9 Tips for Using a Pellet Grill

Here's 9 pellet grill tips that will help you get the most out of pellet grill, also called a pellet smoker.

Pellet grills are here to stay because they work well, they're easy to use and it takes a lot of the complexity out of smoking meat.

I think everyone should learn how to tend a fire, adjust the vents, etc. just a few of the skills necessary to tend a charcoal or wood fire but while you're learning, this is a great way to get some tasty food on the table.

Even though they are easy to use, they are not without flaws and here's a few things you can do to master the art of pellet smoking or grilling:

1.  Start everything out on low or the special “smoke” setting. Pellet smokers produce more smoke at low settings and less smoke as the temperature increases.

If you want more smoke flavor, start out as low as it will go for about 30 minutes to an hour then turn it up to 225°F or 250°F after that to finish.

For things that cook for a really long time like briskets and pork butts, you can leave it on this special smoke setting for 3-4 hours before turning it up to normal smoking temperatures to finish. This will increase the smoke flavor of whatever you are cooking.

2. Use a pan with a rack (like this one) to keep the smoker cleaner. Less cleanup = happier cook😃

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While we're on the “cleaning” subject, go ahead and wrap your drip pan in foil as well to keep it nice and tidy and use a foil liner in your grease bucket available wherever pellet smokers are sold.

3. For the best burn, clean the ashes out of your burn pot. I recommend doing this about every 10-15 hours of use but it would not hurt to do it before every cook.

Ashes down in the bottom of the smoke chamber doesn't hurt a thing as long they aren't wet and it can even do a great job of helping to insulate the smoker in the winter but keep the burn pot clean.

The Camp Chef Woodwind is one of my favorite pellet smokers and one of the reasons is because of the ash cup on the very bottom of the smoker. It literally takes 10 seconds or less to empty the ashes from the burn pot into the cup them empty the cup into an ash bucket or trash can if the ashes are cool.

Some other pellet smokers also have a similar feature such as an ash drawer that allows the ashes from the burn pot to be quickly emptied before each cook.

4. Use pellets made from 100% wood and no flavor oils. You get what you pay for and, while finding a good deal on pellets is a good thing, make sure they are made from all hardwood and aren't using flavor oils or other additives to give them flavor. The flavor should be all natural.

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I have had great luck with the Pit Boss brand as well as the Lumberjack brand.

5. Don't chase the temperature gauge! Like your home oven, pellet grills fluctuate up and down by as much as 20 degrees or more and your set temperature is simply an average.

Set the smoker and don't worry too much about the fluctuations for easy going, stress free, tasty cooking.

Ribs cooked at exactly 225°F for 6 hours will be just as good as ribs that are cooked at an average temperature of 225°F (200 to 250°F).

6. Use a good leave-in thermometer to tell you when the food is done. I use a couple of thermometers made by ThermoWorks such as the Smoke or the Signals.

The “Smoke” especially is very affordable and one of my favorites however, if you can't afford the very best right now, you can find cheaper ones that will make do until you can get something better.

Using a cheap thermometer is better than simply guessing at the temperature.

7. Keep the pellet grill covered when you're not using it. This may seem like a given but if it's under a patio or other shelter, you may feel it's ok to leave uncovered. The smoker itself may be fine, but to make sure the pellets remain dry, keep the smoker covered, especially in humid climates.

Ask anyone who's dealt with wet, swelled up pellets in their auger and they'll tell you it's just not worth the risk.  Humidity is the Achilles heel of pellet smokers/pellets.

8. Expect to use about 1 lb of pellets per hour at regular smoking temperatures. This amount will increase as you increase the temperature but that's a pretty good way to figure how many pellets you'll need for that 15 hour brisket, 4 lb chicken, or whatever you are cooking.

9. Use a smoke tube to give you even more smoke flavor. Pellet smokers burn wood very efficiently and for that reason, some of you may find that it just doesn't give you as much smoke flavor as you want.

When this happens, there is a solution. It's called a smoke tube. This is a metal tube with lots of holes which you fill with pellets and light. When this is laid on the grates just inside your smoker it will produce smoke for hours on end.

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This extra smoke will give the food a lot more of that “smoky” flavor that you are looking for.

These are very inexpensive and available on Amazon or if you're more of a DIY person, you could possibly use rolled up mesh wire to perform the same task.

I need to do a DIY tutorial on this and if this is something you've done and want to share your images, I'd be happy to give you full credit.

30 Comments

  1. Maurice Atteberry June 1, 2022 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    This site makes me hungry; What's your top tip for bbq? Thanks

    • Jeff Phillips June 1, 2022 at 11:18 pm - Reply

      Top Tip for barbecue as it relates to low and slow smoked food: Cook to temperature, not time. Great barbecue is done when it's done and not a second before.

  2. Carl April 25, 2022 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Hi Jeff. I’m new to smoking so I bought a used Trager early model (in good cond.) 18″ with warming rack
    and smoke mode which seems too run at about 100deg. I have 2 questions. Does it matter if I put a water pan on the grate or warming rack and which end? #2 I tried running on the smoke mode for 2hrs but after an hour the smoke turned white. The fire pot had gone out. I had to turn it off and let it cool, clean it out and start over. I would greatly appreciate any helpful information you could offer.
    Thanks for all you do for your readers.

    Carl

  3. Marshall Brence April 21, 2022 at 9:43 am - Reply

    I have a Grilla Grills Silverbac original pellet smoker and love it. I have noticed that it seems to cook a little faster than my old electric and wood burner smokers. Even when set at 225. I when I do pork butts or brisket they tend to get finished in 6 to 8 hours instead of 12 to 14. Am I doing something wrong? My brisket always taste good but seem a little dryer than when I used the other smokers.

    • Jeff Phillips April 22, 2022 at 10:09 am - Reply

      Have you tested the temperature with an oven thermometer? I suspect it is cooking hotter than what it is reading.

  4. Mark Weisgurt March 5, 2022 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    My first smoker was an electric. It had a small chip tube that I had to keep refilling. When I first heard of pellet tubes, about 8/9? years ago, I bought one and was hooked. I got 2 A-maze-n long tubes, but found filling 1 was enough to give enough smoke for most cooks. I usually use a blue propane or mapp gas torch to light it. I have since upgraded to a Louisiana Grills upright pellet smoker.

  5. Eddie Cook February 5, 2022 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    Hi Jeff, I got a Pit Boss pellet grill a few years ago and have really enjoyed it. Shortly after I started following you, make your rubs and have enjoyed your recipes. My question is about the chimney on my pellet smoker. The directions didn't say much, and I have not seen you talk about it. You mention temp settings, but I am wondering what effect opening or closing the chimney has? How will this affect the smoke?

    • Jeff Phillips February 5, 2022 at 11:44 pm - Reply

      The chimney on pellet smokers simply determines how quickly the smoke exits the smoker. If you want more smoke flavor, then decrease the chimney opening. If you're getting too much smoke (not likely in a pellet smoker) you can open it up a little.

      By letting the smoke out slower, the smoke has more time in the smoker to flavor the food before it exits.

  6. Jeff Pavlock January 22, 2022 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Jeff, do you have any experience with RecTeq’s “new and improved” RT-1250, which has a heavy-duty cast iron heat deflector that they claim can double as a platform for putting extra pellets or wood chips on for added smoke? I’m wondering if anyone has any experience using this to know whether it is sufficient to take the place of a smoke tube or whether this is just a sales gimmick.

    • Jeff Phillips January 24, 2022 at 12:15 pm - Reply

      I have not used the 1250 so it's hard to say.. I get great results by using a smoke tube all the way on the left side with the probe entry door open when I am wanting to add extra smoke.

      I will have to do some research on that 1250 and see how folks are liking it.

  7. Zach January 22, 2022 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Jeff,
    I tried a smoke tube several times, and it did produce a lot of smoke, but the food tasted like it had been cooked in an ash pot. The smoke was thick and white, about what the grill looks like when the fire pot catches. Any ideas?

    Thanks,
    Zach

  8. Tom Aguilar January 20, 2022 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Hi Jeff I have been smoking for years now. I have purchased your book and have made your rub and BBQ Sauce both are outstanding.
    I just recently received a tube kit for Christmas from Amazon it comes with two tubes and instructions and a igniter But I can’t find the tank of butane it has a real strange connection. Any ideas of were to purchase one or more.
    Thank you very much and happy smoking

    • Jeff Phillips January 20, 2022 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      Tom, would it be possible to snap a picture of that tube kit and send it to me.. especially the connector you are mentioning? My email address is [email protected]

      Brand and model number would also work.

      I may be able to help you out if I can see what you're working with.

  9. Jim Beaty January 13, 2022 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Hello Jeff.
    I have followed you since I have started smoking a few years back. I like how you can explain in terms that I understand quite well. The pork loin you just featured sounds great. I however have a question about smoking tubes. I bought 2, a long & short one. I have problems getting it started & to keep it burning to the end of the tube. Have tried a few different things, but 95% of the time it goes out after about 1/2″ of pellets burning. Any advice or tricks you could give me. Thanks.

    • Jeff Phillips January 14, 2022 at 1:24 pm - Reply

      A couple of things that make a huge difference for me, make sure the pellets are absolutely dry. I often fill the tube then pour those pellets into a bowl and microwave them for a minute or two to dry them.

      the other point is air flow, the tube must be getting some air in order for it to stay lit. I try to find a place in my smoker or grill that allows a little air in. On my RecTeq I place it on the left side right next to the probe entry.

      You may even have to prop the lid open with a small stick or something to give it some air that way.

      The last tip is to use a butane torch to light it and really get the pellets to burning before you leave it. I often use one of those blue butane torches used for plumbing and it works really well. Once I get it burning, I let it burn until it goes out which can be several minutes.

      I need to do a video on this to show you guys how I do it.

  10. Kim Bennett January 8, 2022 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    We do awesome with Smoking deer jerky on our Smoking Gun 007 pellet smoker. But when we try beef jerky with eye of round, same recipe, our beef jerky turns out a little tough and chewy. Any suggestions or recommendations?

    • Jim January 13, 2022 at 8:56 am - Reply

      Cut the meat 1/4” thick. Marinate over night. Smoke at 180 degrees for 4-5 hours

  11. Phil Roberts January 8, 2022 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Hi Jeff,

    I have a Camp Chef pellet smoker. For years I have relied on a Therma Pro Instant Read Thermometer. You can get them on Amazon (link below) for $17.99. I have tried many other brands, but the Therma Pro wins the contest. If will give you a read in 3-4 seconds. I know that you like the more expensive ones, but give the Therma Pro a try. I think you will be surprised how fast they can read the meat temperature at a fraction of the cost of the expensive ones. If you try it, please email me with your thoughts. Keep up the great work!!!

    https://www.amazon.com/ThermoPro-Thermometer-Grilling-Waterproof-Ambidextrous/dp/B07XXSYLL8/ref=sr_1_5?crid=UC3N5E1IGZED&keywords=bbq+thermometer&qid=1641659657&sprefix=bbq+thermometers%2Caps%2C93&sr=8-5

    • Jeff Phillips January 9, 2022 at 11:44 pm - Reply

      Phil, the ThermoPro is not bad as I actually have an older one that the company sent me. I have no problem with it and it works just fine if you're on a budget or just prefer to not spend a lot on a unit.

      After having used the Thermoworks models, the cheaper one feels very lightweight and easy to break. Sort of like, I was fine with my black and decker tools until I used a DeWalt, now I can feel the huge difference in the higher quality from the way it feels in the hand to the way it drives to the way it sounds and even brakes to that quick satisfying stop.

      I will tell you that I have been blown away by this new 1 second thermometer that Thermoworks has and waiting 4 seconds on a reading, feels like an eternity now! I can check 60 chicken wings in 1 minute..that's faster than I can poke 'em and throw 'em in the pan.

  12. Joel Russo January 8, 2022 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Hi Jeff,
    I started using a pellet tube in my Camp Chef DLX abot a year ago. I think it makes a great difference in the outcome of the meat – especially if you like a lot of smoke flavor. I've experimented using different pellets in the tube, like apple in the smoker and maple in the tube when making bacon. It comes out really good

  13. Jim December 23, 2021 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Hey Jeff in tip #2 you suggest using a pan with a rack. I've seen you suggest this before with other recipes. So my question is this, when doing this do you feel the meat still gets the full smoke flavor even though the smoke doesn't hit the meat directly from underneath as the smoke has to go around the pan and since smoke rises do you feel the smoke still makes good contact with the meat?

    Thanks for your response and I love your website and I use your rub on everything!!

    • Jeff Phillips December 23, 2021 at 1:12 pm - Reply

      Jim, I get great smoke flavor using this method and the same smoke rings that I get when I don't use a pan. The smoke does come up from the bottom but it surrounds the meat entirely and is able to flavor the meat in the same way as it would if the meat were sitting directly on the grate.

      That is my take but others may have a different opinion about this. I recommend trying it both ways or, better yet, place a piece of meat on the pan and one on the grate and see if you can tell any difference.

  14. Wesley E Caudle December 4, 2021 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Jeff, I have made both Beef jerky and Elk jerky on my Traeger smoker and It worked well, I did rotate it for an even cook.,

  15. Jim Bunker November 28, 2021 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Jeff the home made smoke tube is easy to make and use. I like to put a pan of water in my smoker.

  16. Jim Tellier October 27, 2021 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Hey Jeff! Great article! I got the RecTeq RT-700 a couple weeks ago and love it! I'm preppin' to do my first batch of beef jerky with it. I have a tried & true recipe that I've used for years, with gas/wood-chip smoker that was hard to keep low temp; I think “The Bull” is gonna do a good job with this! Just wondered if you have any jerky-specific tips that you could add?

    • Jeff Phillips October 27, 2021 at 9:56 pm - Reply

      I have not made any jerky in a pellet smoker but I think it would work well since there is no water and the heat is pretty dry. The Bull puts off great smoke at low temperatures and I feel like it will probably do an amazing job with the jerky. Let me know how it goes.

      • Jim Tellier December 23, 2021 at 9:20 am - Reply

        Hi Jeff! Just FYI, I have now done 20+ Lbs of beef jerky on the RT-700, and it's great! Gotta use the LOW setting for max smoke, which (using Eye Of Round Roast, depending on thickness of slices) I leave in for 60-90 minutes, then transfer to the dehydrator (125F for as long as it takes); next batch goes in the smoker, and so on. Merry Christmas to all!

  17. Anthony J Giaquinto October 24, 2021 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    Been a subscriber for a few years. I've got a Pitts & Spitts pellet grill (made locally in Houston) . All of your recipes and tips are spot on. Also your BBQ sauce is the best! I'm a regular buyer.

  18. Jim Dahle August 28, 2021 at 8:16 am - Reply

    I started a brisket a couple hours ago just as described above. Low temp start, smoke tube with cap for laying down just inside farthest away from stack (Amazon), foil tray with mesh basket so meat is exposed on all sides. (Pearly for cleanup). I’ll be putting some pics on the forum in a bit

    • Jeff Phillips August 28, 2021 at 10:29 am - Reply

      Looking forward to seeing that, Jim!!😋

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