Shopping & Reviews

These Are the Best Pellet Grills Under $500 for Competition-Level Barbecue in Your Backyard

Smoking, searing, baking—these pellet grills can do it all without breaking the bank.

By Micki Wagner


Published on July 29, 2022

Often compact, but still packing the versatility grillers love, pellet grills under $500 offer the ability to cook flavorful, tender, wood-fired food at a price point that feels approachable for our inflation-minded budgets.   

Pellet grills can smoke, sear, braise, and are even great for baking. But they’re also notable because their consistency and ease-of-use allow users to focus on what they’re cooking instead of the many variables that can come with grilling. “I really like pellet smokers for the everyday user [because] you're not having to focus on so many things at once,” says Leonard Botello IV, pitmaster and owner of TRUTH BBQ in Texas. “I've noticed with home cooks, they're focusing on their meat, they're not focusing on their fire and their temperatures and everything like that. But the pellet smoker is working the fire for you, and it allows you to focus on the proteins you're cooking.”

So if you’re in the market for a new pellet grill that will give you maximum bang for your buck, you’ve come to the right place. After consulting with grilling experts, we’ve determined the five best pellet grills under $500.

Best Overall

Cooking Area Size: 424 square inches, with a 161 square-inch top rack Weight: 99 pounds Hopper Capacity: 16 pounds Highest Temperature: 450 degrees Fahrenheit

Pros


  • Features smart digital control
  • Temperature remains consistent
  • Easy assembly

Cons


  • Highest temperature is 450 degrees Fahrenheit

Why we chose it: A top-rated pellet grill, this compact pellet smoker imparts great flavor into food, while maintaining the desired temperature throughout the cook.

The 550A is an all-around backyard hero. Particularly good for those new to pellet grills, this model is easy to assemble, easy to use, and produces tasty, well-smoked food. A big plus for this grill is how well it tends to hold the temperature, allowing for even, low-stress cooking. It’s able to do this in part because of the smart digital control feature, which feeds pellets into the fire and monitors the grill’s airflow. 

The only con to this grill is that, compared to its competitors, its highest temperature is still lower than most others, which often go up to 500 degrees or even higher if they allow for direct-flame grilling.

Best Budget

Cooking Area Size: 380 square inches | Weight: 70 pounds | Hopper Capacity: 15 pounds | Highest Temperature: 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but direct flame can reach up to 749 

Pros


  • Allows for cooking over a direct flame
  • Temperature can get higher than many pellet grills under $500 on the market

Cons


  • Temperature fluctuates a little
  • There isn’t much of a range between 500 and 749 degrees

Why we chose it: At just $400, this small pellet grill is super versatile, offering direct flame cooking that can reach up to 749 degrees—a feature not always seen with pellet grills.

While many of the best pellet grills under $500 max out at around 450 or 500 degrees, this grill goes up to a whopping 749 degrees. Set it to RIOT mode to get the grill flaming hot. This direct flame feature is pretty unique for a pellet grill and broadens its functionality. This grill also goes as low as 225 degrees and can be made hotter in 25-degree increments through the use of a PID controller. But don’t count smoking out for this direct-flame pellet grill. If you set the grill to a lower temperature, the flames won’t be likely to actually touch your food, thus giving you the ability to smoke.

One of the grills on this list with the smallest cooking area, it is particularly good for weeknight cooking because of its easy functionality and its compact size. The only downsides of this grill are that the temperature can fluctuate during cooking, so you’d want to keep an eye on that. And though the Bullseye can reach almost 750 degrees, there doesn’t appear to be much ability to climb to that temperature. This is to say, according to one buyer, the grill tops out at 500 until you set it to RIOT mode, when it will go up to 749 degrees.

Best Portable

Cooking Area Size: 219 square inches | Weight: 63 pounds | Hopper Capacity: 9 pounds | Highest Temperature: 550 degrees Fahrenheit

Pros


  • Wi-fi enabled
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Can purchase a cart to put grill atop

Cons


  • No wheels
  • Wi-fi can be difficult to work with

Why we chose it: This portable, wi-fi pellet grill makes grilling on the go easy with its Smart Control feature, allowing grillers to adjust the temperature from their phone.

Released last year as an updated version of the Davy Crockett model, this small pellet grill is great to bring along on your next camping trip or for tailgating. At just over 60 pounds, it is pretty lightweight for a grill, though its portability is made slightly more difficult given this model doesn’t have wheels attached to the legs. That said, you can order a Trek cart, which does have wheels, as well as built-in shelves. 

A real selling point for this grill, though, is its wi-fi component. The TREK allows you to adjust and watch your grill’s temperature through the GMG app, available on iPhones and Androids. And with a range of 150 to 550 degrees, this top-rated pellet grill also offers a nice temperature range that can be adjusted in 5-degree increments.

However, some buyers report that the wi-fi component of this grill can be tricky to engage, and therefore would preclude you from being able to use it properly. That being said, not all users have had this experience, and many find the wi-fi component to be great for monitoring their food from afar.

Best Pit Boss

Cooking Area Size: 743 square inches | Weight: 148.7 pounds | Hopper Capacity: 21 pounds | Highest Temperature: 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but direct flame can reach up to 1,000

Pros


  • Easy to use
  • Durable
  • Versatile

Cons


  • Temperature can be inconsistent
  • Auger jams 

Why we chose it: Pit Boss is a respected brand for grills, and this particular model is affordable, versatile and user-friendly, making it a great option for those who are new to grilling.

Pit Boss makes grills that are both simple to use and can produce competition-level barbecue. Erica Blaire Roby, season 2 champion of Food Network's BBQ Brawl, used a Pit Boss grill in this year’s Memphis in May competition and placed fourth in ribs and tied for first in brisket with it. She’s not alone in that. This particular model is well-loved for how easy it is to use and put together, how long-lasting it is, and how well it flavors the food you cook in it, from ribs to chicken to burgers.  

In general, buyers noted that the temperature seems to fluctuate on this grill within 15 degrees of whatever temperature you set it to, though it’s worth noting slight fluctuations are normal on pellet grills. Buyers have also noted that this grill does tend to run a little hot, and in some cases, the temperature can be inconsistent by more than just a few degrees. You’ll also want to watch the auger in this model, as it has been known to jam. Using Pit Boss-brand pellets seems to help fix this issue, though.

Best Traeger

Cooking Area Size: 184 square inches | Weight: 60 pounds | Hopper Capacity: 8 pounds | Highest Temperature: 450 degrees Fahrenheit

Pros


  • Easy to clean
  • Versatile
  • Portable

Cons


  • Doesn’t have handles
  • Latches get very hot

Why we chose it: Although loved by grillers, Traegers are notoriously expensive. This is the most affordable model currently available. 

At $449.99, the Ranger is Traeger’s most affordable model. A portable tabletop grill, the Ranger looks sort of like a grilling briefcase, though it doesn’t have handles for carrying. This grill is great for camping and traveling, and it offers both grill grates and a griddle, so there is lots of versatility in what you’re able to cook with this small Traeger grill. The Ranger also has Keep Warm Mode, so your food will stay at a suitable temperature until you’re ready to eat it. Plus, it’s easy to clean, which makes it even easier to travel with. 

One thing that should be noted, though, is that there are latches on either side of the grill, and those can get burning hot, so use caution when opening it during cooking.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Pellet Grill Under $500

Temperature

One of the biggest aspects to consider when investing in a pellet grill under $500 is temperature. And with temperature, you’ll also want to consider the material. According to The Grill Dads, Mark Andersen and Ryan Fey, less expensive pellet grills tend to utilize thinner metal, which means it isn’t as insulated. This is especially pertinent if you’re grilling in a colder climate, where opening a hot grill can cause the heat to fall quickly and make it hard to recover, even ruining the food. 

Of course, you’ll want to consider the consistency and range here as well. Many pellet grills can go up to, or even over, 500 degrees, so as Andersen and Fey note, you’ll want to watch out for pellet grills in this price range going up to only 400 or 500 degrees. While this can still make for good low-and-slow barbecue, like ribs and brisket, this eliminates the possibility of searing steak, making pizza, or baking casseroles or desserts that need to reach a higher temperature. With this, you’ll also want to look out for how well the pellet grill holds that temperature. It’s normal for pellet grills to fluctuate a little, but you’ll want to watch out for big temperature swings, which can adversely affect the outcome of your food. 

Size

Another important factor to consider is if you want a large pellet smoker or a small pellet smoker. While many pellet grills under $500 do tend to be on the smaller side, the cooking area space and the number of racks that are included in the grill (if any at all) are also worth factoring into this decision. Roby says that size needs to be contemplated first, since it’s one of the features you won’t be able to adjust once you’ve selected a grill. 

“How much are they cooking? How much cooking space do they need?” Roby says. “Do you cook multiple proteins at the same time? So, are you going to need a second shelf inside your pellet grill? Do you just cook everything on one, or are you staggering your cook, so now you need two shelves that you're going to want to cook [on]? Those are really serious things because once you buy a pellet grill, you can't negotiate that. So, you have to be honest with yourself and know what amount of space you need for cooking.” 

What You Want to Cook

Before purchasing a pellet grill, consider what you’d actually want to cook on it. Pellet grills are very versatile, so most of them can make any number of dishes. But you should consider the following:

  • Do you want to sear? If so, perhaps opt for a pellet grill with a direct-flame feature.
  • Were you hoping to make pizza, baked potatoes or casseroles in it? If so, you’ll want to find a pellet grill with a higher temperature range.
  • Do you want to cook low and slow? If so, make sure you’re choosing a model that can reliably hold the temperature.

Whatever model you choose, Andersen and Fey say to consider your three favorite things to cook on the grill before purchasing yours, so that you can pick the grill that best meets your interests.

FAQs

Is WiFi worth it on a pellet grill?

“It's pretty nice. But a lot of them haven't worked out all the kinks,” Botello says. “Say you're not at the house or something happens, you're kind of screwed. So, especially with barbecue and live fire, I don't like to rely on many other things but myself because anything can go wrong.” If the wi-fi component on the grill is reliable and the signal is strong, then having wi-fi compatibility on your pellet grill can be great. Otherwise, it can be challenging to work with or leave you in the lurch if, like one of Botello’s friends experienced, the wi-fi dies on you while you’re in the middle of an overnight smoke and turns the grill off with it.  

Can you sear a steak on a Traeger grill?

Yes! According to Traeger’s website, it’s pretty simple—you’ll want to bring the grill up to 450 or 500 degrees and then be sure to cook the steak on the grill grates for a few minutes on either side, so as to get those sear marks.

How do you smoke on an expert pellet grill?

“Your pellet grill will have a smoke setting. So you're going to turn it on, you're going to keep it down into the low 200s and that's going to provide your smoke,” Roby says. For competition-grade smoking, she says, you might also want to look for a grill that has variable smoke technology.

Final Thoughts

While brands like Pit Boss and Traeger are major players in the pellet grill space, we chose Z Grills’ 550A Wood Pellet Grill Smoker as our top pick because it is reliable, versatile, and holds heat consistently throughout the duration of the cook. This consistency in temperature is what really pushed it over the edge to be our best overall. That being said, what will be best for you really depends on what you’re looking for, whether that’s temperature consistency or range, ability to cook over a direct flame, or wi-fi compatibility. 

Methodology 

To determine the best pellet grills under $500, we spoke with four grilling experts to get their insights and recommendations. What we learned is that temperature can be particularly tricky on pellet grills under $500, so we were looking for grills that can hold the heat and have a good temperature range. We also did our own research into what brands consumers seem to trust most and what pellet grills are most reliable for the price. Of course, cost was the biggest determinant of what grills would make this list. So, we were looking for the most quality grills in this price range, and then broke it down based on brand and features like portability and wi-fi compatibility.

Want More Saveur?

Get our favorite recipes, stories, and more delivered to your inbox.