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Pellet grill (Traeger) = less smoke flavor?

Discussion in 'Pellet Smokers' started by smokeisbest, Jul 15, 2019.

  1. smokeisbest

    smokeisbest Newbie

    I own an Traeger and use it a lot. Mostly Briskets and Ribs. I find that I never achieve (especially with ribs) the same smokey flavor as guys using wood and coals. Also, my never come out as dark as other guys (using same rubs etc).
    My thoughts are this: since meat only absorbs smoke for the first 2-3 hrs, its critical to get the most amount of smoke in that time period. I am thinking with the Traeger, (and I am assuming most other pellet grills), the way it functions limits the time period that the meat is subject to smoke. The first phase is heat and fan, which creates the fire. I see little smoke at this point as it burning hotly and efficiently with visible flames. Then the fan goes off, the flames die down, and the pellets are left to smolder for a period (depending on settings) which creates all that visible smoke. Then the fan kicks back on providing more O2, the pellets ignite and burn with flame more cleanly resulting in less smoke being created. This is repeated constantly, and woudl be magnified as desired temp increases (more burning, less smoldering?) so a piece of meat in the grill for 2 hours, is not getting 2 hours of smoke. Maybe its 50/50 but it's not 2 hrs. By contrast, if smoke is being generated by wood pieces smoldering on coals, and the wood is being replaced as needed, the smoke is being generated the entire time, so that same piece of meat would receive 2 hours of smoke in 2 hours. This is my hypothesis.. And maybe explains why I cannot achieve the same smokey flavor that other guys/restaurants achieve.

    Thoughts from the experts?
  2. kruizer

    kruizer Master of the Pit

    You have hit the nail on the head. My pellet smoker never imparts the level of smoke that I get with my offset or Weber. But there are times when I don't want heavy smoke and that is when i use the Camp Chef Woodwind.
  3. BigW.

    BigW. Smoke Blower

    Try some different pellets, hickory or maybe mesquite. Some brands are 100% flavor wood other mixed. In general pellets grills put out less smoke flavor but you can adapt and overcome. Lower temps produce more smoke than higher. Try an A-MAZ-N tray or tube for extra smoke.
  4. SmokinVOLfan

    SmokinVOLfan Master of the Pit

    I'm not a pellet guy but have read a lot of complaints about the same thing. A lot of guys add in a pellet tube like the AMNTS. This gives you a consistent smoke. I run the tray in my MES40 and get 11 hours of smoke without having to touch it. I don't think you will be disappointed with the extra smoke. Im sure one of the pellet guys will be able to answer a little better. Good luck
  5. bregent

    bregent Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Not sure why you think that - meat will absorb smoke for as long as you have it in the smoker. Pellet grills produce less smoke flavor than other smokers for a few reasons:

    1) The firepot burns very hot, much hotter than wood burns in the fire boxes of other types of smokers. At these higher temps, much of the volatile flavoring compounds are destroyed. Pellet grills that have modes that pulse the fans alleviate this somewhat.
    2) The fan pushes the smoke out of the chamber quickly so it does not have much chance to settle on the meat.
    3) Due to the design of many, the drip tray prevents much of the smoke from circulating around the meat.

    As BigW suggests, make sure you use a pellet that provides maximum flavor, like 100% hickory. Most of the time I prefer the smoke flavor I get from a pellet grill, but when I'm looking for heavy smoke flavor, I use my Weber.
  6. So i have also thought about the whole crusial first couple hours to get smoke flavor absorbed into whatever you're cooking..... so why would you ever need to have a smoking tube or tray that can put out smoke 6, 8 12 + hours when you only need a couple hours for the flavor??

    5GRILLZNTN Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I can get quite a bit of smoke from my Rec Tec, but I have to run it between 180 and 220 to do so. Once I run the temps up, smoke production goes down pretty fast.
  8. markh024

    markh024 Meat Mopper

    I run a pellet tube with Lumberjack in the tube and the hopper. Mainly Hickory but I switch it up here and there. I get pretty good smoke flavor out of it. no, it's not like getting it off a wood burner or alike but for my smoking and my needs, it's great.
  9. radio

    radio Master of the Pit

    Even using a pellet tube in my GMG I have been unhappy with the amount of smokiness in the meats. I have resorted to starting the briskets and butts in my stick burner, then after 3-4 hours moving them to the pellet pooper to finish without babysitting and feeding every 45 minutes to an hour
  10. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Master of the Pit

    My one experience eating food cooked on a Traeger was when a Traeger rep set up in front of the local Ace Hardware and handed out samples of what he cooked. My memory was that not only was it almost completely devoid of much smoke flavor, but what flavor it did have was somewhat unnatural (I don't know how else to characterize it).

    I was not even remotely tempted to get one.

    Then, six months later someone gave me an MES 30 after I videotaped his daughter's wedding (as a gift). I had all the usual problems with it which led everyone to give me the standard advice about getting the AMNPS (and doing a mailbox mod). However, because of my negative experience with the pellet smoke taste from the Traeger, I resisted getting the AMNPS.

    As months went by, the taste from the MES was so bad that I posted about selling it, but everyone advised, once again, to get the AMNPS. Since it was a gift and since I had no money in it, and since the AMNPS is a modest investment, I got it.

    My experience? The flavor from Todd's pellets smouldered in the AMNPS are much better than the Traeger pellets. How much of that is the pellets and how much is due to the nature of how the Traeger burns rather than smokes the pellets (depending on the settings), I don't know.

    Bottom line: I now get far better results from my MES using Todd's pellets in the AMNPS than what I experienced with that Traeger demo done by their employee.
    radio likes this.
  11. Little-m

    Little-m Fire Starter

    John, I recently experienced the same results as you did when I swapped out the stock controller in my Pit Boss with a PID. Results were next to no smoke flavour at all regardless what temps I was running it at. Was turned off so much that I swapped back the original controller - at least I get the flavouring I want while I put up with the periodic temp changes.

    To me, if you need to augment your smoker with a device like an AMNPS, then there is little point in having the smoker. You might as well just use a propane BBQ with the AMNPS - at least you would save money.
  12. SlowmotionQue

    SlowmotionQue Smoking Fanatic

    How do burning pellets know whether or not they’re being burned in a PID controlled grill or a non PID controlled grill?

    Smoke coming from off of burning pellets,..... is smoke coming from off of burning pellets.

    Whether they were lit with a propane torch or a match.

    If burning pellets at a lower temperature offers an advantage in terms of smoke flavor....well then this can easily be accomplished by setting the PID controller to run at said lower temperatures. And for longer periods without wide fluctuation.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  13. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Master of the Pit

    My fault for not explaining clearly what I meant.

    You are absolutely correct that pellets are pellets, and fire is fire, etc. However, what I was trying to say is that the Traeger provides additional heat to the pellets, both via the igniter and also via the forced air, both of which regulate how hot the pellets get and also how much smoke they produce. By contrast, once the AMNPS is lit, all the pellets are able to do is smoulder and they get very little air compared to the huge amount of air blown into the combustion chamber in a Traeger. The Traeger can produce very little smoke, or a lot of smoke, depending on the temperature you set and the amount of air being blown in.

    So the nature of the smoke in the two systems -- even when using identical pellets -- can be quite different because of the different temperature at which the pellets burn and the amount of air they receive.

    Some day I'm going to replace my MES, and when I do, I'll look for a smoker which completely separates the temperature regulation from the smoke generation. The "mailbox mod" doesn't really do that because I can't alter much of the smoke generation properties. In addition, from what I've read, you get far better-tasting smoke if you can burn a natural (unprocessed) piece of wood, because it is that full combustion which produces the best-balanced smoke (less creosote, among other things). I would very much like to some day not smoke with pellets.

    The fantastic "geniusideas" site has a great description of this:

  14. SlowmotionQue

    SlowmotionQue Smoking Fanatic

    Thanks for the explanation and the article.

    I don’t own a Traeger due to some of the videos out there showing some of them exploding.

    But your description of what you meant, certainly sounds feasible.
  15. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Master of the Pit

    For those who didn't click on and read the article I linked to, here is the key "pull quote:

    The vast majority of smokers embody a fatal flaw- they intertwine temperature control with smoke flavor. Almost all smokers employ dampers to adjust air flow and thus combustion conditions and eventually cooking temperature. But, when you starve wood from oxygen, it tips the combustion reactions towards the bitter end of the chemical spectrum. Creosotes rather than phenols. Caustic rather than sweet. If you increase oxygen levels artificially, say with a fan, the wood burns so cleanly (complete "pyrolysis") that all the delicious flavor molecules are destroyed in the conflagration.

    This describes, with science, why I think the Traeger fails to produce enough smoke flavor, and why the almost air-tight MES and other electric smokers often produce too much creosote.
  16. markh024

    markh024 Meat Mopper

    Pellet Grills. Not true smokers. But the beauty of it is you can both grill and smoke, and with the added help of a tube, you can get that smoke profile up a notch. I've certainly been able to do so. I see nothing wrong with a small $16 upgrade to enhance the flavor profile to where you'd like to be.
  17. sandyut

    sandyut Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    I find that if i want more smoke flavor on a cook, I run at 180 (LO) for a few hours and then turn up the heat to get the cook done. I can get a good smoke level with this process. on a hot day LO pumps out the smoke. I also adjusted the min auger rate to the lowest setting. that will need to be dialed back up come winter.
    NYRED likes this.

  18. It may have more to do with how you're using it and the pellets you're using. I use a pellet grill too, a Grilla Silverback in my case and my ribs torn out just great and dark with plenty of smoke flavor too.

    First of all I smoke almost everything including ribs at a set temperature of 225. I use Grilla pellets and find them high quality and they leave very little ash residue which typically comes largely from fillers in poor quality cheaper pellets.
    I have many wood varieties to choose from but typically use their completion blend of oak, hickory and cherry.

    I find the opposite results of smoke using my grill, it smokes heavenly on start up but the smoke does down after it's up to temp. I get a bit when it feeds pellets during the cook to maintain temp but the smoke dies off as they ignite and burn.
    Remember you don't want heavy clouds of smoke to cook with as its largely creosote which imparts a nasty bitter taste. It's not so good for you either. The goal is always TBS, thin blue smoke with any smoker of any type.

    At my altitude of 3500 ft I do ribs at 225 for 6 hours flat. No opening the smoker, no wrapping or any other messin around. Just rub em, smoke em then eat em.
  19. NU2SMOKE

    NU2SMOKE Meat Mopper SMF Premier Member

    I am going to chime in and say that I must be very blessed with my Rec Tec Bull! Not only does it give me great sweet tasting smoke but the proof in is the ring. This is a brand new pit to me...I have had it 2 weeks and do not use any additional smoke producing devices. Here a couple of pics from ribs to beef. I even did smoked mac and cheese and you could absolutely taste the smoke in it! IMG_2370.jpg IMG_2478.jpg
    Steff3, SlowmotionQue and sandyut like this.
  20. It's not so much the gear but the user knowing what to do with it. The best pit in the would can be a total waste in the hands of someone not knowing how to use it. Heck a lot of folks don't even know what barbeque is must less how to cook it.
    Steff3 likes this.