Pellet smoke grills are the most popular grill of the 21st century. They’re easy to use, they come with a built-in temperature gauge that lets you know what the cooking temperature is at all times, and they’re versatile in their use so you can cook a variety of foods without any difficulty.
However, pellet grills aren’t made equal when it comes to temperature control. Some models have issues keeping the temperature consistent throughout the entire cooking process. This results in food being either too hot or too cold depending on where you place your meat.
1. Use an Adjustable Thermometer
The first step in making sure your pellet grill works properly is to purchase one that has a built-in thermometer. The most common type of pellet grill thermometer is digital because it gives you exact readings at every moment of time. Digital thermometers also give you the option to set the cooking temperature manually if you prefer.
One thing to note about digital thermometers is that they need to be calibrated before you go out and start using them. You can do this by setting the thermometer to room temperature then turning it up until it hits 500° F (260° C). Turn off the heat after 30 seconds and wait 10 seconds. Then turn the heat back up to 250° F (121° C) and let the thermometer cool down for another 30 seconds. Once the thermometer is stable again, adjust the dial accordingly.
You should calibrate your thermometer once a month just to make sure everything is working correctly.
2. Set Up Your Grill Right Away
Once you’ve purchased your pellet smoker, the next step is to set it up right away. If you don’t do this, chances are good that the first batch of food you eat will taste terrible, simply because your pellet grill was never used. Before you put your food on the grill, you want to make sure the door is closed tight otherwise condensation from humidity inside will prevent the pellets from burning properly. If you have a charcoal grill, make sure you light some coals first.
If you have a gas model, you can skip that step because the gas will ignite on its own. But even if you choose to use gas, you should still be careful not to leave your grill unattended while it heats up because gas can leak into the environment.
3. Put Food on Low Heat First
When you put your food on your pellet grill, it will stay at the lowest possible temperature first. When the meat reaches 180° F (82° C), you can add more heat to ensure it cooks evenly. For instance, if you have chicken breasts, you may want to add a little extra heat to the grill and cook them for 20 minutes instead of 15 minutes. It depends on the thickness of the meat and whether you like your meat medium or well done.
Remember that you can always reduce the heat when your food is almost finished cooking. If you feel like the meat is getting overcooked but you don’t want to turn it off, you can reduce the heat by moving the rack closer to the flame for a few minutes. Or if you know your meat is ready but there is a chance it might be undercooked, you can open the lid and grill it for five additional minutes.
4. Don’t Forget About Smoke
As long as you’re using wood chips, you won’t have to worry about smoke flavor. However, if you’re using pellets, you should be careful not to overdo it. Most people recommend adding 3-5 pounds of pellets per hour to your grill. If you’re cooking two racks of ribs or three whole chickens, you can expect to use anywhere between 12-18 pounds of pellets.
5. Keep the Air Circulation Good
It doesn’t matter how much fuel you put in your grill; you’ll get good results only if you maintain proper air circulation. A lot of people think that opening the vent holes on their pellet grill will help increase airflow. That’s true, but it also makes the fire burn hotter and faster, which means your food will take longer to cook. So if you want to speed things up, close those vents temporarily.
Also, be mindful that the vents on your pellet grill will allow moisture to escape, which will result in condensation on your food. To avoid this, you can cover the vents with aluminum foil, or wrap the whole grill in a tarp if you live in a rainy area.
6. Cook With Less Meat Than You Think
No matter how many bones you throw in your meat, you still want to cook with less than half of the recommended amount. Because bones contain calcium, they soak up moisture and slow down the rate of cooking. Bones also trap fat and grease, so you end up having to clean the grill more often and with more soap and water.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to make the best use out of your meats. You definitely should. Just remember that you’ll have to clean your grill more often if you put too much meat.
For example, cooking a whole chicken takes about 45 minutes to an hour. And cooking a beef brisket will take anywhere from four hours to eight hours depending on the size of the piece. So if you’re trying to save money on groceries by buying smaller cuts, you may end up spending more time cleaning the grill than you would if you had cooked a larger cut of meat.
Even though it’s cheaper to buy small cuts of meat, you’ll still want to cook big ones so you don’t run out of food. As such, you’ll have to learn to cook with less meat than you initially thought.