Crash Course

Are You A New Pellet Grill Owner? 18 Tips for Best Performance

Steven Raichlen with Green Mountain Grill Pellet Grill

From the posts on social media, it appears many people received pellet grills/smokers this holiday season. Or are intending to buy one for themselves to take advantage of current sales. Collectively, we here at Steven Raichlen, Inc., have experience with many brands of pellet grills, from Green Mountain Grills, to Traeger, to Memphis, to Z Grills. Here, we’re pleased to share some of our best tips so you can get maximum enjoyment out of your new acquisition.

18 Pellet Grill Tips for Beginners

1. Season your new pellet grill.

Season your new pellet grill according to the manufacturer’s directions (a process that usually takes 45 minutes to one hour). This burns off any residual oils from the manufacturing process.

2. Allow yourself some time to get acquainted with your new grill/smoker.

Allow yourself some time to get acquainted with your new grill/smoker. We know you’ll be anxious to try it out, but don’t be overly ambitious. Instead of a whole brisket, which could take 15 hours or more, or a budget-busting prime rib roast, start with chicken (parts, such as breasts or wings, or a whole bird), pork loin tenderloin, or blade (shoulder) steaks, Cornish hens, salmon steaks or fillets, or other relatively inexpensive cuts that can be completed in 2 hours or less.

3. Identify any hot spots—most grills have them.

Identify any hot spots—most grills have them. Preheat your grill to medium-high as directed by the owner’s manual, then lay slices of cheap white bread shoulder to shoulder across the grate. Watch carefully, then flip after a few minutes. Take a photo of the results. The darkest bread will indicate where the temperature might be hotter. (Print the photo out and add it to your owner’s manual for reference.)

4. Don’t let your meat come to room temperature before cooking.

Whatever meat you select, put it on the preheated grill/smoker straight from the refrigerator. Do not, as many recipes suggest, allow it to come to room temperature before cooking.

As Steven often notes, high-end steak houses do not leave their meats out at room temperature. (The danger area is 40 to 140 degrees.) The heat of the grill is sufficient to raise the internal temperature of the meat by those few degrees.

5. Invest in a good meat thermometer.

A laser-type thermometer such as this one will give you a more accurate temperature reading at grill level than a built-in dome thermometer. Determine the temperature range of your grill model from lowest to highest (180 degrees to 500+, for example).

6. Take advantage of your pellet grill’s searing capabilities.

Many pellet grills feature searing capabilities, meaning they can reach temperatures over 500 degrees. Again, check your owner’s manual for information on your specific model.

7. Use lower temperatures to generate more smoke.

You’ll generate more smoke at lower temperatures, particularly in the “low and slow” range between 225 and 275.

8. Use the reverse sear method. 

Don’t be afraid to smoke your meat at a lower temperature, then finish it at a higher temperature. This two-step approach is especially useful for smoking chicken with crisp (not rubbery) skin, or the “reverse sear method” often employed for thicker steaks or prime rib (for more information, click here).

9. Never allow the pellets in the pellet hopper to run out.

Never allow the pellets in the pellet hopper to run out. If this happens, consult your owner’s manual before relighting the grill. If you must, set a timer to remind yourself to top off the pellets.

Wood pellets for pellet grills

10. Use your pellet grill just like an oven. 

Your pellet grill/smoker can be used just like an oven, capable of baking, braising, roasting, etc. But the addition of wood smoke gives food much more intriguing flavors.

11. Experiment with pellet flavors.

Experiment with pellet flavors. Some brands of pellets are fairly subtle.

12. Invest in a smoking tube to supplement the smoke generated by your grill. 

If you want to supplement the smoke being generated by your pellet grill, or even cold smoke, invest in a smoking tube or maze such as the one by A-MAZ-N.

13. Position your grill at least 6 feet away from your home. 

Position your grill at least 6 feet from any walls, trees, overhangs, etc. (This is true for ALL grills and smokers.)

14. Clean your grill frequently. 

Clean your grill frequently to avoid the build-up of ash or grease. A shop-type vacuum is a necessity, as is a putty knife or sharp-bladed spatula. Don’t forget to clean the chimney or exhaust.

15. Use heavy-duty foil for easier clean up.

Use heavy-duty foil to cover the grease tray and/or to line the grease bucket. (Empty cans, such as tomato or coffee cans, can also be used as bucket liners.)

15. Always store pellets in a dry place.

Always store pellets in a dry place. Otherwise, then will turn to sawdust, and if in the augur, to something akin to cement!

16. Remove the grease bucket after each cook.

After each cook, remove the grease bucket from the side of the grill and store it in a safe place to keep it out of the reach of dogs, raccoons, or other hungry critters.

17. Use the upper rack of your grill to cook something that’s prone to drying out. 

Your pellet grill provides both convection and radiant heat. If you are cooking something that’s prone to drying out, such as chicken breasts or thin fish fillets, position them on the upper rack to protect them from the heat radiating from the bottom. If your unit didn’t come with an upper rack, you can balance a wire rack on fire bricks or purchase after-market racks. You can also put a pan of water or other liquid on the grill grate to generate moisture.

18. Smoke vegetables and side dishes on your new grill. 

Do smoke or grill vegetables or side dishes on your new grill. (You can preorder Steven’s latest book, How to Grill Vegetables, here.)


Did you learn something new? For the seasoned pros, what are your tips for first time pellet grill owners? Share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Instagram!