Pellet grills are a versatile and handy method for preparing your favorite BBQ foods, like brisket and ribs. Owning a pellet grill used to be only for really dedicated backyard barbecuers who were really into the craft, but that’s not the case anymore. It’s everybody’s game now!
If you’ve been thinking about getting a pellet grill and starting to smoke some things, but don’t know where to start, no worries! It’s actually easier than you might think.
With a little practice, you can take your smoking skills to the next level. These 19 pellet grill tips and tricks will help you get the most out of your smoker, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a rookie griller.
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Best Pellet Grill Tips & Tricks
1. Choose the Best Pellets
The pellets you use can have a significant impact on the flavor of your food. Hickory pellets are ideal for beef and pork, whilst apple or cherry pellets can offer a sweet, fruity flavor to poultry or fish. Mesquite pellets can impart a smoky flavor to robust meats like brisket or ribs. Try several types of pellets to find the flavor that suits you best and then stick with that for a bag or two before trying another.
2. Heat the Grill Prior to Using It
Preheat your pellet grill before cooking, just like you would an oven. This will keep the temperature stable and your food will cook evenly. Let your grill heat up for at least 10-15 minutes before adding your food. Most pellet grills have a built-in thermometer and/or digital screen that will tell you when the preheat is finished.
3. Make Use of a Meat Thermometer
Pellet grills are excellent at maintaining a steady temperature, but a meat thermometer is still required to guarantee that your food is cooked to the appropriate temperature. Get a good meat thermometer and use it to check the internal temperature of your meat before serving. Here’s a guide to the proper internal temps for the meats you’ll be cooking most often.
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4. Don’t Open the Lid Too Frequently
When you open the lid of your pellet grill, heat and smoke escape, affecting the cooking time and temperature of your meal. Try to resist the urge to peek too often and only open the lid when absolutely necessary. A little peek now and then is fine, but definitely don’t leave the lid open for longer than 15-30 seconds. The loss of heat and smoke will be detrimental to your outcome.
5. Maintain the Grill’s Cleanliness
Maintaining a pellet grill’s cleanliness is crucial for a multitude of reasons. Primarily, it safeguards the efficiency and longevity of the grill by preventing harmful build-ups that can damage its mechanical components. Cleanliness also directly impacts the flavor of your grilled food. Residual grease and food particles can create off-tastes and cause flare-ups, leading to uneven cooking or burnt food. Cleaning also prevents harmful bacteria buildup, ensuring a safe cooking environment.
Regular maintenance should include scraping the grates, wiping down the interior to remove grease build up, emptying the grease drip pan, vacuuming out the pellet hopper, and wiping down the exterior.
6. Make Use of a Drip Pan
Pellet grills emit a lot of smoke and grease, which can create a hazard and potentially cause flare-ups. You’ll want to put a drip pan underneath your food to catch any drippings. You’ll also want to line the tray of the grill, underneath the grate, with heavy-duty tin foil to ensure nothing gets burned on to the tray itself. This makes for easy cleanup, because you can then just pull off and discard the tin foil whenever it becomes too messy.
7. Get Creative with Your Pellets
Try using a different type of pellets to add a different complexity and flavor to your food. There are dozens of different types of wood that pellets are made out of, but also different influences, like the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey pellets pictured below. You will be amazed at how much a different pellet can impact your food.
8. To Make Cleanup Easier, Use Foil.
If you’re preparing something that’s going to be sloppy or saucy, place it on foil or in an aluminum pan before putting it on the grill. This simplifies cleanup and prevents the sauce or juices from dripping onto the tray and ultimately building up inside the smoker.
9. Let the Meat Rest After Smoking
Let your meat rest after you’ve removed it from the pellet grill, before slicing into it. Resting allows the residual heat to continue cooking the meat slightly (carryover cooking), while the muscle fibers relax and reabsorb some of the juices. This redistribution helps to keep the meat moist and flavorful when you do finally cut into it.
The rule of thumb is to let the meat rest for approximately 5-10 minutes for smaller cuts like steaks and chops, and 20-30 minutes for larger cuts like roasts or briskets. The exact amount of time can vary depending on the size and thickness of the meat, so some experimentation may be required. Covering the meat loosely with foil during resting helps to keep it warm.
10. Keep a Close Watch on the Wind
Pellet grills use an electric fan to circulate air and keep the temperature stable. If you’re grilling on a particularly windy day, the wind can have an impact on the grill’s performance. To protect the grill from the wind, try to choose a sheltered place or install a windbreak. This is also a time when you want to avoid opening the lid as much as possible.
11. Don’t Stuff the Grill
While pellet grills are excellent for cooking huge amounts of food, it is critical not to overload the grill. Overcrowding the grill can impair cooking time and temperature, as well as hinder your food from cooking evenly.
12. Make Use of a Smoke Tube
You can use a smoke tube in a pellet grill, not just on a grill. They can be particularly useful in a pellet grill when you’re cooking at higher temperatures that don’t produce as much smoke.
To use a smoke tube, you fill it with pellets, light one end, and then place it in the grill. The pellets smolder and produce smoke that infuses your food with a smoky flavor. They can add that extra touch of smokiness that can sometimes be missing from pellet grills, especially when cooking quickly at high temperatures.
However, it’s important to remember that not all foods benefit from extra smoke, and over-smoking can lead to bitter flavors. Always consider the type of wood pellet you’re using in the tube and how its flavor will complement the food you’re cooking. Different woods impart different flavors and some are better suited to certain types of meat or vegetables than others.
13. Be Sure to Season Properly
Salt is an essential component of any dish and it’s one of the best ways to enhance the flavors of your food. When you salt meat and then put it on the grill, a lot of the salt you put on actually transfers to the grates and/or falls off as it’s smoking. You might consider adding additional salt to your rubs or having a shaker handy to give a final dusting before serving.
14. Try Reverse Searing
Reverse searing is a technique in which you cook your meat on the pellet grill at a low temperature and then finish it with a short sear on high heat. We love this technique for smoking meat that would also benefit from a sear that you can’t get on the smoker at low temperatures. We use it to cook perfect Tomahawk Steaks.
To use the reverse sear method on a pellet grill, you’d set your grill to a low temperature (usually around 225°F) and cook your meat until it’s about 10-15 degrees under your target temperature. Then, you’d increase the grill temperature to high (usually around 450-500°F) and sear the meat on each side to develop a crust and bring it up to your target temperature.
15. Experiment with Different Rubs and Marinades
Pellet grilling is the perfect time to experiment with different rubs and marinades. While the smoke that’s imparted on the food is a huge part of the flavor profile you’re seeking, rubs and marinades can really elevate the flavor as well. To discover the optimum flavor for your palate, experiment with different combinations of herbs, spices, and oils.
16. Remember to Include Vegetables
Pellet grills aren’t simply for grilling meat. You may also cook veggies like corn on the cob, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Just toss them with a little oil, add a dry rub, and put them in the smoker next to whatever else you’re smoking. They go really well with your smoked chicken or pork chops.
17. Make Use of a Cast Iron Skillet
A cast iron skillet is an excellent addition to your pellet grill. Cast iron skillets allow you to cook a wider variety of foods on your pellet grill that might otherwise fall through the grates or be difficult to manage, such as small vegetables, delicate fish, eggs, pancakes, or simmering sauces.
Cast iron is well-known for its heat retention properties. It gets very hot and stays hot for a long time. This is great for searing meats and achieving a beautiful crust. It also distributes heat evenly, which helps cook food uniformly.
18. Experiment with Various Foods
Pellet grilling allows you to try new meat cuts. For a change of pace, why not smoke a tri-tip, pork tenderloin, or pork belly. You can also try different preparations like carne asada or smoke a whole pork butt that you can use to make things like smoked pulled pork or pulled pork tacos. There’s no limit to the number of different things you can do in the smoker. Try fish, chicken wings, meatloaf, or appetizers like smoked shotgun shells or armadillo eggs.
19. Try Cooking on the Smoke Setting
The first hour of cooking is a great time to use the Smoke setting on your pellet grill to ensure your meat gets a large dose of delicious smoky flavor right off the bat. When you use the Smoke setting, the temperature can range anywhere from 158 to 194 degrees F, and you’ll find that the smoke will come in cycles instead of being constant.
After you’ve used the Smoke setting for an hour (or for your desired length of time under an hour), you’ll need to bring your grill to a higher temperature to ensure your food is properly cooked. We typically go with a temperature range of 225 to 250 degrees F for most meats.
Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill
For this recipe, I used my Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill, which is a new offering from the kitchen appliance brand that makes our beloved favorites, the Ninja MaxXL Air Fryer and the Ninja Creami. The Woodfire Grill is a portable outdoor grill with 7 functions: grill, smoke, air fry, bake, roast, broil, and dehydrate.
Why I Like It
- It imparts an amazing amount of woodfire flavor into the food with just 1/2 cup of pellets.
- It’s incredibly fast and efficient.
- It cooks faster and with more smoker flavor than my full-size smoker – by far.
- There’s no guessing, especially with the built-in temperature probe available on the Pro version.
- The food comes out with a perfect crispy or seared exterior that’s both gorgeous and super tasty.
- It’s very portable and can be set up anywhere on a sturdy surface with a power outlet nearby.
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- Use LOTG30 to get $30 off the PRO version of the grill ($459.60 before the discount)
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Finally, these 19 pellet grill tips and tricks are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what you can do with a pellet grill. You may improve your grilling skills and impress your family and friends with tasty, perfectly grilled meals with a little patience and experimentation.
Remember to use the proper pellets, and a meat thermometer, and to keep your grill clean, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a pellet grill master. Now get that grill going and start cooking!
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Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.