Whether you already own a pellet grill/smoker or are looking to purchase one a ‘flameout’ is something you need to be aware of not only in terms of how to fix the situation but how to avoid it in the first place. There are a couple of different scenarios that can cause the pellet fire to go out, and I want to discuss them all. A flameout situation is applicable to all makes and models of pellet grills/smokers, but it can be avoided for the most part, so here is what you need to know/do if you find a pile of unburnt pellets in the burn pot.
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So above, I’ve included a quick video from the guys at Grilla Grills quickly explaining circumstances which can lead to a flameout situation where the control panel shows an error message and you take out the grates/grease tray to find a pile of unburnt pellets. What I want to do with this article though is provide a bit more ‘meat on the bone’ to explain the issue further, to provide you with the best odds of avoiding it happening to your pellet grill/smoker.
Potential Causes Of Flameout On Pellet Grills/Smokers
There are a couple of different factors which can lead to the fire going out in the pellet grill/smoker or for the pellets to just not burn properly in general. The most common/significant factor by far is a burn pot which has a build-up of ash in the bottom insulating the hot rod igniter and stopping the fire from getting a good foundation for a clean/consistent burn. However, that’s not the only potential cause, the full list of potential factors include:
- Poor quality pellets (lots of fines/dust and/or high moisture content)
- Ash build up in the base of the burn pot
- Empty pellet hopper or hopper bridging/hulling
- High speed/gusty wind around the pellet grill/smoker
- Power supply interuption
I’m now going to discuss each of these topics in more detail to help you understand how each factor can contribute to a flameout situation or just where the pellet fire does not ignite properly. While this issue can impact all pellet grills/smokers, some models have features to more quickly clean out the burn pot, often the most significant factor to avoiding a flame/burnout situation.
Check The Quality Of Your Wood Pellets
Wood pellets are a compressed form of natural wood, however, when a pellet is exposed to moisture it will break apart. Keep your pellets away from liquid water and they will last forever then, right? No, pellets can still go bad, its important to appreciate there is water in the air (humidity) and over time pellets exposed to circulating air will absorb humidity and start to break down. How long it takes will depend on how high the humidity is around the pellets, but its the reason why I don’t recommend leaving pellets in the hopper for an extended period of time.
So as a quick method to check the quality of pellets I do the ‘snap test’ as shown above. You can also place a hand full of pellets in a glass of water, if the pellets still have a high density and have not absorbed additional water they will sink. But why would a softer/looser pellet potentially cause a flameout?
Well, poor quality pellets due to their lower density and higher moisture content are harder to ignite. Hence, as these poor quality pellets fall into the burn pot the igniter may have a hard time getting the fire going. Furthermore, the small bits of pellets/dust when combusted produces more ash than usual, hence adding to the number one cause of a flameout, a dirty burn pot.
Make Sure The Pellet Burn Pot Is Clean
Even if you are using the best quality wood pellets with the lowest fines/dust, lowest moisture content and you keep them away from humidity when not in the hopper (plastic bag/bucket), eventually there will be a build-up of ash in the base of the burn pot that will need cleaning out. I’ve previously produced an article on how to clean a pellet grill.
If not cleaned frequently enough a layer of ash will build up in the base of the burn pot will block the heat from the hot rod igniter reaching the incoming fresh pellets, and air from the fan will also be blocked to a degree, both factors hindering ideal circumstances for combustion.
Now, it is possible that hot rod igniters can fail, as I have previously discussed in my Traeger hot rod replacement article. So if you do have a flameout situation and you know you have recently cleaned out the burn pot, checking the hot rod igniter is working correctly is a good idea.
Many pellet grill brands such as Camp Chef on their SmokePro and Woodwind models, Pit Boss on their Gen 2 Pro Series and Weber with their SmokeFire pellet grills have an easy/quick means to clean the burn pot of ash. You would still need to get inside these grills with an ash/shop vac every now and again. However, when it comes to avoiding a flameout situation, removable ash cups/burn pots etc are a good feature to have.
Does Your Hopper Have A Bridging/Hulling Problem?
I’m not going to surprise anyone by saying, if your hopper runs out of pellets the fire will go out, shocking right!? Well, besides pointing out the obvious, there is a potential issue that some pellet hoppers have and its called bridging or hulling. This is where there can still be pellets in the hopper they have just stopped falling down into the auger. So what are the causes of this bridging/hulling issue?
Well, sometimes its a poor hopper design where the slopes at the bottom of the hopper are too shallow so the pellets stop sliding into the hopper. The Gen 1 Weber SmokeFire is the best example of this issue I can think of. However, again, pellets containing lots of fines/dust can also be a contributor to the bridging/hulling issue.
Therefore, as I discuss in my best BBQ wood pellets article, I recommend sieving the pellets to separate the dust/fines before you put them in the hopper. Yes, its a little bit more work than just tipping in a bag of pellets, but the rewards of fewer issues is worth it. Another tip is to spray/wipe a silicone lubricant on the inside walls of the hopper to help reduce pellet bridging/hulling issues.
Gusts Of Wind & The Position Of The Pellet Grill/Smoker
As Mark Graham from Grilla Grills discusses in the video above, a common scenario when a flameout may occur is when the grill is operating at a low temperature, hence there is only a small fire in the burn pot. A small fire is more prone to being disturbed/unsettled by one or more of the issues discussed above, but also, gusts of wind.
Hence, if you know you are going to be doing a ‘low and slow’ cook at a low temperature with a small fire really think about the position/location of the pellet grill/smoker. As I discuss in my article about using a pellet grill in the rain, never use a pellet grill/smoker in a confined space (a garage for example) due to the risk of carbon monoxide positioning.
However, try and position the pellet grill/smoker so it is somewhat sheltered from high wind speeds/gusts of wind directly impacting the grill. First off, a heavy gust of wind could cause a flameout of a small fire. Second, a really strong gust of wind may even tip your expensive pellet grill over!
Power Supply Interruptions
At the core of how a pellet grill/works is a consistent supply of electricity to power the auger/fan, heat up the hot rod igniter and power the control panel. Well, any disruption to the supply of power will interfere with how a pellet grill functions. A short duration of power loss may not cause significant issues, but always read the individual manufacturer/model instructions on how to proceed after a loss of power.
I recently wrote an article on portable power solutions, now that article was mainly aimed at portable pellet grills. However, if you like doing overnight smoking sessions with expensive cuts of meat, an independent source of power such as a battery bank may be something you want to consider. Furthermore, a more reliable source of power will also help to avoid a situation leading to a flameout.
Conclusions On Pellet Grill/Smoker Flameout Situations
So in conclusion, there can be a couple of factors that can lead to flameout on a pellet grill/smoker. First off, its most common for it to happen when running at the lowest smoking temps when the fire is at its weakest. Contributing factors can be too much ash in the bottom of the burn pot from infrequent cleaning, poor quality pellets or an inconsistent supply of pellets coming from the hopper due to bridging/hulling.
Other potential factors could be an inconsistent supply of power or high-speed gusts of wind. Really though, the two most important factors to avoiding a flameout are good quality pellets and a clean burn pot. Therefore, its important to protect your pellets from moisture and to get in the habit of checking the burn pot for ash build up.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope my content above and the helpful video from Grilla Grills can help you to avoid a flameout on your pellet grill/smoker no matter the make or model. If you have other questions around the proper use of pellets and grills/smokers please check out my General FAQ, or 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.