Top 5 Grills

How to Use a Pellet Smoker: A Beginner’s Guide

Traeger Ironwood 885 Wi-Fi Controlled Wood Pellet Grill pellets

If you’re new to pellet smokers, this beginner’s guide was created with you in mind.

We’ve compiled all the essential facts you’ll need to understand how a pellet smoker works, its benefits compared to other grills, how wood pellets are made, and step-by-step instructions for smoking food using a pellet smoker.

You’ll also find useful tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your pellet smoker.

Traeger Ironwood 885 Louisiana Grills LG800E Camp Chef Woodwind Weber SmokeFire EX4 Gen 2 Broil King Baron 550
Rating
4.67
4.65
4.48
3.91
3.73
Cooking Area (sq in)
885
838
797
672
750
WiFi
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Ease of Set Up
5/5
4/5
5/5
5/5
5/5
Price Range
$$$
$$$
$$
$$
$$
Buy It Here >>
Traeger Ironwood 885
Traeger Ironwood 885

What Is a Pellet Smoker?

A pellet smoker, also known as a pellet grill, is an outdoor convection cooker that combines the elements of smokers, grills, and ovens. The combination of deep flavour, versatility, and efficiency is what sets wood pellet smokers apart from traditional grills. 

Fueled by wood pellets made of food-grade compressed wood that burns slowly and cleanly at low temperatures, pellet smokers are as easy to operate as they are to clean.

An auger automatically moves the wood pellets from the hopper to the fire pot, where they’re ignited to feed the flames and infuse a mouth-watering smoky flavor to the food. The heat and smoke is circulated by a fan for even, consistent cooking, while a controller maintains precise temperatures. You can basically set the temperature and leave it to do its magic.

best 5 pellet grills
Louisiana Grills LG800E
Louisiana Grills LG800E

Benefits of a Pellet Smoker

1. Easy to Use and Clean

Since pellet smokers run on electricity, their main functions such as temperature control and fuel delivery are automated, which means minimal supervision on your part once you’ve loaded the hopper and added the food. Clean-up is equally easy, as wood pellets produce minimal ash.

Traeger Ironwood 885
Traeger Ironwood 885

2. Precision Temperature Control

In contrast to charcoal and gas grills which require careful monitoring, pellet grills have automated controls to regulate fuel and air delivery. This eliminates the manual labour involved in the smoking process, allowing a variety of cooking styles from low and slow smoking to high-heat searing with a simple adjustment of the temperature setting. 

If you’ve ever wanted to smoke complicated cuts such as a brisket, now you can even leave it in your pellet grill to smoke overnight while you sleep, and it’ll be done in the morning.

Camp Chef Woodwind WiFi
Camp Chef Woodwind WiFi

3. Broad Temperature Range

Unlike traditional smokers that only smoke, pellet smokers can go from as low as 200 degrees to as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit, giving you multiple cooking options from smoking, grilling, baking, searing, to braising, all in one appliance.

Weber SmokeFire EX4 Gen 2 High Sear Temperature
Weber SmokeFire EX4 Gen 2 High Sear Temperature

4. Varied Flavor Profile

Hardwood pellets come in a wide variety of flavors, including hickory, pecan, alder, mesquite, cherry, apple, maple, bourbon, and more, and can be mixed or changed in minutes. This allows for experimentations if you like different flavor profiles in your food.

Weber SmokeFire EX4 Gen 2 Hopper
Weber SmokeFire EX4 Gen 2 Hopper

5. Cooking on Indirect Heat

Most pellet grills are made for cooking on indirect heat due to their fan-forced convection design. The well-regulated heat and airflow ensures steady temperatures and even heat distribution, which means you can load up the cooking chamber without worrying about the food cooking unevenly.

Traeger Ironwood 885 Cooking Area
Traeger Ironwood 885

How Wood Pellets are Made

Food-grade wood pellets are made of compressed hardwood sawdust. During the compression of the sawdust, the high pressure and heat activates lignin—a natural glue in wood. There are no additives in the pellets besides vegetable oils. 

They burn cleanly, producing less than 1% ash. An entire 40lb bag of pellets will create ½ cup of ash, making clean-up a piece of cake.

Weber SmokeFire Cherry Pellets
Our Personal Favorite Pellets

Step-by-Step Instructions for Smoking Food Using a Pellet Smoker

Step 1: Plug it in

Plug the smoker into a power source and turn it on.

Step 2: Add pellets to the hopper

It can’t run without fuel, so first, check that you have sufficient pellets in the hopper to last the entire duration of the cook. A useful benchmark is to have 2lbs of pellets for every hour of smoking low and slow or 4lbs for every hour of grilling hot and fast.

Step 3: Set the temperature

Once you’ve set the temperature, the auger will automatically start feeding wood pellets into the fire chamber, which will start the igniter. There will be a noise letting you know it’s ready to start cooking.

Step 4: Load the food and start cooking

Now all you have to do is add food to the cooking chamber and it will do the rest!

Weber SmokeFire EX4
Weber SmokeFire EX4

Tips & Tricks

1. Clean your pellet smoker regularly.

Even though wood pellets burn clean and don’t produce much ash, it doesn’t mean you should allow charred waste to build up. To ensure that your smoker stays in good condition and serves you for many years to come, give it a thorough cleaning after each cooking session. 

2. Get a high-quality thermometer.

Most pellet smokers come with a meat probe, but they tend to be relatively low in quality. To make sure your meat is cooked at the right temperature, invest in a high-quality digital thermometer for best results.

3. Pair the pellet flavors with the right food.

Beef smokes well with all woods except for apple, chicken goes with all flavors apart from oak and maple, and fish tastes particularly great when smoked with alder, oak, or mesquite. Veggies taste wonderful smoked over hickory, pecan, and maple, while pork goes with almost every flavor except mesquite and oak.

For a deeper smoke flavor, use mesquite for beef and chicken, and hickory for pork.

4. Use a sear box.

Pellet smokers burn at lower temperatures compared to charcoal or gas grills, which makes them less effective for traditional searing. If you plan on searing food on a regular basis, it would be worth your while getting a pellet grill that includes an add-on sear box, which is essentially a mini grill capable of reaching much higher temperatures. 

5. Stop peeking at the food!

It’s tempting to lift the lid to catch a glimpse of your food cooking, but that won’t make it ready any faster, so leave the smoker to do its work. Treat yourself to a beer or two instead!

Traeger Ironwood 885 Louisiana Grills LG800E Camp Chef Woodwind Weber SmokeFire EX4 Gen 2 Broil King Baron 550
Rating
4.67
4.65
4.48
3.91
3.73
Cooking Area (sq in)
885
838
797
672
750
WiFi
Y
N
Y
Y
Y
Ease of Set Up
5/5
4/5
5/5
5/5
5/5
Price Range
$$$
$$$
$$
$$
$$
Buy It Here >>
best 5 pellet grills