How Long Do Pellets Last In A Pellet Grill?

How Long Do Pellets Last In A Pellet Grill?

Pellet grilling is still, by barbecuing standards, a relatively new thing.

But it’s a new thing which even the hardcore wood-burning grillers have had to acknowledge brings a whole truckload of benefits to your grilling game.

Consistent heat, controllable cooking times, and even, in their latest versions, wireless connectivity and updates on cooking time and recipes going back and forth from the grill to your smartphone.

That said, there are things that everyone from a first-time griller to a seasoned (or indeed, marinated) pro needs to know if they’re to get not only the best results out of the pellets they buy and the grill they use, but also the best fuel efficiency from a heat source which, if used to its best advantage, can often give you significant energy savings compared to some other grilling methods.

After all, if it turns out you can cook one tomahawk from a 30-pound bag of pellets in 45 minutes, a couple of things are happening. First, you’ll get great, juicy meat in a timescale that’s not overly long given the weight and bone content of the meat.

But secondly, and in this case more importantly, you’ll be literally burning through bagfuls of pellets every time you have a weekend cookout. That’s going to cloud the fun of barbecue with the sting of financial oblivion, and however well-cooked the meat, it’s going to leave a sour taste in your mouth.

So how long do pellets last in your pellet grill?

Well, if there’s one golden rule by which life and barbecue are both governed, it’s that “your mileage may vary.”

That means that whatever we tell you, it will be no substitute for testing the truth with your own pellet grill, your own pellets, and a trusty stopwatch or timer app.

If you think about it for a second, the reasons for that are obvious. How long your pellets last in your pellet grill will depend on a whole range of features, including:

1. The make and model of your grill

2. The make, model, and construction of your pellets

3. The kind of cooking you’re using your grill for – and the necessary temperatures to get it right

4. Sometimes, your geographical location and/or the outside ambient temperature

Pellet grills will have a hopper to hold the pellets, and an auger, which feeds the pellets into the firebox as they’re needed to maintain the heat at the temperature you’ve pre-set.

This is one of the big advantages of a pellet grill over the likes of gas or charcoal grills. With those, you need to continually monitor your heat flow to keep it at the right temperature for even grilling.

With a pellet grill though, you set the temperature – or temperature range – that suits your cooking needs best, and the thermometer, the hopper, the auger and the pellets do the rest for you, as if by no kind of magic ever, but some fairly groovy science.

The broader the temperature range available on your grill, the more variable is the answer to the question of how long your pellets will last in your grill.

Most commercial units will offer you a range between 180-500 degrees F. Even by elementary science, you’d expect cooking methods that burned at 500 degrees to burn pellets almost three times as fast as those that burned at just 180 degrees.

Most modern grills use a scientific meat probe to make sure of the temperature of the cook, and the rest of the system helps ensure it cooks at the temperature you’ve set it to.

What’s in a Pellet?

Pellets

Modern wood pellets that are suitable for grill use (not to be confused with those used for heating your home) are made in two stages.

First, find some dry hardwood, and grind it down to sawdust. Ironically, you can’t just use industry standard sawdust if you’re looking to make commercial grill-suitable pellets. You need the dry hardwood so that the sawdust you end up with is rich in lignin.

Lignin is an organic polymer that gives some tree fibers and bark some rigidity.

Secondly, you apply extreme heat and pressure to the sawdust. Sawdust that’s high in lignin is like a cut of meat with a good marbling of fat.

When you grill a piece of meat with high fat marbling, you get flavor because the fat melts and bastes the protein fibers.

When you subject high-lignin sawdust to extreme heat and pressure, the lignin melts into a kind of food-safe glue that helps the pellets keep their shape even when burning.

If they’ve been made correctly, you should get very little ash from modern wood pellets – less than 1 percent of their unburned mass. That means 99% of the energy from the burning pellet-mass is converted into the heat you want.

That’s an almost science-fiction rate of energy efficiency compared to the likes of a traditional charcoal grill.

So, while the actual length of time you get from individual hoppers full of wood pellets will differ depending on the make and model of the grill and the brand of pellets you use, it’s beyond any doubt that you’ll be getting much more energy efficiency from most modern commercially available pellet grills than you will from any equivalently-priced grills with alternative power sources.

Gas

No-one’s arguing against the convenience of gas grills. Or if they are, walk away from them right now, they have a bridge they want to sell you.

But the thing with gas grills is that you kind of need to rev ’em up like a Harley and blast ’em on high. Want to only do high-temperature grilling? They might have something to offer you.

But if you want the collagen-melting succulence of low-and-slow cooking, you’re going to need something other than a gas grill.

Quite apart from which, if you go with gas, you don’t get the “natural” flavors we’ve associated with meat cooked using wood for hundreds of thousands of years.

Charcoal

If you’re any kind of beginner – you’re going to want to back away from the charcoal grill right now. No, further than that.

Cooking with charcoal takes practice, skill, vigilance, and a certain philosophical acceptance that at the end of the joy of eating charcoal-grilled meats, you’re going to have a sticky, nasty, clean-up situation on your hands.

It also means you’re locked into the whole instinctive temperature control routine, because you’re not able to precisely control the heat output of your fuel source.

Charcoal grilling gives you succulent results, to be sure, but it’s halfway between barbecue and shamanism, so you have to either have or hone the skills, or give it up right now.

Old-Fashioned Smokers

The opposite of a gas grill, traditional smokers are your friend if you want low-temp, long-time smoky succulence.

As far as they go, they’re a fantastic tool. But a modern pellet grill can do everything an old-fashioned smoker can do – and also give you the option to grill, to bake, to sear, and to roast.

A modern pellet grill essentially gives you the flexibility of a smoker with a built-in gas grill. All the flavor, all the versatility – and all the fuel economy wins compared to charcoal.

All of this is necessary to understand, but let’s make with the physics. How long do pellets last in your pellet grill?

As we said, this is going to depend on a handful of factors.

The Way You Cook

If you cook with higher heat, you’re going to consume more of the pellets’ locked-up energy in a shorter space of time – that energy is what gets turned into the heat you need.

So, if you’re cooking in high-heat applications, like searing or grilling, you’re going to use pellets at a faster rate than if you’re smoking your meat over a longer period at cooler temperatures.

While, as we said, your mileage will vary, you can work to some rules of thumb.

1. One hour of high-heat grilling or searing – roughly, two pounds of pellets.

2. One hour of low-heat smoking – roughly, one pound of pellets.

So, it’s that simple?

Well, no – there’s quite a lot of variation hiding in that “your mileage will vary.” But as a rule of thumb, it’s a good place to start, and from which you can tweak your results depending on a small handful of other factors.

Brand

Pellets come in a wide range of flavors, and the brand you choose can determine whether those flavors affect your burn-time.

Cheaper pellets are likely to be impregnated with cheaper, artificial oils. Cheaper, artificial oils might well set your pellets burning at a faster – and potentially, a less consistent rate.

Also, the cheaper the pellets, the less likely you are to get proper compression – and again, the less compressed your pellets, the faster they’re likely to burn.

So you need to balance the purchase price of ‘value’ pellets with a burn-rate that might see you needing more pellets significantly faster than if you bought standard or premium pellets.

Insulation

The burn-time of your pellets is also affected by whether or not you have a grill with a thermal cover.

There’s some basic physics at work here. If your grill has a thermal cover, it loses less heat, and loses it more slowly. That means your thermometer and meat probe record more consistently high temperatures.

That in turn means your grill doesn’t register a need to burn more pellets to maintain or increase the temperature – so you burn through pellets at a slower rate than you would if you didn’t have a thermal cover.

External Temperature

As we mentioned, the temperature outside your grill can play a role in your pellet burn-rate too.

The colder the weather outside, the longer it takes your grill to get up to temperature, because it’s having to burn ‘in spite of’ the outside temperature. Likewise, it will take more fuel to maintain or increase temperature.

In the same way as you might only feel like a salad on a hot day at the beach, if you’re in a blizzard, you need more fat, sugar, and protein to keep you going, because you’re burning calories just to stay functioning. In that case, you are the grill, and the food is your bio-pellets.

Working in warmer weather will slow down your rate of pellet-burn. So, to maximize your pellet-burn efficiency, the answer is simple – move to Florida. You know it makes sense.

Dry Storage

Although if you’re moving to Florida – or indeed, if you aren’t – keeping your pellets dry and well-ventilated is a good move. Soggy pellets equal a poor burn-efficiency.

Also, if you keep your pellets dry and well-ventilated, in regular conditions, you can expect them to keep for around 6 months without becoming soggy and unusable.

If you live in humid conditions (where the air humidity regularly peaks over 10%), though, your pellets will only stay viable for about half that long.

As we said, there’s quite a lot hidden behind that “your mileage will vary” response to the question of how long pellets last in your pellet grill. All these factors play into the answer that’s specific to you.

Do a few practical experiments with your grill and your pellets of choice, and while applying the rules of thumb we’ve outlined here, you should be able to arrive at the precise answers that apply to you.