3 Best Pellet Grills For Under $500
Hey, Scott Williamson here, today I’ll be reviewing three grills which I believe provide the best bang for your buck in the under $500 category. These grills are the Traeger Eastwood 22 from Home Depot ($399), the Pit Boss 820 Pro from Lowes ($499), and the Camp Chef SmokePro DLX 24 from Walmart ($469). With that being said, let's get into it!
All 3 of these pellet grills are big enough for a family BBQ or small get together. Each of them are capable of making awesome tasting food, whether you are using it to smoke, grill, bake, roast or braise. They all have a fuel hopper with enough capacity to do a full smoke of more than 24 hrs from beginning to end without having to refill the hopper. Each grill also has a fuel dump in the hopper so pellet flavors can be swapped over easily. Each of these grills also has all-terrain wheels so you can move the grill across rough or uneven surfaces. Lastly, the controllers on each of these pellet grills are time based and not 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. It’s not a big thing. PID controllers cost more and this is a low-budget showdown!
Traeger Eastwood 22
First up, the Traeger Eastwood 22. The Eastwood 22 is a Home Depot exclusive, you will not find this grill anywhere else. The Eastwood 22 is actually Traeger’s 2018 Pro 22, which is still available in many places. If you're shopping around and you see what looks like an Eastwood 22 with a different controller, that’s the Pro 22. It costs roughly $250 more. The Eastwood 22 is the smallest grill in this review. Coming in at 418 square inches on the primary grilling area (which measures 22” x 19”). This is enough space to cook 16 burgers according to Traeger, but if you’re creative, you can easily find room for 20. There is a 7” x 22” upper shelf for the Eastwood that adds an additional 154 square inches of surface inside, this allows for additional smoking or warming, but is sold separately.
The Eastwood uses Traeger’s Elite control system. First introduced in 2009, this controller was an upgrade to all models made before 2015. The Elite Controller features a digital temperature read out, an independent smoke setting for starting the grill, and variable temperature ranges from 180°F - 375°F in 25°F increments. According to Traeger, the high heat setting for this grill is 425°F, but you can expect your high temperature to be lower. I’ve owned this grill for a few years, and I think the hottest it ever got was 403°F. Unlike the two other grills in this review, the Elite controller does not have inputs for meat probes. Even though this isn’t a deal breaker, if you want meat probes, you can upgrade to the AGL Controller.
One of the things I like about Traeger pellet grills is that they know how to accessorize. Every grill they make has a plethora of accessories so that you can get the most out of your investment. Out of the box, the Traeger doesn’t have any workspace or storage shelf. Knowing this, I outfitted my Eastwood with a foldable front shelf, bottle opener, and some wooden utensil hangers last year. Even with those expenses, the grill still comes in below $500 all in.
I found that my Traeger is really an excellent smoker and a terrific wood-fired convection oven but it’s not the hottest grill for my style of cooking. Most of the time I’m cooking fast and furious, I need the grill to be as hot as possible, as quickly as possible. Don’t get me wrong, it works wonderfully but it is a slower process grill.
Of the three grills I’m reviewing, I think the Traeger probably has the best fit and finish. The layout is extremely well thought out and helps the grill retain the perfect size for a deck. It’s not too big, but it’s large enough to get the job done. The handle for moving the grill is located on the lightest side of the grill, so lifting is easier. Also, all Traeger grills without front end wheels will have non-marking skid pads on the legs so you can slide the grill around without completely lifting the legs off the surface.
Overall I’m totally satisfied with my Traeger. It works as advertised, the low price makes it a great value, and there are tons of accessories available. As with all grills, I’d suggest a grill cover and the magnetic cutting board.
Pit Boss 820 Pro
Next up is the Pit Boss 820 Pro. This grill is a monster. The 820 Pro is the largest pellet grill you’ll find under $500 and comes with all of the must-have accessories out of the box. It has a primary cooking surface of 551 square inches( which measures 19” x 29”). That’s enough space to cook 35 burgers. With the 9” x 29” upper shelf, you get a total of 812 square inches.
The 820 Pro features Pit Boss’s newest V1 Dial-in Digital Controller. This controller has two built-in inputs for meat probes (1 meat probe included with the grill) so you can monitor your internal food temperatures without raising the lid and letting heat escape. The V1 controller also has a prime feature, this helps speed up the process when changing over pellet flavors. As I already mentioned, this is a time-based controller, but it does have an adjustable “P” setting for making adjustments as needed. The independent smoke setting starts the grill in the low temperature range, but you should always run the grill on high for 15 minutes to sanitize the cooking surface prior to cooking.
This controller has temperature ranges from 180°F to 500°F in 25°F increments. The Pit Boss Grills do burn hotter though. I’ve had my 820 up to 613°F. Once you get up over 450°F, you can achieve searing temperatures, something that a Traeger just has a hard time doing. This grill also has 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 cook and creating that traditional BBQ flavoring. This feature alone is why I choose my Pit Boss over the Traeger most of the time. I can get my Pit Boss up to 550°F in 13 minutes vs. my Traeger up tp 400°F in 21 minutes. It’s just quicker.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 820 is the most expensive of these three grills, but it comes standard with a lot of useful features: these include a folding front workstation, side shelf, bottom shelf, and utensil hanging hooks. It also has a dome mounted ambient thermometer for a quick visual reference that 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 820 Pro will hold 19 lbs. of pellets, allowing this grill to smoke for over 30 hrs. Like all of the other grills in this review, the 820 Pro has a fuel dump feature for changing wood flavors. One thing that bothers me about all Pit Boss pellet grills is the lid handle. It’s mounted too high on the face and you have to be careful when opening the dome that it doesn’t touch your forearm. I burn myself at least once a year.
The 820 Pro is a beast, it’s plenty big enough for any BBQ event, but it’s very heavy. It’s almost too heavy for one person to assemble or move over unstable surfaces. Also, the lift handle is on the heaviest side of the grill, this is a problem as the front legs do not have wheels or sliders. It’s size alone almost prohibits it from being moved very far after it’s assembled. On that note, the Pit Boss 820 Pro needs room on your deck. It takes up some space, and because of how hot it can burn, you really have to be careful with your placement. Even at the recommended 14” distance from combustibles I managed to soften and melt the vinyl siding on my house. I also melted an iPhone that was sitting on top of the hopper lid.
All in, this is my favorite grill that I own. I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this grill in just one year, but I’m toying with the idea of getting a Pit Boss that is just a little bit smaller because the space on my deck is limited. I could move my Traeger up to the deck but I like the Pit Boss more for my style of cooking. As always, don't forget to grab a Pit Boss 820 Pro Cover!
Camp Chef SmokePro DLX 24
Last in our line up, we have the Camp Chef Smoke Pro Deluxe. Camp Chef is probably the third largest manufacturer of pellet grills. They have two different size grills, one that is 24 inches wide, and larger one that is 36 inches. The SmokePro DLX 24 is based upon the smaller chassis with a primary cooking area measuring 19.5” x 22” for a total of 429 square inches. This grill comes with an additional smoking / warming rack measuring 6” x 23.5”, for a total combined cooking surface of 570 sq inches.
All Camp Chef pellet grills use the same digital controller. They feature a temperature range dial from 160°F- 500°F with a low temperature and a high temperature smoke mode. Additionally, the controller features a prime setting for quicker starts after a fuel change and a bypass button to restart the grill inline with its current grill temperature in the event of a power loss. This has happened to me once before on a Traeger. It can be a useful feature if you ever lose power during a long, low temperature smoke.
Two things set this grill apart from all others; all camp chef grills have their patented fire pot cleaning system. Under the grill there is a removable cup for quick and easy cleaning of the fire pot without having to disassemble the interior grates. It’s useful and practical. The other design benefit is their vertical rear wall. While most pellet grills are all round or oval shaped, camp chef has a flat wall in the back of the grill that gives the user a better sight line to the food at the rear, overall better access to the upper rack, and a bit more vertical space to work with when cooking upright chickens or a rack of ribs. That being said, I’m not a fan of their chimney design. Aside from being mounted on the back wall of the grill, which gives the grill an odd looking appearance, the chimney hole isn’t cut through. There are screened holes for the smoke to pass through, but anything that has condensed in the chimney cannot be cleaned out unless you actually remove the chimney from the stove.
The hopper will hold 19 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. I’m not a big fan of the asymmetry of the side shelf and hopper lid. Camp Chef uses an overly wide hopper lid to act as a secondary workspace but it’s typically too tall for anyone to use properly so it just looks weird. Especially when you look at the profile of the grill and the side shelf on the opposite side, which honestly just seems to be too low by comparison.
I was very impressed with both ranges with this grill. It held temperature very well at the lower end and it quickly 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. Though it does lack the flame broil feature of the Pit Boss, the Smoke Pro DLX 24 got hotter than my Traeger. If I didn’t already have two grills this size, I may consider adding a Camp Chef to my collection. I enjoyed cooking with it and it lived up to everything Camp Chef claimed.
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