How to Use a Pellet Grill in 9 Simple Steps

how to use a pellet grill

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Pellet grills are known as simple to use, “set and forget’ style cookers, but if it’s your first time using one you’ve probably still got a few questions.

In this guide, I’m going to run through the 9 steps to using a pellet grill successfully.

I’ll be sharing plenty of tips so even if you have cooked on a pellet grill before you are sure to learn something useful.

1. Always season a new smoker

The first step in setting up any new smoker is to season it. This typically involves a dry run without food where you can cook off any residual oils from the factory and coat the inside with a thin layer of cooking oil to prevent rust and make it easier to clean in the future.

You should always start by conducting a dry burn, to burn off any machine oil or other contaminants left over from the manufacturing process, before you start cooking.

Always check the instructions for your specific grill before starting as the exact steps can very.

Steps to season a pellet grill:

  • Preheat your smoker to as hot as the smoker will allow.
  • Conduct a dry burn for about 20 minutes to get rid of any machine oils.
  • Reduce the heat to a cooking temperature of around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a pretty common slow and low cooking temp and it won’t rapidly burn off the cooking oil you’ll add next. 
  • Place a small amount of cooking oil with a high smoke point, such as groundnut or rapeseed oil, in a spray bottle and evenly coat the inside of the smoker.
  • Run the grill for between two to four hours. 
  • Allow the grill to cool before using.

Once your smoker is seasoned, you’re ready to start cooking.

If you’ve got a Traeger grill, we’ve also done a deep dive into how to start and maintain your first Traeger.

2. Make sure your grill is clean

If this is your first time using the grill it should already be clean so you can skip on to the next step.

No one likes the taste of their last meal burned into their food the next time they cook. Make sure to clean your grill after each use, so you don’t get any unwanted flavors in your food.

Z Grills 450B grill grates

Here’s a simple way to clean your grill:

  1. The easiest way is to take the grates off and place them in the dishwasher (if you’re not able to remove the grates, you can use a grill brush to clean them).
  2. Fill a squirt bottle with a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar.
  3. Spray the inside of your smoker liberally with the solution, then wait 15 minutes.
  4. Wipe down the inside of your smoker with a damp cloth (just be sure to allow your grill to dry completely before using it)
  5. Vacuum out the firebox and the inside of the grill.

3. Add your wood pellets

Pellet grills run on wood pellets held in a hopper on the side of the grill. You’ll need to make sure that you’ve got enough pellets to last you for the entire cook, as few things are more frustrating than your grill shutting down halfway through due to insufficient fuel!

wood pellets in a pellet hopper

Be sure to fill the hopper with enough pellets before use. Or, at the very least, keep an eye on things so you can fill up as you go.

An average pellet grill will burn between 1-3 pounds of pellets per hour, depending on the temperature you are cooking at.

You’ll also want to experiment with different kinds of pellets depending on the food you’re cooking, as different woods impart different flavors. Some of the more popular types of pellets include hickory, oak, apple, cherry, and mesquite.

Also, note that you don’t have to stick to your grill brand’s wood pellets – it can be good to mix things up and experiment with different flavors. 

4. Preheat your pellet grill

Preheating your smoker is an important step to ensure that your food cooks evenly.

Most slow and low smoking recipes will have a temperature range of around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit, but you’ll want to do your research on what you’re cooking first to find the perfect temperature. 

smoke coming from the Z Grills 700 pellet smoker

Steps to preheat your pellet smoker:

The steps to preheat your pellet smoker will vary by manufacturer, but here are the basics. 

  • Plug in your pellet smoker.
  • Fill the pellet hopper at the side or rear of the smoker with whatever pellets you feel will best compliment the flavors of your dish. 
  • Set the smoker to your desired temperature. You should hear the augur and the air fan kick in at this point (some brands like Z Grills should be set to smoke mode until the initial smoke clears, and then you can set your desired temp)
  • If directed to by the manufacturer, keep the lid open until the initial blast of smoke has cleared. If not, leave the lid closed until the smoke coming from the vents dies back.
  • Wait for your grill to reach the desired temperature.

5. Add your meat

Once your pellet grill has reached the right temperature, it’s time to add your meat.

You’ll want to wait for the initial burst of smoke to clear and your grill to come up to temp as in the steps above. This normally takes around 10-15 mins if you are smoking at 225 degrees Fahrenheit, but may take a few minutes more if you’re cooking hotter.

pork ribs and tri-tip cooking on a pellet grill

When adding your meat to your grill, try not to overfill it. Leave some room between the pieces of meat so that the heat and smoke can circulate properly and cook your food evenly.

6. Insert a temperature probe 

Good temperature control is key to getting the best results from your pellet grill. To ensure that your food is cooked perfectly, insert a temperature probe into the thickest part of your meat. Most pellet grills come with a probe you can use, or you can always use an after-market one like ThermoWorks Smoke.

tri-tip with an internal temp probe

Temperature, rather than time, is the best indicator of ‘doneness’ when cooking with a pellet grill.

Using a temperature probe will allow you to constantly monitor the temperature of your meat, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure that it is cooked perfectly.

7. To maximize smoke, cook at lower temperatures 

Lower temperatures produce more smoke, so try to cook your food at between 225 and 250°F. This will give you the best results, and produce a delicious smoky flavor.

If you want to cook hot and fast, you can always start at 225 and then bump the temp up after the first one or two hours.

8. Experiment with the reverse sear method for best results

The reverse sear method is a great way to cook thick cuts of meat. By cooking the meat slowly at low temperatures, you ensure that it is cooked evenly all the way through. Then, by searing the outside of the meat over high heat, you create a crispy and delicious crust.

This works particularly well with grills that have a sear station, as pellet grills often have trouble reaching the high temperatures needed for searing.

Camp Chef Woodwind Impressions + Picanha Cook (Pellet Grill + Side Kick)

Some models of pellet grill have an additional sear station, or a slide and grill system, which opens the top of the firebox so you can cook directly over the fire.

Both these systems help to overcome one of the main downsides of a pellet grill, which is its inability to reach the high temperatures needed to sear meat. 

9. Shut your grill down when you’re finished cooking 

As with cleaning your grill, shutting your grill down is important for safety reasons. When the grill is cool, disconnect the power supply and store your grill in a safe place.

z grills 450b pellet cleanout door

Some of the steps to take when shutting down the pellet grill include:

  • Make sure all the pellets have been extinguished and that the grill is cool to the touch.
  • Disconnecting the power supply.
  • Removing the pellets from the hopper and storing them in an airtight container (Here’s a detailed guide on how to store wood pellets).
  • Cleaning the pellet grill using a grill brush and soapy water to remove any residue.
  • Storing your grill in a safe place where it will not be damaged or come into contact with rain or snow.

Follow these steps and you’ll be able to safely shut down and store your pellet grill.

Get the best from your pellet grill

Learning how to use a pellet grill doesn’t have to be a challenge at all. By following the simple steps laid out in this guide, you can ensure that your pellet grill gives you the best results every time. 

Don’t know what to cook first? Here’s a list of great recipes to cook on your pellet grill.

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