3 Best Pellet Grills In 2020 For Under $700
Hey, Scott Williamson here, today I’ll be reviewing three grills I’ve found provide the best bang for your buck in the under $700 category. These grills are the Traeger Pro 34 from Home Depot ($699), the Pit Boss 1100 Pro from Lowes ($599), and the Pit Boss Austin XL from Walmart ($497). Keep in mind that all prices were found at the time of writing, April 2020. With that being said, let's get into it!
It’s important to know the difference between PID and time based controllers. While the Traeger Pro 34 is PID based, both the Pit Boss grills are time based (with the 1100 Pro being partial PID). Time-based controllers use a preset timing sequence for “off” and “on'' feeding cycles. PID is an acronym for proportional, integral and derivative. PID controllers are constantly reading the grill temperature from a sensor and making real-time micro adjustments to the fuel and or the air to keep smoking temperatures constant. I’ll explain later how the time based controllers used what's called a P-setting to make up for the PID’s automated trimming.
Traeger Pro 34
First up, the Traeger Pro 34 (TFB88PUB & TFB88PZB). The Pro 34 is a Home Depot exclusive, you will not find this grill anywhere else. This is the smallest grill in this review, both in the cooking area as well as weight. Coming in at an assembled weight of 135 lbs, it features 884 sq. inches of total cooking area. This number is a combination of the 646 sq. inches of cooking area on the main grates, as well as the 238 sq. inches provided by the warming rack, an included feature that’s not found on cheaper Traeger models. If we’re talking burgers (when are we not) the primary cooking area fits roughly 35, with a spare inch or two left on either side.
The Pro 34 uses Traegers Digital Pro with AGL (Advanced Grilling Logic) control system. The Digital Pro AGL controller is able to produce 36,000 BTU’s of heat in 15 degree increments up to a maximum of 450 F. What I love about this controller is that it doesn’t have a P-setting, and instead adjusts the temperature inside the grill automatically to compensate for inclement weather like rain and wind. If, like me, you’re planning on grilling through fall and winter, I highly recommend the Traeger Pro 34 insulating blanket. It wraps around the barrel and upper sawhorse leg frame to prevent extreme temperature fluctuations during the harshest conditions. This controller also comes standard with 2 meat probes, displaying each probe's temperature on the LED backlit screen at the push of a button.
I’ve found I have two issues with the Pro 34. One being that it doesn’t have any shelves or storage space, something standard on both Pit Boss grills in this review. When I’m looking to put a tray of buns down and pull the burgers off the grill, there’s nowhere to work! I solved this problem by outfitting my Pro 34 with a foldable front shelf and some wooden utensil hangers. The other is that the hopper holds quite a bit less than the other grills reviewed. It holds roughly 18 lbs. of pellets whereas the 1100 Pro holds twice that, and the Austin just under the 1100 at 31 lbs. Keep in mind that how long the stove can stay on depends on a few factors: the controller, barrel size, and hopper capacity. I found when I was smoking low and slow the Traeger sipped on the pellets, but once I got it roaring it would chew through them quite quickly.
Of the three grills I’m reviewing, the Traeger has the best fit on a deck and ergonomics. The handle for moving the grill is located on the lightest side of the grill, so lifting is easier. The Pro 34 also comes with all terrain wheels on the back, and swivel locking casters on the front. Overall I’m very satisfied with theTraeger Pro 34. It works as advertised, the assembly was a breeze, and there are tons of accessories available to customize it to your liking. As with all grills, I’d suggest a grill cover, a bottle opener, and the magnetic cutting board.
Pit Boss 1100 Pro
Next up is the Pit Boss 1100 Pro (PB1100PS1), coming in at $599 at time of writing. This grill is a monster of a grill which can only be found at Lowes. The 1100 Pro is the largest pellet grill in this review. It boasts an impressive 1100 sq. inches of cooking surface area, 800 sq. inches of which comes from the lower racks, and the other 300 sq. inches are from it’s large upper warming rack. I found this to be enough space to fit an astounding 45 burgers, you can feed an entire football team. Whereas the Traeger Pro 34 was 135 lbs., the Pit Boss 1100 Pro weighs a whopping 183 lbs. I attribute most of this extra weight to the roomier hopper, standard side shelf, lower shelf, and front shelf, plus a slightly thicker steel. We’ll get into all that in a bit.
The 1100 Pro features Pit Boss’s newest V3 Dial-in Digital Controller. This controller has the same name as the Pit Boss Austin XL’s controller, but allows for mucher higher BTU’s (40,000 vs 20,700). I find this to be very important when it comes to getting back up to temp after opening the lid to check your food. Like all grills in this review, the new V3 controller has two built-in inputs for meat probes so you can monitor your internal food temperatures without raising the lid and letting heat escape. The V3 controller also has a prime feature, this helps speed up the process when changing over pellet flavors. This is a partial PID / partial time-based controller. What this means is that the controller has the technology to automatically hold temperature, but it still has an adjustable “P” setting for trimming the heat in inclement weather. The independent smoke setting starts the grill in the low temperature range, perfect for a low and slow brisket cook.
This controller has temperature ranges from 180°F to 500°F in 25°F increments. The Pit Boss Grills do burn hotter though. This grill, as well as the Austin XL, have a flame broil feature that allows for direct over the flame cooking. You can choose to use it or not but it’s great for finishing off a steak, creating those traditional BBQ marks and texture. This is by far the fastest of the three grills when it comes to getting up to temperature. I’m able to bring this grill from cold to 500 F in under 10 minutes. When you’ve got family begging for burgers, speed is crucial. On the cooler side, Pit Boss grills are great smokers too. Not as precise at low temperatures as my Traeger but if you’re not watching it constantly, you wouldn’t know. The food comes out just as good, and you can smoke a lot more meat in this grill…I say a lot more because the grill is simply enormous next to any other grill in this review.
The Pit Boss 1100 Pro comes standard with a lot of useful features: these include a folding front workstation, side shelf, bottom shelf, utensil hanging hooks, meat probes, and a pellet view window to see how much fuel you have left. It also has a dome mounted ambient thermometer for a quick visual reference, it is up closer to eye level and not as easily obscured by strong sunlight, a common problem with many digital controllers. The hopper of the 1100 Pro will holds 35 lbs. of pellets, far more than the Pro 34’s 18 lbs. Like all of the other grills in this review, the 1100 Pro has a fuel dump feature for changing wood flavors.
This is my favorite grill in the under $700 category. It comes standard with all the bells and whistles, it’s constructed like an absolute tank, it’s the quickest to heat up, and it has a beautiful bronze hammertone finish that really makes it stand out. As I’ll say with every grill, make sure to grab a cover. It’s important to protect your investment!
The Pit Boss 1100 Pro may be my favorite of these grills, but there are cheaper options available, and that’s where the Pit Boss Austin XL comes in.
Pit Boss Austin XL
Last in our line up, we have the Pit Boss Austin XL (PB1000XLW1). The Austin XL is a large Walmart exclusive smoker grill which we found for a reasonable $497 at the time of writing. Sitting in the middle of both the Traeger Pro 34 and Pit Boss 1100 Pro in both weight and size, the Austin XL weights 178 lbs fully assembled and sports 930 sq. inches of total cooking surface area. On paper it looks like you’re getting almost 50 additional sq. inches of cooking area over the Traeger, but in actuality the extra space is due to it’s larger warming rack (280 sq. inches). The Austin XL’s primary cooking area measures 650 sq. inches, fitting 35 burgers just like the Pro 34.
The Austin XL uses Pit Boss’s older style trapezoidal V3 Dial-in digital controller. What differentiates this controller from the newer V3 in the Pit Boss 1100 Pro is that it relies more heavily on the P-setting for trimming heat levels, whereas the 1100 Pro’s is partially PID and does some of the guess work for you. When I was testing this grill out, it was quite windy outside. I simply adjusted the P-setting and the grill held temp like a champ, easy! As with the other grills, for fall and winter cooking I strongly recommend the insulated blanket. I find it especially important on this grill because of it’s controllers lack of partial PID technology. The trapezoidal V3 controller puts out roughly 20,700 BTU’s and allows for the temperature to be set in 25 degree increments from 180 F - 500 F. Versus the other two grills in this review, the Austin XL is the slowest to heat up. If you’re the type who likes to open the lid and check on your BBQ every half an hour, the Pit Boss 1100 is the better option as it recovers temperature faster. But, if you’re looking to flame broil, do low and slow, or set it and forget it cooking, the Austin XL is a great choice.
Just like the Pit Boss 1100 Pro, the Austin XL comes with a side shelf, bottom shelf, dual meat probes, and tool hooks. The side shelf on the Austin XL isn’t really a true side shelf though. Essentially this shelf is a U-shaped metal bar with a tray that sits upon it, which works perfectly fine for burgers, but I wouldn’t put a ton of weight on it. Being a more budget friendly version of the 1100 Pro, this smoker lacks a folding front shelf. Thankfully, the Austin XL makes up for some lost space by allowing you to put bigger items on the lower shelf, freeing up the side shelf for a serving plate.
The hopper will hold 31 lbs of pellets, so you’re going to be able to smoke for over 24 hrs, and this grill comes with a viewing window so you can see how much fuel is left. As with all grills in this review, the hopper comes standard with a pellet purge system. This system allows you to easily empty the hopper contents into a bucket for quick flavor changes or storage.
I was very impressed with both ranges with this grill. It held temperature at the lower end and it got hot enough to actually become a grill and sear meats. Even with a full load of food, the grill held temperatures within acceptable settings. If you’re looking for a grill large enough to feed a party, but at a budget friendly price, you can’t go wrong with the Pit Boss Austin XL.
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