When Should You Clean A Pellet Grill? (This is Important)

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I’ve previously written about how to clean a pellet grill. However, this article is a little more specific on when you should clean a pellet grill. The answer is different depending on the type of pellet grill you own. While pretty much all wood pellet grills are going to produce the same amount of ash, which is part of the cleaning process, its more the grease/fat side of things I want to discuss in this article. And when (how often) you should clean a pellet grill I believe depends on whether your pellet grill has direct-flame access or not. You want to reduce the risks of a grease fire (flare-up) on any grill. However, with certain pellet grills, you need to take the risk a bit more seriously. So let’s look at why that’s the case.

Camp Chef Slide 'N Grill Direct Flame Access
I also believe certain pellet grills with direct-flame access are safer than others, such as Camp Chef’s Slide ‘N Grill system: Image – CampChef.com

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There are many pellet grills that do not provide direct-flame access. The most obvious example is Traeger being currently the most popular brand (here’s proof).

Now, many people want to have direct-flame access on their pellet grill, and that’s understandable due to the benefits discussed below.

However, on a pellet grill having direct access to the flames does come with some risks, especially when cooking certain cuts of meat.

Therefore, anyone who owns a pellet grill with direct-flame access who also slow cocks fatty meats I believe should clean their pellet grill more frequently.

The Pros and Cons of Pellet Grills With Direct-Flame Access

There are those that claim pellet grills cannot actually ‘grill’ at all as they don’t get hot enough.

As I’ve previously discussed in my article on which pellet grills get the hottest, there is some truth to that, but pretty much all pellet grills can acheive at least a reasonable level of grilling/searing performance.

However, pellet grills with direct-flame access do get the hottest, hence its a feature that many people look for when choosing a new pellet grill.

Pellet grills are often used primarily for going ‘low and slow’ and cooking fatty pieces of meat to produce food with truly amazing flavour as I discuss in my article on the benefits of BBQ smokers.

The problem is, during that long low and slow cook, that fat/grease is dropping down through the grill, and its not always sufficiently removed/collected.

Pellet Grill Grease Bucket
Can you always be confident all of the grease/fat has ended up the bucket?: Image – BBQGuys.com

Throughout the pellet grill market, there are various different designs/methods for collecting grease.

On a typical Traeger whether its the Pro Series, Ironwood or Timberline models there is a completely flat/solid grease tray to direct the grease to a bucket or internally mounted receptacle.

On many pellet grills with direct flame access its a sliding grease tray with gaps/holes to lets the flames through.

As the grease tray, when closed, is not completely flat, it may trap a bit of grease on the tray, but its generally not an issue.

Then you have something like the Weber SmokeFire with no conventional grease tray at all and direct-flame access, which can result in problems.

Weber SmokeFire Grease Management System
On the current generation of Weber SmokeFire pellet grills, there is no grease tray. The fat/grease is collected via channels on either side of the firepot: Image – BBQGuys.com

On the Weber SmokeFire, there are two grease channels on either side of the firepot that direct the grease into a collection tray underneath.

This system would be fine on a Weber gas grill, but I don’t think its really suitable for a pellet grill, the big difference being ash.

As the pellets burn ash is produced, and the fan is blowing that ash out of the burn pot.

Users are then finding that ash is mixing with the grease, which then forms a paste which does not flow down through the grease channels. The result is an increased risk of a grease fire.

How Is Direct-Flame Access Controlled On The Pellet Grill?

So at the start of this article, I made a general statement that I believe anyone who owns a pellet grill with direct flame access should clean it more regularly than pellet grills without the feature.

Potentially after every cook, if it was a particularly fatty cut of meat and if it’s a Weber SmokeFire.

The reason is there are no means to stop grease pooling at the bottom of the grill once the grease and wood ash starts mixing together.

However, what about other pellet grills with direct-flame access via a sliding grease tray? Well, I think this really depends on how you can control direct-flame access on your pellet grill.

Pit Boss Budget Pellet Grills Sliding Grease Tray
Typical sliding grease tray design found on many budget Pit Boss pellet grills: Image – PitBoss-Grills.com

Many budget Pit Boss pellet grills come with direct flame access. However, on the budget grills, you have no means to slide the grease tray open and closed from the outside of the grill.

You have to lift up the grates and then use some sort of metal tool to slide the grease tray open and shut.

Well, let’s think of a scenario. You are doing a low and slow cook, but you forgot to close the grease tray and during the cook, the grease drips down into the base of the grill.

Towards the end of the cook, you decide you want to finish off the meat with a sear.

You wack up the temperature dial to get some larger flames for the sear and that grease pooled up in the bottom of the grill catches on fire.

Can you quickly close the grease tray to stop the flames coming up towards you and your food and drying it out?

Pit Boss Platinum Series Grills
Both Pit Boss Platinum series pellet grills have a handle on the outside of the grill to open/close the grease tray from direct-flame access: Image – PitBoss-Grills.com

That’s why I much prefer pellet grills with direct-flame access where you can open/close the grease tray from the outside of the grill.

As shown above, the Camp Chef Woodwind is one example with Slide ‘N Grill, however, there are others. On the Pit Boss Platinum Series, you can open/close the grease tray with a lever on the outside of the grill.

Another example would be the Oklahoma Joe’s range. My personal recommendation is if you are going to look for the direct-flame access feature, look for a grill with a leaver on the outside of the grill to be able to open and close it.

It will save your food and potentially save you from injury too, or at least some burnt eyebrows.

Conclusions On When You Should Clean A Pellet Grill

Currently, its only the Weber SmokeFire I would recommend cleaning the grease out of after each cook.

I don’t mean cooking steaks/burgers, I mean like after each long/slow cook of a fatty cut of brisket/pork but etc.

If your pellet grill has a sliding grease tray with direct flame access, its probably fine if you clean the grill after every 3-4 long/slow cooks.

However, if you cannot close that sliding grease tray from the outside of the grill, you really should consider cleaning the grill more frequently to be on the safe side of things.

If your pellet grill doesnt have direct flame access and has a solid grease tray like a Traeger or something like a Grilla Grill then grease cannot get into contact with the flames from the pellet fire. Therefore, cleaning could be less frequently required.

The reason you have to be really careful with grease/fat around a pellet fire as opposed to say gas grills is you can turn a gas burner off instantly.

With a pellet firepot, its going to take some time after you have put the grill into shut-down mode before that pellet fire actually goes out.

That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope this article has given you a better idea depending on the type of pellet grill you have or are thinking of buying to appreciate when to clean it.

If you would like to read more of my articles, please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂

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