Let’s set some things straight about pellet grill temperatures – Yes, you can sear an amazing steak on a pellet grill! And, no, just because you have your pellet grill set at one temperature, that doesn’t mean that’s the temp inside the grill chamber. We’re about to debunk some pellet smoker myths to make you a better backyard chef!
Myth #1: Pellet Grills Are Just for Smoking
Many people think that pellet grills are just for smoking. Probably because the name “pellet grill” is often used interchangeably with “pellet smoker”. But your Trager, Pit Boss, or other pellet grill can do much more than smoke a perfect rack of ribs or cook your prized pork butt low and slow.
The Truth: One of the biggest selling points of a pellet grill is the versatility. You can roast, bake, smoke, and grill all on the same piece of equipment. And you can even sear on certain pellet grill models that include a “sear plate”, allowing you to open up vents in the heat deflector plate to let the flames kiss your meat above.
In fact, some of the best ribeyes that I’ve ever cooked have come off of a pellet grill, because I can smoke the thick cut steaks first, and then sear them over the flame.
Myth #2: The Temperature on Your Pellet Grill’s Thermometer is the Same Temp Inside Your Smoker
Just because your pellet grill’s built-in thermometer is reading 275 degrees F, that does NOT mean that the temp inside your entire grill is 275 degrees F. And, in fact, it’s probably far from it.
The Truth: The temperature reading on the outside of your grill is the reading from the tip of your chamber’s probe. So if your pellet grill’s built-in thermometer probe is 6 inches above the grill grates and in the center of the grill, and you put your meat on the far right of the grill grates, then you could easily have a 50+ degree difference in temperature.
So you may think that you’re smoking your ribs at 250 degrees F, but in reality the temperature in that area of the smoker is only 175 degrees F, resulting in a longer than expected cook time.
Which brings me to another important myth about pellet grill temperatures…
Myth #3: My Pellet Grilled Chicken Will Take “X” Amount of Time to Cook at “X” Temperature
I’m sure you’ve seen articles on the internet stating that a 5 pound chicken will take 3 hours to smoke at 250 degrees F. And while it would be nice if cooking the perfectly smoked, tender, and juicy bird was that foolproof, that’s just not the case.
The Truth: Grilling “experts” can give you estimates of cook times, but the amount of time needed to grill up delicious food (no matter what it is) is going to vary based on a number of factors.
Here are just a few things that can affect your cook times on a pellet grill, and why your 8 pound pork butt may take 14 hours to cook instead of the 10 hours that Google told you:
- The thickness of the metal of your pellet grill – Different grill manufacturers use different grades of metal, and some may hold the heat better than others.
- The types of pellets you are using – Certain wood pellets burn hotter than others, mainly because of the type of wood used. Hardwood pellets like oak, maple, and hickory tend to burn hotter than softwoods and fruitwoods.
- The “stall” – A common occurrence in smoking meats, this is when the internal temperature of your product stops rising at the pace that it was previously… the internal temp “stalls out”, hence the name, and it may not raise a single degree for hours.
- The temperature of your meat when you put it on the pellet grill
- Your pellet grill’s ability to recover temperature – How quickly your grill comes back up to temp after adding cold meats or opening the lid
So instead of cooking to a specific time, it’s important to have a good instant read internal probe thermometer and cook to temp.
Myth #4: Pellet Grills Can’t Reach High Temperatures
Because pellet grills are so often thought of as pellet smokers, some people assume that the “low and slow” temperatures are the only option… That you’d be crazy to cook your tomahawk steak on a pellet grill, because it can’t get to a searing hot temperature.
The Truth: While pellet grills are known as being low and slow masters, most new pellet grill models are capable of reaching temperatures as high as 500 degrees F. That’s plenty of heat to sear your steak or get a nice crust on your burgers.
In fact, some pellet grill brands even offer “sear plates” in some of their grill models. This incredible contraption is a piece of metal that has vented holes in it, and you can slide it back and forth on top of the heat deflector plate to expose the flames underneath for flame-kissed cooking.
With my Pit Boss Navigator 850, this is called the “Flame Broiler”, and it allows direct heat searing at up to 1,000 degrees F. The Lone Star Grillz pellet smoker has a similar feature.
Myth #5: Pellet Grills are “Set and Forget”
Some people view pellet grills as the “set and forget” grilling option on their back deck. Like all they have to do is walk out to the backyard, turn on a switch, set the temperature dial, and then 4 hours later, they’ll have a perfectly smoked rack of ribs. But that’s not exactly the case.
The Truth: Yes, a pellet grill or smoker is easier to start than your traditional charcoal kettle grill or stick burner. And, yes, modern pellet grills are known for their ability to hold steady at a fairly consistent temperature. But that doesn’t mean that you can walk away from your grill for hours.
You should still stay close by to monitor things like the rate at which your grill is going through pellets and if you need to refill the hopper, if the grill has any major fluctuations in temperature, whether or not you need to reposition your meat to a new spot on the grill, and the internal temp of whatever you are cooking.
Yes, one of the major benefits of cooking on a pellet grill is just how easy it is to manage the cook, but that doesn’t mean you can put a pork butt on the smoker and just forget about it.
There you have it… 5 common myths about pellet grill temperatures that may influence your decision to dive into the world of pellet grilling. Yes, you can sear a steak and grill the perfect burgers one day, and then smoke a prize-winning rack of ribs the next.
Will there be a learning curve with a new pellet grill as you become familiar with the temperatures? Yes. But that’s the case with most grills or smokers, whether they run on pellets or not. So if you put in the extra effort to learn the nuances of your pellet grill model, you’ll be grilling, smoking, searing, and roasting up perfect meals in no time!