What to Do if Your Pellet Grill Runs Out of Pellets While Smoking

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You’re in the middle of a long cook on your pellet grill and the temp starts dropping. You notice you’re out of pellets. Is the meal ruined? Can you just add more pellets?

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, we’ll cover:

  • What to do if your pellet grill runs out of pellets while cooking
  • Tips for never running out of pellets
  • And much more!
a hand holding a wood pellet in front of a fire

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What You Need to Know About Your Pellet Grill Running Out of Pellets

It’s happened. You were smoking an amazing creation, left the house to run an errand, and came back to find your pellet grill was out of pellets. Or at least you think it is. 

Don’t worry, this can happen to even the best of us sometimes, and it’s best to work to remedy the situation right away using a few simple steps. 

First and foremost, when your pellet grill runs out of pellets, it will likely display an error message, then begin its shutdown process. When this happens, it’s important to remove the food from the pellet grill as soon as possible and put it in your oven so as not to ruin your dish while you solve the problem. 

But if you follow the right steps to restart your grill, you will be smoking again in no time at all. 

Read on to learn more about what you do when your pellet grill runs out of pellets while you cook and some tips to prevent this from happening.

Can You Add Pellets While Smoking?

Of course, when it comes to your pellet grill running out of pellets, prevention is key. If you open the hopper and notice pellets are beginning to run low, now is the time to act.

You can add pellets while you are using your pellet grill as long as the hopper and auger are not completely empty. If you can still see a few pellets in the bottom of the hopper, then you can definitely add some more right away. 

Even if you can’t see pellets in the bottom of the hopper, there are likely some still in the augur if the temperature is holding steady in your grill. In this case, it is still okay to add pellets to your grill. 

Unfortunately, there is a chance that you add pellets a bit too late, as if there is a lot of space in the augur, the grill may still begin its automated shutdown cycle. Don’t panic, however, because it is still okay that you added pellets, you will just additionally need to follow the restart procedure listed below.

wood pellets in a pellet smoker hopper

What to Do if Your Pellet Grill Runs Out of Pellets While Cooking (Step-by-Step Process)

If you’ve dumped in a bunch of new pellets only for your grill to start its shutdown process, follow these steps to get your smoking session back on track as soon as possible.

Step 1: Save the Food

Your first priority if your pellet begins the shutdown process is to save your dinner. Use your grilling tools to remove your food from the grill and wrap it in tinfoil or place it on a pan. Slide that pan into the oven on low heat. 

Step 2: Add Pellets

If you haven’t already, fill the hopper with the pellets needed to finish your cook. 

Step 3: Remove the Grate

As annoying as it is, you need to remove the grate, baffle, and anything else covering the firepot in your pellet grill. This way, you can see what is going on in the firepot. It’s best to let the shutdown process complete before you begin this step, though you can do it during the shutdown process. 

Editor’s Note: The grate will be hot. Only use the proper grill tools, like fireproof gloves and a grate lifter, to remove parts of your grill. 

If you find that there are pellets in the firepot, but the grill still went out, then be sure to scroll down to our “other things to consider” section, which discusses reasons your pellet grill shut down even though it had pellets. 

Step 4: Turn the Grill to High

Turn your grill up to the high setting to get pellets to feed into the fire pot as soon as possible. It will take a few minutes for the pellets to begin to drop into the firepot.

Step 5: Go Back to Shutdown

Once the pellets begin to drop into the firepot, turn your pellet back to the shutdown cycle. It doesn’t need to go through the shutdown cycle, however, and you can turn it right back to smoke. 

Step 6: Wait for the Grill to Produce Smoke

Stay on the smoke setting until your grill begins to produce smoke. You can put your baffle and grate back in the grill. 

Related >> How To Get More Smoke Flavor from Your Pellet Grill

Step 7: Allow the Grill to Reach Temp

After the grill has started to produce smoke, you can adjust the temperature to where you had it set before. Allow the grill to reach this temperature before you do anything else. 

Related >> How Long Does a Pellet Grill Take To Heat Up

Step 8: Replace Your Food

When the grill is once again at your desired temperature, feel free to move your food from the oven back to the grill and resume your smoking!

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01/27/2023 03:13 pm GMT

Other Things to Consider When Your Pellet Grill Runs Out of Pellets

As you are taking your pellet grill apart for the above process, you may notice some other issues that may have contributed to your grill turning off prematurely.

One of these issues is that there is a large buildup of ash in the firepot. When you remove the baffle and the grate, you will be able to see that this is the case. It is in your best interest to remove the ashes using a vacuum as you do the restart process.

Another issue you may encounter is that all the pellets are piling up around one part of the firepot. This can be remedied by taking a fire poker or other hot tool and using it to move the pellets away from the pile. This can only be done when the grill is off and should not be attempted when the grill is on.

Additionally, you may want to consider vacuuming out all of the piled-up pellets to have a fresh start. You also may want to reconsider the type of pellets you are using and switch it up if piles of pellets keep accumulating in your fire pot. 

If you’ve changed up pellets and pile-ups are still continuing to happen in the fire pot, then you may want to check your exhaust system because if the firepot can get enough air, this could be what is causing the pellets to pile up in your firepot.

wood fired pellet grill with ribs and chicken

Tips for Never Running Out of Pellets

Even though your current dinner might be delayed due to running out of pellets, this doesn’t have to be a common occurrence. Below are some tips to help you never run out of pellets.

Tip 1: Have Tons of Pellets on Hand

You should stock up on wood pellets whenever you can. Grab a bag whenever you see them on sale or order a bulk pack from a website like Amazon. Either way, you never want to just have one bag on hand when you start a smoke session. 

You will need to store your wood pellets properly to ensure they stay fresh and undamaged, so you don’t waste money. Check out our related article about wood pellet storage ideas

Tip 2: Estimate How Many Pellets You Will Need

Another aspect of not running out of pellets is estimating how many you will need before you begin cooking. Generally, you should plan on one pound of pellets for each hour you plan to smoke at low heat.

For high heat, you will want to double this amount, planning for two hours for each hour you plan to smoke. If you aren’t sure how many pounds of pellets your hopper holds, you can usually look it up online. We are also a fan of just filling your hopper to the top before you start smoking. 

We recommend estimating very high, especially during the colder months of the year when more pellets are required to maintain heat settings. 

Related >> Should You Empty the Pellets After Each Use?

Tip 3: Set a Check Back Alarm

Smoking sessions can get long, and even if you filled the hopper to the brim, you may need to refill the hopper mid-smoke, depending on the cooking time. When this is the case, it’s best to set a timer to check and refill your hopper halfway through the smoke time. Or maybe even after just a third of the time for those 24-hour smoke sessions.

Can You Leave the Hopper Lid Open While Smoking?

Some people think it’s easier to leave the hopper open while they smoke so they can visibly watch the pellet level go down. While you can do this, it is not advised for several reasons.

First and foremost, if it begins to rain while you are smoking, this could ruin your entire smoke session and leave you needing to clean up a sticky mess in your pellet grill. 

Secondly, other debris could fall into the hopper, such as leaves or bugs, and there’s always that chance that a bird flies over and, you know. 

Therefore it is overall just a better idea to keep your pellet hopper closed as you smoke and set an alarm to check in on your dinner halfway through!

What To Do When Your Pellet Grill Turns Off But Has Pellets

Has your pellet grill turned off, but there are still pellets in the hopper? This may have happened due to pellet bridging or tunneling, either of which is a fancy term for the fact that your pellets have gotten jammed. 

You will still want to follow the instructions listed above, but you may want to wait until your grill cools to find the source of the jam. If you regularly leave pellets in your hopper, moisture may have gotten into your pellet grill and caused the pellets to expand, clogging the augur. 

In this case, you will sadly need to clean out the grill entirely before you can begin smoking again. This can be time-consuming, and you may need to finish the meat you planned in the oven or risk not having dinner. 

It is critical that if you do find your pellet grill off, but there are pellets in the hopper, you take the grill apart to investigate before you restart the grill. If you don’t, the results could be disastrous. 

Learn more about using a pellet grill in our Pellet Grill Tips and Tricks article!

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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