Charcoal Grills vs Pellet Grills

Charcoal Grills vs Pellet Grills

If you're looking for the right grill or smoker, you're probably comparing traditional charcoal grills vs wood pellet grills or smokers. While both of these types of equipment can produce delicious, juicy meats, roasted vegetables, and even appetizers, there are a few differences between wood pellet grills and charcoal ones. From operation to flavor, you can use both for grilling and smoking.

At Pit Barrel® Cooker, we love grilling and smoking! Today, we're going over the similarities and differences between pellet grills vs. charcoal grills. If you have questions, chat with us online, and one of our friendly sales experts can help!

What is a Charcoal Grill?

In essence, a Charcoal grill is an outdoor grill that uses charcoal as a heat source for cooking. The grills are usually spherical or barrel-shaped, made from metal or metal lined with ceramic, with a well for the charcoal at the bottom and a grill grate that rests on top as the cooking surface. Charcoal imparts a smoky flavor to meats and vegetables when you grill it. It's also best for foods you want a high-temperature sear on, like a steak, and it can be tricky to maintain a low, even temperature.

Charcoal grills may be harder to light than gas grills since you have to light the briquettes and wait for the flame to die down a little before cooking. Some charcoal briquettes are designed to need just a lighter to light them. To use a charcoal grill, place your meat, fish, or poultry directly on the rack, turning periodically to ensure evenness in cooking. You can also grill larger vegetables or corn on the cob on a charcoal grill. Cleaning the charcoal grill can be tricky. The ash from the burnt charcoal needs to be emptied from the bottom, and the grill surface thoroughly cleaned, scraping all the charred food off.

What is a Pellet Grill?

Pellet grills, also referred to as pellet smokers, combine the parts of a charcoal grill, gas grill, and kitchen oven. It uses small wood pellets as the heating source for cooking and imparts a woodsy flavor to your food. Part of the appeal of a pellet grill is its ability to maintain a low, consistent temperature, and it can be easier to make foods that require low temperatures and long cooking times, like brisket or ribs.

The pellets are made from food-grade wood shaped into pellet form and can move from the hopper (storage place) to the auger and move along the auger as it rotates around the burn pot. The pellets ignite, and in the burn pot, a fan blows the hot air over the food. The heat plate in the interior deflects the heat and smoke as it rises, ensuring an even cooking temperature. Any drippings are caught in a removable tray that you can clean afterward.

Charcoal vs. Pellet Grill Features

Depending on the flavor and cooking style you want, you may prefer either charcoal or a pellet grill.


Pellet grills cook using food-grade wood, which can come in several flavors. Apple, cherry, and oak are popular flavors for cooking. Usually, a pellet grill's long, slow cook time infuses the food with a smoky wood flavor. It's typically a more subtle aroma than food cooked on a charcoal grill with wood chunks.

You can smoke meats on a charcoal grill, as well, although you need to pay a little more attention to the flame with these grills to ensure a consistent temperature. You can also add chunks of wood to the charcoal briquettes, and the higher temperature of a charcoal grill will impart a more noticeable wood flavor. Like pellet grills, charcoal grills use food-grade apple, cherry, and oak.


In general, charcoal grills cost much less than pellet grills. You can get a basic starter grill for about $100, and most grills range from $50 to about $300. However, the best pellet grills are much more expensive, with basic models starting around $600 and going up to around $2,000.

Pit Barrel® Cookers, however, are much more approachable, price-wise. The smallest model is $299, and the largest is only $549. These barrels are flexible grilling and smoking tools. While they’re costlier than a regular charcoal grill, they're much less than even a starter pellet grill from other brands.

Cooking Costs

The best pellets for smoking and the best charcoal are more expensive. Good charcoal burns more evenly, while better pellets aren't as likely to jam in the hopper. Another thing to consider about which kind of grill to use is how much replacement parts cost. The grill in a charcoal grill is the only replaceable part, while a pellet smoker has many different parts, and therefore may cost more to maintain.

Ease of Use

At first glance, pellet grills are considered easier to use, as the grill itself does most of the work for you. Most Charcoal grills have a steeper learning curve, however that’s not the case for a Pit Barrel® Cooker. These cookers are simple to use, and can be mastered in no time. And if you’re not sold on a Pit Barrel® Cooker, check out these step-by-step instructions for your first use.

Pit Barrel® Cooker

Pit Barrel Cookers

The Pit Barrel® Cooker gives you the perks of both a charcoal grill and a pellet smoker. Our flexible accessories allow you to grill directly over the flame, like a charcoal grill, or smoke an entire fowl, ham, or several racks of ribs or brisket. We also have different cooking accessories, like hanging skewers or hangers to cook corn on the cob or brats. We also have a hanging basket for roasting vegetables or nuts.

The pricing of the smallest Pit Barrel® Cooker is comparable to a deluxe charcoal grill, and its ease of use and ability to both grill and smoke make it an excellent investment. Check out our catalog for the right size cooker for your needs!