How to Prepare a Pellet Smoker In Cold Weather

One winter my pellet grill was taken over by mold. Don't let this happen to you. Here's how to prep your pellet smoker in cold weather so it's ready for Spring.

In the upper Midwest where I live, once winter arrives your outdoor grill or smoker probably sits idle for several months (unless you are a truly dedicated outdoor cook.) As I have learned from my own mistakes, it’s important to properly prepare your pellet grill or smoker for that downtime. And even if you live in a warmer climate, these tasks can help all pellet-powered cookers last longer.

Pellet grills and smokers are expensive pieces of equipment, and if you treat them right they’ll return the favor! Here are some quick and easy steps you should take to ensure you’ve prepared your equipment for winter or given it the annual tune-up.

Note: You can smoke food on a pellet grill, and you can grill food on a pellet smoker. Here we’ll use the term “grill or smoker” to be inclusive.

How to Clean Your Pellet Smoker or Grill

Food and grease attract critters during the cold months and dirty equipment can lead to mold growth, even if it’s outside in the cold. Here are the how-to steps for cleaning your pellet grill or smoker:

  • Fire up your grill or smoker to its maximum temperature. (Check your owner’s manual or website for the recommended max temp). Leave the grates in during the cleaning process. The grates are very vulnerable to mold and need to be carefully cleaned before you put everything away for the season. Let it go at that temperature for one hour. This will burn up most of the grease and food bits.
  • Let everything cool down.
  • When cleaning a pellet-powered cooker, you MUST remove all pellets from the hopper, pot and auger. Pellets are compacted wood particles, and if they get wet, which is inevitable, they will expand. At a minimum, this will cause a mess, but it is possible the bloated pellets could cause long-term damage to your equipment. A shop vacuum is a great tool to suck up any missed pellets. Don’t cut corners here, get all those pellets out!
  • Brush, wipe off and wipe down the remaining soot. Wire brushes are very popular but it is possible a bristle could come off and get in your food and that can be dangerous. Because of that risk, nylon brushes are becoming more popular and is what I use exclusively now. After brushing the grates, walls and any other exposed area of any remaining chunks of food or grease, wipe off the inside with paper towels to get the small particles of soot the brush didn’t scrape off.
  • Use a good spray cleaner multiple times during the year, and especially now that you’re preparing for the off-season. At this point, all that should be left inside your grill or smoker is some fine soot or a little grease. The spray cleaner will take care of that. Spray down any remaining dirty parts, including the grates and wipe them down one more time with paper towels. Citrus cleaning products do a great job cutting through the grease and leave your equipment smelling fresh and clean. Put a Cover on Your Pellet Grill or Smoker

Cover Your Pellet Grill or Smoker

I know this seems obvious but you would be surprised how many people spend hundreds of dollars or more on a nice pellet grill, smoker or pizza oven and then leave it out in the elements. For most outdoor cooking equipment, covers made specifically for each model are available. A quality model-specific cover should be in the $50 range and deluxe covers can cost as much as $100 or more.

I recommend buying a model-specific cover over a generic one because it will fit better. If your model doesn’t offer a cover or you want to keep the cost lower, Amazon has many to choose from in the range of $20 to $40. Measure the dimensions of your pellet grill or smoker and purchase a cover to match. To protect your cover from blowing off, secure it to the grill or smoker with the locking strap. If the cover didn’t come with one, purchase a sturdy strap or two to lock down the cover. Properly securing the cover is important because you won’t be paying much attention to this equipment for a few months, so if your cover blows off you might not even notice.

Unplug Your Pellet Grill or Smoker

Yep, I’ve made this mistake, too. I left my pellet grill plugged in and when I went to use it in the spring the electronic computer part called the control board no longer worked. I called customer service to troubleshoot and they told me leaving it plugged in all winter likely caused the problem. I have a higher-end model, and it cost me $99 to replace the control board. Thankfully that’s all it took to get my pellet grill working again. Even on lower-end models, a replacement control board will cost $40 or more.

Disconnect Everything From Your Pellet Grill or Smoker

If your power cord, meat probes or anything else unplugs, disconnect and store them. Put whatever you disconnected in a sealable plastic bag and leave them on the shelf under your cooker. That way you’ll know right where they are when you need them again in the spring.

Store Your Pellet Grill or Smoker in a Safe Location

The common theme here is that you should keep your equipment dry. Ideally, store the cleaned grill or smoker in a garage or shed to keep it out of the wind and snow. If that’s not an option and you have to leave it outside, store it under the overhang of your roof or somewhere else where rain or melting snow isn’t likely to run down and pool up on the cover or around the legs. If your overhang isn’t large enough to keep the equipment safe from rain, ice and snow, look for another location that can provide overhead protection.

Using Your Grill or Smoker Again in the Spring

When it’s time to fire up your pellet grill or smoker again, it’s a good idea to run it at a high temperature with no food for an hour to be completely sure all parts are food safe. Then you’ll be ready to start grilling and smoking again.