Grill better food and embark on a journey of smoked adventure.
After 2 1/2 years of owning a pellet smoker, I am totally addicted. I use it about 3 times a week to cook dinner, and it's so easy, I rarely use our normal gas grill any more. I'll explain below why a pellet smoker might be a nice addition to your life, and get into specifics about the Green Mountain Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett pellet grills.
Pellet Smokers vs. Electric, Charcoal, or Propane
There are many types of smokers. If you are a casual BBQ'er like me, here are the main categories, and my take on them after many hours of online research:
- Charcoal/Wood - "Traditional" BBQ, best overall flavor, affordable, but labor-intensive.
- Electric - Easy, affordable, but many pros claim the flavor is not as authentic.
- Propane - Easy, affordable, better flavor than electric. Requires propane tanks.
- Pellet - Easy, flavor "2nd best" after charcoal/wood, can grill as well as smoke, more expensive to buy and operate.
I chose a pellet smoker because I wanted the most authentic flavor I could get in a "set it and forget it" style of grill. There are proponents for every type of smoker, and they all make good food - so this is a matter of opinion and debate that I am not expert enough to get into. I will just say that I LOVE my pellet smoker.
If I was more price-sensitive, I would consider either an electric smoker with automatic puck-feed such as the Bradley Digital 4-Rack electric smoker, or a nice propane smoker like the Masterbuilt Propane Smoker. There are many who love a traditional charcoal smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain, but I know myself . . . the extra work involved would mean I would only smoke on special occasions. I wanted something I would use a LOT, meaning even during the week for dinner.
An unexpected benefit of the pellet smoker was the ability to grill with it, meaning using the higher temperatures it supports (up to 500F). I now find that I prefer my pellet smoker over my grill in almost all situations. In particular, I use grilling temperatures often when cooking poultry or fish:
- Chicken (skin-on thighs) grills perfectly at 350F for 40 minutes. The skin is crisp, the meat is juicy, and there is a surprising amount of smoke flavor.
- Brown Sugar Salmon takes 15 minutes at 400F , and the smoker's indirect heat means I won't burn it.
With the pellet smoker:
- You fill the hopper will rabbit-food sized hardwood pellets as needed. A hopper-full is good for many hours of smoking, depending on outside temperature. I did an 11 hour smoke in summertime on a single hopper, with pellets left over.
- Press start and wait about 10 minutes for the smoker to reach 150 degrees.
- Then set the temp you want on the digital display. The Daniel Boone will grill at any temperature from 150 to 500 degrees. It takes a few more minutes to reach temperature, so you are looking at 15-20 minutes total before you are ready to smoke.
- The grill will automatically maintain the temperature you set, by feeding more pellets into the fire using an auger (screw-like drive that pushes pellets forward). No messing with water trays, soaked wood chunks, etc.
- When you're done, turn it off. It runs through a shut-down cycle that takes a few minutes.
- Every few weeks (10-15 shorter smokes), I vacuum the firepit ashes and replace the aluminum foil on my drip tray and grease bucket.
Pellet Smoker vs. my TRADITIONAL Gas Grill
I keep my traditional gas grill next to my smoker. It's handy for searing food at high heat, and as a backup on those occasions where the smoker is acting up (more on that later). But for everything else, we use the smoker. Here's why:
- Everything tastes better, without exception.
- Smoked chicken is amazing - tender, juicy and smoky, and incredibly easy.
- Smoked ribeye is the best steak I have ever had. It took some work to get it right, though.
- Ribs and pork, as expected, smoke up incredibly well, and are easy.
- Smoked trout is wonderful.
- You can buy different pellets (hickory, apple, pecan, cherry, oak, etc.) for different flavors. I settled on CookinPellets Perfect Mix, available on Amazon or at the CookinPellets website. We like plenty of smoke flavor.
- No flare-ups. The smoker is 100% indirect heat, and grease drips off to the side into a grease tray and external bucket.
- Superb temperature control. My traditional gas grill can swing up to 700 degrees if I don't keep an eye on it, making the food burnt or tough. The smoker never burns food, and holds its temperature. So if you want to smoke steak at 150, pork at 225, chicken at 350, or salmon at 400, just set the temperature and it will happen.
- Ability to hold low temperatures. I smoke ribeye at 150 for up to 2 hours in order to get a lot of smoke on it. Then I transfer it to the hot gas grill to sear it.
Surprisingly, I don't do that many "long smokes". There are lots of articles about guys smoking 11 hours for beef brisket, 6 hours for ribs, or 6 hours for pulled pork. I have tried many of those, but the vast majority of my smokes are much shorter. I think that's because the pellet smoker's convenience makes it practical for many week-day meals. Here are some of our most typical meals, and how long it takes from start to finish:
- Smoked Chicken - 1 hour (40 minutes smoking + 20 minutes smoker startup)
- Brown Sugar Salmon - 35 minutes (15 minutes smoking + 20 minutes smoker startup)
- Smoked Pork Chops - 1 hour (40 minutes smoking + 20 minutes smoker startup)
- Smoked Ribeye - 2 hours 20 minutes (2 hours smoking/grilling + 20 minutes smoker startup)
Other features I don't use that much:
- WiFi app - it has been finicky to set up, and on iPhone it has to reconnect every time you leave and then return to the app. The main use, for me, would be to check food temperature from indoors on a cold or rainy day, assuming I am using their built-in temperature probe. Frankly, I usually just switch the digital display on the smoker to Food, and then look out the window:)
- Programmable cooking cycles - you can use the phone app to program it to cook 2 hours at one temp, 3 hours at another temp, etc. Alternately, you can use food temperature as the trigger. That's a little fancy for me - it's one thing to set it and forget it, but frankly, I don't leave $50 or $100 worth of meat on a smoker for hours without occasionally taking a look at it. So, I just set a timer on my iPhone to remind me when I want to check on it.
While I love it, the smoker is definitely more work than the gas grill, and can be finicky. Also, there is a learning curve. Here are the key disadvantages:
- It's expensive, starting at about $599. Watch for sales around Black Friday on the GMG website.
- It takes longer to heat up. Plan on 10 minutes to get it started and up to 150 degrees. Plan another 5 to 10 minutes to get to higher temps such as 350 degrees.
- About every 10 to 15 smokes, you need to take the grills out and vacuum the dust out of the firepit, or the dust will prevent it from starting.
- You must cover it if stored outside. If not, rain can work it's way into the hopper and turn pellets to sawdust. That's about a half hour cleanup job at a time when you were supposed to be cooking dinner. The GMG cover costs about $60.
- It's a greasy mess. You can limit that by lining the grease tray and bucket with foil. But, the periodic cleanup job is one you want to wear rubber gloves for.
- It burns pellets, which cost money. I pay about $32 for a 40lb bag of CookinPellets on Amazon. I probably go through 5 or 6 bags a year. So, about $200 per year. It's worth it to me, but may not be worth it to you. An electric or propane smoker are good alternatives with lower operating expenses.
- To use it in the winter, a thermal blanket is highly recommended to cut down on pellet consumption by as much as 50%. The GMG Thermal Blanket costs $80 (ouch), but fits well. Sometimes I throw a welding blanket over top of it for extra insulation in the winter.
Why Green Mountain Grill (GMG)?
I have not owned any other brand of smoker, so consider this more of a pellet smoker endorsement as opposed to specifically Green Mountain Grill, However, I'm happy with the company and their products. The main reasons I chose Green Mountain include:
- Great features for money
- Digital thermostat lets you set temperature within 5 degrees
- Built-in food temperature probe
- Built-in WiFi for use with smartphone app so you can monitor food and grill temperature, and program cooking cycles. I don't use this as much as I thought I would.
- Reputation (online recommendations)
- Excellent customer support - something I learned after buying the grills.
Why GMG Daniel Boone instead of Davy Crockett?
At first, I bought the smaller Davy Crockett version, due to price. That got me hooked on pellet smokers, but it had a few drawbacks:
- Uses a power pack, so you have to plug it in , and unplug it, every time you use it . . . or risk having rain or snow ruin the power pack.
- Small grill size - As I smoked more and more, the sheer size of the grill surface limited how much I could smoke. When I'm burning pellets smoking, I like to make a larger meal so there are plenty of leftovers.
- Not entirely stable - the legs are designed to fold up so that it can be portable. If you try to move the grill, there is a risk that they will collapse. I used zip-ties to try to prevent that, but it's still a risk.
- Low to the ground - requires bending over a lot.
- No rain cover for the chimney (you can make one from aluminum foil).
- On the positive side - uses fewer pellets, great for camping or tailgating. It's heavy but portable, and can use a car battery for power when electric outlets are not available.
On Black Friday of 2015, I was cruising the GMG site and noticed a 40% off sale on grills. After some tears, groveling, and a weak attempt at blackmail, my wife relented. She has not regretted that decision. I picked up the Daniel Boone at the nearest GMG distributor the next day.