The smoke setting on a Traeger pellet grill cooks food at a temperature of 160°F, although due to temperature swings, actual cooking temperatures range from 160°F to 180°F. It’s great for cheeses, nuts, and more - I’ve got plenty of dishes to use it with later in this article!
Having used various Traeger grills for many years, I have made it a point to familiarize myself with all the settings. I have read the user manuals (so you don’t have to!), taken pitmasters’ advice, and done my own experimentation to understand how they work.
In this post, I will explain the Smoke setting in greater detail and outline how and when to use it. Let's get smoking!
However, very little information is provided by Traeger about what this setting is or what it does. Don’t worry! I’m here to fill in the information gaps.
On Traeger pellet grills, the Smoke setting refers to a range of temperatures between 160°F and 180°F.
The smoking process is often referred to as a low and slow form of cooking. The Smoke setting allows you to cook food at lower temperatures than are traditionally used for smoking.
The Traeger pellet grill works by moving wood pellets from the hopper to the fire pot with an auger. Once in the firepot, the wood pellets are ignited to create heat and smoke. This smoke is then circulated to the cooking chamber through a fan, similar to how heat moves through a convection oven.
When the Traeger grill is set to Smoke, or any other setting, the heating instrument (called a “hot rod”) is instructed to begin heating up. As this happens, wood pellets are delivered to the firepot.
As the temperature goes up, more smoke is produced.
While on the Smoke setting, the auger is on for 15 seconds and then turned off for 65 seconds. This means that the firepot is fed with wood pellets for 15 seconds, and then this action pauses. During this time, the pellets are heated, allowing smoke to waft throughout the grill.
The cycle continues for as long as the Smoke setting is activated.
While the Smoke setting is cool, you shouldn’t use it for most cooks. Shocked? I know - stay with me.
While the Smoke setting is great for producing that enchanting smoky flavor in food, the temperatures at which you’re cooking are quite low. This means that if you are cooking larger cuts of meat, the smoking process can make an already long cook even longer.
Also, 160°F (or even the max 180°F) isn’t a high enough temperature for many smoked foods to finish at. Ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder all need to cook to around 203°F. They will never reach their finish temperature when cooked on the Smoke setting.
Another thing. Cooking most meats, particularly larger cuts, at 160° risks holding them for extended periods of time in the “danger zone.”
This is why most people - including me - prefer to smoke meat at higher temperatures, often around 225°F to 250°F. You still get a great smoke flavor, but your foods will cook faster and can come up to their finish temperature. The food will also spend less time in the danger zone.
You will have noticed that in addition to the Smoke setting on your Traeger grill, there is also a temp setting for 180°F. Are these one and the same? Can they be used interchangeably?
Well, not really. See, with the Smoke setting, you are dealing with a lower range of temperatures. While the Smoke setting is used, the smoker runs at 160°F. Due to temperature variations, the smoker’s temperature can be anywhere between 160°F and 180°F.
When you use the 180°F setting, the cooking temperature is 20°F higher. Expect actual temps to read between 180°F and 200°F.
Although 180°F is a higher temperature, it is still considered too low for smoking almost all meats.
Once again, many types of meat, such as brisket, have to be cooked to an internal temperature of above 190°F. If the grill temp is set to 180°F, then the meat will never hit the desired internal temperature.
Yes, there are ways you can use the Smoke setting!
I get it - considering how infrequently some pitmaster use it, you may be wondering what the point of the Smoke setting is.
One of the main perks of the Traeger Smoke setting is that pitmasters use it to smoke things like cheese and nuts. Salmon can be cooked on the Smoke setting, as can cured foods like bacon.
The Traeger Smoke setting is perfect for this as it can cook foods at a much lower temperature than many other pellet grills on the market.
While you may hear people refer to cooking at these temperatures as “cold smoking,” that is incorrect. True cold smoking happens at much lower temperatures (68°F to 86°F). True cold smoking in your backyard requires an investment in additional gear. But the Smoke setting on Traeger grills gets you close!
The Smoke setting can also be used to hold foods at a lower temperature once they are finished cooking. While I prefer to rest and hold my foods in a cooler once they are done cooking (or the oven), your Traeger set to Smoke works in a pinch.
The exact process will depend on the model of your Traeger grill. Check under the lid of your grill to determine what method you should follow. Your user manual should also provide appropriate instructions.
Before you do start up your Traeger grill, always check the hopper. Make sure that there are enough pellets.
You don’t want your cook stalling halfway through the process - fill up that hopper
Set your Traeger to the Smoke setting and start up the machine with the lid open. Wait for the fire to get going - this can take up to 5 minutes. Then, close the lid, leave on the Smoke setting, and then preheat for up to fifteen minutes.
For closed-lid models, you can set it to the Smoke setting, close the lid, and preheat it right away for fifteen minutes.
There is no set time for how long you can use the Smoke setting. Think about the kind of cooking you’re doing, and use it for the correct length.
Are you planning on “cold-smoking” cheeses or nuts? If so, you can leave it in this setting until the foods are smoked all the way through. It can take a couple of minutes, in the case of mozzarella cheese, up to an hour for nuts, and 4-5 hours for salmon.
If you have one of the older Traeger pellet grills, then you may have the P-setting on your machine. This is also known as the Pause setting.
This option can be used in tandem with the Smoke setting. On some occasions, despite being set to Smoke, your grill may continue to spike in temperature until it remains steady at around 225°F. External temperature, humidity, and airflow can cause these temperature bumps (and temperature drops).
To lower the temperature, you can use the P settings. They go from P-1 to P-5, with the factory setting being P-2.
Remember what I said about how the Smoke mode works? The auger moves wood pellets inside the firepot for 15 seconds and then pauses for 65 seconds before continuing the cycle.
The factory default P2 setting. With the P1 setting, the pause lasts for 55 seconds. The higher the P setting, the longer the pauses. Less fuel will lower the smoker’s temperature.
So if you need to lower the temperature on a hot or humid day, raise the P-setting until your cooker temperature settles down.
This mode is only available with the Timberline Series, Ironwood Series, Redland, and Silverton 810 pellet grills. The Redland and Silverton are only available at Costco.
It works at temperatures between 165°F to 225°F.
Super smoke mode lets you blast a bit more smoke at a slightly higher grill temperature.
There are a couple of things that you should know about this Traeger grill mode. First, despite the super smoke term - you won't actually see too much additional smoke being produced. This is because there is a greater amount of blue smoke being produced here, and this isn't as visible as the thicker white smoke.
Thin or blue smoke is good when smoking. Plumes of smoke are bad - they impart acrid and bitter flavors to food.
Again, avoid cooking almost all meats at the lower 165°F super smoke temperature. 165° would be great for pre-cooked dishes like macaroni and cheese or baked beans - get creative!
You will rarely find too much smoke being produced during the Smoke setting.
Again, an excessive amount of smoke isn't a good thing. It doesn't produce the smokier flavor that you want - it will overpower the natural flavor profile of the food and seasoning. It will cause your food to taste bitter.
If you do notice an excess of smoke, go back to the Smoke setting. Let the clouds of smoke calm down until the smoke from the cooker is hardly noticeable. That’s the smoke that you want to infuse and cook your food.
Once the smoke has cleared out, turn the temperature back up.
So, there you have it - all that you need to know about the Traeger smoke setting. Now that you understand it a little better, you can use this function to its full capability.
If you are looking to learn how to “cold-smoke” foods, you will discover that this setting will come in useful! It’s divine when used for cheeses or when infusing pre-cooked foods with a kiss of smoke.