Hot Spots On Pellet Grills/Smokers (The Why & What To Do)

Hi, I’m Chris. I started back in 2007.

Pretty much all gas/charcoal grills will produce hot spots to some degree, and pellet grills/smokers are no exception. A hot spot is exactly as it sounds, it’s where there are inconsistent temperatures across the cooking grate, with some areas being hotter than others. Now, I’ve previously written about the best searing pellet grills and direct-flame access, which is obviously going to be a ‘hot spot’. However, what we are really discussing in this article is the impact of hot spots on indirect heat cooking. We’ll discuss how you can identify hot spots on a pellet grill before/after purchase and what can be done about them.

The Red Meat Lover channel explaining the topic of hot spots/zone on pellet grills/smokers (quick video under 5 minutes)

Disclaimer: Hey! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon or other sites are affiliate links, and I earn a commission if you make a purchase.

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The video above from the Red Meat Lover YouTube channel gives a great/quick summary on the topic of hot spots with the example of a previous generation Pit Boss pellet grill.

However, please don’t be under the impression that hot spots only apply to Pit Boss grills, as that’s not the case at all. Traeger, Camp Chef, Weber, Z Grills etc, all produce hot spots to some degree.

Though you should also not assume that all pellet grills have the same pattern of hot spots or the same temperature differences across their cooking grates.

Why You Need To Take Hot Spots Seriously

When cooking small amounts of food on a pellet grill/smoker, the issue of hot spots may not be that significant.

You’ll just monitor the food either visually or with a thermometer, maybe even via the meat probe port on the grill via WiFi.

Over that smaller area, the temperature will be relatively consistent. But what about if you are cooking for a large group of friends/family? What if you have filled the cooking grate on the pellet grill smoker?

Well, that’s when you need to know your pellet grill/smoker’s hot spots beforehand, so it doesn’t lead to disappointing food or worse.

Whether cooking chicken or steak, hot spots matter
Whether you are cooking chicken (left), steak (right) or any food really, understanding the hot spots on a specific pellet grill/smoker matters: Image –

You could be monitoring the internal temperature of a piece of meat, for example, let’s say poultry/chicken, on one part of the grill.

It gives an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees to be safe to eat, so you think great! We’re done!

Well, if that particular piece of chicken was on the hot spot, it likely means the rest of the chicken on the grate is undercooked, and you’re at risk of giving your guests salmonella poisoning.

However, it also works the other way around. Let’s say you were monitoring a piece of chicken that wasn’t on a hot spot.

Well, by the time that piece of chicken is reading 165 degrees, the rest of the chicken on the cooking grate could be overdone and dried out.

Hence, when you are using your pellet grill/smoker at full capacity, you need to give it more attention to monitor and move the food around the cooking grate for even cooking, to avoid under/overcooking and also drying out.

And the key to being able to do that is knowing where the hot spots are on the pellet grill/smoker.

Why Do Pellet Grills/Smokers Have Hot Spots?

I don’t want to get too far into a discussion on how a pellet grill/smoker works, I’ve previously discussed that in quite a bit of detail, so please check out that linked article above for more information.

Specifically in relation to hot spots though, on a pellet grill/smoker, you typically have a single burn pot of above 3 inches in diameter, which produces all of the heat.

On luxury pellet grills, you may find multiple burn pots (Memphis, for example), which will help with heat distribution to avoid hot spots, but in most cases, you will find a single burn pot on a pellet grill.

Many pellet grills have a centrally located burn pot. However, some do have the burn pot to one side, if that’s the case, it will be the side closest to the pellet hopper to reduce the length of the pellet feed auger.

Above the burn pot, in some cases, there is a heat deflector plate directly over the burn pot to help distribute heat.

You then have above that a grease tray, with some grease trays having gaps to allow for direct-flame access.

Either way, a solid grease tray/closed grease tray helps to spread/diffuse heat across the cooking grate.

How A Pellet Grill/Smoker Works
The basic principles of how most pellet grills/smokers function with a grease tray helping to deflect heat from the pellet fire below: Image –

However, there are gaps around the edge of the cooking grate where the grease tray doesn’t reach, as discussed in the Red Meat Lover video above.

Therefore, around the edges of the cooking grate where the grease tray doesn’t reach is typically where on a pellet grill, you will find hot spots/zones.

However, there are two other factors at play, the fan and the location/type of the chimney.

The fan in a pellet grill is crucial to the pellet combustion process. However, it also makes a pellet grill/smoker a convection oven.

The fan can help to distribute heat/smoke over and around the cooking grate.

However, it can also create hot spots along the path of the heat/smoke. The path the hottest air/smoke travels is also influenced by the type/location of the chimney/vent on the pellet grill.

Traeger Downdraft Exhaust To Avoid Hot Spots
The downdraft exhaust design on the Traeger Ironwood and Timberline models is an attempt to help reduce hot spots within the cooking chamber: Image –

For instance, a single chimney vent located at one end of the pellet grill is typically not going to provide the most consistent temperatures within the cooking zone.

Therefore, brands such as Traeger, with their Ironwood and Timberline models, they have introduced downdraft exhausts to help with more even heat/smoke distribution within the cooking zone.

With so many different pellet grill/smoker designs resulting in different hot spot scenarios, what should you do about this hot spot situation?

How To Find Hot Spots On Pellet Grills/Smokers

Ok, so we have two scenarios, you are either looking for a pellet grill/smoker to buy or your already own a pellet grill/smoker, and you want to find its hot spots/zones before wasting food by overcooking/drying it out.

Well, if you are in the market for a new pellet grill/smoker or you are even considering buying a used one off eBay etc, the best resource is YouTube.

There are lots of videos available of owners doing reviews on their latest pellet grill purchase, and in some cases, you may be able to find a toast/biscuit test that will demonstrate the hot spots.

Obviously, if you cannot find such a video you will just have to conduct the test yourself once you have purchased it.

A hot spot test on an offset smoker, however, the same biscuit test should be conducted on a pellet grill/smoker

Canned Biscuits Produce Better Hot Spot Test Results Than Toast

So when you are browsing YouTube for a hot spot test for a particular pellet grill/smoker, you may come across toast tests and canned biscuit tests.

Ideally, you will want to find a biscuit hot spot test or conduct a biscuit test on your own pellet grill/smoker over a toast test.

Why? Well, the toast test will tell you the hot spots on the heat coming up directly from the cooking grate. However, as discussed above, pellet grills/smokers provide convection oven cooking from circulating hot air/smoke.

Therefore, with a canned biscuit, as it rises as it cooks, just as in Jess Pryles video above, you will see which side of the biscuit is getting the most heat, not just what’s happening on the bottom.

This will give you the best picture overall of how that particular pellet grill/smoker is performing and where the hot spots/zones really are.

If you are conducting your own hot spot tests, document the process. Take videos/photos of how the biscuits cooked, so you have a reference for later on to look at if you forget the results or to compare it to your next pellet grill/smoker purchase.

What Can Be Done About Pellet Grill Hot Spots?

Ok, let’s say you have a pellet grill/smoker that has hot spots that you want to try and resolve, can anything be done?

Well, to reduce hot spots, there needs to be further heat dissipation, but how can this be done?

On some pellet grills, I’ve seen DIY videos of people making additional heat deflector plates to be placed over the burn pot or thicker/double grease trays being used to tackle hot spots.

Both of these methods can potentially help to reduce hot spot issues. However, the simplest method is to purchase a set of GrillGrates for a pellet grill.

GrillGrates to reduce hot spots
GrillGrates can be ordered to fit any pellet grill/smoker. However, it’s important not to go all the way to the edge of the cooking chamber to allow enough space for hot air/smoke to circulate around the cooking chamber: Image –

GrillGrates are interlocking hard-anodized aluminium panels that are placed on top of the existing cooking grate.

While they are primarily marketed as a means to provide better searing performance on a pellet grill, they also have the added benefit of more evenly distributing heat across the cooking area as a means to tackle hot spots.

Conclusions On Hot Spots/Zones & Pellet Grills/Smokers

In summary then, you want to know where the hot spots are on a pellet grill/smoker to avoid overcooking/drying out food.

You also need to know where the hot spots are so that when you are using a pellet grill/smoker at full capacity, you know where to move the food around on the grate.

Moving from the higher to lower heat areas and vice versa to get even cooking performance to avoid undercooking, especially in the case of poultry (salmonella risk).

Remember, hot spots are applicable to both horizontal and vertical pellet smokers. If you are not sure about the pros and cons, I have an article on horizontal vs vertical pellet smokers.

You may be able to find on YouTube an owner’s video of a hot spot test before purchase, if not, you will need to conduct the test yourself after purchase.

To be honest, you should be conducting the test yourself in either scenario to get the best results.

When conducting the test, try and do a biscuit test over a toast test to get the best results, and take videos/photos that you can review in the future if you forget where the hot spots are.

That’s it! I hope this article on pellet grill/smoker hot spots has been informative/useful! Please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide for more of my articles. 🙂

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Chris -

Hi, I’m Chris. I started back in 2007. This website is intended to be an educational resource on BBQ pellets, pellet grills & smokers. I hope you find the information useful.

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