Lighting the Fire

The process of starting a pellet grill has changed over time, but the original intent is the same, start a fire that will then sustain itself throughout a cook. Originally, pellet grills were lit similarly to a charcoal grill where an accelerant is used to light the fuel. The grease pan of the original Traegers was flat, with a capped opening in the center. That cap was lifted to expose the fire pot. Once the fire pot is accessible, small number of pellets are placed into that burn area with some type of fire starter, most commonly alcohol gel, and lit. Once the lit pellets begin to coal, roughly 3-5 minutes, the grill is started and the fire is self-sustaining.

Though the original lighting of the grill could be tedious, there were some definite advantages. The biggest advantage was that it was foolproof. As long as you had some way to start the fire and let it burn long enough that the fan will not blow it out, your pellet grill will start. Like any other electric appliance, parts on your pellet grill can unintentionally go out. By having this manual light process, which can be used in many of today’s grills, any igniter failure is insignificant. The last benefit was the huge decrease in electricity required to run the grill. The igniters in most of today’s AC grills require nearly five times the watts of the other parts of the grill combined. Though igniters are typically not on for a long period of time, this power drain can be significant if using a battery or other device to power the grill.

Many of the main upgrades to the pellet grills that you see today were made in the mid 1990’s, with self-ignition being one of them. Traeger introduced the Autostart Hot Rod to give its customers a better grilling experience, comparable to the popular and familiar gas grills. The hot rod lit the pellets automatically, so the consumer no longer had to light the pellets by hand. The way that the original hot rod worked was extremely similar to how all pellet grills light today. When the grill was powered on, all parts would start simultaneously, including the hot rod. As the pellets dropped into the fire pot and air flowed in, the hot rod would get red hot. While extremely hot the hot rod would turn the nearest pellets to coals, creating smoke until enough fuel and air required to start the fire were in the burn area. After a short time, 2-4 minutes, the hot rod would shut off and the fire is self-sustaining.

Today’s ignition systems come in a few different forms ad many have taken steps to not only make sure your fire is lit but it stays lit. Ceramic, DC, spark, and gas igniters are available through different manufacturers. The new igniters have many benefits, but one of the most desirable is longevity. The original Traeger hot rods lasted between 3-5 years. Today’s igniters can last up to a lifetime.

Along with the igniter itself, controllers today have far more control over the igniter’s operation. Where as the original hot rods were set on a timer, many of today’s grills base igniter use on temperature. Many grills have a set temperature in which it determines the grill as “lit” and it will turn the igniter off. As well as the more precise start time, the igniter may come on to prevent the flame from going out. In the early 2010’s we added an automatic shutoff feature to the Traeger controller for any instance in which a grill got to a dangerously high or low temperature, preventing pellets from continuing into the fire pot with an unlit fire or a large, hazardous fire. Expanding on that many controllers today will turn the igniter on when it sees a large decrease in temperature, attempting to preventing the grill from reaching the low temperatures where the grill would be automatically shut down.

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