Fueling Your Pellet Grill’s Fire

The core of pellet grilling is pellets. These small, pencil eraser-sized pieces of compressed wood travel into a burn area to combust and produce heat. All-natural hardwood BBQ pellets are manufactured specifically for pellet grills and come in different hardwood flavors. Most BBQ pellet manufacturers use a base wood and flavor wood mixture to give the grill a variety of smoky flavors while also maintaining consistent BTUs and performance. While I typically recommend using pellets manufactured by the company that manufactured your grill, there are many options available at different price points and qualities.

Most pellet grills use an auger to drive pellets into a fire pot or burn grate to smoke and combust into flames. The auger is a corkscrew-shaped object that, as it turns, pushes pellets through the tube it is contained in. Across the various brands and designs of today’s grills, the augers come in different shapes and sizes than the one-size-fits-all version of the early grills.

The most common differences between augers are the length, pitch, and core. Length is the most obvious difference and is primarily driven by the desired position of the burn area. The auger pitch is the distance between each auger screw. Auger pitch helps determine the amount of pellets that enter the auger and, consequently, the burn area. Pellet grill augers also can come with a solid or hollow core. A solid core auger has a rod that runs through it, while a hollow core does not. Again, these cores primarily determine the number of pellets that enter the auger.

The auger is driven by either an AC or DC motor. Depending on the design, this motor can be bracketed in place or free-floating. A free-floating motor is the most common, and it involves the auger and motor being connected and working in tandem with a ledge that the motor sits on to drive the pellets through the auger system. A bracketed system holds the motor in place by brackets. Both are great methods, and one traditionally does not outweigh the other.

The early pellet grills, as well as the majority of grills produced today, use an AC current to power their parts, including the auger motor. AC grills turn the auger on and off at a single speed, dropping pellets into the fire at desired intervals to control the temperature and smoke. DC grills use a motor that can run at a variety of speeds, as well as in reverse. DC motors tend to be more powerful and give the user more control.

From the auger, pellets are delivered into a fire pot or burn grate. The burn area, fire pot, or burn grate is one of the most important variables in a pellet grill. Based on size, shape, hole size, and pattern, the grill’s temperature range, smoke, and reliability depend on the burn area. The traditional Traeger Fire Pot is a cylindrical, steel pot with seven or nine holes. The number of holes is dependent on the grill, and they are strategically placed. The original fire pot is traditionally limited to temperatures between 150°-500°. Burn grates come in multiple shapes and sizes, but the concept and shape are all similar, with the burn area structured by angled sides. Burn grates tend to be able to hold and maintain more pellets, allowing for additional heat. Burn grates usually use a number of holes, at different sizes and varying patterns. All of these different hole styles are intended to create the manufacturer’s desired airflow and to support the amount of pellets supplied. Burn grates tend to be hotter than fire pots, running around 175° on the low end and as much as 700° on the high.

While auger systems have changed and grown in numbers, the intent is the same, to deliver cooking pellets into a burn area to smoke and combust into flames. As the industry continues to grow, grill manufactures are looking for new ways to innovate and serve their customer base and attract new ones. Differing auger systems allow manufacturers to highlight differing cooking styles and uses, as well as the ability to deliver customers a longstanding and reliable product.

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