Pellet grilling is a fun and carefree outdoor cooking method. Because these handy units are designed to remain within your chosen temperature range, you can have a successful experience even if you’re an amateur griller.
That said, even seasoned pros have been known to ask: Exactly how long do pellets last in a pellet grill? In this guide, we’ll walk you through the answer.
About Pellet Grills
Wood pellets are small cylinders of compressed hardwood sawdust, processed for use as a fuel for heating or cooking. Only food-grade wood pellets are suitable for cooking. The ones designed for home heating use will typically be processed using fillers and additives, which can render the cooked food unsafe for consumption. Even if that weren’t the case, however, the heating pellets would likely imbue the food with an unpleasant flavor.
All pellet grills are outfitted with a hopper, which is used to hold the fuel throughout the cooking process. When you set the grill to the desired temperature, pellets are fed into the firebox via an auger component. This keeps the fire burning steadily, with no outside interference required.
Gas and charcoal grills require close monitoring to ensure that the heat flow is remaining within the designated range. Pellet grills, meanwhile, are equipped with control panels that allow you to set the temperature in advance. Most units offer a range of 180 to 500 degrees, but some might go higher or lower. A broad temperature range is an enormous asset, as it increases the overall versatility of the grill.
Additionally, most pellet grills will come with a built-in meat probe. This means that you can check the internal temperature of the meat as often as you like.
How Pellets are Made
To make the pellets, the manufacturers first grind a supply of dry hardwood into sawdust. The sawdust is then subjected to extreme heat and pressure in order to form cylindrical pellets. As the wood heats up, the natural lignin is converted to a glue-like substance, which helps the pellets hold their shape.
Wood pellets produce very little ash—less than 1 percent of the original mass. When you burn a 40-pound bag of pellets, you should be only left with about 1/2 cup of ashes. If you’re used to a charcoal grill, you’re bound to be impressed with the easy cleanup that pellet grills provide.
Pellet Grills vs. The Competition
Why should you invest in a pellet grill in the first place? To find out, let’s take a look at how these units compare to similar products.
Traditional smokers are designed specifically to smoke food at low temperatures over long periods of time. While a pellet grill can do the same, it can also be used for grilling, roasting, searing, or baking. In other words, it’s more versatile than a smoker.
Moreover, pellet grills make it easier to control the temperature. You can use the built-in control panel to set the temperature to the correct range, add your ingredients, then sit back and relax. There’s no need to keep a close eye on the fuel source, as you would with most traditional smokers.
Although they’re undoubtedly convenient, gas grills perform best at medium to high temperatures. This is because most of them are poorly insulated, making them unsuitable for low-and-slow cooking applications. More importantly, gas can’t offer a fraction of the flavor that comes naturally to food that’s been cooked on a pellet grill.
Cooking over charcoal requires a measure of skill and finesse. No matter how well-ventilated the grill might be, it can be exceptionally difficult to maintain the temperature you want. With pellet grills, the process is simple—and thanks to the low ash output (see How Pellets are Made, above), so is cleanup.
How Long Do Pellets Last in a Pellet Grill?
There are several factors that might affect the burn rate of your wood pellets. Let’s take a look at the most prevalent ones.
The hotter the fire, the faster the pellets will burn. Therefore, high-heat cooking applications, like grilling and searing, will tear through pellets faster than smoking.
As a rule of thumb, you should plan on two pounds of pellets for each hour of high-heat grilling, and one pound for each hour of slow cooking. Once you’ve gotten a feel for the method, you’ll be able to gauge the process with more accuracy—though you should also rely on the other factors outlined below.
Although we use our pellet grill for many cooking applications, it’s invaluable when it comes to slow-cooked meats like pulled pork or beef brisket. In case you need convincing, here’s a video demonstration on using a pellet grill for smoked brisket.
If you’re familiar with pellet grilling at all, you already know that the pellets are available in a range of flavors, from apple to hickory to maple. While the flavors aren’t likely to affect the burn time, you should take care to stick with quality brands whenever possible.
Pellets that are set at bargain prices often contain artificially flavored oils. These are designed to give the food an extra dose of flavor. Unfortunately, they also cause the pellets to burn faster.
Similarly, cheaper pellets won’t be as dense as the quality brands. Even some name brands will deliberately design their pellets to be soft and light, which results in quicker combustion. Remember: The denser the pellets, the longer the burn time.
The pellets themselves aren’t the only factor to consider. If your pellet grill is equipped with a thermal cover, it will have better heat retention than a model with inferior insulation. When the grill is able to retain more heat, it will burn through the pellet supply much more slowly.
On a related note, we should point out that certain grill types might burn through fuel at a faster rate than others. When you’re shopping for a pellet grill, take a look at the customer reviews to gain a clearer picture of what the unit is like in action. You might save yourself a lot of hassle.
Even well-insulated pellet grills can be affected by ambient temperatures. In cold weather, your pellet grill will burn through more fuel in order to keep the fire burning at a steady pace. The colder it is outside, the harder it will have to work. Conversely, when it’s warm outside, the grill will be able to maintain the set temperature with very little effort.
If your grilling schedule is typically restricted to the summer season, then this shouldn’t be a major problem. On the other hand, if you prefer to make the most of your investment by grilling year-round, you should plan to stock up on more pellets during the winter months. Another option would be to cover the grill with a thermal blanket when the weather turns cooler.
Make sure to keep your pellets stored in a dry, well-ventilated area. Pellets that are stored properly will burn more efficiently. It’s a good idea to buy a sealed container for this purpose, but a tarp will work in a pinch as long as it’s properly fastened. Also, make sure to store all flammable materials a safe distance away from the pellet supply.
On a related note, pellets won’t last as long in humid climates. In regular conditions, they can keep for up to six months. If the air humidity regularly climbs over 10 percent, however, they’ll only keep for half that time (at best). That’s why it’s so important to keep the pellets in a warm, dry place.
If you aren’t sure how long your pellet supply might last, it’s best to err on the side of caution. We would recommend bulking up on pellets if you plan on using your grill for longer than a few hours.
Although the pellets can deteriorate if they’re kept for too long in unfavorable conditions, it’s better to have too many than to run out while you’re cooking. Remember—if you have plenty of pellets left over, you’ll be able to incorporate them into your next outdoor cooking experience.
Fortunately, many companies offer bulk discounts on wood pellets. This makes it easier to justify keeping a large supply on hand.
So, how long do pellets last in a pellet grill? The answer depends on which unit and pellets you buy, as well as the grilling conditions. In general, we would suggest budgeting two pounds of pellets for every hour of high-heat cooking applications, and one pound for every hour of smoking or braising. If your unit burns through more or less, you’ll eventually get a feel for the rhythm as you continue to experiment.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!