Many people spend a pretty good chunk of change on their pellet grill/smoker. Therefore, having to limit its use to only the summer months of the year would be disappointing. Luckily, you can use a pellet grill all year round, even in the winter months. However, how easy it will be to get the pellet grill/smoker performing well will depend on where you live, how cold it actually gets and the pellet grills features. Please note, this post is not about whether you can use a pellet grill in the rain, I’ve discussed that previously. What I want to discuss in this post is the impact of external temperature changes on pellet grill/smoker performance. In other words when its cold and windy how does a pellet grill/smoker perform? Well, the answer is, it depends.
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What a pellet grills/smokers performance in the winter/colder months depends on is its construction and the type of control panel its fitted with. For instance, is the cooking chamber made from thin steel? Because if that the case, its not going to hold its heat very well without some assistance (a thermal blanket). A pellet grills performance in the winter/colder months is also influenced by its control panel technology. Specifically, does the pellet grill feature a PID control panel or a time-based control panel? All will be explained below.
Keeping Heat Inside The Pellet Grill/Smoker
So first let’s discuss a key concern when using a pellet grill in cold/wintry conditions keeping the heat inside the cooking chamber. While I’m a big fan of cold smoking, we still want to have to option to use a pellet grill/smoker as intended in cold conditions. Now, some makes and models of pellet grill are suited (actually designed) to hold their heat better. For instance, above I used the image of a Grilla Grills Silverbac as a reference for a pellet grill featuring twin-wall construction. To further emphasis the benefits of twin-wall construction, I’ve included the video below from Grilla Grills.
The Camp Chef SmokePro range is a good budget option in many cases. However, they don’t currently feature twin-wall construction, and as the video above shows that means more heat is lost through the base of the pellet grill. That means higher pellet consumption (higher running costs) but importantly as part of this post, it means its hard to get heat into the cooking chamber in cold weather conditions. It should be noted, its not just Camp Chef who doesn’t currently include a twin-wall combustion zone, most pellet grill manufacturers don’t.
As stated in the video above, twin-wall construction is found on more expensive pellet grills (Traeger Ironwood/Timberline models for instance). However, twin-wall construction is not commonly found on more affordable/budget pellet grills. I should also note, while the Silverbac appears very similar to the Z Grills 700 range, its not the same grill as I discuss in my Grilla Grills vs Z Grills post. For instance, the Z Grill does not feature a twin-wall combustion chamber.
Insulated Thermal Pellet Grill Covers
If your chosen wood pellet grill does not feature a twin-wall insulated combustion zone, and outside of Grilla Grills and luxury pellet grill brands most don’t, to use a pellet grill in cold weather you really need an insulated cover. I discuss this more in my Traeger accessories post. If available, you’re probably better off purchasing the manufactures insulated grill cover. Yes, they are more expensive than a generic insulated thermal blanket to fit a wide range of pellet grills. However, a poorly fitted insulated blanket every time you have to open the lid is going to get annoying fast, trust me.
A typical example of a Traeger insulated fitted blanket to improve pellet grill performance/efficiency in cold weather: Image – Amazon
Now, an insulated thermal blanket is generally keeping the heat in around the cooking zone. Grilla Grills currently only insulate the lower half of their grills (the combustion zone). However, the upper cooking chamber on the Grilla Grills is not twin-wall construction. Hence, an insulated blanket could make even a Grilla Grills pellet grill more efficient. There are several premium/luxury pellet grills, the Traeger Timberline being an example where the whole cooking chamber is twin-wall insulated.
What Type Of Controller Does Your Pellet Grill Have?
Now you may be understandably be thinking ‘Chris, what does the type of pellet grill controller have to do with cold-weather performance?‘ Well, to get right to the point, a PID pellet grill controller performs much better in cold weather conditions. A PID (Proportional, Integral, Derivative) controller found in many modern pellet grills is constantly making adjustments to the auger/fan speed to maintain the set temperature. Just think of a PID controller as a ‘smart’ controller. Many previous generation pellet grills, including the Traeger Pro Series, used time-based controllers. To ‘try’ and maintain a set temperature they simply turn the auger/fan on and off for a set period of time. Hence, time-based control panels are not well suited to dealing with external temperature changes, especially when it comes to cold winds.
Previous generation/budget pellet grills with this type of time-based control panel can struggle to maintain a constant temperature in cold/windy weather conditions: Image – Amazon
Calm cold weather is hard enough for a pellet grill controller to maintain the set temperature. However, you add in wind chill and it makes it even harder for the pellet grill controller to do its job. The wind is generally very inconsistent, and the constant fluctuations in the external temperature around the grill can cause real problems. If you have a previous Traeger Pro Series controller, for instance, you’ll want to look into how to change the P-Setting (Pause Setting). However, if you own a pellet grill with a PID control panel it will simply adapt to feed in more fuel when required to adapt to the colder external temperature. I’m going to write a post soon to highlight which pellet grills have PID controllers. However, I do have a post on the best WiFi pellet grills/smokers. If WiFi is present in pretty much all cases its also a PID control panel too.
Conclusions On Using Pellet Grills In Cold/Windy Weather Conditions
So in conclusion, while you can use any pellet grill in the winter months of the year, how it will perform will vary. If you have a budget/previous generation pellet with thin single-wall construction and a time-based control panel you need to prepare. An insulated blanket is pretty much a must, and you would want to keep the pellet grill out of direct wind exposure as much as possible. Though you should only ever use a pellet grill in a well-ventilated environment due to the risk of carbon monoxide. If your pellet grill has a PID control panel it will be much better suited to dealing with the colder external temperatures. Likewise, if the pellet grill features semi/full twin-wall construction around the cooking chamber, that will help to keep the heat inside, improving cooking performance and reducing pellet consumption.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope the article has helped to answer your questions about using a pellet grill in cold weather. If you would like to learn more such as how a pellet grill works today please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂
Back in 2007 when I first become aware of pellet grills and smokers the only brand I was really aware of was Traeger. Traeger is really where this whole concept of cooking with pellets started in the 1980s. It was a ‘slow burner’ (pardon the pun) but since the 2010s is really when pellet grills and smokers started to get mainstream awareness, discussed alongside gas and charcoal grills. There are now over 30 pellet grill/smoker brands that I’m aware of, and the link above goes to my A to Z list of brands article.
Now, you may already be aware of a few of the other brands such as Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Z Grills and I’m sure you are aware of Weber, though you may not have known they have entered the pellet grill game. However, they are now many, many more brands to look into. Some may be what are commonly referred to as ‘Traeger clones’, but many others are offering their own unique designs and features.
A pellet grill/smoker is only as good as the BBQ pellets you put into it. The type/quality of the BBQ wood pellets you use will impact temperature performance and smoke flavour. There are many pellet flavours including Apple, Hickory, Mapel, Oak and Walnut to name but a few. However, some brands are hardwood blended pellets whereas others are 100% single wood species.
In this article, I provide details on over 20 brands of BBQ wood pellets, their range of flavours, whether they are 100% single wood species or hardwood blended pellets, their typical price and where they are available. I also provide tips on how to get the best deal when buying BBQ wood pellets and how to test pellet quality. Finally, I discuss the new kid on the block, charcoal pellets and their special attributes compared to all other hardwood BBQ pellets.