One of the key advantages of pellet grills is their automation, you press a button, set a temperature and the pellet grill does the rest. Every pellet grill is designed to automatically start the fire with a hot rod igniter. However, there are two situations where you may need to manually start the fire yourself. Either the hot rod igniter has failed (not that uncommon) or you’re running a portable pellet grill on a limited power supply. So I want to discuss these two scenarios when you may need to manually ignite a pellet grill/smoker.
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.
The video above from Green Mountain Grills provides a quick guide on manual ignition of a pellet grill/smoker, but I wish to provide a bit more context/detail into the scenarios of why you might need to do a manual ignition and I what I think is the best method to do so.
When Manual Ignition of a Pellet Grill/Smoker is Required
So the first is the most common scenario, the hot rod igniter has failed. For instance, you go to turn the pellet grill/smoker on and the control panel seems to be doing its normal thing, the fans going but no smoke.
I’ve previously written an article on how to change a Traeger hot rod igniter, and the replacement process is very similar on all other makes and models of pellet grill. However, until that hot rod igniter replacement turns up, if you want to grill you’re going to have to start the pellet fire yourself.
The second scenario when manual ignition may be required is with a portable pellet grill. In my article on portable power supplies for pellet grills, I discuss how the hot rod igniter uses the most power but only for a short duration of time.
Once the fire is established the igniter is obviously not required. Well, with certain portable pellet grills you can disable the hot rod igniter, the Pit Boss Tailgater being an example.
With the hot rod igniter disabled the peak power requirements to run the grill are substantially reduced. Hence, when you are not using the hot rod igniter a much lower-powered portable power station/inverter can be used. However, that means its now your responsibility to get the fire going, so let’s discuss the best way to ignite a pellet grill/smoker.
How to Manually Ignite a Pellet Grill/Smoker
Below is the method I recommend for getting the fire going as quickly and as safely as possible. As you will note, I don’t recommend the use of igniter fluid/firelighter cubes etc.
Those things contain some pretty nasty chemicals and using them excessively can be dangerous. Furthermore, you put too much igniter fluid on the pellets in the firepot and it could actually burn out the pellets before the new incoming pellets from the auger are ready to feed the fire.
- Remove The Internal Components: You need to be able to get the fire pot. Therefore, you will need to remove all the cooking grates, grease tray and any heat deflectors which are positioned over the pellet burn pot.
- Clean Out Fire Pot: Very important step, you need to make sure the firepot is completely empty and remove all the ash.
- Partially Fill The Fire Pot With Pellets: You only want to put enough pellets in the fire pot to the level of the bottom of the auger. Filling the fire pot with pellets is going to lead to trouble and likely a flameout situation eventually.
- Light The Pellets With a Flame Torch: Below I provide an example of a small portable butane flame torch which would be good to quickly and safely light the pellets, but any gas torch will do the job after about 10-20 seconds.
- Let The Pellets Burn For a Few Minutes: Once you see the pellets have a small fire going don’t immediately turn the pellet grill/smoker on. If you turn on the control panel too soon the fan will likely extinguish the ignited embers. Therefore, just give the ignited pellets a couple of minutes to get a proper fire going.
- Refit The Internal Components: Using heat-proof gloves very carefully place the heat deflector, grease tray and cooking grates back into the pellet grill/smokers.
- Turn On The Control To The Lowest Setting: With a pretty strong little pellet fire going with some glowing embers you can now turn on the pellet grill. However, its important to start with the lowest temperature/smoke setting where the fan speed will be at its slowest.
- Use The Pellet Grill/Smoker as Normal: If the control panel is showing that the cooking chamber is heating up you know you have an established pellet fire, you can now use the pellet grill/smoker as normal and set your desired temperature.
Recommended Tools For The Job
As stated above, I don’t recommend the use of liquid/cube firelighters for igniting a pellet grill/smoker. However, there are two important tools/accessories I do recommend.
First, you are going to need a butane fire lighter torch. Now, you will be able to do this job with pretty much any butane torch. However, I would suggest you get one with a flexible/bendable head such as the one below.
The reason that bending neck on the butane torch will come in handy is due to the position of the pellet burn pot. Remember, I’m not recommending the use of liquid/solid firefighters. Therefore, its going to take some time (typically 10-20 seconds) with the torch to get the fire established.
Well, with a typical butane torch with a straight neck that heat will be coming right back at your hand. Even wearing heatproof gloves, having that heat coming back at your hands or the butane torch is not a great idea. Hence, I recommend a butane torch with a folding/bendable neck.
If you don’t already own a pair, get yourself some heatproof gloves. Not only are they great for keeping safe during grilling in general, but they are also pretty much essential for a pellet grill/smoker manual ignition to stay safe.
Wearing heatproof gloves is obviously a good idea when you are using the butane torch and lighting the fire, but they are even more important in the later steps. You will have to refit the heat deflector/grease tray over an established fire. Hence, to do that safely put on a pair of heatproof gloves.
Conclusions On Pellet Grill/Smoker Manual Ignition
In many cases, quite a few pellet grill owners will never need to manually ignite their pellet cooker. Hot rod igniters are funny, some fail really quickly, while others end up lasting for many years.
Some manufacturers such a RECTEQ and MAK GRILLS are now fitting ceramic igniters which apparently last longer than standard steel hot rod igniters, though they are more expensive to replace if they do fail.
You also have brands such as Weber with the Gen 2 SmokeFire providing multiple hot rod igniter replacements within the packaging for their new grills.
Anyway, if your hot rod igniter on your pellet grill/smoker fails and you don’t have a replacement to hand, or if you want to run a portable pellet grill on minimal power the steps above should serve you well to manually ignite your pellet grill/smoker.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope you found the above useful/informative. If you have more questions I also have a Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide which links to many of my other articles. 🙂