizza is a specialty usually reserved for high-end pizzerias. With a pellet cooker, you can wood-fire your own pizza or even a take-n-bake. The same is true for bread, pies and cookies. Since these are often used year-round, insulated covers are available which help hold in the heat during the colder months.
Because these cookers use an auger, a fan and have electronic controllers, they do require an electrical outlet. A small generator can be used to power your grill, making them ideal for cooking during prolonged power outages. There are smaller 12-volt models available, perfect for camping and tailgate parties.
All outdoor grills require periodic cleaning. In a charcoal burner, this can be a messy task and potentially dangerous task. There can be smoldering coals that appear to be extinguished, but when dumped in a trash can, will start a fire. Pellet grills are designed to fully burn off any remaining fuel before they shut down. Pellets produce much less ash than charcoal, so clean up can be as simple as using a shop-vac. Most manufacturers recommend removing ash after every 20 hours of use.
Due to their rising popularity, there are now hundreds of models to choose from. Many have special features such as wi-fi connectivity, allowing you to remotely monitor temperatures and control your grill. These cookers tend to be more expensive than charcoal or propane grills. Prices can range anywhere from a couple-hundred dollars, up into the thousands. Expect to pay around $600 to $900 for a decent mid-range model.
Of course, there is no shortage of online resources to help you decide what’s best for you. There are also plenty of recipes, hints and tips on how best to use your grill. Since it’s a relatively new way to cook, it can be exciting to adapt recipes and experiment with how you cook your food.
As you get ready to rake leaves, consider adding a pellet grill to your backyard. It can really help heat up the Winter months.