How Do Wood Pellet Grills Work
Posted by Home Billiards on 21st Feb 2023
What Is A Pellet Grill And How Do They Work?
These days, you can’t walk to your backyard without bumping into someone praising wood pellet grills, which begs the question: what is a wood pellet grill, and does it deserve a spot in your BBQ rotation this summer?
Keep reading below to learn everything you need to make the right call!
What is a pellet grill?
A pellet grill is a type of grill that cooks food with smoke generated from burning pellets made of compacted sawdust.
What is a pellet grill best used for?
Pellet grills are superior to other grills in several ways, including
- Even cooking: temperature in traditional smokers can be hard to keep consistent, but pellet grills allow you to set and maintain the exact temperature you want throughout the entire cooking process.
- Strong, smokey flavour: cooking with all-natural hardwood pellets infuses a distinct smokey flavour.
- Easy to use: traditional smoker grills aren’t always the easiest, requiring constant monitoring and adjusting. However, pellet grills are about as easy to use as your standard kitchen oven.
- Environmentally friendly: instead of gas or charcoal, they are powered by electricity and burn compressed hardwood pellets, producing minimal ash.
How do pellet grills work?
At a basic level, pellets of wood are fed to a fire, which generates heated smoke, which is then directed to and circulated to the cooking area of the grill for perfect, even cooking.
More technically, here’s what’s happening under the hood:
- You dump wood pellets into the hopper
- These pellets are transferred to the fire pot by an auger
- In the fire pot, the pellets are ignited by the HotRod
- A fan circulates heat and smoke for even, consistent cooking
- While this happens, a drip tray keeps flames off your food and prevents flare-ups. - The drip tray also collects the fat and drippings from the food; a liner makes cleanup easy.
Caption: A visual representation of the process powering Traeger wood pellet grills.
Even better, this process is controlled by a simple controller, similar to what you would find on the oven in your kitchen, that maintains precise temperature.
On most Traeger models, including Pro, Ironwood, and Timberline, you can even control your pellet grill from a distance using wifi.
To learn more about Traeger wood pellet grills, read through our Traeger buyers guide.
Is a pellet grill the same as a smoker?
Whereas “smoker” describes any grill that uses smoke to cook your food, a pellet grill refers to a specific type of smoker that cooks using the smoke of small pellets of wood.
In the past, smokers have referred to grills that use large pieces of food or charcoal as their sources of smoke. But given the recent rise in popularity of pellet grills, people have started to know them as their own thing, as a standalone product separate from just being a type of smoker.
Despite this, pellet grills still belong to the smoker family.
How is cooking on a wood pellet grill different from traditional grilling?
Traditional grilling involves placing food either directly or indirectly over a heat source (such as hot charcoal or a gas-lit element), which results in fast cooking but, generally speaking, less intense flavour.
Grilling with wood pellets takes a different approach. Instead of cooking your food over a concentrated heat source, your heat is more widely distributed around your food, instilling a stronger, smokier, more evenly distributed flavour.
For a deeper breakdown of grill types, read our article on the difference between wood, gas and, electric BBQs
How long do wood pellets last in a smoker?
How long pellets last in your smoker depends on your cooking method, but here’s how much cooking time you can expect across several different styles:
Is cooking time the same on a pellet grill compared to traditional grilling?
You will find that wood pellet grills take longer to preheat than traditional grills. This is because you must wait for enough heat and smoke to generate from your wood pellets before you can begin cooking.
Traditional grilling with gas-lit elements only requires a flame from a lighter and you’re ready to start cooking almost immediately.
That said, cooking times are comparable once you’ve reached your desired temperature. Plus, longer warm-up times on pellet grills mean more time to prep your ingredients.
Non-pellet wood grills that use large pieces of wood cannot predict exact cooking times due to wood type, size, and consistency differences. Still, wood pellet grills allow you to precisely control the temperature throughout your cook.
The result is as long or as short of a cooking time as you want, depending on the flavour, smokiness, and recipe you’re targeting.
What kinds of pellets should you use?
The main thing to look at when choosing your pellets is what they’re made of.
Your pellets and the smoke they produce heavily influence the final taste of your food, so you want to make sure they’re made from high-quality, all-natural hardwood. No fillers or binders are also a must.
Beyond their make-up, you next want to look at their flavouring.
Different-flavoured pellets will complement different kinds of meals, so choosing a flavour that will support the kind of cooking you plan to do is important.
For example, sweeter and subtler flavours like cherry and apple work well with poultry, pork, seafood, and booked goods.
Bolder flavours like oak, hickory, and mesquite better match beef, wild game, and vegetables.
Can you do more than just grill with pellet grills? What kinds of food can you cook?
One of the most attractive features of wood pellet grills is their versatility, offering features from both conventional ovens and traditional grills to allow you to smoke, roast, bake, grill, and sear just about anything.
Are wood pellet grills more expensive than traditional grills?
There’s a wide range of price points for wood pellet grills, but generally, they start as low as $699, comparable, if not more affordable, than many traditional grills on the market.
If you’re looking for a portable wood pellet grill, you’ll find even more affordable options.
There are also other long-term savings to consider with wood pellet grills, such as the much greater burning efficiency of wood pellets over charcoal.
Get started with wood pellet grills today
For help choosing a grill that suits your needs and budget, read through our Traeger buyer’s guide.