Outdoor cooking is always a favorite summertime tradition of Americans for decades. This love of grilling food over an open fire dates back centuries to campfires, hearths, and barbeque pits. But, the modern-day outdoor grill has come a long way since piling wood under a spit and lighting it on fire.
Two of the best and most popular grills on the market are the Kamado and pellet style grills. These outdoor cookers are versatile, cooking everything from pies and pizzas to burgers and hotdogs with ease. Most will serve you well at temperatures up to 500°F but don’t be surprise if they can go higher.
Kamado vs Pellet Grill Overview
Kamado grills operate similarly to charcoal grills; you fill them with your charcoal fuel, light the briquettes, and then use vents to control the grill’s interior temperature.
While these rounded, ceramic grills are usually smaller in size, many companies compensate for the lack of grilling surface space by offering additional racks to stack on top of the main surface. Stacking racks allow you to cook with more radiant heat instead of keeping your food directly over the open flame. Cooking with radiant heat will enable you to lock in flavor without charbroiling your food with a direct flame.
Pellet grills, by contrast, offer a wide variety of sizes. Some are upright smokers, while others look very similar to traditional woodfired grills and ovens. They use small wooden pellets crafted from compressed sawdust as fuel. Simply fill your pellet hopper with the wood pellets of your choice, hit the ignition, and let the pellet grill do the rest.
The most significant appeal of pellet grills is their hands-off approach to grilling. Veteran pitmasters may feel like it’s lazy grilling because they won’t be required to “man the grill” during the cooking. However, pellet grills give you more controlled cooking as you can often connect pellet grills to home wifi and use a smartphone app to ignite the grill, set temperatures, track how much fuel they have left in the hopper, and set timers.
With all this modern technology, pellet grills require two fuel sources: The wood pellets and electricity to run the auger that feeds the pellets into the firebox. Although your results from using a pellet grill will always be top-notch, needing two fuel sources may be a drawback for some new grillers.
Photo by Kamado Joe (@kamadojoe)
A Kamado grill functions as more of an outdoor oven than a standalone grill. Part of the reason these grills offer outstanding functionality is that they’re often manufactured using a ceramic material that’s ideal for regulating the interior temperatures of your grill.
Retaining extreme heat makes for a great appliance that can do just about anything. These fantastic cookers can roast, bake, braise, boil, grill, and smoke. Ceramic does not transfer heat as quickly as the steel and aluminum used in other charcoal type grills. Because ceramic is slow to transfer heat, the fire consumes fuel more slowly, extending the life of the fuel source you choose to utilize for cooking.
This slow, radiating heat helps to create stable temperatures throughout the grill’s cooking chamber. That means your food will cook evenly without needing much attention during the cooking process.
While they can do quite a bit, Kamado grills are not mobile or portable, so don’t expect to take them to tailgate parties. Typically, when you put a kamado grill somewhere, you’ll need to leave it there due to the heavy weight.
- Offer outstanding heat retention – The primary material used to manufacture Kamado grills is ceramic. Ceramic lends itself excellently to insulation and heat retention, making Kamado grills a terrific option for radiant cooking.
- High fuel efficiency – The fuel used for Kamado grills is often charcoal, but many outdoor chefs have expanded their sources, including wood, twigs, and even straw. The reason Kamado grills excel at fuel efficiency is due to the ceramic material used to craft them.
- Provide steady heat – The ceramic material used in manufacturing Kamado grills does not conduct heat well. Instead, the heat is trapped inside the grill and radiates around your food very slowly on the cooking surface.
- Versatile – You can do anything in a kamado that you’d do in an oven. The only difference is that your kamado grill is an outdoor appliance. No matter if you want to grill, bake, roast, smoke, barbecue, or sear, your Kamado grill will get the job done efficiently and smoothly.
- Unique flavors – Using lighter fluid in your Kamado grill absorbs into the ceramic, causing a chemical taste. Instead, use starters to preserve the flavors that will infuse into your food via the charcoal.
- Heavy materials – Kamado grills weigh a lot. The ceramic tile material used to make these grills is sturdy and durable but moving them around can be a two-person job, especially if your grill is larger.
- Long cooldown time – Ceramic takes a while to cool down, so if you need to move your grill, you may need to wait sometime before being able to do so.
- Steep learning curve – The only way to control temperatures with a Kamado grill is by opening and closing the vents. Most Kamado grills have a gauge on the lid to help you monitor the interior temperature, so learning the exact positioning you need, and its temperature takes practice.
- Can’t do multiple things at once – Kamado grills are well known for their versatility, but they struggle with doing two different things in one day. If you want to go from smoking to grilling, you’ll need to swap out deflector plates that haven’t cooled down yet.
Photo by Traeger Grills (@traegergrills)
Pellet grills are incredibly versatile outdoor cookers. If you want to bake a birthday cake, your pellet grill features consistent temperature control. If you want to turn up the heat to sear meat, you can also slowly lower the temperature to smoke ribs immediately.
If you want a grilling appliance to come with you to every tailgate, picnic, and beach trip, a portable pellet grill is the best choice. Set your meats and turn your attention to your guests and family, knowing long as your hopper is full of pellets, you’ll never have to worry about temperature variations. Higher-end pellet grills can have a max temperature of 700°F. Some models feature sear plates or other add-ons that allow for the gorgeous sear marks that pitmasters and backyard grillers love.
- They do it all – The highest-end pellet grills are 10-in-one cookers. They can easily bake, braise, roast, smoke, sear, broil, grill, barbecue, char-grill, and toast any food you need.
- Lightweight and portable – Many manufacturers have solved your portable grilling needs by designing models made from lightweight materials and feature a compact design for easy portability.
- Easy to use – With all the available technology in most modern pellet grills, you can feel free to leave your cooking surface unmanned.
- Excellent temperature control – Pellet grills have exceptional temperature control. You can easily ignite the grill using a smartphone app then set the temperature.
- Wide temperature ranges – The pellet grill’s diverse capabilities depend on the wide temperature ranges that it provides. Most models have a baseline temperature of 200°F with lower-end models maxing out between 450°F and 500°F.
- Safe grilling option – Due to how pellet grills work, they eliminate flare-ups. This decreases fire hazards and burn risk, making pellet grills some of the safest grills to use.
- Additional features – Modern pellet grills offer access to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing users to control internal temperature and fuel levels right from their smartphone or tablet, allowing you to spend more time socializing with friends and family.
- More expensive – Pellet grills are more expensive than most other grill types. With the interior auger feeding pellets to the firebox, they have more moving parts that could break some other grills so that they may need more frequent repairs.
- Dual fuel sources – While pellet grills create heat by igniting wood pellets in the firebox, they need a way to deliver the pellets to the fire. They do that by using electricity to move the auger. Anytime you use a pellet grill, you have to plug it in first.
- Potential for component failure – With so many different parts, there’s more potential for them to break. Most pellet grills come with competitive warranties, so you’ll always want to check with the manufacturer before purchasing.
- Searing marks requires an attachment – Pellet grills are more than capable of providing the amount of heat necessary to create sear marks on the meats you cook. They just need an additional attachment to make it happen.
Kamados and Pellet Grills Go Head to Head
Pellet and Kamado grills are great outdoor appliances, but they each offer various features that appeal to different grill cooks. Here are factors you should consider before investing your money in one of these terrific cookers.
Temperature Control and Heat Retention
Controlling temperature is one of the most critical factors when grilling. If you can’t control your cooking surface temperature, you won’t be able to ascertain when your food is ready, or if it is cooked evenly or thoroughly. Having undercooked or unevenly cooked food can easily lead to foodborne illness.
Pellet grills are generally well constructed from steel or aluminum. While these metal materials conduct and transfer heat well, it’s very typical for pellet grills to retain and circulate heat more effectively. Since these grill types are considered a set it and forget it appliance, you won’t have to open the lid or door, allowing heat to escape. Instead, some models feature viewing windows that will enable you to check on your meats and veggies.
A ceramic Kamado grill also excels at retaining heat but controlling the interior temperature can be challenging because there are no knobs or buttons to push to set it. With a Kamado grill, you control the cooking surface’s internal temperature by opening and closing the vents on the grill chamber’s top and bottom and watching the temperature gauge on the front of the lid.
Functionality and User Experience
Some backyard grillmasters prefer a grill’s simplicity to extend to filling it with fuel, lighting it, and putting their food on to cook while they monitor it. Others define simplicity as prepping their food, putting it on the grill, and then letting it cook while enjoying their afternoon and evening tending to other things like guests and family.
If you’re the type of griller that likes to operate the grill, you’ll most likely prefer a Kamado grill. These grills are incredibly straightforward pieces of equipment but take a more hands-on approach to grilling. In addition to this, kamado users can innovate their cooking experience by replacing the stand and using a grilling table.
Fuel options for Kamado grills are diverse. Most grillers prefer charcoal, but you can use other fuels such as wood or straw, instead. Don’t use lighter fluid to ignite your fuel as the smell can be absorbed into the ceramic, which will then contaminate the food you cook. Instead, use starters to help your charcoal catch fire. There are racks and deflector plates that can be purchased separately to add more diversity to your cooking methods.
Pellet grills are very well suited to people who love technology. These grills find their heat and flavors from the wood pellets that fuel them, but a second electrical power source is needed to operate the grill.
This grill also provides Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to start it, monitor the hopper, set the temperature, set a timer, and shut it off. Once your food is on the grate, you don’t have to do anything else but wait for your meal to be done.
When comparing the two grill types, you’ll find Kamado and pellet grills to be somewhat similar. The price ranges ultimately depend upon the features you add to them, the size of each grill, and the bells and whistles you want to include for your own grilling experience. If you just want a straightforward grill to sear your burgers, then you can find one at a relatively low price point.
Kamado and pellet grills are both unique outdoor ovens. They both have the extraordinary ability to cook food to perfection with minimal effort needed from the grillmaster using them.
Overall, a Kamado grill is a more affordable backyard grilling option than a pellet grill, as you only need a single fuel source. The pellet grill’s portability means you don’t need to invest in a second grilling appliance for tailgates and camping trips.
If you’re looking for a grill that offers outstanding versatility and a hand-off approach to grilling, then a pellet grill is for you. If you’re looking for a straightforward grill to operate, but you want to get more involved with the cooking process, a Kamado grill is an unbeatable option.