How to Start & Maintain Your New Traeger: First Time Users Guide
So you’re the proud owner of a brand new Traeger grill. Or maybe you’ve owned one for a while to ensure you haven’t been starting it wrong.
How do you fire up a Traeger for the first time, and do you need to season it? What about maintenance and troubleshooting?
We have it all covered here. Let’s have a closer look at what you can expect from your new Traeger and how you can get the best out of it from your very first cook.
How to start your Traeger for the first time
The first time you use your Traeger, you must go through the season and burn-in phase. You only need to do this one, but it ensures that any oil is burnt off and your auger is primed and ready.
Traeger has a helpful video that runs through the entire process.
First, ensure the grill grates and heat shield are removed so you can see the pellets enter the burn pot.
- Pour some pellets into the hopper. You don’t need to fill it up at this stage
- Plug in your grill
- Turn on your grill by pressing the temperature control dial
- Select “Auger” from the menu and then choose “Prime Auger”
- Once you see pellets start to fall into the fire pot, select “Done” to turn off the Auger
- Turn the temperature dial to 350°F and press the dial in to set the temperature. Don’t worry if your grill smokes a lot coming up to temperature this is normal.
- Once your grill reaches 350°F, leave it for 20 minutes before increasing the temp up to 450°F and leaving for an additional 30 minutes
- Shut down the grill by pressing and holding the temperature dial for 3 seconds
- Once the shutdown cycle finishes, your grill has been seasoned and is ready for use
Note: If you plan on cooking straight away, you don’t need to go through the shutdown cycle. Just add your food after the 30-minute period ends.
These instructions are for the Pro but should be virtually the same for other models. With the Ironwood you will finish at 500°F instead of 450°F because it has a higher max temp.
If you have a Trager with WiFire, you will want to connect your Traeger grill to your WiFi network to allow the Firmware to update.
How to start your Traeger grill after initial use
You need to know what model your grill is so you use the correct start-up procedure.
A quick rule of thumb: If your Traeger grill was made after 2016, you’ll start it with the lid closed. Some older grills will start with the lid open.
Failing to properly start your Traeger pellet grill can lead to issues mid-cook even though everything appears fine. You might encounter temperature swings or even the fire going out.
Starting a modern Traeger is as easy as plugging in the power, selecting your desired temperature, and then pressing the ignite button and allowing the grill to preheat with the lid closed for around 15 minutes.
If your Traeger pellet grill is a Pro 575 or 780, Century 885, Silverton 620 or 810, Ironwood 650 or 885, or Timberline 850 or 1300, you’ve got a WiFire pellet grill.
If you have a Traeger with a model number not included on this list you’ll need to follow a different open lid procedure, which is detailed on the same page.
One thing to note is that the preheat message will go away 10 minutes after the ignition sequence ends or within 5 degrees of the set temperature. Just because the message does away doesn’t mean your grill is necessarily at the temperature you set.
How to start an older Traeger grill
If your Traeger grill is an older model, you need to know if you need to start your grill with the lid open or closed. Every older model doesn’t operate the same way. You need to properly identify your grill’s model. How do you do that?
There is a bar code sticker in your pellet hopper that has the words “Attention Serial #” printed on it. The first batch of characters in the serial number is your grill’s model number.
Then cross-reference that model number against Traeger’s list of closed-lid startup grills. If your grill is on this list, the start-up procedure mirrors the WiFire pellet grill procedure. Ensure you have all the grill components installed correctly and close the lid. Plug the grill in and turn it on, then select your desired temperature on the dial.
If your grill’s model number doesn’t match the list, how do you start your Traeger grill? For the owners of an open-lid starting grill, it’s not too complicated.
Just like every other grill, you want to make sure you have all the internal components in place correctly. With the lid open, plug your grill in and turn it on.
With the lid still open, set your grill to the SMOKE setting. After about five minutes, the fire should have started and there should be a difference in the sound of the fan.
Keep the lid open for another 5-10 minutes, then close the lid. Select your desired temperature and let it preheat which should take another 10-15 minutes. Then get cooking!
What pellets should you use in your Traeger grill?
One of the first questions you’re likely to have is what type of pellets to use in your Traeger.
The obvious place to start is with Traeger branded pellets which come in a range of wood types from their Signature Blend to Hickory, Apple, Cherry or Pecan, all in 20lb bags.
From their you will want to branch out and try different brands to either save money or just experiment with different flavor combinations.
We have a guide to the best wood pellets for smoking you can checkout for more on that. These 40lb bags from CookinPellets are a popular option if you want to save a bit of cash.
You may have heard that you can only use Traeger brand pellets or you run the run of “voiding your Traeger warranty”.
The good news is that the FTC has warned companies that it is “illegal to condition warranty coverage on the use of specified parts or services”.
So you shouldn’t let that claim scare you off.
Stepping away from the Traeger brand gives you more freedom to stock up on bulk and try more flavors.
While you are free to try different brands of pellets if you wish, it is vital you only use cooking pellets in your pellets grill. Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com warns:
Meathead Goldwyn, Pellet Smokers and Grills: Buying Guide
“…you cannot burn home heater pellets in a cooking grill. Cooking pellets are hardwoods. Heater pellets often contain softwoods such as pine, they can have treated lumber and other chemical contaminants in them. The smoke they put out is potentially hazardous in food.
Pellets are made from different woods, each of which imparts a distinctive flavor to the meat. Hickory, oak, maple, alder, apple, cherry, hazelnut, peach, and mesquite are among the flavors available.”
Barbecue pellets are food-grade, and specifically designed for use in barbecues. Resist the urge to save a few dollars. Always use barbecue pellets.
Dealing with temperature swings
The beauty of using a pellet grill like a Traeger is that the temperature will usually be stable. But it is good to know what to do if your temperature does start to swing.
Before you start poking and prodding around, hoping to find the source of the problem, take a moment to consider if the fluctuations are actually problematic or not.
When Traeger claims that their smoker will maintain a certain temperature throughout the cook, keep in mind that this is an average for the duration of the entire cook.
The thermometer that comes with your smoker also promises to be accurate to +/- 20°F, so some variation in the temperature throughout the cook is actually quite normal.
It is also worth noting that the outside temperature, wind, and position of your smoker (i.e. in the direct sun or in the shade) will affect the temperature inside your pellet smoker.
These considerations aside, the next port of call when troubleshooting temperature fluctuations is your pellets. Poor quality pellets produce more ash. This means that the RTD probe struggles to get an accurate reading, prompting the Traeger to feed too many pellets into the firebox.
It might also be worth checking the fire pot, heat diffuser, and drip pan. If these have corroded over time, hot spots and oxygen flow changes could be causing spikes in heat. This is unlikely to be an issue if your Traeger is brand new though.
The RTD probe itself could also be the culprit. A test against a reliable digital thermometer should be able to determine if this is the problem.
Another trick is to check if your pellets are moving smoothly into the auger. Some Traeger owners report that, at times, the pellets don’t move freely into the auger from the pellet box. Suddenly you see the temperature dropping. A simple redistribution of the pellets in the pellet box should solve this problem.
Cleaning your Traeger
Keeping your Traeger clean is the best way to keep it running well and prevent issues from cropping up.
Traeger recommends cleaning out the ash in and around the firepot every five uses. A better guide is to clean depending on the length of your previous cooks. If you did a 14-hour brisket smoking session, you might want to clean out the ash before firing up your grill again.
You’ll need to remove the grill grates, drain pan, and heat baffle and then use a shop vac to vacuum up any pellets and ash.
Make sure your grill is cold before doing this.
If I find that I’ve forgotten to clean the grill grates (hey, we all get in a rush to eat, right?) I’ll take a moment to get them nice and clean. For more information on deep cleaning your pellet grill, check this article out. It’s especially important to do this when pulling your grill out for the start of the smoking season.
There are a few other things you should do to keep your Traeger clean and running well:
- Keep your Trager covered – You don’t want to expose your Traeger to the elements, so make sure you invest in a cover and use it. When pellets get wet they expand and can clog up the auger.
- Clean the grease pan – Change out the aluminum foil on the grease pan regularly, and scrape out any extra grease or debris that has built up. Make sure you pour grease into something that’s disposable and then discard it in the trash. DO not pour down the drain or gutter!
- Wipe the grill exterior – Use warm soapy water and a cloth to keep the outside of your grill clean. Avoid harsh cleaners.
Storing unused pellets
The main consideration when storing your pellets is moisture. If your pellets get damp you will end up with pellets that don’t burn hot, and you will struggle to reach and maintain your desired temperature. If they get really damp, they will swell and can block the auger.
Needless to say, this will not go down well in your Traeger.
Store your pellets in a dry spot, and don’t leave them in the pellet bag for any extended length of time.
If you live in a very humid climate it is generally good practice to make sure you empty the hopper at the end of each cook if you know you won’t be using it again for awhile.
If you live in a very cold climate, this is of even greater importance. If temperatures fall below freezing, pellets left in the pellet box can freeze, swell, break down into sawdust and completely clog up your auger. If your auger also freezes up, you will be left with quite a mess that will take some dismantling to rectify.
As far as general maintenance, it is advisable to cover your drip tray with aluminium foil for easy clean-up.
Pimp your Traeger with these accessories.
Don’t get me wrong, the Traeger is a great smoker/grill straight out of the box. But there are ways you can get even more out of your Traeger.
We have a guide to the best Traeger accessories you can check out.
Shelves: Besides a cover, adding a shelf is the first accessory I would recommend. The extra space comes in super handy when you need to prep meat, sauces, or sides. You can find a shelf for each model on the Traeger website.
Pellet Tubes: Some Traeger owners like the freedom to experiment a little more with smoke flavors, especially when cooking at higher temperatures where pellet grills struggle to get much smoke flavor.
If this appeals to you, consider getting yourself a pellet tube. Just pack it full of pellets, light it at one end with a blowtorch or lighter and sit it on the grate inside your Traeger. It is that easy. It will burn for about 4 hours.
Digital Thermometer: Depending on which model Traeger you own you may only have one meat thermometer so hooking up a wireless digital thermometer affords you the luxury of easily monitoring multiple items.
Traeger Owner FAQs
Q: What does the “smoke” setting actually mean?
A: This setting is on non-WiFIRE grills. It sets the temperature to 160°F, according to Traeger. It will fluctuate as high as 180°F, though. This is to help the grill produce more smoke to enhance the flavor of whatever you’re smoking.
Q: Do you actually have to remove pellets after each use?
A: You may have heard that you need to remove your wood pellets from your grill after each use. The reasoning is that you need to keep your pellets away from any source of moisture, otherwise it will cause them to break down. Wet pellets can cause auger jams or burn badly.
Obviously, we recommend storing your pellets in airtight containers to prolong their life and protect them from moisture. Now how does that affect pellets in your grill’s hopper?
If you live in an extremely humid environment, you probably want to empty your hopper after every use. The hopper isn’t going to provide the same airtight seal as a good bucket or bin. However, it’s not a requirement. I’ve left pellets in the hopper with the cover on my grill for months and never had issues.
If you’re concerned about the humidity and moisture in your area, taking the pellets out will minimize your risk of problems.
Q: Does the fan cycle on and off during startup?
A: Just like the start-up procedure is different for different models, the answer is different here too. Traeger says that the non-WiFIRE grill’s fan will run without interruption throughout the startup process. The WiFIRE grill’s fan will cycle on and off while going through the startup.
Q: How long does it take for the grill to preheat?
A: WiFIRE grills should take around 15 minutes to preheat, especially at a higher temperature. On the non-WiFIRE grills, the whole process can take between 20-30 minutes, with the higher end being for the highest temperatures the grill can reach.
Wrapping it up
We hope you have found our guide to making your first smoke in a Traeger a success.
If you are new to pellet smokers, or are looking to purchase one, it is important to be familiar with how they work, and to know how to get the best out of them. For more tips and advice you should head over to the Traeger company blog where you can find a range of recipes and advice.
Do you use a Traeger, or any other brand of pellet smoker? Have any tips or tricks you would like to share with us? Be sure to share them in the comments below.
And if you liked this article and found it helpful, please be sure to share!