The kitchen at the little cabin my wife and I share with her family is very limited. Space is at a premium and the supply of energy is anything but guaranteed: there’s just tiny propane-fueled stove-oven combo that was likely sourced at a box store in the mid-1990s, and an unreliable sink. But last summer, I whipped up chicken shawarmas for two-dozen people, and didn’t break a sweat cooking or cleaning up after. How? I cooked everything outside, on a hybrid wood pellet-propane grill: the Camp Chef Woodwind 24, which starts at $900, making it more affordable than most other pellet grills—and also way more versatile.
If you’re not yet familiar with pellet grills, you’re missing out. Using them is incredibly simple—just set a temperature—and they’ll take care of the rest. They use wood pellets, which are formulated to burn efficiently, while producing smoke that contains a certain amount of flavor and moisture. Using them is like applying a video game cheat code to your cooking.
You don’t need to put a 12-hour smoke on a rack of ribs to reap the benefits pellet grills offer. They function like a convection oven, meaning you can apply the same set of instructions you Google for, say, an apple pie, with similar results. Neighbors back in town who only have a single oven in their kitchen use this same Woodwind 24 as a second place to cook when they have friends over.
The one downside is pellet grills can’t get that hot. Most top out at 450 or 500 degrees, which just isn’t enough to put a real sear on a steak or bake a pizza crust to bubbly perfection.
Camp Chef’s Woodwind range—the 24 is the most affordable, smallest model, with a 24-inch wide grill—does a few things differently from most other pellet grills. It offers a sliding heat shield, which makes it easy to expose whatever you’re grilling to direct or indirect heat, and even to change course in the middle of a cook. All pellet grills produce ash, and the Woodwind provides the easiest, least messy, most intuitive ash clean-out process I’ve found. The digital controller is also unique, making room for a total of four temperature probes, and providing easy, reliable Bluetooth and WiFi smartphone connections. It even works on the abysmally slow Internet connection we have at the cabin, allowing me to move from the porch to the kitchen to socializing, while keeping an eye on dinner.
But what really sets the Woodwind apart is that, in addition to the pellet-powered main grill, it offers the ability to run a propane burner, too. The $275 Sidekick accessory adds a 20,000 BTU propane burner that mounts to its right side. That’s ready to go with both a grill grate and cast iron griddle. You can also add a $329 grill box or a $190 pizza oven.
That the pellet grill, complete with smartphone connectivity and multiple temperature probes can produce great pieces of meat should be obvious. Less clear may be the capabilities this thing can add to your kitchen: That propane burner is more than twice as powerful as the little burners on our cabin’s stove. So, if we need to bring a big pot of water to boil for pasta, it’s faster and easier to do it out on the porch, than it is inside.
Need to put a sear on a steak? The griddle gets as hot as any surface I’ve found. Turn the temperature to low, and it’ll fry up an industrial quantity of bacon and eggs, while catching runoff in its very own grease trap.
Want to cook veggies at 350 degrees, while ribeyes smoke at 225? Throw the grill box on top of the burner, and you have a second grill.
Pizza night? We’re about 200 miles from the nearest delivery service at the cabin, but with a stone that can reach over 700 degrees, inside an oven with an open front, we can produce better results, while watching trout rise out on the lake.
Plus, the Camp Chef Woodwind requires virtually no cleanup or care beyond brushing off the grates before throwing fresh meat on them. Heck, I can even cook a steak during one of the frequent power outages we have up here, simply by plugging the grill into one of the batteries-in-a-box I also take camping. Powering only that digital controller, a fan, and the glow plug it uses to ignite the pellets takes only about as much electricity as used by a light bulb.
Those chicken shawarmas? I just marinated some thighs overnight in good olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and spices, then grilled on Camp Chef’s competition-blend pellets at 425 degrees while baking pita bread in the grill box. Once they reached 165, I cut up the thighs, seared them until crisp on the griddle, and served them with a homemade garlic sauce. Dirty dishes were a big bowl, a pair of tongs, and a baking sheet. And the in-laws still talk about what a good cook I am.