Have you gotten tired of using your charcoal grill and want to try something new? If you’ve done your research, you may have heard of pellet grills. Pellet grills use compressed wooden pellets. They have their own feature set, fuel economy, and versatility.
So what are the differences between pellet grills vs. charcoal grills? And are you better off with one or the other? We’re here to answer that with our full comparison of these two types of grills.
We’ve compared the grills in terms of their flavor, economy, health effects, and ease in cleaning. So you can make the ultimate decision today.
Pellet Grills vs. Charcoal Grills – Comparison table:
|Features||Pellet grills||Charcoal grills|
|Smoke flavor||Wood-flavored smoke that is characteristic of the wood used.||Charcoal-flavored smoke with no alternative flavor.|
|Ease of use||No need to manage the fire.||It requires frequent refueling and fire sustenance.|
|Ignition type||Use electricity to ignite pellets.||Use gas or electricity to ignite pellets.|
|Heating type||Convection heating for more even cooking.||Conduction heating for better sears.|
|Fuel economy||Pellets are expensive and require extensive knowledge of their types||Charcoal is cheap and requires no extra research.|
|Portability||Fairly small and portable.||It needs a large, ventilated space.|
|Temperature threshold||Low to mid-temperature.||Low to high temperature.|
Difference between Pellet Grills and Charcoal Grills:
To conclude most of what we have covered in the sections below, here’s a handy summary. It includes the main differences between pellet grills vs. charcoal grills. We’ve also included a few points on how easy or hard each grill is to maintain.
Pellet grill and its characteristics:
Pellet grills have the following characteristics:
- The food tastes like flavored wood. There’s a ton of variety in pellets, allowing for more flexibility in taste and smoke density.
- They use convection fans to heat the food evenly. So the food gets heated up evenly.
- They have cleaner usage and lesser creosote deposits. Since the food isn’t in direct contact with the fire, there are no fat deposits in the fuel chamber.
- Most are self-igniting and require electricity to keep the flame burning.
- Great for cold smoking food and for cooking food at low temperatures.
Charcoal grill and its characteristics:
Charcoal grills have the following characteristics:
- Food tastes like charcoal smoke. The smoke can’t be flavored, so you only get the traditional smoky flavor.
- They can reach very high temperatures and are good for searing and charring food. It is especially useful when making the perfect steak.
- Their initial and running costs are very low. Charcoal briquettes cost cheaper than gas too.
- The fire in charcoal needs to be built and maintained.
- They usually have a messier clean-up, with lots of greases, ash, and molten fat.
The type of grill and fuel you use will inevitably have some side effects on your health. It’s usually the chemical deposits left by the fuel. But adverse effects can also be caused by how the grill retains fat and ash. So here’s how pellet grills vs. charcoal grills perform:
It’s not the pellets themselves, but rather the smoke that causes the issue. Whenever you use wood pellets, your food becomes engulfed in polyaromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.
PAHs have known carcinogens that can likely cause cancer if consumed in large quantities over a prolonged period. The best way to counter this is to marinate your food. It will also enhance the flavor and will protect your food from the PAHs.
Pellet grills don’t generate a lot of creosote or other harmful chemical compounds. So they are generally safer than charcoal grills, save for the PAHs.
When using a traditional kettle or barrel grill, the fat from the meat will flare up, drip down, and rise as smoke. What’s happening here is that the heterocyclic amines (HCAs) get separated from the fat when it flares up. Then they fall into the heat source below, getting activated and rising into the food above.
HCAs are also carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). The easiest way to avoid them is to use lean cuts that don’t have a lot of fat on them. You can also marinate your food to reduce the amount of HCAs by 92%.
Which grill produces a better taste?
You will find that none of the grills produce a better taste. Instead, each type of grill can be used to acquire some very different tastes. That also depends on the fuel used. Charcoal has a different taste from wooden pellets. Here’s the full taste comparison of pellet grills vs. charcoal grills:
Since pellet grills use wood, it should go without saying that food cooked on them will have a woody taste. Due to the diverse and aromatic nature of pellets, you can optimize the flavor and taste by getting different types of pellets.
Naturally, the flavor depends on the type of pellet you use. Pellets also tend to give a smokier taste, as they produce a lot of smoke, especially if they’re damp.
Pellet grills cook food more evenly, and they are generally slower at it. So it’ll be harder to get a thick crust on your meat, as the whole steak will be cooked almost evenly.
Food cooked on a charcoal grill will have a flavor like charcoal. The special charcoal flavor is what sets charcoal grills aside from gas and pellet grills. Since you’re able to reach higher temperatures on a charcoal grill, you’ll be able to break down the chemical more.
Your meat will also get a good sear, which would take more time on a pellet grill. Adding wood chunks to charcoal grills can give a woody flavor as well.
However, charcoal grills aren’t all that flexible when it comes to smoke flavor. And if you’re not accustomed to charcoal smoke, you’re better off with a pellet grill.
Which one is better in durability?
Durability is the biggest concern with grills, especially since the upfront cost is so high. When you buy a grill, you want to make sure that it lasts for longer. Here are our thoughts on the durability of pellet grills vs. charcoal grills.
Pellet grills typically last longer than charcoal grills. Most are made from sturdy materials such as aluminum or stainless steel. Since the smoke from wood isn’t as destructive as that from charcoal, the deposits on the grill are in tamed amounts.
However, pellet grills use a lid and convection heating. So the smoke will likely go everywhere. The smoke can deposit PAHs on the lid and grates, which will require thorough cleaning.
It means that your pellet grill will most likely need to be cleaned after every few hours of cooking. But they are generally not as messy and greasy as charcoal grills can be.
Charcoal grills are strong and durable as well. But they tend to leave more deposits of creosote as compared to pellet grills. Creosote is a carcinogenic compound that can get in your food and cause cancer when ingested in large amounts.
These grills can be made from the same materials as pellet grills. Charcoal grills normally have a separate compartment where ash is collected. So you will have to look after the grill less frequently.
However, since they are bigger and the charcoal compartment can get dirty, you will need to carry out deep cleaning every month or so.
Which one is better in economy?
Lastly, we will look at how each grill retains and utilizes fuel. It depends on the mechanism of the pellet grills vs. charcoal grills. Some grills will exchange a lot of heat between elements, resulting in heat loss. Other grills will provide direct heat and not waste any.
Most pellet grills ignite the pellets and use convection fans to move hot air all around the food. It is good as it allows more even cooking, but it tends to dissipate heat in the process. So your desired temperature may be harder to reach.
Moreover, a majority of pellet grills use electricity to ignite the pellets. You’re already spending a lot on pellets. So the extra electricity bill is a deal-breaker.
However, these grills do lower cooking time if you don’t want to sear the meat.
Plus, you can use them to slow cook food, significantly reducing fuel costs.
Charcoal grills (mostly) provide direct heat to the food. So the food gets cooked more from the bottom than the top. It is good as all of the fuel is utilized, and no heat is lost during heat exchange.
Most charcoal grills rely on gas to light up, which is extremely cheap. But the cooking time will be higher, especially since so many grills don’t have a lid.
If you can put a lid on your charcoal grill, you can conserve the smoke and allow for even cooking. The smoke will cook the food from the top and add a unique flavor.
So that’s pellet grills vs. charcoal grills for you! You may find it hard to decide between the two, so let us summarize for you.
Most pellet grills use convection heating and take longer to reach higher temperatures. They are lesser messy than charcoal grills, but pellets can cost a lot. The fire is mostly self-ignited and doesn’t need to be looked after.
In charcoal grills, the heat is more direct, allowing for a nice sear. They can reach higher temperatures but tend to be messier and require frequent flame management.
The final decision is entirely in your hands. But it never hurts to try something new!