When you add a pellet smoker to your arsenal of backyard cookout gear, you unlock tons of recipes from smoked salmon to spareribs that fall off the bone. It goes without saying that a pellet grill is a game-changer—but only if you know what you’re doing.
In this beginner’s guide to pellet grilling, we’ll share the crucial mistakes that many novice grillers make—and how to avoid them.
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9 Common Pellet Grill Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make
You probably know the basics of how to use a pellet grill if you’re a beginner—but avoiding these nine common pellet grill mistakes can uplift your grilling game from basic to stellar.
Here’s what you need to know if you want to dazzle the neighbors and impress your family with delicious smoked foods.
1. Being Impatient
We all know that cultivating patience isn’t easy.
But you need to know that cooking food on a pellet smoker is going to take longer than your usual grilling routine. Have you ever heard the term low and slow? Slow is a key player.
It’s common for pellet grilling beginners to feel impatient or antsy. But acting out on it can ruin your meal. You shouldn’t open the lid to peek at how your food is doing. And you shouldn’t poke and prod your meat, either. Just leave it alone while you wait!
2. Not Fully Preheating the Pellet Grill
You can read this mistake as another weakness of impatience. If you pop food into your oven too early, low heat can result in undercooked or dry food.
However, with a pellet grill, fresh smoke can impart bitter and unpleasant flavors.
The more smokey flavor isn’t always better. Consider how salt can make a meal a lot better, but too much salt can ruin the same meal. Smokey flavor is the same.
Think of the smoke as a single flavor profile that you add to your meals. You might also have a well-made rub, the natural taste of a good cut of meat, plus grilled potatoes and veggies. You want them all to work together, without a single one dominating.
4. Not Taking the Time to Allow Your Meat to Rest
After your meat finally comes off the pellet grill, having patience can be difficult. We get it. You’ve already been waiting for hours, and now the temptation is right in front of you.
But letting the meat rest is a crucial step in the cooking process, and you don’t want to skip it. Depending on the type, size, and cut letting meat rest for 30-45 minutes before cutting or shredding results in a juicier meal.
When you cook meat, the moisture towards the outside evaporates, and most of the liquid moves to the center. When the meat rests, the juices naturally even themselves out. Instead of cutting early and seeing juices spill onto your plate, you have to option to wait and enjoy perfectly smoked, juicy meat in every bite—patience pays off yet again.
5. Not Being Conscious of Which Pellets You Use
Pairing wood pellets and meats is sort of like pairing wine. Sure, you could pair them in any combination, but certain flavors go better together.
Wood pellets are not all the same—that applies to quality and flavor. Do your research before you buy because there are many types and flavors out there that are good for certain things.
For example, foods with delicate flavors pair better with light, floral woods like apple and cherry, while red meats pair well with bold woods like mesquite and hickory.
6. Relying Heavily on Cook Times
When you cook in the kitchen, cook times are a dependable, reliable resource. But when you smoke on a pellet grill, there are countless factors at work that affect how your food cooks.
With factors like the temperature of your meat when it goes on, the smoker’s capacity, potential leaks, the humidity in the air, and even the wind, cook time is not enough to know when it’s time to pull your food off the grill.
Instead, get an accurate, high-quality, digital thermometer—the internal temperature is a better indicator of doneness than time.
Learning how to use a pellet grill is an art form, and relying solely on cook times is sure to lead you astray.
7. Smoking Meat and Only Meat
When you think of a pellet smoker, you probably imagine things like rubs, brisket, and even salmon. But the wood pellet grills are much bigger than proteins. You can smoke anything, from vegetables to pastries.
Consider using your smoker for more creative meals, like soups, bread, and sides. We recommend trying baked mac and cheese.
Further reading: A Beginner’s Guide to Smoking Meat
The sauce can be a great tool when using a pellet grill, but over-saucing is a common mistake. More doesn’t necessarily mean better.
So, when using sauce, be mindful that it doesn’t cover up the flavor of your meat, rub, or smoke. Remember, pellet grilling is all about balance.
9. Becoming Easily Discouraged
The most significant setback beginners to pellet grilling face is discouragement. It’s a mistake to expect perfection every time you go to grill, especially in the beginning.
Barbecuing is a skill that can take a lifetime to master, and it requires time, patience, and lots of practice to get right. Consider avoiding more complicated cuts of meat, like brisket, when you’re first starting.
And remember that using a pellet grill is a learning journey where your first steps will be more challenging than your last.