Every backyard barbecue expert has their favorite grill, and their favorite type of grill. This goes beyond the Hank Hill defending propane on King of the Hill but actually I’ve seen some pretty heated debates over what type of grill or smoker was best. Put a few pellet grill smoker fans in the room with multiple stick burner smoker fans in the room and watch the sparks fly.
I’m not much for fanatical belief. If the grill is good, I can make it work. If the smoker is good, I can make it work. While we all have our preferences, whether for a brand, a type, or that one individual smoker we’ve used and honed in on the eccentricities of for years, it is safe to say that the debate between pellet grills vs stick burners is not going anywhere, especially considering that it has been one of those debates that barbecue enthusiasts have kept burning for many, many years at this point.
Let’s be honest: both cooking methods have their loyal fan base because both methods can be very effective. Each type of grill can make great smoked meat and so it’s no surprise that each side in this argument claims their preferred grill and smoker as “clearly” being the superior choice.
For those of you new to this argument and who are relatively new to smoking meat, don’t let the argument scare you off. Dive into this world and enjoy the succulent and mouth-watering results.
However, to help bring you up to speed, in this article I’ll take a look at the differences between pellet grills and stick burners, as well as the pros and cons of each so you can make up your own mind…or at the very least have a good starting point for doing your own research.
Pellet grills are designed to use specialized wood pellets as fuel. These pellets are specifically designed for smoking food and should provide a consistent cooking temperature making it easier to help guarantee a proper temperature and solid flavor while cooking. This style of grill is (rightfully) praised for ease of use and the precise temperature control, which I have to admit, sure beats having to try that manually over an open campfire.
Stick burners, on the other hand, use logs or sticks to generate heat and produce smoke. This is the more traditional method which is popular with many expert barbecue competitors because it can produce bolder and smokier flavors. The drawback is that this style of grill requires a much greater level of attention and skill to properly manage.
Pellet Grill Vs Stick Burner: Understanding the Basics
Now that you know the simplest overview of what each of these styles of grill have to offer, it’s time to dive deeper into the topic so you can understand all the basics. So let’s get to it!
Pellet grills are not only very well known among casual backyard barbecue experts, but they are a popular choice for many more hardcore barbecue enthusiasts because they are easy to use and even many beginners are more easily able to maintain consistent cooking temperatures to ensure the perfect result.
When you’re dealing with pellet grills remember that you can’t just pick up loose sticks from the yard because these grills use wood pellets as their primary fuel source, which are fed into a hopper and then transported to a firebox where they are heated to generate smoke and heat.
The major benefits of pellet grills include:
- Consistent temperatures: Pellet grills are straight out designed to maintain a consistent temperature range, making it much easier to get those ideal cooking conditions every time, and hopefully, make it easier to get that perfect smoked meat.
- Easy to use: Pellet grills are easy to setup and simple to operate. Add in the fact that they require minimal supervision and are easy to clean, and it’s not hard to see why they are so popular.
- Slow cooking: Slow cooking can be hard when you have to manage the flames constantly. These provide the ability to maintain low temperatures for long periods of time without much hassle, making pellet grills ideal for slow cooking, smoking, and other low-and-slow cooking methods.
Stick burners, also known as offset smokers because of their design, use wood logs or sticks as their fuel source to produce heat and smoke for cooking. These grills and smokers often require more skill and experience to manage airflow and temperature control effectively, but they also give the cook more control over flavor profiles if they are skilled enough to do so.
Some key features of stick burners include:
- Adjustable heat and flavor: There’s much more control over heat and by using different types of wood, both in type and size, users of stick burners have the ability to change and adjust both the intensity of heat and smoky flavor to suit their preferences.
- Versatility: Stick burners can be used for a variety of cooking methods, from smoking and grilling to roasting and searing.
- Hands-on experience: Cooking with a stick burner requires more attention to manually control temperature and smoke levels, which can be appealing to experienced barbecue enthusiasts because they have the skills of to get the most out of their cooking and actually enjoy the challenge of traditional techniques.
Both pellet grills and stick burners have their own unique advantages and appeal to different types of cooks. Pellet grills often cater to those seeking easy temperature control and minimal supervision while still achieving excellent flavor and results.
On the other hand, stick burners offer a more traditional, hands-on barbecue experience, where technique and skills can greatly influence cooking outcomes.
Breaking Down The Traits of Each Grill Type
There’s a lot to love about both of these grills, but if you’re going to really get into the argument of which is better, or just which you prefer, in the pellet grill vs stick burner grill debate, you’ll want to know more about the various traits of each grill. Pros, cons, and otherwise.
So let’s dive in!
Comparing Convenience & Ease of Use
Pellet grills offer much more convenience and are easier to use compared to stick burners. This is because pellet grills are designed to run smoothly and to take care of the detail work that you need to mind when dealing with a stick fed option. On the other hand, charcoal grilling with stick burners requires constant monitoring of the fire and replenishing wood and wood chips to depending on the type of smoky flavor you are looking to imbue the meat with.
In terms of electricity, pellet grills rely on an electrical outlet for their operation, which can limit their mobility to some extent. In other words, they’re built for the modern back deck that has an outdoor electrical outlet.
That said, their dependence on electricity also offers an advantage in that they can be easily connected to remote controls and sensors. These features contribute to the overall convenience and ease of use of pellet grills at home or in an area with the appropriate setup by allowing users to adjust and monitor cooking temperatures more precisely than stick burners.
Cleaning and maintenance are other aspects where pellet grills have an edge over stick burners. Pellet grills have a reputation for being easy to clean, typically featuring a design that includes removable components and grease management systems so it’s much easier to clean than it would otherwise would be and provides a lot less hassle than a different design.
Stick burners, on the other hand, may involve a lot more in-depth work to clean, and I can attest to memories of helping Dad out when it was time to clean by scraping off residue and ash, leading to a cleaning process that uses a lot more time and effort.
Don’t get me wrong, it was worth it based on the cooking that was to come and the many cooking lessons learned about grilling and how even a little bit of mesquite or applewood could make all the difference and turn a good grilling experience into a great one.
The easiness of using a pellet grill is also a big plus and can make it an ideal choice for a true beginner who has never done much grilling or cooking. These are grills that tend to be beginner-friendly in every way while stick burners require more skill and attention to maintain proper temperature and cooking conditions.
While pellet grills may be more convenient and easier to use, they are more aimed to beginners or casual smokers. Pellet grills tend to be a little bit more expensive than stick fed grills and you won’t learn as many of the skills to became a next level griller and smoker because the steadiness of pellet grills means less ability to really affect the smoky flavor.
Flavor and Smoke Quality
When comparing pellet grills and stick burners, one of the critical factors to consider is the flavor and smoke quality. Pellet grills use wood pellets, which are compressed sawdust from hardwood trees. These pellets come in various flavors, such as maple, apple, cherry, mesquite, hickory, oak, pecan, and alder. This wide range of options allows users to experiment and create unique flavors in their smoked meats.
On the other hand, stick burners use logs or sticks as fuel, which can also be made from different types of hardwood, including oak, hickory, and mesquite. The wood logs impart a more authentic and intense smoke flavor to the food compared to pellet grills. However, it is essential to mention that pellet grills generally produce less smoke than stick burners. This less-intense smoke may lead to a milder smoky flavor and bark on the meat.
Another aspect affecting the smoke quality involves temperature control. Pellet grills offer better temperature control since their automated systems ensure a steady and even heat throughout the cooking process. This gives the user more consistent results in flavor and smoke formation. Conversely, stick burners require manual temperature adjustments, which may lead to fluctuations in heat and inconsistencies in smoke generation.
Moreover, pellet grills provide a cleaner smoke flavor as the pellets burn hotter and more consistently than logs, producing a steadier stream of smoke. Stick burners, however, rely on the user’s ability to maintain clean-burning fires, which may result in creosote buildup and impart a bitter taste to the food if not adequately controlled.
In summary, pellet grills and stick burners offer different experiences in terms of flavor and smoke quality. Pellet grills allow users to experiment with various wood pellet flavors while providing cleaner and milder smoky profiles. Stick burners, in contrast, deliver a more intense and authentic smoke flavor but with greater variability in taste due to their manual temperature controls and dependence on clean-burning fires.
Comparing Grill Versatility
When comparing pellet grills and stick burners, looking at the versatility of each makes sense. What do they do well? What do they struggle with? Is there a big difference between one one must consider the various cooking methods and versatility of each type. Both of these devices allow users to execute different cooking techniques for preparing meat, vegetables, and more.
There are multiple styles of cooking and food prep you can use with pellet grills, making them versatile cooking tools that you can use for smoking, grilling, baking, searing, and braising. The pellet grill’s design allowing for easy precision temperature control is what allows you to cook in so many ways. In addition to this, these grills can be used for both hot and fast or low and slow cooking processes, depending on what you want to prepare on any particular cooking outing.
On the other hand, stick burners, also known as offset BBQ smokers, are generally just used for smoking meat. This is more than enough for all of us who love smoked meat, but that’s the main use of these grills which use sticks and log splits for fuel, not wood pellets. These grills are built for the main purpose of allowing cooks to create that unique, smoky flavor to the dish.
Stick burners can also be used for grilling in a pinch, and while keeping a steady temperature is more challenging, it’s a great skill to have and easy for an old hand at campfire cooking.
Additionally, pellet grills are considered more user-friendly due to their automated pellet feeding system. Stick burners, on the other hand, require more attention and care from the user to manage both smoke and heat levels, making this cooking method more labor-intensive.
In terms of versatility, pellet grills have a slight edge over stick burners, as they offer a broader variety of cooking methods. In practical terms, there isn’t all that much difference as both have full grill functionality, but it’s also worth noting that if you want more versatility and control when it comes to creating a deep smoky flavor in your meat, then you will want to go with stick burners.
When comparing pellet grills and stick burners, price is going to be a factor because there is a considerable difference between average pricing among these two types of smokers and grills. Generally speaking you’ll find that pellet grills are more expensive than stick burners, because as is often true in life you need to pay extra for convenience. Reliable entry-level pellet grill models ranging from $400 to $700 while premium or deluxe versions can cost up to $2,000 or even slightly more, making them a substantial investment.
But for the right backyard grilling and smoking setup, this can very much be worth it.
In contrast, stick burners are generally more affordable, with the most basic of stick burners being among some of the cheapest reliable grills on the market. They use sticks of hardwood, such as oak, maple, cherry, apple, pecan, mesquite, and hickory, which are placed in a metal container called a firebox. A fan blows air across the burning sticks to create smokeless heat.
When it comes to fuel costs, pellet grills use wood pellets as their primary fuel source. The size of the hopper determines how long the grill can operate before you need to give it a refill to keep the smoking process going. Pellet grills with larger hoppers offer extended run times, but prices may increase with the size of the hopper.
On the other hand, stick burners use hardwood sticks as fuel, which can be more cost-effective and readily available depending on the area. These are grills that are perfect for backyard chefs who like to be active when working on the grill.
While pellet grills offer more convenience and a sort of “cheat code” for beginning grill masters just getting used to preparing a meal, or who don’t want the headache and potential issues that can come from some common grilling mistakes. On the other hand stick burners are more affordable but require additional effort to manage burn levels and fuel consumption.
Both types of grills have their pros and cons, and ultimately, the choice will depend on your specific budget, preference, and future grilling plans.
Fuel and Fire Management
Proper fuel and fire management are crucial for the ideal BBQ experience. Pellet grills and stick burners each have their own distinct fire management characteristics and there is no wrong answer as to which is better, it’s preference, but experience has a lot to do with what you can do with each style of grill.
Pellet grills utilize wood pellets as fuel, which are fed through an auger into the burn pit. The auger controls the rate at which the pellets are introduced to maintain the desired pit temperature. Additionally, pellet grills often have built-in temperature controls, making fire management simpler and more straightforward.
On the other hand, stick burners use logs or hardwood sticks as fuel, which require more attention and skill in fire management. The firebox houses the logs and requires constant monitoring to adjust airflow and maintain the ideal pit temp. Unlike pellet grills, stick burners necessitate a steeper learning curve in handling the fire and ensuring consistent temperatures.
Here is a comparison of key fire management elements for pellet grills and stick burners:
|Feature||Pellet Grill||Stick Burner|
|Fuel Type||Wood pellets||Logs or hardwood sticks|
|Fire Maintenance||Easier with automated controls||Requires constant attention|
|Pit Temp Control||Built-in temperature controls||Manual adjustments in airflow|
|Learning Curve||Simple||A bit steeper|
For those who prefer a hands-off approach, pellet grills offer a more convenient experience. However, for BBQ enthusiasts who enjoy the process of tending to the fire (and let’s be honest – who doesn’t?), stick burners may be the more rewarding option.
Temperature Control and Maintenance
One of the main differences between pellet grills and stick burners is temperature control. As already stated a few times before, pellet grills are known for their precise and consistent temperature control. It’s one of the selling points for these grills and makes it easier to achieve and then maintain cooking temperature. They usually come with digital controls, which allow users to set their desired temperature and let the grill do the rest.
In addition to this, the heat distribution in pellet grills is more even compared to stick burners. This results in more consistent cooking and fewer hotspots. Achieving an even temperature throughout the cooking chamber is crucial for cooking delicate meats and fish, which are often prone to overcooking and sometimes you don’t want a challenge, you just want a good meal.
When it comes to creating a smoky flavor and bark on the meat, stick burners have a clear advantage. Stick burners produce more smoke than pellet grills, resulting in a more intense smoky flavor and better bark formation. They are designed for smoking. However, pellet grills can still produce a satisfactory level of smokiness, which may be preferable for some users who enjoy a milder smoke profile.
In terms of maintenance, pellet grills are generally easier to clean and maintain compared to stick burners. Cleaning a pellet grill can be done using a brush and soap, along with removing ash and debris from the burn box. The exterior can be scrubbed with a damp cloth, then wiped off with a dry cloth for a spotless finish. Stick burners, however, tend to produce more ash and require more frequent cleanings, as well as monitoring wood consumption throughout the cooking process.
When choosing between a pellet grill and a stick burner, factors such as temperature control, maintenance, and the desired smoke flavor should be taken into consideration. While pellet grills offer better temperature control and may be more convenient, stick burners can provide a more authentic and intense smoky flavor.
Mobility & Grill Size
When comparing pellet grills and stick burners, mobility and grill size are important factors to consider. Pellet grills generally require a power source to function, limiting their mobility by quite a bit since access to a reliable outlet is mandatory for these (though in theory an RV can work in many cases). On the other hand, stick burners can be used in any location where you have access to charcoal or wood.
The size of the grill is crucial for many reasons, including the amount of food that can be cooked simultaneously and the need to keep heat even throughout the entire grill so cooking temperatures stayed consistent. Both pellet grills and stick burners come in various sizes to accommodate the many different needs you might have as the grill master for the day.
Grills can come in many different sizes but if you’re looking for a huge one then you are probably looking for a stick burner as these can get to massive sizes for major events or full competition level smoking.
In conclusion, when choosing between a pellet grill and a stick burner, consider mobility and grill size to meet your specific needs. Both types of grills are available in numerous sizes.
Pros and Cons of Stick Burners
There’s a lot to love about stick burners (the type of grill/smoker I’m far more familiar with) but not everything is roses. There are some potential drawbacks, especially if you have less experience at the barbecue.
This section looks at the pros and cons of stick burners.
Stick burners have several benefits that make them a popular choice, especially for those cooks obsessed with building those grilling and smoking skills. The first is that these grills have a well-deserved reputation for infusing an excellent smoky flavor to the meat, which is a huge selling point for barbecue enthusiasts. This authentic, wood-fired taste can be challenging to replicate with other types of grills or smokers.
Another advantage of stick burners is that the basic models are very affordable. In general, they can be far more affordable than pellet smokers, making them suitable for those who want a quality barbecue experience without breaking the bank.
Stick burners also offer ease of use and can be moved around without restrictions. Unlike pellet grills that require an electrical outlet, stick burners do not need electricity to work, providing more flexibility in choosing the location for your barbecue.
Despite their advantages, stick burners come with a few drawbacks that you should consider. One significant disadvantage is the higher level of maintenance required compared to pellet grills. Stick burners necessitate regular monitoring and adjustments to maintain a consistent temperature during the cooking process.
In addition to the increased maintenance, stick burners can be more challenging to clean. Ashes and grease can accumulate quickly in these grills, and removing them may require more time and effort than other models.
Another consideration when choosing a stick burner is the potential learning curve, especially for novice grillers. Compared to pellet grills, which often feature digital controls and automated systems, stick burners may involve a bit of trial and error as users learn how to manage the fire and temperature effectively.
Let’s talk about something to keep in mind: stick burners are quite the fuel guzzlers. They chew through wood at a much faster rate than pellet grills do. While you might save money initially with the purchase of a stick burner, over time, the cost of fuel could add up, tipping the scales. Can be a bit of a surprise if you’re not prepared for it!
Recommended Stick Burner Grill
A highly recommended stick burner grill for those seeking a premium top-rated choice is anything by Lang. Now Lang barbecue smokers are premium so they are pricy but if you want the best and money isn’t an issue, looking at what they have to offer is a great way to go.
I don’t have a Lang myself, but I’ve had the joy of seeing them in action up close and I will say there aren’t many friends I’m envious of, but those that own Langs are in that group.
When budget is an issue but you still want something that is quality, Oklahoma Joe’s is a brand to look at. It’s like having a premium smoker at a reasonable price and offers about anything an experienced barbecuer could ask for.
These grills are built to last, have plenty of space for grilling and smoking, are easy to use, and one of the most reliable thermometers I’ve used. This is a smoker that will serve you well building your smoking skills and last for years.
If you want a reliable stick burner grill this is the one I would personally recommend. It’s going to outperform most other options and stand the test of time. And who can ask for more than that?
Pros and Cons of Pellet Grills
There’s certainly a place for pellet grills out there, and a good pellet grill will definitely get the job done and make it easier to have a great cookout experience to boot!
Pellet grills offer several benefits over traditional grilling methods such as stick burners. One of the main advantages is the ease of use, as pellet grills work by automatically feeding wood pellets into a firepot, which then burn to create heat and smoke. Sometimes you just don’t want to do extra work.
Another advantage of pellet grills is the consistent cooking temperatures. This makes it easier to come out with a good meal every time.
Add in the fact that pellet grills are easy to clean as they produce minimal ash and smoke.
Despite their advantages, pellet grills come with a few drawbacks. One of the main cons is the initial cost, as they tend to be more expensive than stick burners.
Furthermore, pellet grills require electricity to operate. This can be a limitation for those who want to use them in remote locations or during power outages, which is something many people don’t think about until suddenly a natural disaster hits and they want to smoke all the meat in the freezer/fridge before it goes bad and can’t fire up the grill.
Finally, it should be noted that some cooking enthusiasts argue that pellet grills do not impart the same intense smoky flavor achieved by using a stick burner. While pellet grills do provide a good level of smoke, those who seek a more robust flavor profile may prefer other cooking methods.
Recommended Pellet Grill
When searching for the best pellet grill, there are several factors to consider such as build quality, temperature control, ease of use, and price. The good news is that there are a lot of great options, though if you’re looking for the best overall pellet grill no one should be surprised by the idea that a Traegar takes the top of the list.
The Ironwood 885 is just straight out famous in backyard circles. You can look up the specs anywhere but the TL;DR version of this pellet grill:
- Extremely durable
- Massie cooking space
- 20 lb hopper capacity
- Consistently outstanding smoking results
This pellet grill is also known for its advanced temperature control (trademarked WiFIRE® technology) which could be nicknamed “Meat smoking made easy.”
It also lives up to the name of “Ironwood” by being a reliable and sturdy grill that holds up to heavy use. When you combine that with consistently great smoked meat, what more can you ask for?
In summary, Traeger lives up to its name and delivers another exceptional grill and smoker.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the main difference between a pellet grill and a stick burner?
A: The primary difference between these two types of grills lies in their fuel source. Pellet grills use wood pellets, which burn slowly and evenly, for cooking. Stick burners, on the other hand, utilize wood logs or sticks as their fuel source.
Q: Are pellet grills easy to clean?
A: Yes, pellet grills are relatively easy to clean due to the absence of ash and smoke emissions. Their design also prevents the occurrence of sparks or flames, ensuring a safer cooking experience as well.
Q: Which type of grill is more portable?
A: Stick burners are more portable than pellet grills due to their independence from an electrical outlet. Pellet grills require a power source for operation, limiting their mobility.
So Which Grill Is Best? A Comparison and Verdict
In the world of barbecue, the debate between pellet grills and stick burners is an ongoing one. There are good pros and cons to both, and your personal level with smoking meat, grilling, and barbecue in general might go a long way to determining which one is best for you.
Generally speaking, a pellet smoker might be for you if:
- You want easy consistent heat when grilling or smoking
- Electricity based
- You’re relatively new to smoking/grilling
- You’re willing to pay for convenience versus having to constantly monitor things
- Very easy cleanup
- A slightly larger price doesn’t scare you off
And on the other side of the deck:
Generally speaking a stick burner smoker might be right for you if:
- You want to develop your smoking and grilling skills
- You want more control over the cooking experience and flavors
- You want a grill that can work when power is out
- You really love that smoky flavor
- You’re interested in eventually going into competition smoking and/or barbecue
- Your budget is lower and you need a very affordable smoking grill
There you go, that’s all the information you need to figure out which type of grill serves your needs best and to make a decision that you will be happy with. So happy shopping and enjoy the many, many delicious meals to come!
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