Wood pellet grills have now entered the norm, much like gas and charcoal grills. But while they may seem similar in charcoal or a gas grill, there are some apparent differences.
Pellet grills use compressed wood cylinders called pellets ignited and smoked to cook your food. They are small, easy to manage and produce some delightful flavors that gas or charcoal can’t.
In this pellet grill vs. gas grill comparison, we look at the differences and similarities between pellet and gas grills. We also take a look at the advantages one has over the other, especially when it comes to health benefits.
Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill – Main Differences:
Pellet Grill Overview:
A pellet grill, simply put, is a “grill” that uses wood pellets as fuel. We quoted out “grill” because this appliance is everything but a grill.
These are more like cookers or smokers than grills. The one thing that sets them aside from traditional grills is the heat source does not directly contact the food. Instead, the wood pellets are burnt in an “Auger,” where they are ignited, and a convection fan circulates the air to the grill grates. Because of how the heat is circulated, these grills tend to generate a lot of smoke, which may or may not be what you want. You can leave the lid open, but the heating will be a bit more indirect. The fire is not directly below the food, and the pellet grill heavily relies on air circulation and entrapment.
So, that’s how a pellet grill works. But what are pellets? Pellets are pieces of flammable wood usually made by compressing sawdust. The choice of wood type is at your discretion. And different kinds of woods can create different flavors and textures of smoke. Because of this reason, wood pellets are considered to be a lot more customizable. In a regular gas or charcoal grill, you can’t change the taste of the smoke. And many times, the smoke can be repulsive.
Gas Grill Overview:
Gas grills work much like your average gas stovetop. They ignite the gas in the dedicated burners and let the heat cook your food.
Gas grills majorly work through direct heat. The fire is in direct contact with your food, which is not only great for high-temperature cooking but also for getting some nice charring. However, many grills nowadays come with settings that let you use them as a slower, more indirect heating source. Grills that come with lids (i.e., almost all of them) can be used as an indirect heat source as well.
The main advantage gas grills have over pellet grills is the high level of temperature they can achieve. Some people might also like the smoke and texture they produce. However, they’re not efficient sources of energy. Not only does natural gas cost more than wood pellets, but the grill is more expensive too. So, you’ll be putting in more money in the long run.
Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill – Health Aspects:
While research on this topic is scarce, pellet grills are generally considered safer than gas grills. But what exactly does that mean? There are two aspects to this:
Gas and charcoal grills are well-known in the grilling industry for the number of carcinogens they produce. You see, when the fat melts from the steak and patties, it drips down to the fire, which in turn evaporates it. These vapors, however, are not as safe as you might think. They’re made from Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are far from human friendly. They are classified as carcinogens, which means they tend to induce cancer. The concern mainly comes from beef, fowl, pork, and fish but can extend to other meats. And not just that, but sugars and proteins present in the meat itself start to break down into Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs). Both PAHs and HCAs are toxic and can cause cancers such as pancreatic and colorectal cancer.
So, how does a pellet grill protect you from that? Well, for starters, the fat dripping doesn’t become in direct contact with the flame; PAHs don’t form. It is furthered because pellet grills don’t get as hot as gas grills do. PAH and HCA formation is significantly lower, albeit at the cost of lesser char and flavor.
In terms of the environmental aspect, gas grills fare better than wood pellet grills. The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas has proved natural gas to produce lesser pollution than other fuels. Compared to wood, it produces up to 15% lesser pollution when combusted and it is the environmentally better choice. It also makes gas grill an excellent indoor alternative, though you should still have ample ventilation.
Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill – Operation:
So now that we’ve established which one is healthier, it’s time to learn how they work and how you can make them work.
Pellet grilling starts from the moment you purchase the right pellet. The choice is totally up to you. But for beginners, applewood and cherry are the right places to start. They give a pleasant smell and taste to your food and treat to have with guests.
Once you’ve picked the correct pellet, it’s time to get the grill started. Pellet grills need to be loaded in through the hopper, which is usually placed at the bottom. The grill needs to stay plugged in since it uses an electric igniter. The hopper feeds the pellets into the auger, which in turn ignites the pellets, and fire starts.
A convection fan usually helps the heat circulate to the top. Since the entire working principle of pellet grills is convection, it’s best to keep the lid closed to maximize circulation and warmth.
Gas grills work on the fundamental principle of gas combustion. When natural gas such as propane or butane is ignited, the resulting heat is used to sear steaks and patties. The most common type of gas used is propane, but butane is still a viable option.
The gas first has to travel up to the manifolds via the regulator hose. In simple terms, the manifold is a long tube that runs the grill’s length and supplies gas to the many valves. The valves are what you control when you turn the knobs. Some grills let you adjust the amount of gas flowing through the valves, but many have on or off options.
Unlike stovetops, many gas grills don’t let you cook directly over the fire. They may employ some other technology to allow for maximum heat circulation. Some may even use a convection fan similar to that of pellet grills. Others may allow you to use coal briquettes, which sit right below your food and help spread the food evenly. If you have direct heating options, briquettes or a convection fan can distribute the heat evenly too.
Some gas grills may even allow you to connect your grill to your home’s gas supply instead of a propane canister. It can be a great idea if you don’t want to buy canisters over and over again. But they can be a hazard when you forget to turn them off. And they are not as portable as canister-gas grills.
Advantages of Pellet vs. Gas Grill:
- Highly convenient and easy to use.
- Allow for more flavor, texture, and aroma.
- Prevent the formation of HCAs and PAHs.
- Can preheat in only 15 minutes.
- Easy to clean with little to no grease left behind.
- It is better for smoking, roasting, broiling, and barbecuing.
- A more traditional way to cook.
- Can reach higher temperatures – great for charring and searing.
- Cheaper initial and running price.
- Don’t require much effort to use and run.
- No remains of wood or coal to clean up.
- Better for the environment.
- Suitable for melting fat.
Disadvantages of Pellet vs. Gas Grill:
- Leave remains of wood pellets to clean up.
- Smoke is not healthy for the environment.
- Cannot sear, char, or melt fat.
- Need to stay plugged in at all times for ignition.
- Good pellets can cost a lot.
- Pellet grills cost more than gas grills.
- Do not produce as much smoke as gas grills.
- More of a hazard if left on.
- Generate PAHs and HCAs – toxic compounds.
- No flavor or aroma in the smoke.
- Require aid in heat circulation; not good smokers.
- Temperature is harder to control and maintain throughout.
- It needs briquettes or a fan for more even heating.
The grilling industry has undoubtedly seen many innovative grill types, and pellet grills have been just among them. While both pellet and gas grills have a lot in common, the differences are just as blatant.
In this pellet grill vs. gas grill comparison, we looked at differences in their function, working, and health aspects.
To summarize, pellet grills work by burning small compressed sawdust cylinders known as wood pellets. They provide an indirect heat source through a convection fan. And they produce less carcinogenic compounds as compared to their gas counterparts.