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How a Pellet Grill Works

John Setzler

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I know we are all Kamado fans here at the Kamado Guru site, but I thought some of you might be interested in seeing how a pellet grill works.  




This is my Traeger Lil' Texas Elite pellet grill that I purchased last November.  If I remember correctly this model sells for about $800 or so.  




The pellet hopper and the control dial are located to the left side of the cooking chamber.




I'm not sure exactly on this mode, but I think this hopper holds 12 to 13 pounds of pellets, which is more than enough for the average low and slow cook.  On the Traeger grills, they claim that you must use the Traeger brand pellets or you will void your warranty.  I haven't tried other brands yet.  The Traeger pellets run about $20/20lb bag.




The controls for this grill are very simple.  All you have is an on/off switch and a temperature selection dial.  The 'smoke' setting is supposed to run around 180 degrees, but mine runs a little higher than that I believe.  The HIGH setting is supposed to be about 450 degrees.




On the right side of the grill you have the grease catch bucket.




There are five main components on the inside of the cooking chamber.  There is a vertical temperature probe on the left side.  It sits on a flange that goes all the way around the grill.  This flange holds the cooking grate.  My cooking grate on this model is about 19x22" or so.  There are two more flanges on the left and right sides below the grill flange that hold the drip pan.  This drip pan slants down to the right so that grease runs off into the grease trough on the right.  The grease exits the grill through this trough into the grease catch bucket.  The fire box is located in the bottom of the cooking chamber.  There is an auger that feeds pellets from the pellet hopper into the firebox.  There is also a fan that feeds forced air into this firebox to stoke the pellets.  There is a glow plug type device on the end of the pellet tube that heats and ignites the pellets along with the forced air from the fan.




Here's a closer view of the firebox...




When you turn the grill on, the auger starts to feed pellets into the firebox.  The rate at which these pellets are fed is determined by your temperature control setting.  The temp control setting also controls the fan operation.




When the pellets ignite, you re-assemble the inside parts of the grill...




There is a steel baffle that sits on top of the firebox to eliminate a hot spot on the grill.




The drip pan sits in on top of the baffle.




The the grill grate goes back in so you can let the grill warm up and start cooking.


My experiences with this grill:


This grill has some good points and bad points.  Like a gas grill, it fires up and is ready to cook pretty quickly.  It won't get as hot as a gas grill and, in my opinion, this grill does not get hot enough for normal high temp grilling tasks.  You aren't going to do much searing on one of these.  This grill performs really well in the 300-375 degree range.  I cooked our Thanksgiving turkey (18 pounder) on it last year and it turned out very well.  This grill does not retain moisture as well as a kamado grill.  I smoked a boston butt on this and the results were not as good as I get on my kamado.  The bark was harder and drier (I did not foil the butt, which may help.)  I believe the forced air convection in this grill prevents it from having much in terms of moisture retention.  I cooked a pan of my smoked mac & cheese on it and that came out very well.  


This grill works well as an outdoor oven.  Not so much as a grill :)



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Not yet a year old and rust already set in! .....I saw a demo of a pellet grill, sounded like a jet engine was taking off as it fired up....in my opinion pellets should be left for house heating, I can't really follow why you would grill on pellets...suppose it is a little cleaner and it feeds itself but kinda defeats the object of grilling for me....each to their own I suppose...

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According to the "chatter" in/on another board I watch, there was a significant change in quality of these grills recently when that which used to be a USA-made product changed to a USA-designed product made ... elsewhere ...

Just curious, John, as I have neither the budget nor the room nor the spousal tolerance required to add another outside cooking device to my used-a-lot KJ and my still-used-a-little propane grill, but is yours made in the USA or elsewhere?

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I did a lot of cooking on mine when I first go it. Ribs--butts--chicken. I agree with you referring to it as a convection oven. The moving hot air really dried things out. I started foiling my stuff and that did help. If I did not foil the bark go so tough that sometimes you could not chew it.


In the end I started leaving it on the smoking setting and smoking things for three or four hours and used the oven to finish. This saved a lot of pellets.


I did not get all that much smoke flavor either. In my research I found that in all the wood kinds--cherry-hickory--mesquite--and so on--the predominate wood in the  Traeger pellet was alder. If you look up alder it says it has a very mild flavor and produces a very nice brown color. That was pretty much what I got.


The chicken that I made of the Traeger definitely was different that any other chicken that I have ever made. The skin would be crisp and nice and brown. It looked like I had a food stylist. My family just did not like the taste. It is hard to describe but it sort of had a sweet taste that reminded me of flowers. My wife requested that i make the chicken on the gas grill.

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Everyone that I know who went from gas to the pellet grills did so for the set-it-and-forget-it aspects.



Most of them are just holiday grillers.



It really sparked a strong grilling interest in two of them.....and they went on to kamado grills.



It's a nice option for folks.    



I don't know of any of them who had trouble with the mechanical parts....but a couple did with the electronic components.  Some were handled under warranty....some not.



One thing they all said after seeing kamado cookers smoking away in foul weather.......ouch....I'd never be able to leave my pellet grill out in that kind of weather.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Posted 30 September 2014 - 10:13 AM

I have had a Traeger Tex for 6 years. I cook on it regularly and my food isn't dry. I do put a layer of olive oil all over all meat b4 putting the rub on. All my stuff is moist. I will say the chicken breasts from Sams that are skin on bone in turns out moister than the skinless boneless ones but the skinless boneless are still not dry. The main reasons I bought the Tex was so I could cook a whole case of pork butt (8 roasts) at one time and the set and forget ability. I will admit that the smoke flavor from the pellet isn't as distinctive as I think it should be with different pellets. I have found a store called Cash and Carry out here (restaurant supply) sells the pellets for $11 for a 20# bag. My dad in Washington says they sell them at his home depot for $8-9. That being said since I found this site I am seriously thinking of down sizing my main smoker to an Acorn. I do continue to smoke a case of pork butts a couple times a year so I won't be getting rid of my larger Texas pellet but may augment it with an Acorn. Then I have read that that's just a gateway drug to a ceramic. So maybe I'll just wait and see what my daughters family say about theirs since my daughter knows about the taste and no hassle of the pellets. I suspect that within a couple years my main smoker won't be a pellet.


Updated 11 May 2015

I got my son an Akorn for Christmas. I like cooking on the Akorn and the food that comes off it. Since I got the Akorn I haven't used the pellet except for 1 case of pork butt cook, a case of tri-tip cook for a church function and as a food warmer at our churchs Mothers day banquet cook since it holds way more than the Akorn. We cooked kabobs on gassers and my BS griddle and when they were done placed them in the pellet on smoke to keep them warm till ready. Rave reviews all around.


Bottom line is in my opinion there is no 1 unit that does it all if you need to:

1. Have the capability of cooking a case of pork butts at any given time,

2. Want to peace of mind to cook at night while you sleep

3. Have extremely moist meat

4. Have great smoke flavor

5. Be able to cook cheaply

6. Be able to sear

7. Be able to cook in very windy conditions

8. Want something that will last 20+ years

9. Don't want to be tied to electricity

10. Want something as a food warmer

11. Be able to cold smoke cheese at 100F or less

12. Be able to cook a pancake breakfast for a crowd


Unless you can afford a kk32" and I'm not sure #10, 11 or 12 could be accomlished with even that.

That is why I have everything I have. I use them at different times for different circumstances. The good news as far as the wife goes is I have created my very own outdoor cooking area (needs remodled) so the kitchen is relegated to prep and serve room.

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