Z Grills Smoky Hopper

If you have smoke coming from the hopper, start by:
1. Opening the grill and hopper lids
2. Turning the grill to SMOKE setting
3. Watch the video below and read this article

Smoky hopper causes

Smoke coming out from the hopper is a problem that many pellets smoker grills can sometimes experience.

Here are the main reasons why this can happen:

  • Operating at a high temperature and turning directly to Shut Down
  • Lots of wood dust in the auger feed tube
  • Lots of ash build up in the fire-pot, due to:
    • Haven’t vacuumed fire-pot out recently
    • Use very ashy pellets
  • Large accumulation of pellets in the fire-pot leading to a huge fire in the fire-pot. This can happen if the fire has gone out and then reignited.

What to do

Grill already turned to Shut Down Cycle or OFF

If the grill is already in Shut Down Cycle (you have finished cooking) or turned OFF, proceed to the Clean Out Hopper section below.

Grill still operating (in middle of cook)

  1. Open the hopper and grill lids. 
  2. Turn the controller dial to SMOKE setting.
  3. You may want to remove your food, wrap in foil, or put in your oven on a low temperature setting to maintain the temperature.
  4. If after another 10-15 minutes there is no more (or very little) smoke coming from the hopper, turn the grill back to the target temperature and continue cooking.
  5. If the smoke does not stop coming from the hopper, follow the CLEAN UP HOPPER instructions below. remove all the pellets from the hopper right down to the auger (use vacuum if necessary) and run the controller on High until ALL pellets have cleared from the auger tube.  
  6. Turn the unit to SHUT DOWN CYCLE.  Once the unit has shut-down and is cold, do a thorough clean, vacuuming out all pellets and ash, including in the auger tube (put vacuum suction to the hopper end and then fire pot end).  
  7. Complete initial startup procedure to prime the auger tube with pellets for normal operation. 

Clean out hopper

  1. Turn the grill OFF.
  2. Remove all the pellets from the hopper right down to the auger. Do NOT use a vacuum as it can suck live sparks through into the hopper and even into the vacuum.
  3. The guard in the hopper can be removed temporarily by undoing the screws under the front rear lip (700 series grills, shown below) or right side (450A) allowing access to the bottom of the hopper. Take care not to drop the screws down the auger as they can get jammed.
Remove protective guard
  1. Once the grill is cooled down enough to safety do so, remove the grease tray and heat baffle and look inside the fire-pot. If it is 1/3 or more full of ash and pellets wait at least 1 hour until totally cold then vacuum out the fire-pot. If minimal ash, then proceed directly to the next step.
  2. Turn the grill ON and turn to smoke. Let the grill fire up and run until all pellets are used up and the fire goes out. The grill may eventually show an LER (low temperature error) which is normal.
  3. Turn the grill off and wait until totally cold.
  4. Vacuum out the hopper, fire-pot and feed tube so totally clean of ash and pellets.
  5. Complete initial startup procedure to prime the auger tube with pellets for normal operation. The grill does not need to be burnt in again.

Preventing a smoky hopper

  • Vacuum out the fire-pot after each long cook, or short cook if using high ash (oak based) pellets.
  • Some brands of pellets product huge amounts of ash and will very easily cause this issue. Avoid using them if possible. For more information about wood pellets, click here.
  • Avoid pouring wood pellets dust from the bottom of the bag into the hopper. Consider scooping pellets from a bag/bucket with a sieve (to remove the dust) when adding to the hopper.
  • After running the grill at high temperature (>160ºC) turn it down to a low temperature (107ºC or lower) for at least 10 minutes to allow the fire to die down, then turn to Shut Down.
  • If the grill ever shows an LER error, never turn the grill directly back on again. Always check the fire-pot first as it could be full of wood pellets. Learn more about LER here.

Extra keywords: smokey, burnback, smokeback