While wood pellets are made of real wood, they are a processed form of wood, and therefore they behave differently. For instance, when an unprocessed piece of wood gets wets it will swell but not lose its form. However, if wood pellets get wet, they lose their form completely, and return back to the raw material they were produced from, sawdust. Therefore, the question of should you leave pellets in the hopper of a pellet grill/smoker is about concerns over moisture/humidity. In other words, will leaving pellets in the hopper leave them exposed to moisture leading to going bad? With the lid down on the hopper, you may not think so, and that can be true in some cases. However, as a general rule can/should you leave wood pellets in the hopper indefinitely? No. But depending on where you live and the time of year, the risk to the pellets from moisture does vary.
Not many people would describe BBQ wood pellets as ‘cheap’. Therefore, you want to protect them from moisture. But does that mean you should empty your hopper after every use? Not necessarily: Image – Amazon.com
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The fact that wood pellets readily and easily absorb moisture is what makes them such good animal bedding. However, when it comes to your pellet grill/smoker the moisture absorbency of wood pellets is not a good thing. Therefore, you have to respect the risks of moisture to not only protect your wood pellets, but to protect your pellet grill/smoker. As I’ve previously written about in my Traeger auger blockage/repair post. If water gets into the hopper and pellets are there to absorb that moisture, its probably going lead to some problems. As wood pellets absorb moisture, they expand, considerably. Hence, they can lock up and auger nice and tight. In most cases, it won’t break the auger. However, you’ll have to spend a good amount of time cleaning it out before you can use the grill/smoker again.
Leaving Wood Pellets In The Hopper (Official Advice)
So before I provide my own thoughts and opinions on leaving wood pellets in the hopper of pellet grills and smokers, I thought I would quote some of the official advice. Below are extracts from the two most popular pellet grill brands websites of Traeger and Pit Boss on their official advice.
So as you will notice from the two above quotes, there is a bit of a difference in the two pieces of advice. Where Pit Boss is requesting that their customers empty their pellet hoppers after ‘each cook’, Traeger is stating that their customers should empty the hopper if the grill is left for ‘more than week’. So which is it, who is providing the best advice here? Is Pit Boss being over cautious or is Traeger presuming too much? Well, its both really.
Time of Year and General Climate
If we are talking about the summer months and a dry ambient climate you could potentially leave the pellets in the hopper for even longer than a week and you wouldn’t experience any issues. In this scenario, we are talking about very little to any rain and very low humidity. However, to be on the safe side, even under these weather conditions I would personally still stick to Traeger’s advice and not leave the wood pellets in the hopper for more than a week.
At any other time of the year with a higher risk of rain and higher humidity if you want to make sure that your grill pellets are kept in a good condition and can be used again in the future stick to Pit Boss’s advice and empty the hopper after every use. How easy/quick that is to do will depend on if your particular hopper features a pellet empyting chute. Most of the latest pellet grills/smokers do, but not all of them. And many previous generation pellet/grills smokers don’t. Therefore it involves using a cup/scoop to get those pellets out of the hopper.
Conclusions On Leaving Wood Pellets In Hoppers
How long you can safely leave wood pellets in the hopper of your pellet grill/smoker depends on the time of year and your general climate overall. For instance, even in the winter months its obviously much drier in the Southern US compared to the North. If you want to be as safe as possible, follow the Pit Boss advice and empty the hopper after every use. Otherwise, you are just going to have to use a bit of ‘common sense’ to decide if its safe to leave the pellets in the hopper for days or more. Please remember though, its not just about protecting the pellets from direct rain showers, high humidity will also destroy the pellets. So when you do empty the hopper they need to be stored in a sealed plastic bag/container.
That’s it! I hope this post has helped you to decide how long you want to leave wood pellets in your hopper for. I’ve been trying to answer other common questions along the same lines such as can you use a pellet grill in the rain, can you use a pellet grill in the winter and can you leave a pellet grill outside? What may seem like simple questions don’t always have simple yes or no answers. Also, please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂