A pellet grill is an excellent cooking tool since you can smoke, grill, sear, and even bake food on a pellet grill.
However, as with any appliance, there is always a chance something might go wrong. Primarily, the biggest risk with pellet grills are seeing the grill catch on fire.
Pellet grill fires can be caused by a variety of reasons including a malfunctioning thermostat, issues with the heating element, or grease catching on fire.
Luckily, uncontrolled pellet grill fires are relatively rare, but it’s important to know what to do in case your pellet grill ever catches on fire.
So what causes a pellet grill to catch on fire?
The two main reasons for pellet grills catching on fire are a large buildup of pellets in the firepot or too much grease on the drip tray. Cleaning a pellet grill after every 2 to 3 cooking sessions and correctly igniting a pellet grill will prevent an uncontrolled pellet grill fire from occurring.
So regular maintenance is the best way to prevent an uncontrolled fire from starting on a pellet grill.
Let’s cover how to clean and correctly ignite a pellet grill to prevent an uncontrolled fire from starting. We’ll also cover what to do in case your pellet grill does catch on fire so you can limit the amount of damage the fire might cause.
What Causes Pellet Grills To Catch On Fire?
There are many different reasons why your pellet grill could end up catching fire. However, here are the two most common reasons for a pellet grill catching on fire.
1. Buildup of Pellets in the Firepot
Wood pellets can occasionally start to build up in the firepot for a few different reasons.
Generally, wood pellets will buildup in the firepot if there is too much ash in the firepot, the pellet grill is improperly started or restarted, or if the pellet grill has trouble maintaining cooking temperatures.
The photo below is the firepot in my Traeger when I was trying to smoke food in cold weather. The pellet grill had trouble maintaining the cooking temperature so it kept feeding in more pellets which smothered the fire.
If the firepot is full of pellets, do not just turn the pellet grill back on. All the wood pellets will create a fire similar to a small bonfire in your pellet grill.
Instead, you’ll need to clean out the firepot and properly ignite the pellet grill.
Here is a step-by-step photo guide for correctly restarting a pellet grill.
Make sure to follow each step which includes cleaning out the firepot before turning the pellet grill back on. Otherwise the pellet grill will catch on fire if the firepot is full of wood pellets like the photo above.
2. Too Much Grease On Drip Tray
The other most common reason for a pellet grill fire is having too much grease on the drip tray.
The drip tray is beneath the grill grate and will catch all of the grease and drippings and direct those fluids into the grease bucket.
However, grease can buildup on the drip tray if the ground is uneven or if the grease hardens before flowing into the grease bucket. Below is a photo of my drip tray that has grease buildup on the right hand side.
Grease buildup is completely normal when smoking fatty meats such as a brisket on a pellet grill. After smoking a brisket for 12 hours, there will be a lot of grease on the drip tray.
However, if the grease is not cleaned out and the pellet grill is cranked to a high temperature such as 450°F then a grease fire will start.
So the grease on the drip tray should be scraped off or cleaned out when there is a large buildup and before using the pellet grill at high cooking temperature.
What To Do If Pellet Grill Catches On Fire
Follow these steps if the pellet grill does catch on fire and you start seeing large flames coming from the pellet grill.
DO NOT use water to douse a fire on a pellet grill. The uncontrolled fire will likely be burning grease so water will spread the fire and make matters worse.
1. Keep Calm
The first impulse when people see large flames engulfing a pellet grill is to panic. Although it sounds counterintuitive, just remain calm since pellet grill fires can be controlled with these steps.
2. Unplug The Pellet Grill
Generally, the pellet grill will be feeding in wood pellets and have an induction fan blowing air into the firepot to keep the fire burning. This is great when the pellet grill is working properly.
However, when an uncontrolled fire starts burning in a pellet grill you do not want air and more pellets feeding into the fire.
So unplug the pellet grill so that wood pellets and air stop feeding into the fire.
3. Close The Lid
Once the pellet grill has been unplugged, the next important step is to close the lid. We want to prevent more air from flowing into the fire and encouraging it to grow.
Even if the fire appears to be uncontrolled and hitting all parts of the grill, just shut the lid and allow the grease fire to die down.
4. Move Grill Away From Flammable Objects
After the pellet grill has been unplugged and the lid has been closed, move flammable objects away from the pellet grill.
The pellet grill just needs time to cool down and we want to move anything flammable away from the pellet grill. So move objects or the grill away from flammable objects so the grill can safely cool down without spreading the fire to other items.
5. Smother The Fire If Needed
In some cases, the pellet grill fire will be too large or too uncontrolled that the fire needs to be smothered.
Personally, I have not run into this situation yet since the pellet grill fire will usually be inside the grill.
If the pellet grill fire starts burning outside of the grill then a fire extinguisher or a fire resistant blanket can be used to smother the fire. Make sure to unplug the pellet grill and close the lid before trying to smother the pellet grill fire.
How To Prevent Pellet Grill Fires
The best way to avoid a pellet grill fire is by maintaining and caring for your pellet grill.
Pellet grill fires can happen but they should not happen regularly or often. Pellet grill fires will cause damage and eventually may cause the pellet grill to stop working.
So let’s cover the 3 things to keep in mind in order to prevent uncontrolled pellet grill fires.
Correctly Ignite Pellet Grill
Pellet grills have an ignition sequence that allows the wood pellets to catch on fire and come up to the desired cooking temperature.
For Traeger pellet grills, this means the pellet grill needs to be set on the “smoke” setting at first since this allows the wood pellets to ignite before feeding in more pellets.
Make sure to always follow the ignition sequence when starting or restarting a pellet grill.
The most common beginner mistake is when the pellet grill stops mid-smoke and then turning the pellet grill back on without checking the firepot. Usually the firepot will be full of wood pellets which will lead to a pellet grill fire.
See this step-by-step photo guide on correctly restarting a pellet grill.
Keep Pellet Grill Clean
The next most important preventative step for avoiding an uncontrolled pellet grill fire is to keep the pellet grill clean.
Generally, pellet grills should be cleaned after every 2 to 3 cooking sessions. The firepot should be vacuumed clean of ash and the drip tray should be scraped clean from grease.
Keeping the pellet grill clean will ensure that the pellet grill works as intended and a pellet grill fire doesn’t start up.
See this step-by-step photo guide on how to clean a pellet grill.
Never Use Wet or Expanded Pellets
Finally make sure to never use wet or expanded wood pellets. Wood pellets are intended to remain dry and only be used dry.
If wood pellets get wet then they will expand and become unusable. Even after wet wood pellets dry, they will still remain expanded which can jam the auger or lead to an uncontrolled fire in the auger and hopper.
So never soak wood pellets and keep the wood pellets dry.
Pellet grills are versatile cooking machines that can cook a variety of different foods. The best part of smoking food on a pellet grill is how easy and low-maintenance these grills can be.
However, pellet grills still need occasional maintenance in order to prevent pellet grill fires.
Generally, a drip tray full of grease or a firepot overflowing with pellets will create a pellet grill fire. Regular maintenance and correctly igniting a pellet grill will prevent most pellet grills from catching on fire.
Like any other appliance, pellet grills are safe to use, as long as you are a responsible owner and cook. Remember to remain calm if the pellet grill does catch on fire and follow the steps in this guide to put the uncontrolled fire out.