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If you’re wondering how wood pellet grills work, there are a number of things to understand. The best grill for you may be one that offers the versatility and restaurant-quality grilling, baking, and smoking that these modern types of grills offer. That way you’ll know how to barbeque the right way. There are even methods to using a charcoal grill as a smoker, but that takes some skill.
Wood pellet grills, like the Z Grills 700D, have both advantages and disadvantages over charcoal, gas, infrared, and electric grills and smokers, which is great because it can be difficult to repair an electric smoker. Plus, knowing how they work will help explain what they are. While you’re researching grill types, you may want to look into how grills create a spark.
Wood pellet grills are a newer addition to the consumer grill market and have a unique, high-tech cooking system that allows them to do much more than most other grill types.
The electronics in a pellet grill do not produce any heat but control the auger, burn pot, and other components, and determine heat levels and cook times.
Wood pellet grills are not only capable of BBQ grilling with the same classic smoky BBQ taste that is typically offered only by charcoal grills, but they can also be used to bake, roast, and smoke food — something no other grill type offers. Keep in mind that a pellet grill can’t match how hot a charcoal grill gets.
Pellet grills or pellet smokers have their beginnings in pellet stoves. In 1973, the U.S. oil crisis led some manufacturers to find inexpensive alternatives to oil heating for homes. Wood pellets were created by compressing sawdust, and wood pellet stoves were introduced to the market with some success by the 1980s.
The first wood pellet grill was introduced in 1985 by inventor Joe Traeger, whose company was the sole manufacturer of pellet grills for 20 years when the patent expired, allowing other manufacturers to develop and improve upon the original design and introduce their own models to the market.
Pellet grills generate heat and smoke by burning food-grade wood pellets made of compressed sawdust. Besides charcoal grills, they’re the only type of grill that produces enough smoke to imbue food with the sought-after classic BBQ smoky flavor. Pellet grills contain electronic components that control the cooking cycle and internal mechanisms, like the rotating auger.
First, pellets are fed by gravity from the hopper (where the pellets are loaded) to the auger. The auger rotates pellets toward the burn pot, where the hot rod heating elements sit and are burned by the hot rod to start combustion. Meanwhile, a fan blows air into the burn pot to create flames and make the fire more intense.
Heated air and smoke rise from the burn pot, where they’re deflected by a heat plate near the cooking chamber to allow for even heat distribution and consistent cooking temperature. While this process continues, drippings from meat are collected into a removable grease tray, making cleanup easier and helping prevent grease fires.
You should always be absolutely sure the wood pellets you use in your smoker are certified food grade, both for the best flavor and for safe consumption of any food cooked with them.
Are the wood pellets in a pellet grill for flavor or heat?
Both. While it’s often thought that the grill’s electrical elements create its heat, those components only regulate the cooking cycle and the internal temperature. The actual fuel source is the burning wood pellets, which also give meat the rich smoky flavor often desired in BBQ cooking.
How often do I need to clean out the ash?
It depends on how often you use your pellet grill and for how long you use it each time. While a simple grilling cycle of an hour won’t produce much ash, a full 24-hour smoking cycle will. If you’re regularly smoking meats, you’ll probably want to clean out the ashtray after every few uses, otherwise once or twice a month should suffice.
Are pellet grills just for smoking?
While pellet grills were originally designed solely for smoking, most modern models can smoke, sear, grill, and even bake.
Are pellet grills expensive?
Compared to most grill types, pellet grills start at higher price points due to their multifunctional cooking technology and fine-tuned electronics like its digital controller. There aren’t a lot of entry-level options for pellet smokers, but their versatility means they can often replace several other cooking appliances.
STAT: An entire 40lb bag of wood pellets produces no more than 1/2 cup of ash. (source)