Comparing Pellet Grillls, Charcoal Grills and Gas Grills

How to choose the right grill for you.

Updated July 2021

For many people, grilling has always meant one of two things: charcoal or gas. From the time many of us were children, there are memories of bags of charcoal, lighter fluid or propane tanks along with the accompanying hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken and veggies that came off the grill. Of course, new competitors have come and gone over the years, but the “new kid on the block” in the grilling world that’s continuing to gain momentum is the pellet grill.

For those of you considering a new grill, we’ll walk you through the pros and cons of a pellet grill vs. a gas grill and a pellet grill vs. a charcoal grill, and a pellet grill vs. an electric grill to help you decide on the right outdoor cooking tool for your needs.

This isn’t to suggest that you need to forget about a gas grill fueled by propane or gas — some people even like to have a couple of different kinds of grills at their disposal! You just need to know all the facts about each type of grill. That way, you can get a grill you’re sure to use and love for the long haul.

For those of you considering a new grill, we’ll walk you through the pros and cons of a pellet grill vs. a gas grill and a pellet grill vs. a charcoal grill, and a pellet grill vs. an electric grill to help you decide on the right outdoor cooking tool for your needs. This allows you to explore the wide world of charcoal, electric, pellet and gas grilling from a comprehensive perspective.

pellet vs charcoal vs gas grills

Pellet Grill vs. Charcoal Grill

For years the charcoal grill was the standard for the home cooking grilling aficionado. Many purists claim that the flavor imparted from charcoal is the only way to grill. While many people are familiar with charcoal grills, it’s worth noting that charcoal grills come in many shapes and sizes. Here are some of the more popular styles of charcoal grills:

  • Kettle grills are what most people think of when they think of a charcoal grill, with a round grill set atop a tripod with a lid and a vent. Kettle grills are often a popular choice as a portable grill as there are many smaller, lightweight models available for camping or traveling.
  • Barrel grills are what they sound like, grills that are made out of barrels, or to look like traditional 55-gallon barrels, cut in half with a hinge and some legs to stand on.
  • Cart grills are basically grills that look like modern gas grills but use charcoal for fuel.
  • Kamado grills are egg-shaped grills made out of ceramic. The ceramic material provides insulation which helps create an even cooking temperature across the entire cooking area. Kamados can also achieve grill temperatures of 700 degrees or more, which makes them great for searing or using them as a pizza oven. These grills have become very popular among home chefs, and if you’d like to check one out have a look at Grilla’s Kong ceramic kamado grill.

Now that you know what your options are with charcoal bbq grills, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of cooking with a charcoal grill.

Try the Kong Kamado

Pros of Charcoal Grills

What are the upsides of turning to a charcoal grill? Check out some of the reasons that some people lean toward charcoal when examining a charcoal grill vs. wood pellet variety:

  • Charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal are usually less expensive than gas
  • Added smoky, charcoal flavor
  • Portable options
  • Lightweight (most models)
  • Inexpensive options

Cons of Charcoal Grills

Of course, charcoal smoker grills may not always be best suited for your needs. Below are some downsides to charcoal vs. wood pellet:

  • Take time to light and get up to temperature (sometimes up to 30 minutes)
  • Takes time to cool down/turn off
  • Need a fairly large amount of space to use, which may not be an option in tight quarters
  • Can be very messy

Additional Notes on Charcoal and Wood Pellet Grills

If you’re not familiar with pellet grills you should check out our “What is a Wood Pellet Grill?” page. For the purposes of this post, however, we’ll provide a quick overview. A pellet grill will usually have the standard look of a gas grill or charcoal cart or barrel grill (with the notable exception of our Grilla model), with the addition of a pellet hopper on the side to holds quite a few pounds of pellets for fuel. There’s an electric powered auger at the bottom of the hopper that pulls the hardwood pellets into the fire pot where they are lit. From there, you simply set your pellet grill to the temperature you want and the pellet grill will use fuel as needed to maintain that temperature with convection-style cooking that makes for an even, smoky cook.

Pros of Pellet Grills

Years ago, wood pellet grills were used sparingly. Now, they have become quite popular thanks to their benefits:

  • Easy to use – barbecue like a pro even as a novice cooker
  • Delicious wood smoked flavor
  • Variety of wood flavors
  • Precise temperature control
  • Set it and forget it cooking. You can literally set the temperature, insert a meat probe for the occasional temperature check and go grab something to drink
  • Act as both a smoker and a grill
  • Maintains temperature in nearly any weather
  • Fuel efficient (about a pound per hour of cook time)
  • Easier to clean than charcoal grills

Cons of Pellet Grills

Nevertheless, pellet grills do have a few cons that you should keep in mind before investing in a pellet vs. charcoal smoker:

  • More expensive than charcoal grills
  • Slightly higher fuel costs
  • Some people are not happy with how hot pellet grills get, as they can’t achieve the higher temperatures achieved by most charcoal grills, particularly kamados, which can make searing less effective without special attachments or additional features on the grill
  • Require electricity to use

Pellet Grill vs. Gas Grill

Gas grills are extremely popular, especially if you walk into your local big box store. There are all the brand names you’ve come to expect, you can get as few or as many square inches of cooking space that you’d like, and the prices can range as high or low as you’re willing to go. Gas grills often time come with some cool features as well, like side burners that run off of the fuel tank.

If you’ve been a Grilla Grills fan for a while, you’ll know that we offer a gas grill we call the Primate. It includes many of the above-mentioned features, in addition to offering a superb griddle surface. So it’s safe to say that we know — and appreciate — gas grills just as much as we do pellet varieties.

While gas grills are the most popular grills on the market there are some very clear positives and negatives in choosing a gas grill.

Pros of Gas Grills

Gas grills are probably in the backyards of many of your neighbors. It’s no wonder, really, when you consider their advantages:

  • Easy to light and get up to temperature
  • Can achieve high temperatures quickly
  • Keep their high temperatures steady and sustained throughout the whole cooking time
  • Lots of available features like removable grill grates and replacement griddles
  • No cleanup from fuel
  • Ability to use a propane-to-natural gas converter to hook up to the natural gas coming into your home
  • Doesn’t take too much of a learning curve to understand how to use a gas grill

Cons of Gas Grills

Despite the upshots of choosing gas grills, their negatives can be supremely problematic, especially for people who like their foods to have the flavor of cooking in the outdoors. Some of the biggest cons to buying a gas grill vs. a pellet grill include:

  • Where’s the taste? Gas has no inherent flavor, which puts the onus on you as a pitmaster to get clever and creative with seasonings.
  • Gas grills don’t smoke the food, so you don’t have that irresistible smoked taste.
  • Gas grills don’t usually perform well at lower temperatures.
  • Foods might not cook as evenly.
  • You’ll need to be very aware of safety and ordinances from the fire hazards associated with gas grills.
  • It can be difficult to control the temperature.

While we addressed the pros and cons of a pellet grill above, there are some slight differences between the pros and cons when comparing a pellet grill to a gas grill.

Pros of Pellet Grills

Feeling a little uneasy about getting a gas grill instead of a pellet grill, especially after thinking about the fact that gas requires more safety considerations and adds nothing to the taste of meats, poultry, veggies and other grilled foods? You may be better served with a pellet grill, especially since it offers the following benefits:

  • Easy to use
  • Adds wood-smoked flavor and can be varied depending on your choice in hardwood pellets
  • Precise temperature control
  • Set it and forget it cooking.
  • Act as both a smoker and a grill
  • Maintains temperature in nearly any weather

Cons of Pellet Grills

Are there any cons to owning a pellet grill? Yes, but they are not too off-putting to people who really enjoy smoking and grilling in the comfort of their own backyard:

  • Pellets are more expensive than gas
  • Requires cleaning of the fire pot
  • More expensive initial purchase than a gas grill
  • Can’t achieve higher temperatures for searing like gas or charcoal
  • Require electricity to use
  • Don’t achieve temperature as quickly as gas grills (though they are still fairly quick)

Pellet Grill vs. Electric Grill

Electric grills are somewhat different than other types of grills because they need to be plugged in to work. However, this can make them a viable choice for people who live in apartments and can’t have gas or charcoal grills on their back decks or patios. In fact, some electric grills are so small that they can be used in an enclosed kitchen.

With that being said, electric grills are not necessarily right for all occasions or buyers who want to grill food. Check out the pros and cons of electric grills vs. pellet grills below.

Pros of Electric Grills

Thinking about buying an electric grill? You should look at their advantages when lined up against gas, charcoal and pellet grills:

  • Turns on instantaneously and gets hot fast
  • Press-button start and stop makes it easy for people squeamish about lighting fires or working with flames
  • Maintenance is not hard
  • Useful for indoor cooking in some situations
  • Can store easily if they are smaller models

Cons of Electric Grills

As you may have figured out, electric grills do have some cons to them:

  • Need an outlet to supply them with electricity
  • Only work when electricity is available
  • Do not supply food with any additional, interesting flavors
  • Can be expensive to buy initially and to run on a regular basis
  • If liquid hits the electric grill, it can short-circuit the entire unit

Pros of Pellet Grills

Now, we once again come to pellet grills vs. electric grills. The advantages to opting for a pellet grill include:

  • Straightforward to learn to use
  • Changes the flavors of foods depending on the choice of hardwood pellets that are used to generate smoke
  • Can precisely set temperatures
  • Makes “low and slow” cooking a reality for everyday use
  • Can be a grill or a smoker
  • Can be used in any weather

Cons of Pellet Grills

In terms of disadvantages to pellet grills vs. electric grills, you should always think about the following:

  • Buying hardwood pellets is going to be more expensive potentially than paying to run an electric grill unit.
  • The fire pot of the pellet grill must be cleaned regularly.
  • The cost to purchase a pellet grill may exceed the initial cost of an electric grill.
  • Pellet grills cannot sear foods the way some electric models can.
  • It takes a little time to reach the desired temperatures, which is usually about 20-30 minutes.

How to Choose the Right Grill for You

Now that you have read through more information on pellet smokers, charcoal grills, electric grills and gas grills, you have a decision to make. Before making your purchase, be sure to think about several considerations:

  • How much time you will devote to increasing your grilling prowess.
  • Who in your household will be grilling or smoking foods.
  • What type of grill or smoker budget makes sense.
  • Where you will use and store your grill or wood pellet smoker.
  • Whether you currently have a grill, what type it is and what you like and dislike about it.
  • Whether you want your grill or smoker to infuse your ingredients with added flavors like mesquite or pecan.
  • How you want your grill or smoker to help you achieve your lifestyle and health goals.
  • Whether you want a gas grill that could hook up easily to the natural gas you use in your home.
  • Whether you want a grill that can be portable to take with you to competitions and tailgates.
  • What types of foods you intend to use on your grill.
  • Whether you want to make everything using a grate surface, or if you would like a griddle, too.
  • How much time you want to spend cleaning your new grill.
  • How much you want your grill to add “curb appeal” and aesthetics to your back or side yard.
  • How much room you have for your grill.

Your answers will help you narrow down your final selection. We understand how overwhelming the choices between various grills can be. But we also know that when you pick the right grill, whether it’s a pellet grill, a charcoal grill, a gas grill or an electric grill, you’re sure to love cooking on it.

Fire up the Wellness Factor With a Pellet Grill or Gas Grill-Griddle Combo

As you contemplate which type of grill to buy after reading through our pellet grill vs. propane vs. charcoal vs. electric guide, remember that pellet grills do offer a few characteristics that make them a healthier grilling option. First is their ability to maintain human interest. People who buy pellet grills tend to stick with grilling because a pellet grill is so versatile. For example, the same recipe can taste much different depending on which wood pellets you use. After all, hickory wood pellets transmit a flavor that is quite unique from applewood pellets.

Another health benefit of pellet grills relates to their allowing you to grill practically anything in a low, slow way. The freshness and juiciness stay in, making eating lean and nutritious foods a mouth-pleasing experience. No more dull “diet” meals. Your pellet-cooked ingredients burst with flavor, leaving you satisfied and feeling full.

Finally, pellet grills can be very cost-effective over the long haul, which is healthier for your budget, too! Spend a little more upfront to enjoy a type of cooking you can use season after season. Forget about slogging over the stove — you have a pellet smoker and grill to make life enjoyable and tastier!

Not convinced that a pellet grill is going to be ideal for your situation? A gas grill-griddle product offers you convenience and performance as well. You’ll need to add the seasoning because you won’t have the natural smoky pellet odor as a flavor infuser, but grilling on gas can give you a supremely spectacular result. It’s especially beneficial when you want to sear meat like the pros!

Purchase a Grilla Grill and become part of the growing pellet smoker grilling or propane gas grilling community today.

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