Nothing is better than cooking over an open flame. The aroma of charred meats and the tenderness of smoked roasts that fall apart with the touch of a fork – it’s no wonder that grills have become a staple in the American culinary scene. Pellet smokers are the newest gadget, but you may be wondering if you should leave the vents open or closed.
Keeping the vent on your pellet smoker open while cooking will help keep the flame going and ensure that your food doesn’t get a bitter taste from too much buildup of creosote. The smoker needs a source of fresh air to work correctly and to make after-dinner cleanup easier.
In this article, we’ll explain how to get the most out of your pellet smoker, how to properly vent the grill, and discuss some of the benefits of using your pellet grill for smoking.
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How Does a Pellet Grill Work?
Before determining the best settings for your pellet grill or smoker, we should discuss how the equipment works. Understanding more about the inner workings of the pellet grill will help you get the most out of your smoker.
What Is a Pellet Grill or Pellet Smoker?
First off, don’t be confused by the names – pellet grills and pellet smokers are the same things. The words are often used interchangeably, depending on what people like to use them for.
A pellet grill uses hardwood pellets instead of gas or charcoal. The grill has electric-powered fans inside that move the heat and smoke around to get the food to the proper cooking temperature. These grills are super popular because they are so versatile.
The pellets themselves add to the smoky flavor of the food. For example, these Traeger Signature Blend Pellets, available on Amazon.com, are among the highest-rated by customers for taste and quality.
You can use your pellet smoker for much more than smoking – it’s also great for traditional grilling and roasting. Basically, they are an all-in-one smoker/grill/oven combo.
How Does a Pellet Smoker Work?
Pellets are poured into the pellet hopper on the grill, and then an auger moves the pellets down into the firepot. The pellets burning in the firepot are the heat source for your cooking.
Inside the fire pot, an electric rod heats the pellets to a temperature where they will begin to smolder and produce smoke.
The fan system will turn on when needed to control oxygen levels inside the unit and disperse heat and smoke throughout. A digital display allows you to set the grill to the desired temperature.
The chimney, or smokestack, is typically where your vent is located, though some have smaller vents on the side or back. The smoke exits the grill through the chimney, and it also keeps the air circulating evenly. The stale smoke exits through the chimney instead of sticking to your food and causing that bitter taste.
Why Should I Keep the Pellet Smoker’s Vent Open?
Keeping the vent open during cooking is essential for food quality and taste. This is because of stale smoke and the buildup of creosote inside the grill.
Creosote is a chemical compound that is very thick and oily. It’s naturally produced when things burn and smoke, and it causes the dark, sticky grease that clings to the inside of your smoker.
In small amounts, creosote is desirable when smoking and grilling. It gives your food that distinct smoky flavor and yummy char on the surface of your meats. However, there are reports that this material can be harmful to your health, which is another reason to keep those vents open on your pellet smoker.
If the smoke is too heavy inside your pellet smoker, or if your fuel (pellets, in this case) is not burning clean, it may cause a buildup of creosote and damage the quality of your food. The best way to prevent this is to keep your smoker’s chimney vents open!
Stale smoke happens when your smoke builds up in the smoker with no way to exit. As the smoke gets thicker, it will become bitter and impart that bitter flavor into your food.
Finally, keeping your vents open provides plenty of oxygen for your pellets to burn as intended. When your pellet doesn’t have enough oxygen, it will not burn clean and tend to smolder.
What Happens If I Close the Vents?
If you’ve ever started a fire in the woods while camping, you’ll know that it needs air to start and to keep going. When lighting the kindling, you have to blow to help it to ignite. If the fire is going low, you’ll know that it will come back if you blow or fan the flames (and you need to add more wood).
It is a similar situation with your pellet smoker. If you close the vents, you run the risk of smothering your fire as the whole purpose of the smoker system is to force air into the grill. This helps air and smoke circulate effectively, keeping the temperature even and producing just the right amount of smoke for your meat. Without it, the flames will eventually be choked out.
The design is to blow smoke from one end and pull in clean air from the outside. This keeps the fire going, the temperature stable, and the smoke clean. Without the vents, the grill will fill with smoke, which will become saturated in creosote and soot, ultimately ruining your meat and possibly your grill too.
Caring for Your Pellet Smoker
Keeping your vents open on your pellet smoker will also reduce the amount of buildup, making it easier to clean later on. If you take good care of your pellet grill, it will continue to help you deliver savory smoked meats and other foods for years to come. Be sure to clean your pellet smoker out after each use to reduce the buildup of creosote, soot, and other debris.
It’s imperative to keep the internal electrical components of your pellet smoker dry, plus the pellets themselves will not move through the auger correctly if they are wet and soggy. Also, make sure that your pellet smoker is completely cooled before starting the cleaning process.
Follow these steps to keep clean your pellet grill or smoker:
- Remove grill rack, chimney cover, drip pan. Scrape off any large debris and place the items into a large container with hot, soapy water.
- Clean all interior surfaces. A good degreaser or specialized cleaner will do the trick. I would highly recommend this Goo Gone Grill and Grate Cleaner, available on Amazon.com, to make this process as quick and painless as possible.
- Clean out inside crevices. Use a long-handle brush or wooden spoon to scrub out the inside of the chimney and in the grease shoot.
- Wipe out the firepot. Use a soft cloth or paper towels to wipe underneath the fire pot, making sure the holes are clear.
- Clean the probe. Use an alcohol wipe or a damp towel to clean the temperature probe carefully.
What Can I Cook on a Pellet Grill?
Because pellet grills are so versatile, you can cook almost anything on them to perfection. Let’s talk about some of the best items you can cook on your pellet smoker.
This is your classic BBQ item, and it’s something that smokers were made for. Pulled pork roast is an easy thing to start with if you’re still learning all the tricks for using your new pellet smoker. All you need is a medium-sized pork shoulder roast or Boston Butt, apple cider or apple cider vinegar, and the seasoning of your choice.
Follow these simple steps for melt-in-your-mouth smoky goodness:
- Preheat the smoker to 250°F (121°C).
- Trim excess fat off your pork roast.
- Use a dry rub or pork seasoning (I recommend this Bad Byron’s Butt Rub seasoning, available on Amazon.com).
- Place your pork directly on the grate, fat side up, and cook for 3-5 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F (71°C).
- Place the pork roast in a large foil baking pan, pour 2 cups of apple cider or apple cider vinegar over the top. Wrap tightly in foil.
- Return the roast to your pellet smoker, and cook for another 3-4 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 204°F (96°C).
- Remove pan from smoker and let it rest for 30-45 minutes.
- Once it cools to handling temperature, shred with your fingers or forks.
- Season to taste with more dry rub or your favorite BBQ sauce.
Ribs are essential for breaking in your new smoker or entertaining your friends on the weekend. Whether it’s a Fourth of July BBQ or just a Saturday afternoon, following this recipe will be a crowd-pleaser every time.
- Preheat your pellet smoker to 200°F (93°C).
- If your ribs still have the fatty membrane on the back, carefully remove it with a sharp knife.
- Season with your favorite spices or dry rub, or try this Jack Daniel’s Original BBQ Pork Rub, available on Amazon.com.
- Place on grill, meat side up, and cook for approximately 2 hours.
- Remove ribs from the grill and raise heat to 250°F (121°C).
- Wrap ribs tightly in aluminum foil with one cup of apple juice.
- Cook on the grill for another 2 hours.
- Remove ribs from the grill, turn up the heat to 350°F (177°C).
- Take the ribs out of the foil (careful – liquid will be hot) and cover them in your favorite BBQ sauce (I highly recommend this Rib Rack Original BBQ Sauce, available on Amazon.com).
- Put the sauced ribs directly on the grill rack inside your preheated pellet smoker, cook them for about 15 more minutes.
- Remove from heat, allow ribs to rest for about 15 minutes before serving.
What is a Great Pellet Smoker with Vent Control?
When we look at pellet smokers with vents, the list of available products is long. We feel you need to narrow it down by starting with well-known companies like Masterbuilt or Pitboss.
First, most pellets grills will not do a traditional sear, so we remove that as a requirement for a pellet grill focusing on good smoking. Second, ease of use and beginner-friendly is a top requirement.
Finally, reliability is the most crucial factor, and customer comment reviews help us gauge the overall reliability.
Our favorite pellet smoker is the Pitboss 77550 Vertical Pellet Smoker.
- 1548 SQ. inches cooking surface
- LED digital controls
- 40-pound pellet hopper
- 1-year warranty
If you’re new to using your pellet smoker, you probably have lots of questions about how to get the most out of such a versatile cooking tool. Start with the basics, keep practicing, and take good care of your grill by cleaning up after each use.
Remember to keep the vents open for the best quality and easy cleanup. Once you’re comfortable, try out some new recipes! Before long, who knows – someone might even buy you your very own “kiss the cook” apron!