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Make your first smoke on a Traeger a success
So you’re the proud owner of a brand new Traeger grill. Or maybe you are considering whether you should purchase a pellet smoker. Either way, you’re sure to have a few questions before you fire it up for the first time.
What pellets should you use? How do you fire up a Traeger, and do you need to season it? What accessories are out there if I want to pimp my Traeger? What about maintenance and troubleshooting?
We have it all covered here. Let’s have a closer look at what you can expect from your new Traeger, and how you can get the best out of it from your very first cook.
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What Pellets Should I Use in my Traeger Smoker?
Pellets are an integral factor as far as the outcome of your cook. The pellets you use not only provide the fuel to burn, they are also the source of the flavor.
You may be wondering if you can only use Traeger brand pellets in your smoker. Traeger specifically states that using pellets other than Traeger’s brand will “void your Traeger warranty”.
Before you let that warning scare you off, many pitmasters still use other brands despite the risk of voiding their warranty. CookinPellets and Q Pellets, are both brands that are trusted by other barbecue lovers.
It is ultimately up to you whether you are willing to take the risk. Stepping away from the Traeger brand gives you more freedom to stock up on bulk and try more flavors.
While you are free to try different brands of pellets if you wish, it is vital you only use cooking pellets in your pellets smoker. Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com warns:
Meathead Goldwyn, Pellet Smokers and Grills: Buying Guide
“…you cannot burn home heater pellets in a cooking grill. Cooking pellets are hardwoods. Heater pellets often contain softwoods such as pine, they can have treated lumber and other chemical contaminants in them. The smoke they put out is potentially hazardous in food.
Pellets are made from different woods, each of which imparts a distinctive flavor to the meat. Hickory, oak, maple, alder, apple, cherry, hazelnut, peach, and mesquite are among the flavors available.”
Barbecue pellets are food grade, and specifically designed for use in barbecues. Resist the urge to save a few dollars. Always use barbecue pellets.
How to Start Your Traeger Pellet Smoker – Step by Step Tutorial
Time to start up your new Traeger! Jack Show has a great guide to firing up your Trager in this video.
If you prefer written instructions, the following guide walks you through how to start your Traeger Pellet Smoker for the very first time. It also includes how to season your Traeger.
1) Plug in your smoker
This may seem obvious, as Traeger is an electric smoker, but you could be forgiven if you don’t automatically associate barbecuing with the need for electricity.
You will also need to remove the baffle, drip tray and grill plates.
2) Turn the dial to the smoke setting
As the name suggests, the smoke setting is perfect for smoking foodstuffs, and will generally hold the temperature at around 180-200oF.
3) Check that the auger is spinning
The auger feeds the pellets from the pellet tray into the burner. Never put pellets into the burner by hand, it could result in injury.
4) Check that air is blowing out of the burner, and that it is heating up
You will be able to feel the air blowing out of the pellet burner with your hand. Do not touch the firepot to check whether it is getting hot, as you will get burnt. You’ll know that the firepot of your brand new Traeger is heating up as it may smoke a little. Eventually it will glow red.
5) Put the baffle, grease pan and grill trays back in the smoker, pour the pellets into the pellet box.
If you have enough pellets, fill all the way to the top of the pellet box.
6) Close the lid, and set the smoker to high.
Let it smoke on high, with the lid closed, for 45 minutes. This will season the smoker.
Pimp your Traeger with these accessories.
Don’t get me wrong, the Traeger is a great smoker/grill straight out of the box. But there are ways you can get even more out of your Traeger.
Pellet Tubes: Some Traeger owners like the freedom to experiment a little more with smoke flavors, especially when cooking at higher temperatures.
If this appeals to you, consider getting yourself a pellet tube, such as the A-Maze-N Pellet Tube Smoker. Just pack it full of pellets, light it at one end with a blowtorch or lighter and sit it on the grate inside your Traeger. It is that easy. It will burn for about 4 hours.
Hopper Extender: If you would like to do some really long cooks, consider a hopper extender. A hopper extender will increase your cooking time by 25%, meaning you can hope to get around 12 hours of non-stop smoking time.
Digital Thermometer: Hooking up a wireless digital thermometer affords you the luxury of easily monitoring the temperature inside your smoker, even the exact temperature of your meat, all the while chatting with your friends, having a beer, or whatever you like to do to kick back and relax.
It will also mean you can keep an eye on what is happening inside your Traeger without compulsively lifting the lid – a constant temptation, especially when starting out.
Dealing with temperature swings
The beauty of using a pellet grill like a Traeger is that the temperature will usually be stable. But it is good to know what to do if your temperature does start to swing.
Before you start poking and prodding around, hoping to find the source of the problem, take a moment to consider if the fluctuations are actually problematic or not.
When Traeger claims that their smoker will maintain a certain temperature throughout the cook, keep in mind that this is an average for the duration of the entire cook. Coupled with the fact that the thermometer that comes with the smoker promises to be accurate to +/- 20°F, some variation in the temperature throughout the cook is actually quite normal.
It is also worth noting that the outside temperature, wind, and position of your smoker (i.e. in the direct sun or in the shade) will affect the temperature inside your pellet smoker.
These considerations aside, the next port of call when troubleshooting temperature fluctuations is your pellets. Poor quality pellets produce more ash. This means that the RTD probe struggles to get an accurate reading, prompting the Traeger to feed too many pellets into the firebox.
It might also be worth checking the fire pot, heat diffuser and drip pan. If these have corroded over time, hot spots and oxygen flow changes could be causing spikes in heat. This is unlikely to be an issue if your Traeger is brand new.
The RTD probe itself could also be the culprit. A test against a reliable digital thermometer should be able to determine if this is the problem.
Another trick is to check if your pellets are moving smoothly into the auger. Some Traeger owners report that, at times, the pellets don’t move freely into the auger from the pellet box. Suddenly you see the temperature dropping. A simple redistribution of the pellets in the pellet box should solve this problem.
Maintenance,and storing Your pellets
All barbecues need maintenance. Let’s have a look at what exactly you need to keep in mind when maintaining your Traeger and storing your pellets.
The main consideration when storing your pellets is moisture. If your pellets get damp you will end up with pellets that don’t burn hot, and you will struggle to reach and maintain your desired temperature. If they get really damp, they will swell and you will be left with sawdust. Needless to say, this will not go down well in your Traeger.
Store your pellets in a dry spot, and don’t leave them in the pellet box for any extended length of time. It is generally good practice to make sure you have emptied the hopper at the end of each cook.
If you live in a very cold climate, this is of even greater importance. If temperatures fall below freezing, pellets left in the pellet box can freeze, swell, break down into sawdust and completely clog up your auger. If your auger also freezes up, you will be left with quite a mess that will take some dismantling to rectify.
As far as general maintenance, it is advisable to cover your drip tray with aluminium foil for easy clean up. If you still need to clean your drip tray or grill plate, an abrasive kitchen sponge and warm soapy water will do the trick.
Wrapping it up
We hope you have found our guide to making your first smoke in a Traeger a success.
If you are new to pellet smokers, or are looking to purchase one, it is important to be familiar with how they work, and to know how to get the best out of them. For more tips and advice you should head over to the Traeger company blog where you can find a range of recipes and advice.
Do you use a Traeger, or any other brand of pellet smoker? Have any tips or tricks you would like to share with us? Be sure to share them in the comments below.
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