Wood pellet grills seem to be a smoking hot trend these days, with a lot of people posting their newly acquired grills on their social media accounts.
In fact, they’re one of the fastest-growing trends among grillmasters both old and new.
If you want to jump in on the trend, then now’s the best time to get yourself one and learn how to use a pellet grill successfully.
We created this article to help you learn the ins and outs of a pellet grill, how to use it properly, and some other cooking tips you’ll find useful.
Table of Contents
What is a Pellet Grill?
First and foremost, let’s first have a look at what a pellet smoker is.
Pellet grills, commonly known by many as “pellet smokers”, combine the elements of gas grills, kitchen ovens, and charcoal smokers into a single appliance. This makes them a perfect choice for those who want efficiency while cooking but would rather prefer using a traditional method while doing so.
However, compared to other types of smokers, a pellet smoker uses both electricity to operate and hardwood pellets as fuel (hence the name) to smoke food at a constant temperature. since it uses all-natural hardwood pellets, you can introduce either direct heat or indirect heat into the food you’re cooking.
A pellet grill also features a wide temperature range which makes it ideal for cooking various foods like ribs, briskets, and foods that require the use of different cooking methods.
Despite the growing popularity, pellet grills or pellet smokers were actually introduced way back in 1988 by Joe Traeger. He originally came up with the idea after noticing that his gas grill was covered in flames while cooking food for his family.
Fast forward to more than 3 decades, the Traeger brand has become the most widely known brand on the market when it comes to pellet grills. This is also one of the reasons why most of the posts you see on social media involving pellet grills have the Traeger brand.
The most appealing feature of wood pellet grills compared to charcoal grills, gas grills, and others is that they’re quite easier to use and control.
In fact, each aspect of use from the startup down to temperature control and maintenance is very simple.
As long as you follow the right steps, you’ll get to enjoy your favorite smoked foods in no time!
How Does It Work?
A pellet smoker uses wood pellets as fuel to cook your foods. It has a container known as a hopper where wood pellets are poured into.
Then, these pellets get transferred to an electric-powered fire pot via a rotating auger.
Once the pellets are inside the fire pot, they are then ignited by a hot rod which causes them to burn. Once heat and smoke are produced, they then travel upward into a heat baffle which then distributes them throughout the grill, allowing your food to cook without burning it.
Then, a grease drip tray is located above to further distribute the heat and catch grease drippings. Lastly, heat and smoke are circulated throughout the grill chamber.
This method is known as convection style, and it’s the one responsible for cooking your food while it’s inside the pellet smoker grill.
A pellet smoker typically has five main components which are as follows:
As mentioned, the rotating auger is the one that transfers the pellets into the fire pot. It’s normally located at the very bottom of the hopper.
You also have the option to set the speed of the auger, either have it rotate fast to cook food quickly or have it rotate slowly for a low-heat, slow cooking.
The controller is a pellet grill’s electronic component that contains the controls you need to operate your grill. Most grills come with an LCD-style control panel, though it’s a common feature that all current Traeger models have.
You can also find pellet grills that come with an old-school dial control featuring temperature settings that are marked on the grill. They can still operate and cook your food just fine; the only exception is that they are far less convenient than their modern counterparts.
The fan is the heat that keeps the fire burning and circulates heat and smoke to allow for even cooking. It actually comes with variable speed so you can set the temperature inside the pellet smoker grill.
This is basically where the hot rod, which ignites and burns the pellets, is located.
As mentioned earlier, the hopper is a box-shaped container where you can place the wood pellets. It then moves the pellets down into the auger via gravity. It has a lid that you can open to feed the pellets and check the current pellet levels any time.
When buying a Pellet Grill, there are lots of things to consider. However, your choice of Pellet Grill should really come down to personal preference and it having the features that you want.
How to Use a Pellet Grill
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s now proceed to the steps you need to follow so you can start cooking foods using a pellet smoker. They’re as follows:
Step #1: Season Your Grill
This is a very crucial step that applies to new grills, as it helps protect them from deterioration due to long-term continuous usage. Basically, you just have to apply cooking oil inside the chamber as well as the grills, then conduct a “dry run” without putting anything inside it.
By doing the seasoning method, the oil will cook into the surfaces of the smoker, creating a protective layer that will preserve the performance of your wood pellet grill for a long time. Once you’re done, simply leave the smoker to rest for around 24 hours before you start cooking food.
As mentioned, this applies to new grills, so if you’re using an old one, you can skip this step entirely.
Step #2: Preheat Your Grill
One of the things that a lot of people love about pellet smokers is that they’re quite easy to preheat compared to other types of grills and smokers. In fact, you can use them in the same way that you would an oven.
To start, simply plug your wood pellet grill into a nearby electric outlet, turn it on, then choose your desired temperature depending on the type of meat you want to cook and how you want it cooked. For example, barbeque smoking will require a temperature of around 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once done, simply wait for around 10 minutes for your grill to preheat. After that, you should be able to hear a dull roar from the grill once it has been successfully preheated.
One thing to take note of while preheating your grill is that in most cases, the temperature reading on its temperature gauge can be inaccurate. In order to get more accurate readings, you have to use a probe smoker temperature so you can measure both the internal and cooking meat temperatures.
Step #3: Place Your Meat and Food Inside
As soon as your pellet grill has been properly preheated, it should now be running at your desired temperature. It’s also the right time to place the meat and other food you want to smoke onto the smoker grates.
To achieve the best results, we recommend placing your food in the middle part of the grate so that it’s at an optimal distance where there’s enough heat to cook it but not enough to make it dry.
Before placing your meat, you’d want to also keep in mind its fat content. Lean meat with very little to no fat content will only dry out quickly, giving you poorly smoked meat as a result.
On the other hand, too much fat content can only hinder the smoke from working its way into the insides of the meat.
For this, a good rule of thumb would be to make sure that there’s around 1/2-inch think fat in your meat before you place it inside the wood pellet grill.
Step #4: Add Your Wood Pellets
Unlike other types of smokers that require adding wood and lighting it up before you start smoking, you can only add wood pellets after preheating in a pellet smoker.
However, before you add them into the container, know that a wood pellet comes in different flavors, and the one you pick can significantly impact the taste and aroma of your meat.
For example, apple or cherry wood pellets can give your meat a light and sweet flavor, making them perfect for cooking poultry.
Meanwhile, hickory wood pellets can give a strong and robust flavor and aroma which can easily overpower meat like fish and chicken, hence making it perfect for meats like brisket.
Step #5: Smoke Over Indirect Heat
You want to make sure that there’s a clear, blue smoke coming out of your pellet grill as this is a good sign of a healthy grill. If it’s either white or gray, then it’s most likely due to the pellets not burning properly, which can only cause your food to taste bitter.
You also have to keep in mind that smoking is best done low and slow, which means allowing the meat to cook under indirect heat for hours. You can achieve this by setting up your grill for 2-zone cooking. This involves placing one zone directly over the fire and placing another zone away from it.
Then, you have to place the meat in the “indirect” zone since it won’t get exposed to too much heat.
Step #6: Shut Down Your Pellet Grill
Once you’re done smoking meat after several hours, the last step you want to do is to shut down your grill. Unlike a charcoal grill which you can just allow to burn out, a pellet grill will require you to manually shut it down.
To do this, begin by deactivating the auger to prevent the pellets from being fed to the chamber. This will also cause the embers to die down. After that, you can now turn off the grill via the off button. In some cases, you might have to hold it down for a few seconds for the grill to completely shut down.
You should also let it cool for around 20-30 minutes. This is because the motor might still continue running for a few minutes, but it will totally stop once it has cooled down.
Lastly, clean the inside of the grill using a grill brush to remove any dirt, grease, or excess pellets.
Do this regularly to ensure that your grill will remain in top condition and continue to perform efficiently for the years to come.
Tips for Properly Using a Pellet Grill
- Always season your new pellet grill to get rid of any residual oils which might be left behind during the manufacturing process.
- Take it slow and start out small. This will allow you to get acquainted with your new grill. This means that instead of going directly for a whole brisket, start smoking smaller meat, particularly chicken, salmon, and other cuts that will only require around 2 hours of smoking or even less.
- Don’t be afraid to use the reverse sear method. This means smoking your meat at a lower temperature then switching to a higher one once it’s almost cooked. This method is useful for smoking chicken and even thicker steaks.
- Always refill the pellet hopper and don’t let it run out. In the event that your hopper does run out of pellets, make sure to consult the manual before you relight the grill.
- If you’re cooking meat that has a higher tendency to dry out, such as fish fillets or chicken breasts, it’s highly recommended to place them in the upper rack of the grill. This way, you can protect them from the intense heat radiating from the bottom.
However, if your grill doesn’t come with an upper rack, you can instead use a wire rack and balance it on fire bricks. Don’t forget to place a water pan on the grate for added moisture.
Get Your Own Pellet Grill Now
At this point, you should have already figured out how to use a pellet grill properly. The steps are actually pretty simple compared to other types of smokers.
If you’re looking for a good balance of convenience, flavor, and flexibility in a grill/smoker, then don’t hesitate to go for a pellet grill.