Pellet Grill | Wikipedia audio article

Pellet grills, sometimes referred to as pellet
smokers, are outdoor cookers that combine elements of charcoal smokers, gas grills,
and kitchen ovens. Fueled by wood pellets, they can smoke as
well as grill and bake using an electronic control panel to automatically feed fuel pellets
to the fire, regulate the grill’s airflow, and maintain consistent cooking temperatures.==Early history==
Pellet grills have their beginnings in pellet stoves. During the 1973 oil crisis, an increased demand
for affordable home heating spearheaded a push toward alternative heat sources, which
would later include wood pellets. Wood pellets were invented in the United States
in the late 1970s, they are small eraser-sized capsules made of compressed sawdust. By the early 1980s Jerry Whitfield, a Boeing
aviation engineer from Washington, and Joe Traeger, who ran a family-owned heating company
in Oregon, were each experimenting with pellet-burning stoves. Although the stoves looked like traditional
wood stoves, they worked much differently. Run by electricity, the pellet stoves utilized
a motor-driven auger to deliver a specific amount of pellets from the storage hopper
to a fire pot, where a fan aided combustion and blew the warm air from the stove.==Traeger grills==Joe Traeger developed the Traeger pellet grill
in 1985 and patented it in 1986. The first Traeger Grills began production
in 1988. Traeger Grills have a side-mounted hopper
where the firebox would typically be. The grills are electric and controlled by
a simple three-position switch. Like the pellet stove, a rotating auger feeds
pellets from the hopper to the fire pot, where they are lit by an igniter rod. A fan then stokes the fire and distributed
heat and smoke throughout the grill. A metal plate, called the deflector plate,
sits between the fire and the grill grate, keeping food and grease from coming in contact
with the flames and preventing flare-ups. This method of cooking, known as indirect
(or convection) cooking is also used by traditional charcoal and wood smokers. That similarity, and the fact that wood pellets
produce smoke that flavors food, resulted in many early adopters turning to pellet grills
as an easy-to-use alternative to traditional smokers.==Cooking with wood pellets==Although pellet stoves and pellet grills both
run on wood pellets, there are differences in the pellets they burn. In addition to hardwood, pellets used for
home heating often contain softwood and biomass scrap (such as bark), both of which can produce
a bad taste and could be harmful if ingested. Pellet grills, on the other hand, use food-grade
pellets that are made entirely from hardwood and contain no additives, although some manufacturers
use soybean oil or vegetable oil as a lubricant during production.Because of their small size
and composition, food-grade pellets burn cleanly, producing a light smoky flavor. Wood pellet varieties include oak, maple,
apple, alder, mesquite, cherry, maple, hickory, and pecan.==Competition==
As a result of its patent, Traeger was the only manufacturer of pellet grills for twenty
years. During that time, the company remained a small
family-run business that distributed its pellet grills to a limited network of stores. After Traeger’s patent expired in 2006, the
company experienced competition from other manufacturers using the same design principles.==Temperature control==Pellet grill temperatures are largely determined
by the amount of fuel consumed by the fire and airflow regulation. However, unlike grills, pellet grills use
automated fuel and air delivery, and can maintain a user-selected temperature. Although this reduces user workload, the process
that makes it possible is more complex than traditional grills. First, the desired temperature is programmed
into the electronic control panel. A motor-driven auger then feeds a small amount
of pellets from the hopper to the fire pot. Igniter rods light the pellets and prime the
fire, raising the grill to an initial starting temperature of 140 °F (60 °C) to 180 °F
(82 °C), depending on the manufacturer. Once the fire is ready, the desired temperature
is achieved via a repeated duty cycle, which represents a segment of time when the auger
is active and idle. A single duty cycle starts when the auger
turns on and begins feeding pellets then continues through the period when it shuts off and remains
idle. The duty cycle ends when the auger turns on
again. For example, a pellet grill set to 250 °F
(121 °C) might have an auger-on period of 10 seconds followed by an auger-off period
of 50 seconds. Duty cycles are typically stated as a percentage
that represents the amount of time the auger is running—an auger that’s always on has
a 100% duty cycle, while one that is on half the time has a 50% duty cycle. Each temperature setting has a different duty
cycle. However, regardless of that temperature setting,
the auger-on portion of the duty cycle remains constant. The auger-off period is the variable. Lower temperatures have longer auger-off periods,
while high temperatures have shorter.===Three-position LMH controllers===Early Traeger Grills, as well as many of the
pellet grills first introduced after the expiration of the Traeger patent, used a three-position
controller, called an LMH controller indicating settings for low, medium and high heat. Each setting approximates a temperature range,
and those temperatures were achieved by means of a fixed, predetermined duty cycle. Furthermore, because the duty cycles are fixed,
they don’t account for weather conditions or the amount of food being cooked, both of
which affect temperature.====Multi-position and digital controllers
====Rather than use multi-position controllers,
some brands have switched to fully digital control panels that, in addition to a LED
display, use a one-touch interface similar to a kitchen oven. Digital controllers utilize simple microprocessors
that work in conjunction with the sensors to create a feedback loop, allowing the pellet
grill to make small adjustments to auger activity. The sensor measures the grill temperature
and sends the information to the controller, which initiates or halts the auger when the
grill exceeds or falls below a specified threshold.In addition to providing more temperature options,
multi-position and digital controllers developed more refined auger duty cycles. The shorter auger-on period allows the pellet
grill to achieve and maintain a wider range of temperatures. It also keeps large amounts of pellets from
pilling up in the fire pot, helping to prevent sudden, sharp temperature swings.===PID controllers (adjustable duty cycle)
===Similar to other controllers, when the desired
temperature is programmed into a PID controller, the pellet grill ignites the pellets and begins
an initial warm-up to a predetermined temperature. Once that has been reached, the pellet grill
begins climbing toward the programmed temperature. As it does, the PID controller undergoes a
process of trial and error, fine tuning the rate at which pellets are fed by learning
how long and how much fuel it takes to raise the pellet grill’s temperature under the current
conditions. Using an advanced algorithm, the PID controller
applies this data to calculate a duty cycle that will achieve the desired temperature. As the pellet grill rises toward the programmed
temperature, it will continuously take readings and adjust the duty cycle as necessary. Even after the target temperature has been
met, these adjustments continue throughout the duration of the cook. The constant monitoring of temperatures and
recalculation of the duty cycle enables pellet grills that use PID controllers to hit the
target temperature and maintain it for hours.===Induction fans===
A significant factor in pellet grill temperature control is the ability to regulate airflow
to the fire. The improvement in induction fans has paralleled
the advancement in controllers. Early pellet grills had fans that ran continuously
once the power was turned on. That meant oxygen was constantly being fed
to the fire, making it harder to control temperatures. Eventually, continuous fans were replaced
by ones that ran in conjunction with the auger-on cycle. However, that still meant that every time
pellets were being fed to the fire, so was oxygen. As a result, some manufacturers have incorporated
intermittent fans into pellet grills. These fans work independent of the auger and
can turn on and off to feed oxygen to the fire only when necessary.==Differentiation in a growing market==
When the Traeger patent expired in 2006, the emergence of new brands helped advance pellet
grill design and performance. It also expanded the pellet grill market,
providing consumers with more options to choose from. In 2008, two years after the expiration of
Traeger’s patent, only a few brands were manufacturing pellet grills. By 2014 there were 27 manufacturers and more
brands emerging every month. By 2015, pellet grills were being sold in
big box retail stores, causing manufacturers to seek out ways to differentiate their brand
from the growing field of competitors.In an effort to separate their pellet grill from
others on the market, some brands have partnered with competitive BBQ teams, to establish credibility
to their grill and raising the profile of their brand.Some pellet grill manufacturers
have implemented Wi-Fi-enabled controls that allow for remote monitoring of the grill. Pellet grill technology is being integrated
into other cooking devices, such as traditional ceramic Kamado style grills, and pizza ovens

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