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How Does A Pellet Grill Work?

What is a pellet grill and how does it work?

As a relatively recent invention, the pellet grill has been taking over the world steadily but surely.

If you are one of those outdoor going people or you just like to invite some of your friends over on a sunny weekend and have a barbecue in your backyard, you will definitely like this invention.

Let’s check out the benefits of pellet grills, how they work, and comparisons against the regular charcoal grill.

Pellet Grill History

First experiments with using wood pellets for grills date back to the early 1980’s. They were done by Joe Traeger's company and so the Traeger Pellet Grills are said to be the first of their kind.

The family-owned heating company was trying out new and alternative ways for home heating when they seem to have made the discovery of the pellet grilling by chance.

It was soon after that they figured out how to attach a thermostat to their invention and the new era of grilling was born.

The addition of thermostats was the key to this because it allowed people to ‘set it and forget it’ as the advertising sayings would go.

Not long after that, many new manufacturers joined in on making pellet grills.

The technology behind manufacturing it has since inevitably advanced and today we have pellet grills with computer thermostat control, that even have their own Wi-Fi network, just so you can connect it with your smartphone and control the temperature and the baking process that way.

The fuel for the grills has remained the same – pellets of course. Pellets made from compressed wood shavings and sawdust, so it is in the heart a very economical solution because it uses everything dumped in the process of woodworking.

Basic overview

At first glance, the pellet grill is about the same size as an average grill. It even looks similar on the outside, but it is when you go inside and check the workings that the differences emerge.

Pellet grill works much like a pellet furnace. The pellets are placed in a hopper and an electric auger system feeds them to the burn pot.

The speed of the feeding is dictated by the thermostat, naturally, so you can efficiently control temperatures from warm to burning hot.

The burning pot ignites the pellets and the heat is carried via the air convection system, which mixes outside air with the hot air from the fire.

The difference is that in a pellet furnace the smoke is separated with a heat exchanger so that you don’t have smoke in your room, but in a pellet grill, the smoke is left to circulate inside in order to produce that juicy smoke flavor and enrich the meat.

The previously mentioned electric auger system is in its essence a long horizontal tube, with an electrically rotated screw inside.

The screw turns similarly as in a meat grinder, only that it doesn’t grind the pellets, but only pushes them in the burning pot at the rate your desired temperature dictates.

This is all automatically controlled by the thermostat. All you really need to do is load up the pellets in the hopper and set your temperature, pretty neat right?

The burning pot has its own air flow, so there is enough oxygen for the fire to burn. This controls the rate at which pellets are consumed and the height of your temperature.

If the air flow is steady and low the pellets will burn slowly and more smoke will be created, and vice versa.

Now, all these let’s call them secondary mechanisms are powered by electricity, so you will need to secure a power source, which is naturally very important.

Indirect Heat Cooking

Pellet grills are also called pellet smokers and it is understood why now after the explanation of how they work.

But, their real advantage over regular grills really comes to shine when you realize how heat is distributed.

Here, the heat is indirect, meaning your meat is not directly exposed to the flame, but the heat from the flame is, as previously mentioned, distributed with the help of the air convection system.

This allows the pellet grill to distribute the heat efficiently and all around the baking area thus allowing you to cook larger quantities of food, and also larger cuts.

This is also the point in which such a precise temperature control system really shines.

Fat Drip Regulation

Now, you might be wondering at this point that if the cooking process is so well taken care of and almost no work needs to be invested in it, what happens to all that grease dripping from the meat cooked in?

Well, normally all pellet grills have a built-in dripping plate, that catches the grease and fat dripping down.

You can literally place the meat, set the temperature, and just go do other stuff, assured of the outcome of the baking process.

This is particularly useful when grilling chicken because chicken meat is not as lean and produces more dripping.

All this definitely ensures a neat and tidy grilling process and is easily cleaned and maintained.

How to Light up your Pellet Grill and Start Cooking

Now that you understand how a pellet grill works and what it consists of, it should be pretty clear how the grilling process works as well. It has never been more simple and precise.

You simply need to make sure you have a good supply of wood pellets and that your hopper is constantly filled.

That said it is probably good to know that the rate of consumption and the amount of pellets needed is actually very economical. All pellet grill manufacturers take proud in this fact.

Since wood pellets are already made out of the wood shavings and sawdust, the things thrown away during any woodworking process,

it is already considered to be a very good and economical choice for the whole economy system. 

Furthermore, the consumption of pellets is surprisingly low, given the fact that it is a fast burning fire fuel.

It is the way that the consumption is organized and the heat distributed, that all contribute to this low consumption rate.

Also, the grilling time is shortened because of all that, and the time and effort you need to spend on grilling completely minimized.

You will naturally have to prepare your meat in the way you desire. Just factor in the beautiful smoke flavor you will definitely love, that the pellet smoker provides.

You can also put all kinds of shapes and sizes of your meat inside, and with the temperature control determine very efficiently how it will be cooked.

After you have the meat set up and the hopper filled with wood pellets, you need to plug in your grill, flip the switch, set the desired temperature, and the grilling can begin.

The electric auger system will start pushing the pellets to the burn pot that will heat up very fast and start burning them.

The air will be sucked in through multiple ventilation holes any pellet grill has, and the efficient heat distribution will begin.

Different Pellet Grill Comparisons

When it comes to different manufacturers and their product, there are a lot of subtle differences that are all debatable.

Most of the time, the difference will be in the thermostat technology, thicker versus thinner metal plates, better air flow, drip flow, etc…

While all these things won’t maybe affect your grilling process and your food taste much, they will surely affect the pricing of the grill heavily.

There are some cases where you will see pellet grills five times more expensive than some others that are maybe not that much undervalued when it comes to the outcome of the grilling.

You will have to do a thorough online research and check the benefits of all the differences if you want to make the right choice for your budget. You also may want to factor in shipping costs.

Smoke Flavor Differences

We’ve discussed the differences in the structure of various pellet grills, but pricing and quality aside, people are generally interested in the grilling product.

Or, more accurately, the smoke flavor differences.

This question is debatable, but from what the general info and feedback from professional BBQ cooks are telling us is that it is not as much a question of the pellet grill as it is the type of the wood pellets you are using.

These pellet grills consume pellets efficiently, as we’ve seen so far, and thanks to their air convection and distribution have a great way of smoking your meat.

As said, this is best achieved by setting your temperatures low at first…let’s say 180 to 190 °C for the first few hours, depending on how much time you have of course.

By doing this, your meat will stay fairly red and will soak in the smoke during that time.

After those few hours, you are to increase the temperature so that the meat forms the outside crust, keeping all the juicy flavor and smoke inside.

The professionals are also saying that it’s better to use hardwood pellets for achieving the best smoke flavor.

People generally use whatever wood pellet type they can find or whichever one’s cheaper, but if we are to trust the professionals, it could be a bit better to go for the hardwood pellets.

They may be more expensive, but they guarantee a noticeable increase in smoke flavor and the economical consumption of your pellet grill should make the wood pellet price difference as easy on your wallet as possible.

How to do the proper research

So, generally, the key questions are the smoke flavor and fuel consumption.

These two are inevitably tied together, as a stronger smoke flavor will require more expensive fruit wood pellets.

Example: 100 % cherry wood pellets will definitely be more expensive, even with the low rate of consumption, and will cost you noticeably more on average.

The smoke flavor will be better, but fruit wood pellets burn faster than hardwood.

Hardwood pellets will provide longer burn times and will last longer, so you will have to weigh the benefits of both and compare the pricing.

You may also want to consider mixing the two, filling your hopper with hardwood and fruitwood pellets, in a 50-50 ratio.

This might do the trick of providing the smoke flavor close to the maximum while prolonging burn times and cutting down your costs.

It is only after you’ve factored this dilemma, that you can begin on deciding which cooker to purchase.

There are a lot of affordable options now, and if you only care about the outcome of the grilling or the taste of the food, you may only need to consider the fuel.

More expensive pellet grills mostly offer a more convenient ways of cooking, like a more advanced thermostat system, the Wi-Fi control as mentioned, and similar stuff.

You should also factor in your plans for your pellet grill.

Will you be moving it around often or will you be keeping it in one place most of the time?

If you will be moving it around, if you are one of those people who like outdoor BBQ trips and such, you may want to go for the lighter, more compact version, which will probably be cheaper.

If you will be keeping it in one place, for example, your back yard, all the time than you may consider the thicker metal and the more durable option, which may cost more naturally.

Tips on improving your smoke flavor

You also may want to be on the lookout for any advice or tips about improving your smoke and meat flavor that are not directly tied to your pellet grill type or the wood pellet origin.

There is a tip about using MojoBricks for improving the smoke flavor and it is a known fact that the Southern Krunk BBW Society won the Jack Daniel’s International Invitational, back in 2013, by using precisely MojoBricks in their grilling. Check out Mojo Bricks Here.


Pellet smokers, or pellet grills, are widely accepted by all professionals and enthusiasts. When weighing the benefits of a pellet grill versus a standard charcoal grill, pellet smokers come on top in almost all categories but can be more costly of course.

The main difference is that the pellet grill almost completely takes out the work needed to be done during the grilling, which is an advantage if you are looking to use your time more efficiently, but there are some BBQ enthusiasts who grill meat precisely because of the whole ritual and the work.

Some even see themselves as experts and would not trade their charcoal grill for anything.

So, it is really all up to you, but the fact remains the pellet grill is an outstanding invention that helps anyone to prepare BBQ like a professional and impress people with their cooking skills.

Have a look at all of our Pellet Grills here.