How to Use a Pellet Grill & Smoker – Basic Tips & Tricks

The pellet grill & Smoker is a great device that combines the best characteristics  of a grill such as smoke flavor of the food and the Set & Forget cooking style which means that all you have to do is set the temperature and the grill will do the rest for you. Temperature control or adding the right amount of pellets is no longer your concern once you turn on the pellet grill.

It’s a great versatile grill that is made for long, slow meat searing and makes it possible to grill at high temperatures. Hardwood pellets give food a very good smoke flavor, and long, all-day smoking meat with a pellet smoker is something incredibly simple thanks to the electronic system responsible for temperature control and adding fuel ( pellets ) to the fire.

What are pellets? Some might associate pellets with stove fuel, but grills utilize food grade pellets that differ from regular industrial pellets. Food grade pellets differ by not having any chemical additives, these are 100% natural and healthy pellets that make a great grill fuel. They generate a lot of smoke, are available in plenty of varieties and give food a great smoke flavor. Industrial pellets, on the other hand, are not good for cooking because they contain plenty of chemical additives that have a very negative impact on food.

How does a pellet grill work?

pellet hopper

At the first glance, it’s a big and relatively simple grill, but its interior hides plenty of electronics and technology that is actually the heart of this grill that it couldn’t exist without. It’s a grill that requires a continuous supply of power in order to cook on it. The most important element inside the grill is a system that keeps calculating and analyzing all the parameters like temperature and many others and takes care of maintaining a fixed temperature of your choice.

An advanced algorithm calculates how many pellets and in what time have to be added to the fire in order to maintain a fixed temperature, it is a very intelligent system that takes plenty of factors into account including weather. Once the system calculates that more fuel is needed, it transports the right amount of pellets from the container straight into the furnace, using a rotating auger for that purpose that delivers required amount of fuel reliably and without fault.

Over the furnace, there’s a special plate that separates the fire from the rest of elements, creating perfect conditions for indirect cooking. Right above the plate there’s a dripping tray the purpose of which is to collect all the grease and food remains and drain it to a special bucket that usually hangs by the grill. The only thing left above is the grill grates on which you obviously cook food.

That’s the construction of the pellet grill, which is characterized by being very easy to use and makes it possible to cook for as long as over a dozen hours. All you have to do is set the desired temperature and the rest will be taken care of by an advanced calculating system that will be adding fuel to the furnace in the right moment.

History of Pellet Grill & Smoker

pellet grill history

It’s a pretty young type of grill compared to others, around 1985 the first pellet smoker was created that was called Traeger, the name comes from its creator who is Joe Traeger. He was the owner of the patent for many years which meant that back then the development of the pellet grill only lay in Traeger’s hands. Over all those years, the company was promoting this type of grill and selling plenty of units of this grill, going down in the history of pellet grills.

After the patent expired, a gate was opened for other potential manufacturers. That way, plenty of people appeared that started manufacturing and perfecting their own pellet grills. As everyone knows, competition propels market forward, as one has to have a product that stands out in order to have high sales. That way plenty of manufacturers created their own unique models of pellet grills that differ significantly from those from few decades ago.

The today’s pellet smoker is definitely a much more technologically advanced machine that is much smarter. Today’s systems analyze plenty of factors during cooking and control the grill in a way that maintains automatically selected temperature. Digital controllers currently offer the ability to set the temperature at 5 degree F intervals.

Is it a grill for me? – upsides and downsides

The pellet smoker is a great versatile grill the price of which is pretty high, but is it a grill for you? If you love to slowly smoke meat and love the smoke flavor of meat and the simplicity of this type of grill then it is definitely a choice for you. The pellet grill allows to easily, quickly and most of all conveniently cook food. Learn the downsides and upsides of this grill in order to make an easier decision of whether it’s a grill for you.

Upsides

Simplicity – The pellet smoker is a grill that you barely have to do anything around. All you have to do is refill the pellets container, throw out ash, start the grill and set the desired temperature. Once the grill reaches the right temperature you can start cooking, nothing else will be of your concern. The advanced system ( digital controller ) will take control over your grill and will decide on its own when to add pellets to the furnace in order to maintain the right temperature. Modern pellet grills make it possible to precisely set the temperature at 5 degree F intervals. Modern pellet grills also make it possible to attach meat probes that allow to monitor the temperature inside the meat in real time on a digital display.

Versatility – Obviously, the main advantage and what we love the pellet smoker for is its ability to slowly smoke meat at a fixed temperature for many hours. You have to know, though, that the pellet grill can also reach high temperatures ( over 500 degrees F ) which makes it possible to cook such food as hamburgers or even steaks.

Flavor – Another advantage is the rich smoke flavor of the food that you get when cooking on a pellet smoker. You can slightly change the food flavor by changing the type of pellets. There are different variations of pellets available that have a significant influence on the flavor of the food.

Perfect temperature control – Maintaining a fixed temperature in a pellet grill is like cooking on a traditional oven where the temperature is always what you set. No other smoke generating grill has such temperature control as the pellet grill. The technologically advanced system and many significant elements make sure that the temperature is always what you set it to. The system precisely calculates how much fuel has to be added in order to maintain the selected temperature. All you have to do is set the temperature using the controller and the system will do the rest for you, I have to admit that most new pellet grills handle this task perfectly.

Cleaning – Pellets generate ash that falls into a special container where you can easily and quickly remove it from. On top of that, under the grill grates there’s a special dripping tray that collects grease and drains it straight into a bucket that most of the time hangs by the grill. All of that makes the pellet smoker very easy to keep clean.

Speed – Are you tired after work and want to prepare food fast? All you have to do is start the grill, and then set your desired temperature using the digital controller and wait for 10-15 minutes usually. After that time, your grill should reach the right temperature and you can start cooking. You don’t have to bother firing up the grill, all you have to do is quickly program the grill and you’re done.

Downsides

The price – First I have to admit that it is one of the most expensive grills. For a truly decent pellet grill you will usually have to pay way over one thousand dollars which I think is a lot of money, but having experience with this type of grill I can say that it is worth that money. Of course there are low-budget models available, but it’s a choice for only few years.

Prone to malfunction – The pellet grill is a device that is rich in technology, malfunction of one of the key elements means inability to cook. Among such elements are mostly the digital controller, the auger, the burner, the ash removal system, the fan etc. When one of those elements breaks down, you are forced to replace the broken element with a new one because you can’t cook without it. One downside of the electronic elements is also humidity which is why you have to make sure that the pellet is kept in a dry and roofed place. You have to be aware that within few years you will have to replace something in the grill in the event of malfunction which means extra costs.

It doesn’t work without electricity – The pellet smoker relies on electricity, it means that this grill cannot be started the emergency way like a gas grill. Here a constant access to electricity is needed in order for all the elements to work properly. The brain of this grill is a digital controller responsible for temperature control that has to be constantly hooked to a power supply.

The only fuel available is pellets – of course these have to be food grade pellets, and not regular heating pellets or some charcoal. You depend on a single type of fuel that is luckily available in several different flavor variants.

It is not your typical grill – It is more like a smoker than a grill, it reaches high temperatures, but never the kind like in a charcoal grill or a gas grill, for example. It makes it possible to cook steaks or hamburgers in a temperature of 500 degrees F, but the pellet smoker was mostly created in order to be a typical Set & Forget grill that allows for hours of unattended meat smoking at a fixed temperature.

Is this a grill for you? I think that the above downsides and upsides will make the decision much easier for you. As someone who loves to cook on a grill, I recommend having several types of grills in your backyard. The truth is that each type of grills ( gas, charcoal or pellets ) has its upsides and downsides and each of them is best at something. Of course I cook on all types of grills, often depending on what I want to cook or how much time I have.

How to Cook on a Pellet Grill

cooking hamburgers and bacon on pellet grill

You’re just beginning your journey with a pellet grill ? Find out how to use a pellet smoker to cook delicious food. As always, plenty of things might seem unclear to you at first, but I assure you that you will learn how to use that grill fast. It’s a good idea to know several rules regarding cooking on a pellet smoker in order to make cooking as convenient as possible.

You need to know that a pellet grill relies on electricity due to the technology it is equipped with. In order to start the grill you have to plug it into a source of power, and then you can move on to configuring the settings.

Before starting it, you should also check out the amount of pellets in the container, if there isn’t enough then fill up the container with more pellets. An important note here, you can’t use wet pellets because it might clog the augerl that transports pellets from the container to the furnace. If your grill is kept outside without a cover or anyplace humid then you should definitely make sure if the pellets are dry before you start it.

Let’s begin by starting the grill – Is the grill plugged in already? Is the pellet container full? Great, now is the time to configure the digital controller. All you have to do is set the desired temperature and click the grill starting button. You have different temperature ranges to choose from depending on what pellet grill model you have, most of the time it’s 200 to 500+ degrees F. The latest controllers make it possible to set the temperature at 5 degree F intervals. Pick your desired temperature and start the grill, leave the lid closed and wait 10-15 minutes for the grill to reach your chosen temperature.

Temperature Control in a Pellet Grill

rec tec controller

Once the grill reaches your chosen temperature, you can move on to cooking. The pellet smoker is known for not having you worry about anything during cooking. In simplest words, the grill will calculate on its own how many pellets and when to add to the furnace in order to maintain your desired temperature. Your only duty when cooking is to control the state of the food and the amount of fuel in the container and that’s it.

After you’re done cooking, you have to clean the grill grates, throw out the ash, clean the dripping tray once in a while, but more on how to clean a pellet grill, when and how often can be found here.

As you can see, cooking on a pellet grill is something very nice and easy. Temperature control is an issue that doesn’t concern you as you have an intelligent system do everything for you. Your only task is cleaning the grill, refilling the container with pellets and checking the food. The last issue which is checking the food might also be much easier and nicer as long as you have the right tools, but more on the tips below.

Tips

You have problems checking the food? You’re not sure if your food is good, especially when cooking big chunks of meat. There’s a great solution to this problem, it’s called a meat probe or meat thermometer. It’s a small and inexpensive device that makes it possible to control temperature inside meat even without lifting the lid.

Most of modern pellet smokers offer an option of plugging a meat probe to the digital controller. All you have to do is plug in such probe, put the end into meat and close the lid of the grill. From now on, you’ll be able to monitor the temperature inside the meat in real time on the display of the digital controller. It’s a very convenient and useful feature, especially when you cook thick chunks of meat over many hours. That way you’ll be sure that the meat has reached the right temperature on the inside and is ready to eat.

Keeping the Pellet Smoker Clean

You have a problem with the grill getting dirty on the outside? Buy a cover, it’s a great way to extend the lifetime of the grill and protect it not only from getting dirty but also from harmful influence of weather ( rain, sun, snow… ) and from humidity, which pellet grills hate due to plenty of electronics inside the grill.

The cover will allow you to keep your grill clean much longer and you’ll be able to keep it outside. A good pellet grill usually costs around one thousand dollars which means that if your device matters to you then you should buy a cover for few dozen dollars, it really is worth it.


Are you thinking about buying a new pellet grill, but don’t know which model to choose? Check out my comprehensive post on the best pellet grills of the year, you will find reviews there for what I believe to be the best pellet grills in different price ranges. I really cook a lot and come across plenty different grills so based on my own and my friends’ experience I made a post about noteworthy pellet smokers.

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