Updated March 2022
You bought the best pellet smoker you could find on the market. Bravo! You’re on your way to making mouthwatering and maybe even award-winning BBQ recipes.
But if you’re new to using a pellet grill, you might have a few questions. One we hear a lot is how to tell if you’re getting enough smoke during each session. After all, you might expect a wood-burning grill to put out a large amount of smoke, so it can be a little confusing if you don’t see a lot of visible smoke.
Of course, the amount of smoke matters, especially if you’re cooking foods on your pellet smoker for hours and hours at lower temperatures. The perfect amount of smoke will infuse meats, poultry, seafood, veggies and other ingredients with tremendously rich smoke flavors. Plus, you’ll be able to get a great smoke ring on specific cuts like brisket. Smoke is (almost) the whole ballgame — it’s why you’re cooking on a wood-burning pellet grill and not a gas grill in the first place!
So, how do you know if your smoker is smoking appropriately? Don’t worry — there’s a good chance there’s nothing wrong with your pellet smoker, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s putting out a lot of smoke! Plus, if there is a mechanical issue behind the lack of smoke, there are some telltale signs to look for. Read on and we’ll tell you how to tell if your pellet grill is putting out enough smoke.
First off, pellet grills typically produce a LOT of smoke starting up. The fire rod heats up and starts to smolder pellets until there is enough spark for the fans to stoke that into a flame. While most pitmasters have learned to harness this “startup smoke,” you actually do not want that kind of smoke throughout the cook. It’s very thick, white and bitter, and won’t give you the rich, tasty smoke flavor you’re looking for.
For the best results, you should wait for the heavy smoke from this initial stage to clear up before you throw your food on the grill.
The ideal smoke for a pellet smoker is wispy, thin blue smoke. At times, it can even be hard to see. This smoke gives proper flavor without the bitterness from thick white smoke. This thin smoke is produced when your pellet grill has finished the ignition phase and has settled in closer to its target temperature.
That isn’t to say you will not see smoke at all. You may see thicker smoke as the auger drops more pellets in the fire pot — the part inside the grill that ignites the dispensed wood pellets and the source for all the flame. You will just see less of that “house on fire” smoke when your grill is hovering around your desired temperature.
What you definitely don’t want is the presence of stale smoke. When the ventilation gets bad inside your grill, the smoke can’t flow as well as it should. The fans might grow dirty over time and have trouble circulating the air. Over time, the smoke that can’t escape will turn your food black and crusted. That’s the effect of bitter creosote building up to the point it ruins the flavor of your smoked meat.
You don’t want the shame of serving your diners a pork butt coated in a layer of soot, so watch for any charring on the meat while it cooks. If you feel you’re not getting enough smoke from your pellet grill, it could be time for a thorough clean.
Make a habit of following the instructions for cleaning your grill so you get just the right airflow and distribution of smoke on every cook. Also, check before you ignite the fire so you don’t end up wasting food by accident. I clean and vacuum out my Silverbac and Grilla after about every 20 to 30 hours of use.
Traditional Smoke Setting vs. PID
All new Grilla Grills pellet grills like the Silverbac and Grilla offer two different heating mode settings: our traditional Pro Mode smoke setting and a PID mode. PID is a popular technology in pellet grills that allows them to cook with extremely accurate temperature control that minimizes temperature swings.
Pro Mode was Grilla’s original smoking method. It purposefully instills a small temperature swing in order to increase the amount of smoke produced by your grill! PID Mode came later, and removes that temp swing in favor of giving you the most accurate temperature possible!In general, Pro Mode is usually a better choice for smoky low-and-slow BBQ. If you’re working at higher temperatures, or baking on your pellet smoker, try using the PID setting on your Grilla Grill’s Alpha Smokeº control board.
Now let’s address some things that play a large role in how much smoke should be produced. The pellets play the largest part. Using high-quality pellets without wood fillers is the single greatest thing you can do to ensure maximum smoke and flavor potential.
The material the pellet is made of is also critical. Some blends just do not create as much smoke. It has a lot to do with how dense the wood is. For example, I’ve found that apple doesn’t smoke as much as hickory. I am not against apple pellets at all, but if you are worried about generating visible smoke, then you may want to try blending them with a bag of hickory or oak.
Whatever pellet wood you prefer, Grilla Grills’ premium quality hardwood pellets will make sure your pellet grill is ready to rock and roll. Our pellet grills work with any high-quality pellet, but Grilla pellets are made from all-natural hardwood with no fillers or additives. If you’re on a quest for true BBQ smoke flavor, our pellets are exactly what you’re looking for.
The next thing to look at is the cleanliness of your fire pot. If your fire pot is full of ash, it will have a harder time efficiently igniting pellets and generating smoke. While a pellet grill produces less ash than a charcoal smoker, the burning wood does still create ash that will regularly need to be cleaned.
A clean fire pot also decreases the chances you will experience a flameout. That’s when the grill goes out in the middle of a cook. Often when a pellet pit errors out in the middle of a cook, the controller probably fed too many pellets on top of a dying fire, causing the fans to not keep the pellets properly stoked. You will know this was the case when you remove the heat shield and find a mound of pellets on top of about 2 inches of ash in the fire pot.
Always let the way the food tastes be your guide versus what you see visually. More times than not, there is plenty of smoke being created, producing rich flavor for your meal. If that isn’t the case, take a look at what pellets you’re burning. It might be time to clean out the pit.
At this point, you’re pretty much ready to earn your pitmaster stripes. Still, it never hurts to have a few reminders when it comes to understanding smoke and the way it works.
On startup, smokers produce white, bitter, thick smoke. Some pitmasters use this type of startup smoke to get their smoke rings. However, you don’t want startup smoke during the rest of your cook.
Instead, you want a thin, blue smoke that might even be hard to see as it exits your smoker’s vents, as noted above. Blue smoke has zero bitterness and offers a steady stream of smoky flavor imbued with the wood type you’ve chosen for your pellets.
In other words, don’t worry if you don’t see a lot of smoke, especially after you first fire up.
A good smoke doesn’t have to be prolific to be perfect. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t smell stale. If your smoke takes on a stale or unpleasant aroma, you should cool down your smoker and look for the issue.
Frequent causes of stale smoke include poor ventilation and dirty fans. You can fix these issues easily and keep your foods tasty rather than sooty. In the future, be sure to keep your smoker grill clean according to the maker’s instructions. Don’t forget to clean the fire pot, too!
Premium wood pellets light up efficiently and give off consistent smoke. Additionally, different types of wood pellets tend to produce heavier levels of smoke. Apple wood pellets don’t smoke as much as their hickory counterparts, for example.
What happens if you want to increase the amount of blue smoke in your pellet smoker? Play around with the vents and grill temperature. In time, you’ll gain the confidence to manage your smoker.
Now that you know how to smoke like a pro, check out our collection of recipes to wow your family, friends and neighbors this weekend! Learn how to cook brisket, pork butt, juicy veggies and all kinds of other tempting pellet grill recipes.