A good pellet smoker is all you need to make great barbecue. So contends the man credited as the first to win a barbecue competition with pellets back in 1992. But the utility of the ever improving cooker doesn’t end there.
“I think it’s good for everything. For every cooking appliance,” explains Ed “Fast Eddy” Maurin, whose Fast Eddy pellet smokers are now made by Cookshack. “I don’t see how you beat it.” Meathead Goldwyn wrote: “Great flavor. No brainer. Pellet burners are a real revolution,” on AmazingRibs.com, a leading barbecue website.
A pellet smoker uses electricity to burn pellets made of compressed sawdust that produce many wood smoke flavors like hickory, oak, cherry, etc. The cooking process is the same as when Joe Traeger, who first used wood pellets for home heating, invented the pellet smoker in 1985. Technological advances have made them even better. Every pellet smoker now has a digital controller and several— think indoor oven—allow for precise temperatures, between a cold-smoking 80°F and up to 725° F. Keep the temps under 350°F to get the best smoke from the pellets.
Look for a cooker with at least one temperature probe for the food and for very thick or double walls to hold heat in. If toying with fire is what drew you to barbecue, forget pellets. The best machines are very much set-it-and-forget-it. While some may complain that the smoke flavor can be too light, if you like heavier smoke, just add more smoke time.
Pellet smokers have performed well enough to win many tour trophies, including at the nationally prestigious American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Kansas. Pellet cookers are also gaining in versatility.
The MAK 2-Star General ($2,800), among others, can get hot enough to serve as a grill. The multifaceted Twin Eagles 36-inch model ($6,000) has a charcoal insert, which can put a reverse sear on meats, and boasts a rotisserie. Also look at Cookshack’s Fast Eddy PG 1000 ($2,900); the new Weber SmokeFire ($999) with perhaps the best grill function; and the Camp Chef Woodwind ($900).