Pellet Grilling Can Be An Easy Way To Make Mouth-Watering Meals
Yes, we’re primarily a site about tools and construction, but we gotta eat just like you. It also happens that we have a couple of pretty darn good cooks in our office, too. The idea of smoking meat always sounded good, but the reality of my schedule made it impossible. The week is packed with work and the weekend is packed with work around the house and recreation. Then pellet grilling entered our lives… and it changed everything.
Pellet Grilling 101
Pellet grills use (shockingly) hardwood pellets for fuel instead of wood, charcoal, or propane. 100% hardwood pellets burn clean and impart distinct flavors depending on which variety you choose.
You load them in a hopper and an onboard computer monitors the temperature inside the grill while operating an auger to feed the pellets and maintain the temperature you’re shooting for.
Pellet grills even have an automatic ignition sequence, so you don’t have to worry about lighters and matches.
Of course, electronic controls mean you have to have a power source. An extension cord or a close outlet is the most convenient. You can also use a generator, just keep the exhaust downwind of your grill. If you need to operate portably, we recommend a battery-powered option, such as the EGO Nexus Power Station.
As you cook, the drippings fall down to a tray that’s at a slight downward angle and helps them travel into a collection bucket that’s easy to empty.
Below that tray is the firebox where the pellets feed and burn. With the tray in place, there’s no direct flame over your food and a fan moves the air inside the grill to keep the temperature even.
Essentially what you have is a convection oven that can smoke, bake, roast, braise, grill, and more. If you can do it in a conventional grill, smoker, or oven, it’s fair game. The hotter you go, the less smoke flavor there is, so you can even bake cookies, pizza, or cakes if you’re feeling frisky.
There’s more to it than that, but as a place to start, it’s a helpful summary.
Choose Your Pellet Grill
There are plenty of pellet grills to choose from running from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Most will get the job done, but there are things to consider.
One reason the grills get so expensive is the thickness of the steel and the overall size of the pellet grill. Thicker steel not only lasts longer but also holds a more consistent temperature. We’ve had excellent results even from entry-level grills, but if you’re grilling where it’s windy or cold, consider upgrading for better temperature stability.
There are lots of features to consider. Number one in my book is wi-fi. With as busy as my schedule is, the ability to monitor and adjust the grill from anywhere I have a cell signal is why I’m able to use my Traeger Ironwood 885 so much.
I can start the grill in the morning before I leave, or even the night before, keep an eye on it from our office, and adjust the grill as necessary. I can even kick into a 160° warm mode. Pretty much the only thing I can’t do is load more pellets remotely. In my opinion, it’s a feature you should absolutely pay the extra money for.
Here are a few others worth considering:
- Dual meat probes
- Preset cooking cycles
- Programmable cooking cycles
- App compatibility via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi
Pro Tip: Get the size grill you need. Larger models can hold more food, but smaller models use pellets at a slower rate.
Preparing The Meat For Pellet Grilling
Even though the pellet grill is going to do the hard work for you, your prep will make or break your final product. Some recipes are simple: just rub on the seasonings and put it on the grill. Other recipes may need marinating or bringing overnight.
You can certainly find some complex recipes out there, but the majority of what I cook takes less than 30 minutes of hands-on prep time.
Whatever you decide to cook, be sure to find a recipe ahead of time. That gives you time to go to the store and get any ingredients you might need and take care of anything you need to do before grilling day. If you’re going to be pulling something from the freezer, it also gives you time to let it thaw slowly in the fridge or on the countertop.
Monitoring The Temperature While Pellet Grilling
Your pellet grill computer is going to monitor the ambient cooking temperature while it’s on and adjust accordingly. However, there are times when you need to make adjustments.
One reason is a multi-stage cook. One of my favorite ways to cook chicken starts by smoking it at 225° for an hour and then kicking it up to roast at 350°.
Another reason to adjust the grill’s temperature is to know what’s going on with the meat. Some cuts are more forgiving than others, but there are some very specific target temperatures. For example, I take pork tenderloin off at 145° and the magic number for brisket is 203°.
Meat has varying thicknesses and sometimes it cooks faster or slower. The outside temperature and wind can affect things, too. Often, I’ll turn the temperature down a little to extend the cooking time if it’s going too fast. From time to time, I need to kick it up a notch and speed things up when I have guests coming over.
That’s where your meat probes come in. To use it, plug it into the port on the grill (usually right on the hopper box next to the controls), run it through the entry point on the grill, and insert it into the thickest part of the meat you’re cooking. Be sure not to run it up against a bone, though.
My grill only has one probe, and I frequently cook more than one piece of meat at a time. I highly recommend MEATER wireless thermometers to supplement your onboard probe.
Using Bluetooth, it measures the temperature of the meat and the cooking temperature inside the grill. That makes it useful for traditional grills and ovens as well. The downside is that it’s Bluetooth with a 165-foot range, so I can’t monitor it from my office, so I use my onboard probe for what I expect to cook the fastest and a MEATER on thicker pieces.
Let It Rest!
Almost all meat needs to rest when it comes off the pellet grill. Some, such as steaks or hamburgers, only need about 10 minutes or so. I rest my pork butts for an hour before pulling them and brisket can use several hours in some cases.
While the meat is resting, the juices are redistributing back into it. In addition to making each bite juicy, it also distributes the flavors it picked up from your seasoning.
Most of the time, all you need to do is set the meat on a tray and tent some foil over it. Some need more help, such as sitting in a cooler or holding in an oven at a low temperature.
Regardless, rest is key to getting perfect results when you’re pellet grilling. Make sure you build enough time into your schedule to do it right and don’t you dare think about skipping it!
To summarize, your grill selection, seasoning, preparation, temperature monitoring, and rest are all important pieces to pellet grilling with outstanding results. It’s a lot of information and it may seem intimidating. However, the pellet grill does the most tedious work for you and the rest is surprisingly easy once you’ve tried it.
Are you into pellet grilling? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share some of your favorite recipes!