When using a pellet grill, I often get asked if a pellet grill dries out the meat while cooking it.
After all, pellet grills can smoke a brisket for 12 hours so a lot of curious BBQers want to make sure that the brisket will not turn into jerky once the cook finishes.
Thankfully, I have smoked countless times with beef, pork, and chicken to provide some insight into how moist meat will remain when cooked on a pellet grill.
Generally, pellet grills will not dry out meat when using the appropriate cooking temperature and time. In fact, brisket that is smoked on a pellet grill at 225°F for 10 to 14 hours will become more tender and juicier. However, pellet grills can also create beef jerky which involves dehydrating meat over a long period of time. Ultimately, the cooking temperature and time will determine if the pellet grill will dry out the meat.
If you follow a recipe to cook food on a pellet grill that you normally use on a propane or charcoal grill, then the meat will not dry out on a pellet grill. In fact, the food should be just as moist but with the added benefit of having a smoky flavor.
Now let’s cover how a pellet grill works and tips to avoid drying out the meat.
How Pellet Grills Work
A pellet grill is simply a grill that uses wood pellets as fuel for a fire. The firepot is where the wood pellets burn and smolder which creates the heat and smoke needed to cook and smoke food.
Below is an image that highlights the main internal parts of a pellet grill and the purpose of each part.
Once the pellet grill creates smoke from the burning wood pellets, the induction fan blows the smoke upwards and around the meat that is cooking on the grill grate.
Similar to an induction oven, the heat and smoke will surround the meat from all sides so that the meat will cook evenly. Since the meat is being cooked evenly from all angles, the meat does not need to be flipped on a pellet grill unless the meat is being seared or cooked at a high temperature.
Reasons Why Meat Dries Out on Pellet Grill
Similar to other forms of cooking such as propane, charcoal, or wood fires, a pellet grill will dry meat out if the meat is left on the grill for too long.
Here are the most common reasons for meat drying out on a pellet grill:
- Leaving the meat for too long on the pellet grill
- Using too high of a cooking temperature
- Cooking lean meat for too long (such as chicken or turkey)
Although pellet grills do blow smoke and heat around the food being cooked, any meat being cooked on a pellet grill will not dry out faster than any other BBQ method.
In fact, there are a few ways to prevent the meat from drying out while cooking on a pellet grill.
Using a Water Pan for Moisture
Water pans are great to use in pellet grills and other forms of low-temperature cooking in order to help keep the meat moist.
A water pan is simply a tray or pan that is placed beneath the meat so that the moisture that evaporates will hit the meat. The humid environment that the water pan creates is what helps keep the meat moist as it cooks or smokes for hours.
Water pans are commonly used when smoking a turkey or cooking chicken since both of these meats tend to dry out when cooked for a long period of time.
Although called water pans, other fluids can be placed inside the pan such as beer or chicken stock, as these fluids will also create a pleasant flavor on top of keeping the meat moist.
Using a Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron cookware can be used to help keep the meat moist as the meat cooks or smokes in a pellet grill.
The main benefit of using a cast iron pan is that the pan will capture all the meat juices and fats that drip away from the meat. This means the meat will be soaking and marinating in the meat as it cooks.
Preventing the meat juices from dripping away from the meat is what will keep the meat moist.
See this guide for tips on using a cast iron pan on a pellet grill.
Using Aluminum Foil
Aluminum foil can be used to wrap the grill grates or a baking sheet with raised edges to provide a solid surface that the meat can smoke on.
Similar to using cast iron cookware, the aluminum foil will catch all the excess meat juices and allow the juices to evaporate and provide moisture to the meat.
Using a baking sheet or any cookware covered in aluminum foil will allow the meat to marinate while being cooked in the pellet grill.
The goal of using aluminum foil is to provide a surface to capture the meat juices that would normally drip into the drip tray. We want the meat juices to evaporate or marinate the meat while being cooked.
Pellet grills and smokers can dry out meat when the meat is left unattended for a long period of time. However, meat being cooked or smoked in a pellet grill or smoker will not dry out just because the meat is being cooked in a pellet grill or smoker.
In fact, pellet grills and smokers usually make meat more tender and juicier from being cooked at a low temperature for multiple hours. Similar to using a crockpot to turn a tough piece of chuck roast into shredded beef, smoking meat will turn a tough brisket into a juicy and soft cut of meat.
If the meat being smoked is more prone to drying out, such as chicken or turkey, then there are ways to ensure that the meat stays moist.
Using a water pan, cast iron cookware, or aluminum foil can be used to capture the excess meat juice which will keep the air around the meat more humid. Moreover, a pan can be used to contain the meat juices which will allow the meat to marinate in the juices while being cooked.
There are plenty of ways to keep the meat moist while being smoked or cooked in a pellet grill and smoker.
Overall, pellet grills and smokers do not dry out meat unless you want them to. After all, pellet grills are versatile cooking machines that can be used to smoke a brisket, sear a steak, bake a pizza, and even create beef jerky. Just monitor the cooking temperature and time to prevent the meat from drying out while using a pellet grill or smoker.