The pellet grill is often thought of as more complicated than other grills, but in fact the grill consists of just a few parts that work together to give you the best grilling experience.
Food-grade wood pellets are made with 100% hardwood and are held together with pressure. These wood pellets are the fuel that we use to not only heat the grill but give us a smoke that is not characteristic with such an easy-to-use appliance.
The pellet grill uses an auger-driven system that uses an auger in tandem with a motor to push pellets into a fire pot or burn grate to combust and produce heat. Once a fire is lit inside that burn area, the fire is self-sustaining, with the auger consistently feeding enough pellets to hold a temperature or heat range. Most augers accomplish this by turning the auger motor on and off, slowly dropping pellets into the pot at intervals. By running the auger for these short to long timeframes and then shutting off, it not only holds a median temperature, it creates smoke.
To support the burning fuel, the grill uses an induction fan, forcing oxygen into the fire pot. Airflow is an extremely important part of the grill’s combustion and one to multiple fans work to push the optimal input to maintain the fire and heat. While most pellet grills use a single fan speed to give the grill’s fire life, many newer grills use a pulsating feature or turn the fan off and on to hold temp and create smoke the same way the auger does.
In the mid-1990s, the hot rod, also known as the igniter, was added to the pellet grill lineup. The hot rod was the first automatic ignition available for pellet grills; prior to that, the grill was manually lit by starting the fire with a small amount of pellets and a fire starter before turning the auger and fan on to sustain the fire. The hot rod was revolutionary and is partially responsible for the popularity of pellet grills we see today. Without automatic ignition, the pellet grill no longer has quite the “ease of gas” promoted. Today’s igniters and hot rods are consistently being upgraded for speed and lifespan. Silicone, ceramic, and DC steel igniters have been added to the lineups of many grill companies, giving the user an upgraded experience.
The controller is the brains of the pellet grill. The controller works in tandem with the other parts to give the complete experience. Originally controllers simply worked to turn the auger on and off at three different intervals, holding three different heat levels. While the original controller worked great, an upgrade was made possible about ten years after the first pellet grill. The digital controller used an RTD to read the temperature of the grill chamber and cycle the auger on and off respectively. After the expiration of Traeger’s patent, other controller types became available, most notably the PID controller. PID controllers read an RTD or thermocouple to feed the grill at speeds or intervals specific to the actual target temperatures. PID controllers give more stable temperatures at the expense of slightly reduced smoke.
Though we have seen many leaps in pellet grill technology in recent years, the core of how a pellet grill functions has stayed the same. A fan-aided fire, fueled by wood pellets gave customers an easy and tasty alternative and it uses the traditional pellet stove concept to do so. Each part has a very specific job and if it fails, the entire system may perform incorrectly. By knowing how the parts of a pellet grill and how they function, you give yourself a leg up on going in blind.
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