Smoke Setting On Pellet Grills/Smokers (Can You Cook On It?)

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Most previous generation or budget pellet grills/smokers will have a Smoke setting, sometimes, its marked simply as ‘S’. Current generation/premium pellet grills/smokers work differently but have their own smoke setting, ‘Super Smoke’ on some Traeger products being an example. I have been asked previously if you can complete an entire cook on the smoke setting. While it may be possible in some cases, I want to discuss the pros and cons of using the Smoke setting during the cook. Right, let’s get into this…

Smoke Setting On Pellet Grills/Smokers
As an example, a previous generation Traeger control panel (left) has a Smoke temperature setting. However, current generation Traeger models (right) have a separate ‘Super Smoke’ setting

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Introduction To The Smoke Setting On Pellet Smokers

Whether you own or are looking to purchase a Traeger, Pit Boss or Camp Chef pellet grill/smoker, there will be some form of a ‘Smoke’ setting. As the setting exists, it obviously serves a purpose, and it can indeed be used as part of the cooking process.

Should you want to use the smoke setting throughout the cook? Maybe, however, there are some potential food safety aspects we should discuss.

Furthermore, earlier generations of pellet grills/smoker running in smoke mode unattended can potentially lead to issues, as I’ll discuss.

I’ve got separate headings below discussing cooking on the smoke setting on non-PID and PID pellet grills/smokers. If you have no idea what I’m talking about with PID, please check out my article on how a pellet grill/smoker works.

First, let’s address how the food safety aspect comes into play. Specifically what’s commonly referred to as the ‘Danger Zone’ when it comes to food preparation/cooking and how it relates to smoking foods.

Avoiding The ‘Danger Zone’ When Cooking/Smoking

The ‘Danger Zone’ is all to do with bacteria, in other words, not holding food at a warm temperature where bacteria will multiply rapidly and potentially give you food poisoning.

So what’s a warm temperature where bacteria growth can be an issue? Well, the FDA states the following:

between 40° and 140° F (4° and 60° C). For food safety, keep food below or above the “danger zone.” – FDA

Its the time duration that is equally important. The recommendation is that food held in the temperature ‘Danger Zone’ for 2 hours should be discarded.

However, there is a separate piece of advice from the FDA which is important if you’re smoking in the summer months:

When temperatures are above 90° F (32° C), discard food after one hour.” – FDA

So, in other words, the warmer the day/ambient temperatures, the shorter the duration of time food can be held in the ‘Danger Zone’ before its dangerous to consume it.

Smoke Setting – Non-PID Pellet Grills/Smokers

On non-PID pellet grills/smokers from Traeger, Pit Boss, Camp Chef and ZGrills etc, the Smoke setting is also used at the ignition setting to get the fire established.

The temperature range of the Smoke setting differs slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.

For instance, the Smoke setting on Traegers with a non-PID control panel is 165 up to 225 degrees. On a Pit Boss, it’s typically 180 to 225 degrees. However, some have a Smoke setting under 150 degrees.

Whereas on a Camp Chef, there was a Low Smoke setting of 160 degrees and a High Smoke setting of 225 degrees. Z Grills states their Smoke setting temperature range is 158 to 194 degrees.

Smoke Setting On Non-PID Pellet Grills/Smokers
These are the temperature control dials and Smoke settings of non-PID pellet grills/smokers from Traeger (left), Pit Boss (centre) and Camp Chef (right)

At this point, with regards to food safety and the ‘Danger Zone’, you might be wondering where I’m going with this.

After all, all of the smoke settings are above 140 degrees, hence out of the Danger Zone, right?

Yes, but remember, these are non-PID pellet grills/smokers, and when you know how a pellet grill works, you know that the temperature on non-PID pellets grills/smokers running time-based control panels the temperature can swing roughly 25 degrees from the set temperature (sometimes more).

Hence, on the Smoke setting of these non-PID pellet grills/smokers due to the temperature swing, its possibly below 140 degrees within the cooking chamber.

Furthermore, the longer a pellet grill/smoker is running at its lowest ‘Smoke’ setting, the more prone it is to a flameout situation.

That’s especially true with examples of a Traeger P-Setting or a Pit Boss P-Setting not at its ideal level for the ambient temperature/weather conditions.

If that happens mid-cook, then not only is it time-consuming to get up and going again, but it also puts the food at risk of falling into the dangerous temperature zone where bacteria breed.

Smoke Setting – PID Pellet Grills/Smokers

It’s likely if you purchased your pellet grill/smoker recently, you won’t recognise the temperature control dials above.

That’s because many pellet grills/smokers sold today are fitted with a PID control panel which uses a computer algorithm to regulate temperature to within 5 degrees of the set temperature.

Traeger, Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Z Grills and many others of the over 30 brands now selling pellet grills fit PID control panels to their latest models.

Instead of the Smoke setting being the initial step on the temperature dial, it will be a separate mode.

Smoke Setting - PID Pellet Grills/Smokers
Two examples of PID control panels, on the left the Traeger D2 and on the right the Pit Boss Platinum Series control panel

On PID pellet grills/smokers, even if they have the same low-temperature setting of say, 160 degrees as a non-PID pellet grill, there isn’t the same risk of getting into the ‘Danger Zone’, due to the less significant 5-degree temperature swing.

However, what about when activating the Smoke setting on a PID pellet grill, say Super Smoke on a Traeger?

Well, to create smoke (smouldering pellets), the Smoke setting has to deliberately create inefficient combustion to produce smoke. Inefficient combustion/smoke leads to temperature swings.

However, a PID control panel on its smoke setting will not swing as much as a non-PID control panel, with less risk of getting to 140 degrees and below.

Traeger Super Smoke

On the Traeger D2 control panel pictured above, which runs a PID temperature control algorithm, its smoke setting is called ‘Super Smoke’. Traeger states the following:

enabling the grill to get the maximum delivery of smoke, at temperatures from 165 up to 225 degrees” –

However, Traeger also states that users should expect a wider temperature swing than normal when running in Super Smoke mode.

Camp Chef Separate Smoke/Temp Setting

Camp Chef, with their PID control panels, has chosen a different path from their smoke setting.

Instead of a Smoke Setting at a set temperature range, Camp Chef separated the smoke and temperature settings.

Camp Chef Separate Temperature and Smoke Adjustment
On a Camp Chef Woodwind, its possible to set the temperature and smoke setting (1 to 10) separately

At the higher smoke settings on a Camp Chef, you should expect wider temperature swings, its just the nature of the beast.

Grilla Grills PID/Time-Based Control Panels

As discussed above, PID control panels provide a more accurate temperature/more efficient combustion process which, as a result, means less smoke is produced.

Grilla Grills’s approach to this was to include both PID and timer-based (Pro) modes in the same control panel.

The Grilla Grills approach provides tight temperature control (PID) and more temperature swings with more smoke (Pro) in the same control panel

Pit Boss P-Settings On PID Models

The P-Setting (Pause Setting) used to be a feature you would only find on Legacy Pit Boss models. However, Pit Boss is bringing back the feature on some modern PID models.

The P-Setting can be used to adjust the paused gap between more pellets being fed into the fire while the Smoke Setting is in use.

On the left is a Competition model with a Smoke Setting, and on the right is a Pro Series model without a Smoke Setting

Some Pit Boss models, such as Gen 2 Pro Series and Platinum Series, while they have PID temperature control, they have no Smoke Setting.

However, the Competition Series and Onyx Edition, while they have PID temperature control, they also have a Smoke Setting with P-Setting adjustment.

My Final Thoughts About Cooking On The Smoke Setting…

First and foremost, you need to keep the internal temperature of the food from sitting in the ‘Danger Zone’ for too long, which could be just an hour on a really hot summer’s day.

Therefore, on a non-PID pellet grill, I wouldn’t advise leaving the food cooking on the Smoke setting for too long unattended.

On a PID pellet grill, the Smoke settings operate differently, and there is less risk of the food sitting at 140 degrees and below.

The most important point really is you need to be monitoring the internal temperature of the brisket, burgers etc, during the cook.

Hence, when it comes to the question of is WiFi worth it on a pellet smoker when it comes to going ‘low & slow’, yes, it is.

If you are looking for a new pellet smoker and you’re after the most smoke flavour possible, check out my article on the Camp Chef Woodwind Pro with its new Smoke Box for wood chips, chunks and charcoal.

That’s it! I hope the above has given you a better idea of how and when to use the Smoke setting on a pellet smoker safely.

If you would like to learn more, please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide or get the free downloadable guide via the banner below. 🙂

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