Pellet Grill Controllers Explained

Pellet Grill Controllers Explained

Posted by Jody Flanagan on 3rd Apr 2019


Wood pellet grills all work the same way.

Pellets are fed from the hopper to the fire pot where they are ignited by the igniter rod. The blower fan then begins to circulate the heat and smoke throughout the chamber, creating indirect and convection cooking. The temperature in a wood pellet grill is determined by the amount of pellets consumed by the fire and the amount of airflow throughout the grill. The differentiating factor between pellet grill brands is the controller. The controller is the brains of the operation! It determines whether your grill will fluctuate in temperature or steadily hold the temperature you set it at. There are a few different type of controllers used to run a wood pellet grill. The most commonly used are time-based controllers, but there are also digital and PID controllers as well. PID controllers are, by far and away, the best in the business. To really appreciate PID controllers, you have to understand how they compare to others. 

Time-Based Controllers

The most commonly used controller in the pellet grill industry is the time-based controller. 

The desired temperature is first set on the control panel using a dial or electronic touch pad. This prompts the auger to feeds pellets from the hopper to the fire pot. An igniter rod lights the pellets, increasing the grill's temperature to an initial starting point. Keep in mind that the blower fan is constantly running to achieve combustion. Once the fire is lit, the desired temperature is reached by a repeated duty cycle. A duty cycle is a preset amount of time in which the auger runs in order to reach your set temperature. The cycle starts when the auger turns on and ends after the auger shuts down. Each temperature setting has a different duty cycle. Regardless of the temperature setting, the 'on' portion of the cycle remains the same. The amount of time the auger is shut off is the real variable. Lower temperatures have longer 'off' periods, while high temperatures have shorter 'off' periods. These controllers will average your set temperature and will not hold it. For example, if you set the temperature to 225ºF, the temperature can spike to 250ºF and drop to 200ºF while still averaging 225ºF. Aside from making your cook time unpredictable, what is this doing to your food? This type of fluctuation will result in an inefficient fire. An inefficient fire will produce white, billowing smoke that will leave your food tasting sour and stale. In other words, your food will taste like an ash tray... No bueno! You want thin blue smoke that can only be produced by an efficient fire. This gives you the smoky flavor you want without overpowering your food. A time-based controller can produce thin blue smoke, but only periodically.

Digital Controllers

Digital controllers are very similar to the controllers found in your oven. 

They're kind of like a cross between time-based controllers and PID controllers, but they are still quite unreliable. Digital controllers use microprocessors and a temperature sensor to create an informational loop. The temperature sensor inside the grill relays information to the controller, which turns the auger on and off, depending on if the actual temperature inside the grill is higher or lower than the set temperature. The variable here is the 'on' and 'off' cycle of the auger. Although it is much better than a time-based controller, a digital controller still can't maintain a temperature as precisely as a PID controller. The grill can fluctuate as much as 20ºF. Most manufacturers make note of this in the fine print of the product. As stated above, fluctuations equal inefficiency. Inefficiency equals white, billowing smoke. However, it will produce more thin, blue smoke than a time-based controller.

PID Controllers

PID is the gold standard of temperature control! 

Breweries, bakeries, and pharmaceutical companies all use a PID when creating their products. What does PID stand for? Proportional Integral Derivative. Now I know your'e saying to yourself, “That's great, Jody. But can you break that down a little more?” Of course, my friend! Proportional means that once the desired temperature is reached, the controller will tell the auger that it needs to stop feeding fuel to the fire. This prevents the actual temperature from exceeding the set temperature. Integral refers to when the actual temperature drops below the set temperature. The controller notices this change and restarts the duty cycle in order to reach the set temperature again. Derivative means this controller can think on the fly. If it starts raining or the wind begins to blow, the controller will notice the fluctuation and adjust accordingly. PID controllers are constantly adjusting their duty cycle in an attempt to maintain your set temperature. Even after the temperature is restored, the controller constantly tweaks the duty cycle in order to maintain it for hours on end. This is why PID controllers are considered the gold standard of temperature control. No more worrying about your wood pellet grill holding the temperature you set it at! The PID algorithm allows the fire to burn at optimum efficiency, producing thin blue smoke through the entire cook. The only white billowing smoke you'll see is at start up. Once your fire is ignited in your fire pot, you will quickly see the smoke turn from white to blue. A PID controller allows you to achieve the best performance and efficiency from your pellets. Burning at maximum efficiency results in longer lasting pellets and more money in your pocket.

Read all about our Wi-Pellet WiFi Controller with Dual Meat Probes HERE!

Why Is Temperature Control so Important?

Ask any experienced pitmaster what the most important factor of cooking is... They will tell you temperature control.

To create consistent and repeatable results, you must control the variables. One of the most important variables is temperature control! Once you eliminate this factor, you can begin focusing on your recipes, tweaking them to perfection. REC TEC General Manager Ben Lesshafft says anything that is repeatable is perfectible. Why does grandma’s apple pie taste SO good? Because she has perfected her recipe through years and years of trial and error. This is what separates good cooks from great cooks.

Experience Matters

Ever since its inception in 2009, REC TEC has used a PID controller. 

The original RT-680 started it all. Co-founders Ray and Ron knew that PID was, and still is, the way to go. Ten years have passed, and REC TEC has perfected its preparatory PID algorithm. Why does experience matter? Over that 10 year span, we have added even more awesome features alongside the fine-tuned temperature control (all at the request of our customers). REC TEC also has the manpower to answer your calls, texts, DMs, and emails in a timely manner. We don't contract our calls or customer services to another company. When you call REC TEC, you're going to speak with someone who owns and regularly uses a REC TEC. You're not going to speak with someone hired in a call center that reads from a script or keeps you on hold. Or worse, someone who sends you a repair part that does not fix your issue. Imagine going through the hassle of replacing a part on your grill in the hopes that it will be fixed, only to find out that you still have the same issue! When you choose REC TEC, you don't have to worry about that. We are not running around like bunch of gorillas in the mist, promising you services that we can't deliver. If you're on the fence about which pellet grill to buy, I hope this helps in one way or another. The most important thing is to get the most bang for your buck! Like Ray always says, “The best grill is the one you currently own.” But I promise you, if you give us a chance to earn your business, you won't look back. Don’t forget to add me on Facebook (Jody Flanagan and Rec Tec Jody), and follow me on Instagram (@johndillionsr) for a behind-the-scenes look at all things REC TEC!

Ben and I review MORE features and benefits of REC TEC's controller in the video below! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Flanagan is our resident REC TEC Grills Expert, where he can be seen on all social media platforms, including the weekly Funday Friday program. Jody has years of experience in the cooking industry and enjoys the art of grilling just as much as he loves the REC TEC Lifestyle. 

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