Most previous generation or budget pellet grills/smokers will have a Smoke setting, sometimes its marked simply as ‘S’. Current generation/premium pellet grills/smokers work differently but have their own smoke setting, ‘Super Smoke’ on some Traeger products being an example. I have been asked previously if you can complete an entire cook on the smoke setting. While it may be possible in some cases I want to discuss the pros and cons of using the Smoke setting during the cook. Right, let’s get into this…
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Introduction To The Smoke Setting On Pellet Smokers
Whether you own or are looking to purchase a Traeger, Pit Boss or Camp Chef pellet grill/smoker there will be some form of a ‘Smoke’ setting. As the setting exists it obviously serves a purpose and it can indeed be used as part of the cooking process.
Should you want to use the smoke setting throughout the cook? Maybe, however, they are some potential food safety aspects we should discuss. Furthermore, earlier generations of pellet grill/smoker running in smoke mode unattended can potentially lead to issues as I’ll discuss.
I’ve got separate headings below discussing cooking on the smoke setting on non-PID and PID pellet grills/smokers. If you have no idea what I’m talking about with PID, please check out my article on how a pellet grill/smoker works.
First, let’s address how the food safety aspect comes into play. Specifically what’s commonly referred to as the ‘Danger Zone’ when it comes to food preparation/cooking and how it relates to smoking foods.
Avoiding The ‘Danger Zone’ When Cooking/Smoking
The ‘Danger Zone’ is all to do with bacteria, in other words, not holding food at a warm temperature where bacteria will multiply rapidly and potentially give you food poisoning.
So what’s a warm temperature where bacteria growth can be an issue? Well, the FDA states the following:
“between 40° and 140° F (4° and 60° C). For food safety, keep food below or above the “danger zone.“” – FDA
Its the time duration that is equally important. The recommendation is that food held in the temperature ‘Danger Zone’ for 2 hours should be discarded.
However, there is a separate piece of advice from the FDA which is important if you’re smoking in the summer months:
“When temperatures are above 90° F (32° C), discard food after one hour.” – FDA
So in other words, the warmer the day/ambient temperatures the shorter the duration of time food can be held in the ‘Danger Zone’ before its dangerous to consume it.
Smoke Setting – Non-PID Pellet Grills/Smokers
On non-PID pellet grills/smokers from Traeger, Pit Boss, Camp Chef and ZGrills etc the Smoke setting is also used at the ignition setting to get the fire established. The temperature range of the Smoke setting differs slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.
For instance, the Smoke setting on Traegers with a non-PID control panel is 165 up to 225 degrees. On a Pit Boss it’s typically 180 to 225 degrees, however, some have a Smoke setting under 150 degrees.
Whereas on a Camp Chef there was a Low Smoke setting of 160 degrees and a High Smoke setting of 225 degrees. Z Grills states their Smoke setting temperature range is 158 to 194 degrees.
At this point with regards to food safety and the ‘Danger Zone’ you might be wondering where I’m going with this. After all, all of the smoke settings are above 140 degrees, hence out of the Danger Zone, right?
Yes, but remember, these are non-PID pellet grills/smokers, and when you know how a pellet grill works you know that the temperature on non-PID pellets grills/smokers running time-based control panels the temperature can swing roughly 25 degrees from the set temperature (sometimes more).
Hence, on the Smoke setting of these non-PID pellet grills/smokers due to the temperature swing its possibly below 140 degrees within the cooking chamber. Especially if the P-setting is not suitable for the outside ambient temperature.
Furthermore, the longer a pellet grill/smoker is running at its lowest ‘Smoke’ setting the more prone it is to a flameout situation. If that happens mid-cook then not only is it time-consuming to get up and going again, but it also puts the food at risk of falling into the dangerous temperature zone where bacteria breeds.
Smoke Setting – PID Pellet Grills/Smokers
It’s likely if you purchased your pellet grill/smoker recently you won’t recognise the temperature control dials above. That’s because many pellet grills/smokers sold today are fitted with a PID control panel which uses a computer algorithm to regulate temperature to within 5 degrees of the set temperature.
Traeger, Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Z Grills and many others of the over 30 brands now selling pellet grills fit PID control panels to their latest models. Instead of the Smoke setting being the initial step on the temperature dial, it will be a separate mode.
On PID pellet grills/smokers even if they have the same low-temperature setting of say 160 degrees as a non-PID pellet grill, there isn’t the same risk of getting into the ‘Danger Zone’ due to the less significant 5-degree temperature swing.
However, what about when activating the Smoke setting on a PID pellet grill, say Super Smoke on a Traeger? Well, to create smoke (smouldering pellets) the Smoke setting has to deliberately create inefficient combustion to produce smoke.
Inefficient combustion/smoke leads to temperature swings. However, a PID control panel on its smoke setting will not swing as much as a non-PID control panel, with less risk of getting to 140 degrees and below.
Traeger Super Smoke
On the Traeger D2 control panel pictured above which runs a PID temperature control algorithm its smoke setting is called ‘Super Smoke’. Traeger states the following:
“enabling the grill to get the maximum delivery of smoke, at temperatures from 165 up to 225 degrees” – Traeger.com
However, Traeger also states that users should expect a wider temperature swing than normal when running in Super Smoke mode.
Camp Chef Seperate Smoke/Temp Setting
Camp Chef with their PID control panels have chosen a different path from their smoke setting. Instead of a Smoke Setting at a set temperature range, Camp Chef separated the smoke and temperature settings.
At the higher smoke settings on a Camp Chef you should expect wider temperature swings, its just the nature of the beast.
Grilla Grills PID/Time-Based Control Panels
As discussed above, PID control panels provide a more accurate temperature/more efficient combustion process which as a result means less smoke is produced. Grilla Grills approach to this was to include both PID and timer-based (Pro) modes in the same control panel.
My Final Throughts About Cooking On The Smoke Setting…
First and foremost, you need to keep the internal temperature of the food from sitting in the ‘Danger Zone’ for too long, which could be just an hour on a really hot summers day.
Therefore, on a non-PID pellet grill I wouldn’t advise leaving for the food cooking on the Smoke setting for too long before raising the temperature. On a PID pellet grill the Smoke settings operate differently, and there is less risk of the food sitting at 140 degrees and below.
The most important point really is you need to be monitoring the internal temperature of the meat during the cook. Hence, when it comes to the question of is WiFi worth it on a pellet smoker, when it comes to going ‘low & slow’, yes it is.
That’s it! I hope the above has given you a better idea of how and when to use the Smoke setting on a pellet smoker safely. If you would like to learn more, please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide or get the free downloadable guide via the banner below. 🙂
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.