How do pellet smoker grills work & how do you use one?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 27, 2022

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A pellet grill is kind of like an electronic version of an offset smoker. Like an offset smoker, both have fireboxes that are connected to where the grilling takes place.

However, the pellet grill relies solely on wood pellets to give food a smoky taste whereas an offset can use charcoal as well.

It also has an LCD display that can be used to control the temperature. This feature makes it a more convenient choice than an offset smoker as it requires less babysitting.

However, even though it may be easier to use, many people will tell you it lacks that smokey taste that you can only get from an offset.

Is it a pellet Smoker or a Grill?

The best way to describe this cooking apparatus is as a heat-convection smoker. It is not exactly a grill but some models are able to grill and sear meat like you would with a normal grill.

How does the smoker achieve this? By alternating the ways in which the food is exposed to the flame. A brand called Camp Chef has released a WoodWind pellet smoker which comes with a gas, natural gas-fuelled sear box that’s hotter than hell’s kitchen.

Alternatively, you can place a griddle on the smoker as soon as it cranks up to a high temperature. Just make sure to add a dash of oil to avoid getting the meat stuck onto the surface.

How to buy a bbq smoker video
How to buy a bbq smoker video

Within four to six minutes, your meat should be properly seared on each side. This is a great way to reverse-sear your meat. You start by using indirect heat using the slow cooking setting and a little smoke.

Then follow up with direct heat searing, by placing your meat onto the metal griddle. In the end, you should get a succulent texture with a brown and crusty exterior.

Sure, you won’t get exactly the same result you’d get from searing over direct gas or coal heat, but it’ll be pretty close.

What is a Pellet Smoker?

First of all, pellet smokers are the easiest smokers to use out of all the available options. Like your kitchen stove, pellet smokers are controlled by a thermostat so they’re super easy to operate.

All you need to do is choose your preferred cooking temperature once and let the smoker do the rest.

And by “the rest” we mean pouring the wood pellets into an integrated fire pot at different intervals during the cooking process to keep the temperature at an even keel.

The smoker does all of this on its own without any oversight from you.

Yes, smokers are pricey and even the entry-level models can be expensive but they’re well worth the price.

In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an unhappy customer and thanks to the increased demand in smokers, there’s hope that they could become cheaper in the nearer future.

New manufacturers are coming to the fore with different designs and features as well as competitive prices.

The great thing about owning a pellet smoker is that you’ll never make a bad meal in your life.

You’ll always have the most epic pulled pork, brisket and smoked ribs on the block because they eliminate the possibility of overcooking or undercooking your meat. All you need to take care of are the spices and rubs and you’re good to go!

How Do Pellet Grill Smokers Work?

Pellet smokers all work the same regardless of who manufactured them or where you buy them from.

Common features to look out for include an oven-like digital controller, which is usually designed to look like a dial with different temperature ranges printed all around.

Pellet smokers usually feature an LED screen as well to show you important information like current temperature so you can be sure that you’ve got the right temperature before you leave it to do its own thing.

Most models come with an auger as well, which the smoker uses to ignite the pellets through a push-and-pull motion.

Yet another important feature is the indirect heat delivery which means your food is cooked by the smoke more than the fire.

This is what makes pellet smokers so effective at slow cooking and it’s what makes the set it and forget it feature possible.

Lastly, your pellet smoker will also feature a drip plate to catch all the grease from the smoker’s surface.

Wood Pellets are small ¼ inch piece composed of hardwood and have an appearance of a pill. Due to their small size, they are clean and quick to burn which later converted into fine ash.

Wood flavors come in a variety of ways like oak, cherry, apple, hickory and many more.

As per studies, the wood pellet grills are the hottest trends in the cooking industry. Smoking meat requires your attention and monitoring at the right temperature while cooking or smoking time.

It is better than charcoal and offers a primal flavor of wood smoke just with turning of a knob. Pellet grills work on standard electric current. The digital controls are the basic component that controls the flow of smoke and heat at a given time by modifying the flow of pellets.

All you need to plug the grill and set the temperature, an auger delivers pellet to pass through a hopper to a cylindrical fire pot covering the igniter rod. The rod becomes hot for several minutes and ignites the pellets.

Heat and smoke from the pellets are diffused continuously with the help of blower fan as well as metal plates located under the grill gate. You can both smoke and grill over wood pellet fire.

Pellet smokers innovations and digital panels

Pellet grills or pellet smokers are outdoor cookers or stoves that are a mixture of charcoal smokers, gas grills, and kitchen ovens. Long ago these were fuelled by woods or charcoal for ignition of heat.

But nowadays with the advent of technology equipment are based on the electronic panel. Digital electronic panels provide you with ease of setting your grill with just one touch. Pellet grills have been initiated 30 years ago but now they have been back with the resurgence.

There is little modification as they can work as a grill or a smoker. Pellet grills are popular and mostly used in the market. It is one of the finest methods for BBQ pellets and satisfies your cooking needs.

There are dozens of flavors and blends available in the market; you can choose one as per your choice.

Features of BBQ Smoker Pellet grill

  • The digital panel managed the internal temperature and flow of pellet.
  • The motor evokes the auger that feeds pellets to the Firebox.
  • A hot in the firebox burns the pellets and fan provokes them burning
  • A role of fan inside is to maintain appropriate pressure and prevent burning in the hopper.

When all these criteria met, the air flow invokes the wood burning fire and circulates the smoke throughout the grill.

Pellets are inexpensive, they are renewable resources and produce lesser ash comparing to charcoal smokers. Pellets come in a variety of hardwood flavors.

The cookers consume about 1.5 to 2.5 pound of pellets per hour if used n 225 degree Celsius. 10 pounds of pellets produces just ½ cup of ash all the rest is transformed into energy and combustion gases.

A Short History of Pellet Smokers

The world’s first wood pellet smoker grill was developed by an Oregon company called Traeger in 1985. Back then the device was used as a furnace or heater and had nothing to do with food.

The wood pellets were made from compacted sawdust and wood cut-offs from the lumber milling industry.

However, once the winter was over people stopped buying the heaters from Traeger so he came up with the brilliant idea to design a special grill that would use the pellets as its fuel source.

While this started out as an idea to keep his business relevant during the summer season, the best grill pellets became an overnight success.

The Traeger Company was founded by Joe Traeger, who owned the patent for pellet smoker grills for many years after his invention. His company went on to become one of the most respected and largest manufacturers of smokers and grills on the market. To this day, no other company has sold the number of pellet grills that Traeger has sold over the years.

However, this is mainly because Traeger had a head start over his competitors, who could only start manufacturing and promoting their own versions of the pellet grill once Traeger’s patent expired. This opened the floodgates for competition to enter the market which was good news for the consumers because it meant reduced prices and more options to choose from. Plus, some manufacturers introduced certain innovations to the original pellet smoker grill that made them stand out from Traeger’s original creations.

Traeger decided to patent the idea and for the first decade was the only one producing them in the market. Once his patent expired, however, other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon with their own version of the pellet smoker.

At first, pellet smokers had three settings; low, medium, high, straightforward and to the point.

This meant that you had to manually feed it the pellets to it and there was no temperature probe to help you customize the temperatures or “set it and forget it”.

Nowadays, it’s normal to see a pellet smoker with a digital thermostat controls that allow you to control pellet-feed. All manufacturers include this feature because it makes the consumer’s life easier.

All you have to do is select your preferred temperature and the smoker will bring the temperature up to that point and maintain it that way until it’s done cooking.

The LED screen allows you to keep track of the temperature, and you can use the internal thermostat to determine any discrepancies between actual temperature to set temperature.

You see, the smoker automatically switches itself on and off to keep the temperature even. But, there are other models which come with a touch-pad controller that keeps the temperature balanced without much toggling.

If you like, you can purchase a model that comes with a probe that you can use to check on the internal temperature of the food you’re cooking.

Another cool feature worth mentioning is wireless remote control which integrates the smoker to your smartphone via an app so you can keep track of your food from the other room.

These are some of the most important features in a pellet smoker because they allow you to monitor the internal temperature and ensure that the finished product is what you want it to be.

You’ll no longer have to lift the lid to check the progress of your meat because the LED screen will tell you all you need to know.

All of this is possible with a digital meat thermometer but even that is unnecessary if your smoker features a dual display system that displays the meat temperature and cooking temperature.

Also read: Pit Boss VS Traeger pellet grill which one is the best

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.