How Does a Pellet Grill Work? (In-Depth Explanation)

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Are you thinking about buying a pellet grill but realize you don’t know anything about them?

You’ve come to the right spot!

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide you will learn:

  • How a pellet grill works
  • Their pros and cons
  • And much more!
wood pellets on fire

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How a Pellet Grill Works

Now that you know a little bit about the fuel behind a pellet grill, let’s take an in-depth look at how a pellet grill works.

Step 1: Load Fuel

Before the process can begin, the fuel must properly be loaded into the pellet grill. This includes loading the hopper with pellets as well as plugging in the grill to an electrical source.

Step 2: The Augur and the Hot Rod Start

Once the pellet grill is turned on via the dial, this starts the augur. The augur is a tube with a metal swirl in it that pushes the wood pellets from the hopper to the fire chamber. It does so at different speeds depending on the temperature or setting on the dial.

As the augur moves the pellets into the fire chamber, the ignition rod (also called “hot rod”) begins to light the pellets that are in the fire chamber so they can burn.

Do note that the prime button will speed up the augur to deposit wood pellets more rapidly into the fire chamber. This is only used when the fire chamber is completely empty such as the first time the grill is started or after you have changed the type of wood pellets.

Step 3: The Fan Blows

After the pellets have been ignited by the ignition rod, they stay in the fire chamber where they burn. A fan blows the smoke from the fire chamber to the grilling area. This is when you would begin to cook your food.

Step 4: Turning Off the Dial

Once the food is cooked and you are finished using the pellet grill, the dial would be turned to the off position. This stops the augur and the ignition rod from lighting any more pellets on fire.

But this doesn’t mean the pellet grill is off just yet.

Step 5: The Fan Finishes the Cooldown Cycle

The fan will continue to blow even after the dial is turned off, this is because there are likely still pellets on fire in the fire chamber. Once the fire chamber is empty of burning pellets, the fan will turn off automatically.

If the pellet grill is unplugged before the fan completes its cycle, there’s a possibility that flame could travel up the augur and into the fire pot which is why it is critical to leave the pellet grill plugged in until the fan switches off.

That’s about all there is to it, not as complicated as it seems when it comes down to it!

Related >> How to Clean a Pellet Grill

What You Need to Know About Pellet Grills

Before you buy any large piece of cooking equipment, you should always do your research. This way you can ensure you are getting the product that will serve you and your family best.

Pellet grills are no different, even if people rave about them on the internet, you need to make sure you know how they work before you spend your hard-earned money on one. 

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known details regarding pellet grills.

How Are Pellet Grills Fueled?

Despite common belief, pellet grills are neither fueled by gas or charcoal, but rather electricity. The electrical element is used to heat an ignition rod to light the wood pellets on fire. These pellets are then burned which creates heat and smoke which is used to cook your food.

Without electricity or wood pellets, a pellet grill will not work, making them not ideal for on-the-road smoking and grilling. Instead, they should be considered a permanent fixture in your backyard.

What Are Wood Pellets? 

Wood pellets are just what they sound like, small pieces of wood! But unlike wood chips, wood pellets contain compressed wood, giving them a longer and more consistent burn time.

Wood pellets come in all different wood types, allowing the user to get different flavors in their meat based on the wood pellets they use. Wood pellets are easy to mix, also allowing the user to experiment with multiple flavors of wood when cooking one piece of meat. 

Are Wood Pellets Better than Wood Chips?

When using a pellet grill, your only option is to use wood pellets. If you attempt to use wood chips, they could jam your pellet grill and cause a myriad of problems. So when you choose a pellet grill you are choosing to use wood pellets exclusively. 

Honestly, there isn’t much difference between wood chips and wood pellets as they are made of the same material but one is just compressed. You will come across people, however, who swear one cooks better than the other. 

The only unique argument we can see on either side is that wood pellets do burn more evenly, helping you keep the pellet grill at the same temperature without having to struggle. This is the upside of using wood pellets.

Meanwhile, the only unique upside of using wood chips is that you can soak them in different things, like whiskey, to get these flavors into your meats. You cannot, under any circumstance, soak wood pellets as this will cause them to expand and be unusable. 

But overall, when you purchase a pellet grill, you likely won’t miss out on using wood chips. 

Why Do People Use Pellet Grills?

If you’ve grown up using gas and charcoal grills, you might wonder why anyone would want to use a pellet grill. You may be surprised to find out that there are many benefits to using a pellet grill that has led to their rise in popularity over the past decade.

Versatility

First of all, pellet grills allow you to cook food over a large amount of smoke, similar to a smoker, without actually having to buy a smoker in addition to your grill. Many people choose to buy a pellet grill in fact, because they want the best of both worlds–a grill as well as a smoker. 

Ease of Use

Secondly, pellet grills are ridiculously easy to use. While some smokers are user-friendly, others are not, and it can take a while to get the hang of the right cooking temperatures on the right cuts of meat. With a pellet grill, it isn’t like this, as most people can learn to smoke items on it fairly quickly making the learning curve much smaller.

Cold Smoking

Additionally, many pellet grills have cold smoking options, which not even all smokers offer. Therefore you can smoke your cheeses and your salmon without having to do anything special other than turn a dial. 

To sum it all up, there are tons of options for cooking with a pellet grill, and many people find that it is much easier to use than other alternative options that produce the same results. 

How is a Pellet Grill Controlled?

Technically, the pellet grill is controlled by the dial on the front of the unit. But in this day and age, many companies have come out with a wifi-controlled unit.

The wifi-controlled units allow the owner to download an app on their phone and use it to change the temperature or settings on their pellet grill remotely. This is ideal for items that take a long time to cook like brisket.

The only downside to this is if your pellet grill somehow becomes disconnected from your wifi while you are away from the home, and you are unable to change the settings, it could ruin a very expensive piece of meat. 

Don’t let this deter you from buying a wifi-controlled pellet grill however, we just recommend trying it out a few times while you are at home first (so you can be there if anything goes wrong) before you grab anything fancy from the butcher!

Pros and Cons of Pellet Grills

Although we love a good pellet grill, they aren’t always sunshine and rainbows. Take a look below at the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing a pellet grill.

Pros:

  • Excellent temperature control
  • Can be left unattended while cooking
  • No large flames
  • Can cook a variety of foods
  • Easy to use
  • Wood pellets are cheap
  • Adds amazing smoke flavor to foods
  • Their versatility allows you to smoke, grill, roast, and even bake in them

Cons:

  • Can’t be used when wet; pellets must be kept dry
  • Needs to be plugged in
  • No grill marks
  • Most models aren’t portable 

Final Thoughts on Pellet Grills

In conclusion, a pellet grill can be a great addition to your home. Because it functions using electricity and wood pellets, you’ll find it a low-cost way to get that amazing smoke flavor into all your meats–and maybe even your cheeses!

But before you rush out to buy one, ensure you understand how a pellet grill works, and the importance of using only wood pellets with your pellet grill. Evaluate the pros and cons of owning one then make your decision. 

If you do happen to decide to get one, check out our best pellet grills on the market article to help you decide which one to buy! 

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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