Pellet Grill vs. Charcoal Grill – Which Is Best? Head-to-Head Comparison

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If you’re looking for a new way to grill this summer, you might be wondering: If pellet grills are better than charcoal grills?

In this article, we’ll go over the main differences between the two grill options.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons, and what you need to know before you buy so you can make the best decision.

Let’s go.

What’s The Difference Between A Charcoal Grill And A Pellet Grill?

Before we go any further, you must understand precisely what each grill is about.

Charcoal Grills

A charcoal grill is typically a small round metal bowl that sits on a stand.

It’s fueled by Charcoal briquettes that maintain their heat by the constant opening/closing of air vents in the base of the grill.

Aside from its difficulties in maintaining heat, many people enjoy the authenticity and taste of smoked food, and there has been a resurgence in using a charcoal grill.

With a charcoal grill, you can prepare almost anything by controlling and adjusting the heat to get the perfect cook and flavor.

Pellet Grills

Pellet grills, on the other hand, are fueled by compressed hardwood pellets. These pellets are a combination of sawdust and vegetable oil which are compressed to form pellets.

The pellets are burned slowly to produce heat that cooks the food, indirectly reducing any chance of burning of the food.

Using a pellet grill is fun and easy to do and a convenient way to make food taste smoky.

Now that you understand what each grill does let’s take a deeper look at some of the main similarities and differences.

Head-to-Head Comparison Between Pellet Grills And Charcoal Grills

Below you’ll find a comparison table where we’ve highlighted some key features for each grill.

In yellow, you’ll find the grill we feel excels at the specific category.

Pellet Grill vs. Charcoal Grill - Comparison Table & Key Features
Pellet Grill vs. Charcoal Grill – Comparison Table & Key Features

As you can see in the above comparison table we like the pellet grill in most categories over the charcoal grill.

However, it would be fair to note that a charcoal grill is a great low-cost option that will provide a great flavor profile when used correctly.

The issue most people have with the charcoal grill is keeping and maintaining a consistent temperature to cook their food right.

Overall, the pellet grill has a few other pros and cons not shown on the table that we will discuss below in more detail.

Convenience

Overall using a pellet grill is more manageable than charcoal.

When using a pellet grill you only need to do two simple things;

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  1. First, you need to fill the hopper with pellets
  2. Second, you need to set the cooking time.

That’s it, simple!

By contrast, when using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to do many things;

  1. Starting from lighting the charcoal with a chimney, which is a time-consuming process itself.
  2. The charcoal needs to be red hot to start the cooking process.
  3. Then comes the final step of learning to grill at high temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Lastly, you’ll need to manage the vents to keep the temperatures consistent.

For this category, the pellet grill is far more convenient.

Winner: Pellet Grill.

Flavor

If you love the aroma of charcoal in your food, then a charcoal grill is for you. Cooking on a charcoal grill might not be easy, but your food is full of flavors.

With a pellet grill, the wood pellets are available in many flavors so you can pick a flavor of pellet depending on your mood.

You can even get a charcoal-flavored wood pellet if you’re looking for that authentic charcoal flavor.

Simply because of the flavor options available, we give this one to the pellet grill.

Winner: Pellet Grill

Price

When buying any grill, it can get costly.

On average, a pellet grill will cost between $400-$1200. Then you’ll need the wood pellets, which are more expensive when compared to charcoal.

A charcoal grill is typically in the range of $ $50-$150, and the briquettes are low-priced products that are very affordable.

Winner: Charcoal Grill

Additional Costs

When buying a grill, keep in mind you’ll likely have some maintenance and replacement costs.

Charcoal grills don’t have any mechanical components that might break down or malfunction.

However, pellet grills have many moving parts, from the auger to the temperature controller.

Pellet grills may also require a sear box or other accessories used to achieve higher temperatures and cooks.

If low or no additional cost is important to you, go with a charcoal grill.

Winner: Charcoal Grill

Types Of Fuel Used

A charcoal grill uses two types of charcoal;

  1. The affordable one is charcoal briquettes.
  2. The other is Lump charcoal which is more expensive as it is made from oak and hickory.

Charcoal lovers prefer grilling using lump charcoal because it gives an oaky flavor to the food.

Pellet grills also use two types of fuels.

  1. The electric power source to run the grills mechanical components.
  2. The wood pellets fuel the fire and add flavor.

Because the pellet grill is highly versatile as there are many flavor options to select from cherry, maple, alder, and even charcoal.

When comparing options, we’ll give this one to the pellet grill.

Winner: Pellet grill.

Temperature

When it comes to temperature, the charcoal grill is highly versatile as it can grill at high and low temperatures.

Charcoal grills can reach a maximum temperature of 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. But the temperature depends on the charcoal you are using; lumps get hotter than charcoal briquettes.

Cooking on a pellet grill is far more manageable.

However, most will only get to a maximum temperature of around 500 degrees without unique accessories.

If you’re looking for a high-temperature grill, then the charcoal grill is for you.

However, if you are looking for a set and forget it way to cook that won’t risk burning your food, then the low-temp cooking of a pellet grill would be best.

Winner: Draw

Controlling temperature

With a pellet grill, you can preset the temperature and walk away. There is no work you need to do in-between the cooking process.

By contrast, cooking with a charcoal grill requires a lot of work.

To control the temperature, opening and closing the vents is essential. You’ll need to learn when to open the air vents to give a better grilling effect.

After some practice and some burnt food, you’ll eventually learn to control the temperature.

Because of the convenience and ease, we’ll give this to the pellet grill.

Winner: Pellet grill.

Now that we’ve compared each grill in all of the major categories, let’s look closer at what the pellet grill has to offer.

Are Pellet Grills Better Than Charcoal? If Yes, Why?

If you are new to grilling, pellet grills offer beginners an easy way to make great tasing food.

Not everyone knows how to use a charcoal grill or feels comfortable cooking at high temperatures.

A pellet grill is perfect for those not ready for a charcoal grill since it only has two simple steps:

  1. Fill up the wood pellets in the hopper
  2. Then set the temp and timer

You can adjust the flavor of your food easily by using different wood pellets to create unique flavors.

Lastly, some people don’t like the strong flavor of charcoal in your food and instead prefer the woody aroma that comes from a pellet grill.

Here are some quick pros and cons of using a pellet grill.

But check out our post: What Are The Pros and Cons of Using A Pellet Grill, for more detailed information.

Pros 

  • Easy to use in two simple steps.
  • If you prefer grilling at low temperatures, this is for you.
  • You need not taste the same flavor of wood over and over again. By using different wood pellets, you can change the taste of the grilled food.

Cons 

  • An outlet in your backyard or terrace for using the pellet grill as it works on electricity.
  • After filling up the hopper, you will have to wait until all the pellets burn for subsequent use. This process can be time-consuming.
  • After three to four cooks, you will have to clean the grill machine.

Can You Get Charcoal Flavor From A Pellet Grill?

Yes, you can get charcoal flavor using a pellet grill by using a charcoal-flavored pellet.

If you love the flavor of a charcoal grill, use some charcoal-flavored wood pellets.

They give your food the perfect charcoal aroma and the smoky texture similar to a charcoal grill.

Pit Boss hardwood charcoal pellets are a great option. Their wood pellets are free from chemicals and 100% natural wood is used to make this pellet that makes it free from artificial flavors.

Charcoal Flavored Wood Pellets

Using these, you’ll get the authentic charcoal flavor in the pellet grill.

What Tastes Best When Cooked With Charcoal Pellets?

Charcoal pellets are perfect when you roast, grill, char grill, BBQ, sear, and much more.

Here are a few great ideas for food that tastes great when cooked with charcoal flavored wood pellets:

  • Steak goes well when cooked with charcoal pellets in a pellet grill.  The smoky aroma of charcoal enhances the flavor of meat from deep within. The outer crust of the steak turns crispy, and the inner part is tender and juicy.  The combination of meat with some cajun spices is what you get in five-star restaurants. Thus why pay when you can get the same flavor at home.
  • Making chicken wings, a whole chicken or turkey for a thanksgiving ceremony are a few food items you can cook with charcoal flavored pellets.
  • Cook chicken wings at 300 degrees Fahrenheit will make your friends fall in love with the pellet grill.
  • If you want to cook something for kids on children’s day, why not try a large cheese pizza and some burgers.
  • Wild game like bison and elk absorb the flavor of charcoal and help you cook something extraordinary.

Video: Charcoal VS Pellet Grill Steak Battle

I found this comparison where TheHollarBBQ cooks a ribeye to see which grill cooks it best, the charcoal grill or the pellet grill.

Which Is Better: A Charcoal Grill or Pellet Grill?

Okay, so now the moment of truth Is a charcoal grill better than a pellet grill? 

Well, this debate will have people on both sides of the fence.

Everyone knows that giving your food a smokey, woody flavor will always taste great.

Smoking your food requires a handle on two main things: the temperature and the other fuel you are using.

Both will add to the flavor of your food and make it taste authentic.

The main advantage of using a wood pellet grill over a charcoal grill is that you can add different flavors to your food as different flavourful wood pellets are available.

For example, here are just a few of the most common wood pellet flavors you can use.

Flavors of wood pellets:

  • Applewood pellets: generally used with pork to give it a fruity flavor. Making a smoky apple pie will be the talk of the gathering when cooked with applewood pellets.
  • Hickory wood pellet: Hickory wood pellet adds strong oakiness to the meat and makes it taste exceptionally savory.
  • Alder wood pellets: These chunks of wood have a mild flavor and give an aroma that you will make you fall in love. People prefer using this wood pellet while grilling fish, bacon, chicken, and more.
  • Maple wood pellets: What more can you ask for if you can get a light, flavorful turkey with the aroma of maple wood? If it is Christmas, grill a whole turkey or pork in maple wood and enjoy the evening.
  • Cherry Wood pellets: are you planning to make beef rib? If yes, then grill it with cherry pellets. You will get a fruity and flavorful beef that you will love to make over and over again.

Camp Chef has one of the largest selections of wood pellet flavors and they are all great tasting. You can read what we think about Camp Chef Wood Pellets in our review.

Hence, if you are looking for more versatile cooking, try pellet grill as you get several options to choose between flavorful pellets.

You can cook at a constant temperature without worrying about the food burning.

Lastly, what could be more Alpha than setting the timer and temperature then walking away so you can relax with family and friends and crush a few pops!

Using charcoal is different;

Sure, you can demonstrate your Alpha abilities as you continuously keep an eye on the grill, adjust the temperature, and cook with live fire.

But there is a considerable risk that you might burn or over smoke the meat.

You also only get two options to choose from lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes.

If it’s up to me, I like the pellet grill. Ease of use, availability of flavor options, and low risk of destroying dinner make it the ideal choice for a backyard alpha.

That said, who doesn’t like being in control of roaring flames as you sear and cook your steak to perfection.

The choice is yours.

Conclusion

Whether pellet grills are better than charcoal is a matter of choice and taste.

Some people like the woody, mild, sweet, and fruity flavor of wood pellets, and others prefer the pungent aroma of charcoal.

Undoubtedly, charcoal takes the grilling process to the next level for those who cannot compromise on flavor, but pellet grills are best for ease of use.

I hope this article helps you choose between the two grills.

If you want to add excitement and want to experience live cuisine, try adding a grill like this one to your backyard.

Cooking on a grill adds excitement; your guests can watch you cook and smell the food while enjoying the outdoors, adding to the whole cooking experience.

Lastly, if you’re still not sure which grill is the best check out one of these articles: