One of the key reasons pellet grills/smokers are so popular is due to their automated nature, in other words, they save you time. You’re not managing the fire, the control panel of the pellet grill/smoker is doing that for you. Every pellet grill is going to have at least some swing in its temperature above and below the set temperature. However, some have wider temperature swings than others and sometimes that temperature swing is needed to actually produce smoke. Let’s discuss what’s normal and when it might be broken.
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.
Introduction To Pellet Grill/Smoker Temperature Swings
So you may be confused by my image caption above, why would it be normal for two pellet grills from the same brand in that case Traeger to have different amounts of temperature swing!?
Well, the reason is that while both pellet grills are branded as ‘Pro Series’ models, the model on the left is a Gen 1 version and the model on the right is a Gen 2 version. I have a separate article that goes into all the differences between the Traeger Pro Series Gen 1 vs Gen 2.
Anyway, the main difference relevant for this article is Gen 1 Pro Series is running an older generation time-based control panel where its normal to see a 25-degree temperature swing on either side of the set temperature.
The Gen 2 Pro Series is fitted with what’s known as a PID control panel which uses an algorithm to constantly monitor and adjust the combustion process. Typically PID control panels are more accurate and will reduce the temperature swing to within 5 degrees.
I say ‘typically’ because some PID controls fitted to some other brands of pellet grill are not quite as accurate and owners should expect a wider swing of around 10 degrees. Z Grills PID control panels and Expert Grills are two examples.
Is Your Control Panel Time-Based Or PID?
So the first step to understanding if the temperature swing on your pellet grill/smoker is ‘normal’ is to find out if its fitted with a previous generation time-cased control panel or a more modern PID control panel.
If you’re not sure the manual should state what type of control panel technology is being used and in most cases, it should actually state what ‘normal’ temperature swings you should expect.
Don’t be under the impression its just Traeger now fitting PID control panels. I have a separate article (here) discussing which brands are currently using this control panel technology.
Normal Smoke Setting Temperature Swings
Most pellet grills whether they are fitted with a previous generation time-based control panel or a more modern PID algorithm control panel have a ‘Smoke’ setting. It’s normal on both control panel technologies to see wider temperature swings than normal.
For instance, on time-based control panel pellet grills many have the option to adjust what’s called the P-Setting. This simply refers to a pause setting, in other words, the duration of the pause in time between the auger turning on and off feed pellets to the fire.
Different P-Settings are required for the best performance in summer and winter. Hence, if a less than ideal P-Setting is used the pellet grill/smoker will have wider temperature swings. My article linked above on the P-Setting goes into more detail on this topic.
Several PID control panels also have a Smoke setting and as I discussed in the linked article when used the temperature accuracy will be wider than 5 degrees on either side of the set temperature.
Why? Well, to produce smoke you need inefficient combustion, you need a less ideal mixture of fuel and air. Hence, the PID control in Smoke mode effectively dumbs itself down to produce more smoke, which at the side time results in wider temperature swings than under normal operation.
Check The Pellet Grills RTD Temperature Sensor
So after reading the above on what ‘normal’ temperature swings you should expect from a pellet grill/smoker now let’s discuss scenarios that might not be normal. Potentially a broken component, or more likely in this case a dirty component that needs cleaning.
The RTD temperature sensor sits inside the cooking chamber of the pellet grill/smoker and it’s what tells the control panel what the internal temperature is. Now, in some cases, these temperature probes can fail and require replacement as I have discussed previously in my article on Traeger RTD probe replacements.
In many cases, the RTD probe may just need a good clean to remove excessive grease/fat which is insulating the probe from what the true temperature inside the grill actually is. Hence, if the probe doesn’t know the real temperature, neither does the control panel.
Most pellet grills have just one RTD probe, however, we are now seeing models such as the Traeger Timberline Gen 2 and the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider Gen 2 which feature multiple temperature sensors. My point is, to check how many your grill has and clean them appropriately.
The Quality Of Your Pellets Matters A Lot
Ok, let’s say you understand your pellet grill control panel characteristics and what normal temperature swings you should expect from it. Let’s also say you have checked, cleaned or even replaced the RTD temperature probe as discussed above.
If you are still experiencing temperature swings beyond what you should normally expect you then have to look at the quality of your pellets. Its important to note, that I’m not talking about blended vs single species pellets or 100% charcoal pellets vs blended pellets, I’m talking about density and durability.
If the pellets have not been protected from moisture, then pellets can go bad, by this I mean they have a reduced density and durability. What that means is in the hopper and travelling through the auger they will be broken up into smaller pieces. The result is reduced combustion performance and as a result wider temperature swings.
It’s also important that bags of pellets are handled with care and sometimes that is not the case. As a result, when you open the bag there can be lots of fines/dust in the bottom of the bag. Therefore, I always recommend sieving pellets before you load them into the hopper.
My Final Thoughts On Pellet Grill/Smoker Temperature Swings…
From reading the above, I hope you now have a better understanding of what you should expect in terms of ‘normal’ temperature swings on a pellet grill/smoker. However, also what you should look into if you think you are experiencing wider than normal temperature swings.
Cleaning the RTD temperature probe and making sure you are using high-quality pellets (good density and low dust) can make a big difference in many cases. However, there is one final factor to look into.
As PID control panels run algorithm software to maintain temperature sometimes this software/firmware does need an update. There have been a couple of times where this has been the case in recent years (Pit Boss Gen 2 Pro Series).
That’s it! I hope you found the above informative/useful. As always, please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide to learn more. 🙂
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.