When the temperature starts to rise and the backyard beckons, it’s time to take your meals outside and get grilling. While some people opt for traditional gas or charcoal grills, many BBQ lovers are now turning to pellet grills. These designs offer a number of convenient benefits and a whole new way to fire up the grill. Take a look at our buyer’s guide to pellet grills and learn more.
How Does a Pellet Grill Work?
With the ease of filling a pellet hopper and flipping a switch, a pellet grill can give you great barbecue with the same smoky flavor of professional log-burning grills, but without the hassle of stoking coals. An electric push button ignites a pellet grill, which burns at a steady, controlled temperature that doesn’t require constant monitoring. However, rather than using a propane tank or briquettes to grill your food, pellet grills burn small pieces of real pressed wood called pellets.
Hardwood pellets are fed into a burn box at a rate determined by your temperature setting, ranging from 150 – 450°F. Wood-pellet grills envelop food with rich, dense smoke and even heat. This combination produces radiant, conductive, and convection heat, effortlessly cooking food while infusing it with authentic, aromatic wood-fired flavor. The composition and shape of the pellets helps provide an even, well-controlled heat and a classic grill flavor.
Food-grade grilling pellets are comprised of 100% natural hardwoods pressed with no chemicals or glue. Pellets come in a variety of flavors to create the perfect taste combination for your meats. Mesquite, hickory, and apple are common wood pellet varieties and a good place to start. You can also experiment with cherry, pecan, beech, and maple pellets, as well as a variety of gourmet blended wood flavors. Many pellet manufacturers also have their own “competition blend” variety that takes the guesswork out of choosing a pellet wood flavor. Consult the pellets’ package for recommendations on flavor combinations with beef, poultry, pork, fish, and more.
Many barbecue chefs appreciate the benefits of cooking over wood fire pellets. Using wood pellets as their fuel makes the setup and cleanup of pellet grills extra convenient. Whereas charcoal and wood-burning grills can get quite messy, pellets are made of compressed wood (often compressed sawdust) and have a high burn rate. Not only does this result in an efficient, hot-burning fuel, but it also produces minimal ash and residue to clean up.
Types of Pellet Grills
When it comes to deciding which pellet grill to buy, you have two main options — pellet smokers and pellet grills. As the name suggests, pellet smokers are primarily for smoking meats. They rely on indirect heat produced by the wood pellets to cook meat with smoke — a benefit that’s not available with gas grills. Thermometer probes help you monitor the internal temperature and progress as your meat cooks.
Pellet grills, on the other hand, offer a more traditional barbecue grilling experience, often over direct flames. Look for a model that offers a flame broiler if you prefer this direct heat method. The benefit pellet grills offer over traditional grills is the “on/off” switch and digital temperature control that makes pellet grilling simple. Plus, many pellet grills offer the added convenience of a cool-down cycle when it’s time to shut down the grill.
If you’re an advanced griller, or want to become one, look for a pellet grill with multiple cooking capabilities. Some models offer the option to grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, and BBQ all in one grill. These features can be a plus if you cook large meals and multiple dishes on your grill.
Pellet Grill Accessories
Get fired up for grilling season with the right tools and additions to your pellet grill. These are just a few of our favorites — you can find our entire assortment of grill accessories online. Browse around and add your favorites to your wish list as you plan your next cookout.
A quality set of grill tools will come in handy every time you cook out. Basic tools include tongs, a grill fork, and spatula. You may also want to consider a basting brush or sauce mop, skewers, grill gloves, and meat claws for easily removing large cuts of meat from the grill.
Many pellet grills come with inputs for probe thermometers or have the capability of being upgraded with a thermostat kit. There are several options to choose from, including multiple probes, infrared heat gun styles, and thermometers with wireless Bluetooth monitoring functions.
This extra burner provides a flat surface for searing meat, some up to 900°F. A sear box lets you do an initial sear of your meat to get a crisp outside before you finish cooking at lower temperatures on the grill. Some pellet grills offer this option as standard on their high-end models.
Make your grill’s capacity even larger with extra racks that allow you to cook more food or even multiple dishes at once. Stackable grill shelves are handy for smoking and adding extra tiers of grilling space to feed a crowd.
Once you’re ready to experiment with different flavor profiles, there are dozens of wood pellet flavors from which to choose. Try alder for grilling fish, hickory for smoking brisket, pecan for veggies, and oak for smoky grilled pizza.
Store your hardwood pellets and pour them right into the hopper with a specially designed bucket Lid system. The durable plastic lid snaps onto the rim of any 5-gallon bucket and features a smaller mouth with cap so you can easily reach in or pour out the pellets you need.
A grill blanket fits over a pellet grill to act as an insulator. This allows you to maintain a high temperature and burn fewer pellets, thereby saving money. For winter grilling, a heat blanket also eliminates any build-up of ice or snow, prevents condensation, and helps maintain a consistent temperature by protecting the grill from cold winds.
A cover is an indispensable accessory that keeps your grill safe from the elements when you’re not cooking. Whether you live somewhere rainy or with intense sun, you’ll want to keep your outdoor pellet grill in good shape. Look for a design that’s tailored to fit your grill. These are less likely to blow off and can channel water off and away from the grill.
How to Clean a Pellet Grill
If you’re going to invest in a top-of-the-line pellet grill, you’ll want to take good care of it. Proper maintenance of your grill requires a few specific techniques, which make it easy to keep your barbecue burning for years to come.
As mentioned above, the dense wood in the compressed pellets burns cleanly, and produces much less ash than traditional grills. Many pellet grills have an ash can that makes cleanup convenient — simply sweep the ash into the can and remove it to discard the residue or add it to your compost. You typically want to remove ash after every 10 to 15 hours of grilling. Any excess ash that doesn’t come out in the can easily vacuums up with an outdoor shop-vac. Always make sure the ash has cooled overnight before cleaning or vacuuming.
You also need to clean the heat deflector plate, which can tend to accumulate grease. Wear an apron and gloves when cleaning the deflector plate and the grill’s grates. Scrape and wash them by hand since this tar-like grease is not dishwasher friendly. Finally, after each use, it’s best to put a cover on your grill to protect it from the elements.
With their convenient features and the classic flavor of real burning wood, a pellet grill enables you to enjoy well-flavored meats in the comfort of your backyard, all with less work and mess. Get in on the timeless tradition of barbecuing paired with modern conveniences as you choose a pellet grill of your own.
Fired up to Get Grilling? Read on for More Inspiration…
- Get tips straight from the grilling pros. Read Traeger®: Grilling the Wood-Fired Way.
- Consult our How to Clean a Grill article for great grill upkeep techniques.
- Perk up your outdoor space! See How to Create the Perfect Grill Gazebo and cook in style.
- A wood-fired grill adds extra flavor to every recipe, including these Must-Try Grilling Recipes from Traeger.