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Grilling and smoking meat and vegetables is a favorite American pastime, and the good news is that using a pellet grill is very safe. While charcoal or gas grills can be prone to flare-ups and the flames may be challenging to control, it is much easier to cook using a pellet grill.
Although pellet grills are inherently safe, there are also steps you can take to ensure your cookout is free from danger. From the materials you use to your grill’s positioning and how you cook your meats, using a high-quality pellet grill is an excellent way to enjoy grilling food outdoors.
1. What is a Pellet Grill?
A pellet grill is a versatile outdoor cooker that combines the best aspects of gas grills, kitchen ovens, and charcoal smokers. They are capable of cooking using various styles, such as baking, braising, grilling, and smoking. Pellet grills are useful since they remove the need to use several different appliances when preparing a meal.
If you want to know if buying a pellet grill is worth it. We have a guide giving you the details to the answer.
2. How Does a Pellet Grill Work?
Pellet grills are a popular type of set-and-forget cooker, with an automatic auger feeding pellet into a firepot. An electronic system monitors the cooking chamber’s temperature, and the auger adds more pellets when necessary to maintain a preset temperature.
Many pellet grills come with a remote control, enabling the chef to adjust the temperature from a distance, and the convenience of a pellet grill is a strong selling point for many people.
- Read more for more details on how a Pellet grill work.
- If need help managing your vertical grill. Here is an article for you.
3. How Safe is a Pellet Grill?
The short answer is a pellet grill is very safe, but it’s crucial to purchase a high-quality cooker and only use pellets that are food safe or products from reputable brands. There are several excellent safety features on a pellet grill and some steps you can take to stay safe when cooking.
All wood pellets are not the same. Some pellets are only for heating a fire, and there are wood pellets suitable for heating food. All-natural wood pellets do not contain the same fillers and compressed charcoal in heating pellets and are made with food-safe ingredients to reduce your health risk.
High-quality wood pellets are made from materials such as sawdust, wood chips, and sticks, and do not contain harmful chemicals which could permeate your food during cooking. Although wood pellets are suitable for grilling and smoking, the two processes are very different.
Grilling and Smoking
During grilling, the animal fat in your meat can start to burn, and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) can begin to form. HCAs are a possible cause of cancer, and if they enter your meat during cooking, they can become lodged in your food. However, there are ways to minimize the risk of consuming these chemicals.
If there is intense heat during grilling, such as a flare-up that can occur using a charcoal or gas grill if grease drops onto the flames, it can char meat and lead to HCAs’ formation and release. However, flare-ups are much less common in pellet grills, as most also use an indirect convection heating system. Convection heating spreads the air around the cooking chamber, providing even heat and reducing the risk of an unwanted hot spot.
Almost all pellet grills can also cook by smoking. Smoking uses low heat to cook food over an extended period, and because the heat is lower, there is no risk of burning animal fats that could release HCAs. Everyone is aware that smoke can be dangerous at high-levels, but the good news is that the amount of smoke generated from wood pellets during cooking is meager.
The polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in smoke can be dangerous, but you can also find these chemicals in many processed foods found in the store. In low amounts, they pose little risk.
Because convection cooking systems quickly disperse smoke, they limit the amount of contact the smoke has with your meats. However, there are also some protective measures you can take before cooking on a wood pellet grill.
Marinate Your Meats
You may already be doing this, simply because marinades taste great. A marinade also moistens your food and helps to keep the texture succulent and soft. A bonus is that marinades create a protective barrier over your meat, reducing the risk of forming HCAs or PAHs.
Reduce Animal Fats
Because HCAs come from animal fats, cutting any excess fat from your meat before cooking reduces the chance of the harmful chemicals forming. Red meats such as steak and burgers are usually fattier than white meats like chicken or pork, so limiting your red meat intake can also help. Although the levels of HCAs in meat is so small that this isn’t necessary.
Cook Meat Thoroughly
Not all outdoor cooking dangers come from harmful chemicals, since you can become ill from eating undercooked meat. Meat contains bacteria that can be harmful, and cooking your food thoroughly ensures these bacteria die during the cooking process.
There can be hot spots or cold spots in charcoal or gas grills as the flames can become uneven. In contrast, wood pellet grills have a steady heat level throughout the cooking chamber, so your meat should cook all the way through. Many pellet grills also come with integrated meat probes, so you can ensure it is ready before serving.
Keep it Clean
Charcoal grills can be challenging to clean, as there is a lot of ash left after cooking. If leftover fats and fuel are still in the cooking chamber from the last use, it increases the risk of flare-ups and even the chance of getting a nasty burn when lighting your grill.
Pellet grills are easy to clean, and you don’t need to empty the fire pot after each use. Because the hopper feeds the pellets automatically, there is also no need for your hand to get near the flames.
Reminder: Although pellet grills have many great safety features, you can help keep your guests and yourself safe when cooking by following good outdoor grilling practices.