Compared to a gas or charcoal grills, Traeger Grills (Traeger Smoker) are pretty high-tech, relying on multiple parts that work in unison to create a set-it and forget-it BBQ experience. Think about it: an automated auger delivers the perfect amount of pellets to the fire in order to establish the desired cooking temperature, then sensors and a digital control board communicate back and forth to precisely maintain that temperature.
Like all pellet grills, Traeger Grills are a marvel of convenience. But the cornerstone of that convenience is technology, and now and again you may encounter problems. Most of those problems are easy to diagnose and fix with just a little troubleshooting.
Abnormal Temperature Swings
The most common reason why people think their Traeger is malfunctioning is temperature swings. They set it at 250°F and then watch as the digital display climbs to 280°F for a few moments or temporarily dips to 215°F. Since the Traeger Digital Elite Controller that’s found on models like the Lil Tex Elite, Renegade Elite and Traeger Century 22 (also called the Costco Traeger) is supposed to maintain +/- 20°, it must be broken. Right? Not necessarily.
Are Those Abnormal Swings Actually Normal?
Before pulling your hair out trying to troubleshoot you Traeger, stop and consider whether there’s actually a problem. Often what users perceive as a problem is in fact how a Traeger Grill is designed to work. When Traeger—or any pellet grill maker—states that their grill can maintain a particular temperature range, the number given is an average for an entire cook. Sometimes it will get closer to the set temperature and other times it will drift further from it. Here’s a very simple way of looking at it: If, over the course of a three-hour cook your Traeger holds its temperature within 10°F half of the time but only 30°F the other half of the time, it’s still within the stated range of +/-20°. Remember, it’s an average of the entire cook, not just a single data point.
When evaluating temperature swings with your Traeger, there’s another factor to consider: the conditions. When Traeger states that a grill can hold its temperature within a particular range (such as +/-20°), that claim is usually followed by an asterisk. And if you read closer, the asterisk indicates that those temperature ranges are based on ideal conditions—70°F, sunny, no wind, and no food in the grill. Therefore, if you’re cooking a full load on a windy October day in which the outside temperature is hovering around 60°F, it’s completely normal for your Traeger’s temperature to drift outside the +/-20°. The same holds true if it’s raining or snowing or blazing hot.
(It’s important to note that even though Traeger says its Pro Series Grills with Advanced Grill Logic are PID, and PID controllers are not typically affected by the elements, they too have an asterisk that indicates their ability to hold +/-15° is based on ideal conditions.)
What Pellets are You Using
Believe it or not, the pellets are the primary cause of temperature fluctuations in any pellet grill. Not all smoker pellets are the same. Some produce more ash than others. When there’s too much ash floating around in the grill, the RTD probe, which measures the grill’s temperature and relays it to the controller, can’t get an accurate reading. That could lead to false readings on the digital display or the controller could become confused, believing it needs to feed more/less pellets to the fire than it actually does.
Traeger recommends that you use their pellets, in part because those are the only pellets they can guarantee are good quality. While your Traeger should run perfectly well on any quality BBQ pellet, bear in mind that the first question any service representative will ask during is if you’re using Traeger pellets.
Even if you’re using quality pellets, be sure to regularly clean excess ash from the fire pot and grill interior with a Shop-Vac or household vacuum to keep your Traeger performing its best . While it’s recommended that you clean your Traeger every 2-3 uses, it’s a good idea to do so after a long all-day cook in which ash is likely to build up.
Take a Look at the Fire Pot
The fire pot on your Traeger Grill is specially designed to maximize airflow. There are a specific number of holes that are precisely sized and strategically placed to feed enough oxygen to the fire to keep the fire burning at the desired temperature. More so than any other part on a pellet grill, the fire pot withstands the most duress. Consistent exposure to high temperatures and the constant heating and cooling make it susceptible to weakening and corrosion. Over time, perforations and holes can develop in the steel, allowing increased and unwanted airflow to the fire, making it harder for the grill to accurately regulate its cooking temperature.
The fire pot is the most commonly replaced part on a Traeger and can be easily swapped for another standard steel fire pot or upgraded with a stainless steel Traeger fire pot, which is more durable and should last the life of your grill.
Check the Heat Diffuser and Drip Pan
Like the fire pot, the heat diffuser and drip pan on your Traeger are made of standard steel. And like the fire pot, the heat diffuser constantly endures damaging high heat. The drip pan, meanwhile, gets a double dose of corrosion causers—it absorbs radiant heat from the and is exposed to moisture in the form of drippings. If either part begins to corrode, your Traeger could develop hot spots. As with the fire pot, both the heat diffuser and drip pan are also available in stainless steel—or you can purchase all three parts as a Premium Pack.
Test the RTD Probe
If everything else seems to be in order—you’re using good pellets, the fire pot is in good condition—you may need to test the RTD probe. The RTD acts like a thermostat and measures the internal temperature of the grill and feeds the information back to the control board. Much like in your house, if the thermostat is bad, your grill won’t be able to accurately regulate its temperature.
The simplest way to test the RTD is to use a remote thermometer like the iGrill. While the RTD and thermometer readings may not line up exactly (they probably measure the temperature at different intervals), they should be close and should dovetail over the course of a twenty minute test cook.
If you don’t have a remote thermometer or don’t want to go through the process of testing your RTD, don’t worry. Through the process of elimination, you can zero in on it as a probable culprit–if it’s not the pellets, the grill is clean, and your fire pot and fan are in good working order, it’s probably the RTD. And, because it’s fairly inexpensive, Traeger is usually good about sending a replacement RTD while your grill is under warranty. Even if your grill is out of warranty, the RTD represents a quick and affordable fix.
The Fire Goes Out Mid-Cook
Another common Traeger Grill problem is the fire going out mid-cook, and it’s usually rooted in the same issues that create abnormal temperature swings, with the top cause being bad pellets that produce excessive ash. If too much ash builds up in the fire pot over the course of a cook, it can cut off airflow and suffocate the fire, snuffing it out.
Likewise a bad RTD that’s relaying inaccurate readings can cause the controller to dump too few pellets, preventing it from being able to maintain a fire.
Finally, because the induction fan helps feed oxygen to the flames, if it isn’t working, that could cause the fire to go out. Give a listen. You should hear the fan humming while your Traeger is cooking.
Pellets Aren’t Being Fed to the Fire Pot
Wood pellets are fed to the fire pot from the hopper by a rotating auger that’s powered by a motor. After turning on your Traeger, you should hear it begin to move (note: it could take several seconds). You can also look down into an empty hopper and see a section of the auger. If it’s not moving, it could be a faulty motor.
If the auger isn’t moving but the motor is fine, there could be a pellet jam preventing the auger from spinning. Clearing the jam requires removing the hopper and doing some light mechanical work, but there are plenty of step-by-step videos that simplify the process and show exactly how to do it.
Your Traeger Won’t Light
If the auger is delivering pellets to the fire pot, but they’re not lighting, there’s a good chance the igniter is bad. You can check if it’s working by running the grill without pellets. Remove the grates, drip pan, and heat diffuser so you can see inside the fire pot. The tip of the igniter extends into the fire pot and should glow when the grill is turned on.
If the igniter is working properly but the pellets aren’t lighting, the fan could be at fault. Without that necessary oxygen or airflow, the fire may not light. Again, listen for the sound of the fan humming to ensure it’s working.
Traeger Error Codes
While not every Traeger problem will produce an error code, Traeger Grills are designed to know when there are specific problems. In those instances, an error code will appear on the digital display. Below are common Traeger error codes and their causes:
- ERR –RTD Probe malfunction
- LEr –Low temperature error. The temperature is running below 125°F for more than 10 consecutive minutes.
- HEr –High temperature error. The grill is heating to 500°F
- ER1 –Loose Connection on RTD
- ER2 –Short circuit