How to Use a Traeger Wood Pellet Grill (the Ultimate Guide)

Wood pellet grills are one of the hottest trends in grilling right now. And Traeger is the top brand of pellet grill. If you just got one or are about to, you’ve no doubt wondered how to use a Traeger wood pellet grill.

Here’s what I learned:

Pellet grills use wood pellets as their fuel but also require an electrical outlet for power. They have 5 basic parts: the hopper, controller, the auger, the fire pot & the fan. They are much more accurate & simpler to operate than most grills. All new models even come with WIFI & can be controlled on a mobile device.

But there’s a lot more to know about Traeger grills than just that!

How do you use a Traeger pellet grill? What can you do with it besides grill? What about seasoning it or running out of pellets mid-cook? How long do the pellets last? We’ll answer all of these questions and more.

Just keep reading to find out!

Check out all the grilling products and accessories I recommend on my recommended BBQ items page.

I take the mystery and headaches out of having to do extensive research. I only recommend stuff I’ve used and/or owned, and only list things that are 4-stars and higher.

CLICK HERE to see that page on my website.

How do you use a Traeger pellet grill?

Joe Traeger is the inventor of the wood pellet grill. He came up with the idea shortly after he noticed his gas grill was in flames as he was preparing to cook for his family.

That was in 1988. Today Traeger Grills has expanded to several different models of grills, from their Pro Series to their Timberline Series.

And Traeger has become the most well-known brand on the market. Pellet grills give consumers the flavor of wood smoke with the convenience of a gas grill.

Wood pellet grills use real wood, all-natural wood pellets as fuel. Unlike propane, natural gas, or charcoal grills, burning pellets is not harmful to the environment. They come in a variety of flavors and are FDA approved.

With several models of grills that boast 6-in-1 ability, it’s no wonder they are so popular.

But how does a wood pellet grill work?

Pellet grills consist of five basic parts: the hopper, controller, the auger, the fire pot, and the fan. To start with, let’s review each part, what it does, and how it works:

Controller

Wood pellet grills have the convenience of simple controls. Simply power on the grill and set it to whatever temperature you like. Just like you would your oven.

All current models of Tragers have this LCD style control panel.

If you see one with the old-school dial with temp settings marked on the grill, that is an older model. Nothing wrong with that, but they don’t have all the modern advances that the new Traegers do, and if you see one in a store, it should definitely be discounted.

Hopper

The hopper is where you put the wood pellets.

They automatically feed down into the auger which moves them forward towards the firepot.  You can open the hopper lid to check on pellet levels and add more at any time.

Traeger makes 13 different flavors of pellets. Their pellets are made from 100% natural, food-grade hardwood.

CLICK HERE to see the best selling Traeger pellets on Amazon

Auger

The auger is how the fire is fed.

The auger is located at the very bottom of the hopper. You just pour in the pellets into the hopper and gravity naturally forces them down into the auger which is rotating.

The auger moves the pellets from the hopper to the firepot. You can set it to move the pellets quickly if you want a hot, fast fire.

Set it to move the pellets gradually for low, slow cooking.

Firepot

The “HotRod” at the bottom of the fire pot ignites the wood pellets and creates the fire.

Fan

The fan stokes the fire. Variable speeds circulate the smoke and heat for even cooking.

To actually use your Traeger grill, just set the temperature just as you would an oven. The digital controller ensures consistent cooking temperatures while cooking.

Many models are even WiFi-enabled. This allows you to control your grill from anywhere using their app on your phone or smart home device.

That’s it. Easy peasy.

Are you in the market for a new grill, but aren’t sure if a Traeger is right for you?

Luckily I break down all the different kinds and all the top brands in a recent article. Maybe you want a smoker. Or a Big Green Egg? 

Just click the link to read my ultimate guide to grills and smokers.

Can you use a Traeger as a grill or just a smoker?

Absolutely. It can do both of those things and more!

Traeger boasts their grills are a “6-in-1” grill. All of their grills can:

  • Grill
  • Smoke
  • Bake
  • Roast
  • Braise
  • Barbeque

Because it heats using indirect heat, grilling is a bit slower than on a traditional grill.

Because it is an electric grill, it can’t get as hot as a charcoal grill or even a propane grill. Trager grills get up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (if you get their most expensive ones).

Charcoal grills can get well over 650 degrees and gas grills can get between 600 to 650 degrees.

Of course, charcoal and gas grills also allow for two-zone cooking, where you can leave one side cooler than the other. This lets you grill over direct, very hot heat or indirect, lower heat.

So while you can grill on a Traeger, if you are only going to use it for grilling, you may be better off purchasing a gas or charcoal grill. You may not have as much control over the temperature setting itself, but you have more control over whether you cook with direct or indirect heat.

You can even grill veggies on it, just like you would your traditional grill.

But you don’t want to burn them. Read this recent article on my site for tips on how to grill delicious, perfectly cooked veggies.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Note: You can’t actually burn anything in the Traeger. Again, because it uses indirect heat. But you can overcook it. Wood pellet grills produce a varying amount of smoke based on the cooking temperature.

Low temperatures, generally used for smoking, will produce more smoke. High temperatures, like what you’d use for burgers, produce very little smoke.

Smoking in your Traeger

To use your Traeger as a smoker, you’ll need to follow the Traeger’s Owner’s Manual instructions.

You’ll first remove the baffle, drip tray, and grill plates. This will clear the way for any troubleshooting that may need to be done.

Then just put it on the smoke setting.

Then, you want to make sure the auger is spinning. Remember, the auger is what moves the pellets from the hopper to the firepot.

Sometimes during long smoking sessions, the pellets will get stuck to the sides of the hopper. This can be a fire hazard. When the pellets break free, it can lead to “over-firing.” Over-firing is the ignition of too many wood pellets at once.

So the hopper will need to be checked periodically, to ensure that there are no pellets stuck to the sides.

This doesn’t mean it requires a lot of babysitting like a traditional gas or charcoal grill. It’s just something to be aware of.

After you’ve checked that the auger is spinning, check that air is blowing out of the burner. Do not touch the firepot unless you want to get burned. 

Then, put the baffle, grease pan, and grill trays back in the smoker. Fill the pellet box to the top, close the lid, and set the smoker to the desired temperature.

Have patience. Smoking takes time, but it is worth it! Eventually, you’ll have delicious, tender, and juicy meat to eat. Gas or charcoal grills can’t match the flavor of smoked food!

How do you preheat a Traeger grill?

Unlike traditional grills, Traeger grills are super easy to preheat.

Really, it’s as easy as turning on an oven.

If you’ve ever used a gas grill, you know that sometimes the pilot light can be a pain to start. Especially if it hasn’t been used in a while. If the starter stops working, it can be lit with a long lighter, but it’s nerve-wracking to do so. And probably not very safe.

Charcoal is easier to light simply because it doesn’t have any starters or hoses that may need bleeding. But you have to be careful with the amount of lighter fluid you use. And it can be a pain to clean up.

By comparison, Traegers are incredibly simple and consistent to light.

When you’re ready to cook, just turn the grill on and turn the dial to the “smoke” option. If you have one of the WiFIRE enabled models, you can even start it from an app on your phone or other smart devices!

If your unit doesn’t have a smoke option, set the temperature between 160 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t put anything on it yet!

Most Trager grills take 10 minutes (or more) to preheat properly. It may take less time depending on the model. Brand new units being fired up will need to be seasoned first (which we get into below).

As the grill is being preheated, you’ll hear a roaring noise. That jet engine sound is totally normal. Close the lid to pack in the heat and smoke until the screen shows the temperature you set it to.

Just be aware that unlike an oven, even with the modern advances, the temperature will still vary +/- 20 degrees or so, and that’s totally normal.

A Traeger is a wood pellet grill. It uses proprietary wood pellets as fuel. This is different from a wood grill, and especially a charcoal grill. To read about the differences between wood grills and charcoal grills, read this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

How do you use a Traeger for the first time?

To use your Traeger the first time, be sure to refer to Traeger’s Owner’s Manual.

Unlike traditional grills, your Traeger will need to be plugged into an outlet. It needs power to operate the internal thermostat, fan, igniter rod, and auger. Make sure it is in the off position before you plug it into an outlet.

You can also cover the grease pan with foil for easier cleanup before you put it back in the smoker.

Since this is the first time you’re using your Traeger, you’ll need to season it first before putting any food in. That takes about 50 minutes, but you only need to do it once. Details on that procedure are further down in my article.

Traeger pellet grills & smokers need to preheat for at least 10 minutes with the door closed before adding any food to it.

But once you’ve seasoned it, it’s just a matter of setting the temp and settings to what you’re wanting.

CLICK HERE to see the best selling Traeger pellets on Amazon

What should I do if my Traeger runs out of pellets while using it?

Of course, if you have some on hand, it’s easy to simply lift the lid and add more to the hopper.

Unfortunately, if you run completely out of pellets during cooking and lose your fire, you have to let the grill cool completely and restart the grill. 

Traeger grills use 1-3 pounds of pellets per hour. The hoppers hold between 18 pounds and 22 lbs depending on which model you get.

How fast you go through them, of course, depends on how high your heat is. Pellets are sold in 20-pound bags. Each bag provides between 6 and 20 hours of cook time. The lower the heat, the longer the cooking time you’ll need, and the more pellets you’ll use.

Some of the best foods are smoked over long periods of time. St. Louis ribs may cook for up to 8 hours. A beef brisket will cook for 12-15 hours.

So for a brisket (yes, please), you can expect to use about 10-15 pounds of pellets over the course of cooking.

So you want to make sure you have enough wood pellets on hand before you start cooking. 

Running out of pellets means that the grill has to cool completely and will have to be restarted according to the Traeger’s “Initial Firing Instructions.” According to Traeger’s Owner’s Manual, this means removing baffle, drip tray, and grill plates. You’ll want those to be cool before you remove them.

Having to wait until the grill and the components cool completely before firing it back up means that your brisket will have to sit there for several hours. This could permit the growth of harmful bacteria.

You could always throw it in the oven to finish it off. But I think you’ll find that the end product is not near as tasty as it would have been if it been cooked on the Traeger the whole time.

One way to prevent running out of pellets while cooking is to purchase a hopper extender.

Hopper extensions help add 10 pounds of pellets to your hoppers, increasing cooking time by about 25%. Hopper extensions are well priced and bolt right on to the existing hopper. Traeger does not make an extender, but you will find plenty of companies that do.

Just make sure it’s designed to fit your model.

How long does a bag of Traeger pellets last?

One of the really neat things about Traeger grills is that they burn real wood, all-natural wood pellets.

The pellets burn in a controlled manner offering convenience and flavor. The pellets are FDA approved and come in a wide variety of flavors. You can even blend the flavors for a unique flavor.

The smoker burns 1-3 pounds of pellets per hour, depending on the temperature you are cooking at. This means each 20-pound bag provides 6 to 20 hours of cooking time.

If you mostly grill, a 20-pound bag could last quite a while. However, if you love to smoke your food, a bag could potentially last for only one or two cooking sessions.

On the low end, Traeger wood pellets are about $18 bucks for a bag. So having multiple bags on hand is a little bit of an investment.

Consider having a variety of flavors on hand, too. But multiple bags on hand means always have enough fuel readily available and lots of flavors to try out.

CLICK HERE to see the best selling Traeger pellets on Amazon

You don’t have to use Traeger wood pellets, although Traeger, of course, recommends that (and if they can prove it, it will void your warranty). But Traeger pellets are actually pretty well priced compared to other brands.

Do make sure to not leave unused pellets in your Traeger for an extended period of time.

Once your Traeger is off and cooled down, simply open the hopper cleanout hatch and let all the unused pellets fall back into the bag. Then just store that bag in a cool, dry place.

Leaving unused pellets in your grill for a long time invites moisture into your pellets which is a bad thing for grilling and smoking.

Do you have to season a pellet smoker?

Yes.

According to the Traeger’s Owner’s Manual, the smoker must be seasoned before you place any food on the grill.

The grill will need to run on high for 45 minutes with the door closed to be seasoned properly.

Grills need to be seasoned for two reasons.

  • The first is to burn off any oils and coatings that were introduced during the manufacturing process. You certainly don’t want to eat any of that nasty stuff.
  • The second is to cure the paint. Many paints used in grills generally require high heat to burn off volatiles and form an impermeable barrier.

Seasoning also makes food taste better and will extend the life of your grill. Seasoning isn’t just for pellet smokers. Any grill should be seasoned before use.

How do you season a Traeger pellet grill or smoker?

Easy. According to the manual from Traeger, just “Turn the Temperature/Dial to HIGH and run for 45-50 minutes at this setting with the door closed. This must be done before cooking any food on the Grill.”

To get specific though, go through these steps which are for the Traeger 780. You may need to refer to your manual which could have a different procedure:

  1. Plug your Traeger in (but keep the power switch off)
  2. Put about 1 pound of pellets in the hopper (after checking to make sure it is totally empty)
  3. Flip the power switch to on
  4. Press any button on the control panel to activate it
  5. Press the menu button
  6. Turn the dial to auger
  7. Select “prime auger”
  8. Wait 2 minutes for pellets to move to the firepot
  9. Select Back (you don’t need that many pellets for seasoning)
  10. Turn the dial to set the temp to 350°F
  11. Press ignite
  12. Close the grill door
  13. Run for 20 minutes once it has hit 350°F
  14. Turn the dial to set temp to 450°F
  15. Run for 30 minutes
  16. Initiate the shutdown cycle by pressing and holding the dial for 3 seconds
  17. You’re done!

The first few times you use your new Traeger, it will prompt you to season it. But you only need to do it once, and that message will eventually stop showing up.

What is the best Traeger to buy?

Traeger pellet grills are divided into 3 categories:

  • PRO SERIES – Starting at $799.
  • IRONWOOD SERIES – Starting at $1,199.
  • TIMBERLINE SERIES – Starting at $1,799.

That sounds great, but if you’re anything like me, you don’t have $1,700 bucks to throw at a grill (at least according to my wife!)

Also, Traeger’s prices are the same EVERYWHERE. So no need to surf around trying to find a deal. The price on their website will be the same as Amazon’s, Home Depot’s, and everyone else.

So my pick, while not their most expensive one by far, is the Traeger Pro Series 780 Pellet Grill (click to see the current price on the Traeger website). This is in the Pro Series line.

The beauty is just under $1,000 with free scheduled delivery.

It’s the top of the line for Traeger in the lowest of their 3 price ranges, and there’s no way you’re not going to love it! For the money and features, this is really a great grill.

It has excellent reviews and the ability to do anything you need, such as:

  • Grill
  • Smoke
  • Bake
  • Roast
  • Braise
  • BBQ

Did I mention WIFI?

Yes, Wifire technology allows you to monitor and control your grill from anywhere your smartphone has a signal. It even works with Alexa!

Traeger created the pellet smoker and they still rule the market. Just turn the dial to the desired temp, hit Ignite, and you’re ready to go!

CLICK HERE to see the Current Price on Traeger’s website!

What do you get in the Timberline and Ironwood lines that you don’t get in the Pro line?

Initially, all three lines look pretty similar.

All current Traeger models use their new D2 Direct Drive & WiFire control systems. They also all look pretty similar and have basically the same functions.

On all current models, you have a meat probe (1) that just plugs into the front panel. This allows you to see the internal temperature of the meat on your mobile app.

All current models also have a magnetic door at the bottom of the hopper making cleanout a breeze.

And all models come with a 3-year warranty.

After that, as you move up the lines, the most notable differences are in hopper size (18 to 2o and then 22 lbs) and max cooking temp (500° F in Ironwood and Timberline compared to 450° F for the Pro line).

In each line, there is a large and small model. The small models in all 3 lines have a main cooking surface of 22’x19″. The large size increases that to 30″x 19″ in the Pro and Timberline lines but 34″ in the Ironwood line.

However, there is a secondary cooking surface that is quite a bit larger in the Ironwood and Timberline models. The width, of course, is the same as the primary cooking surface for all large and small models. But on the Pro line, the depth of that secondary cooking surface is only 7″ compared to 10.5″ on the Ironwood and 14″ on the Ironwood.

So that is a lot of extra cooking space!

When you move up to the Ironwood line, they add a gasket to the lid which helps keep more of the heat and smoke inside. Then the Timberline takes that further by making the whole grill double-walled for even better heat retention.

The Pro line uses a chimney to vent the smoke whereas the Ironwood and Timberline models vent to the back of the unit. This is probably one of the most important differences too.

If you love smoke flavor, just know that the chimney lets more of it out resulting in less smoke flavor in your food. That complaint is the main reason Traeger switched to rear venting on the Timberline and Ironwood models.

Did I answer everything you wanted to know about using a Traeger wood pellet grill?

We covered a lot of material in this article.

I discussed how pellet grills work, especially Traegers. We went over how to use your new Traeger and whether you can use it for just grilling or smoking.

Then I talked about how long wood pellets last and what to do if you run out of pellets. I even talked about how not to run out of pellets.

You should definitely season your Traeger or any other grill you decide to purchase.

What will you cook on your Traeger?

Are you in the market for a new grill, but aren’t sure if a Traeger is right for you?

Luckily I break down all the different kinds and all the top brands in a recent article. Maybe you want a simple smoker. Or a Big Green Egg? Or a combo grill like I have with 3 compartments; charcoal, propane, and smoker.

Just click the link to read my ultimate guide to grills and smokers.


Photos which require attribution:

Moon over #Traeger. by David Reber is licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with his wife & 3 daughters, he can usually be found practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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