Can you leave unused pellets in a pellet grill?

Pellet grills have become extremely popular in recent years for their convenience and ability to impart wood-fired flavor into grilled foods. Unlike charcoal or gas grills, pellet grills run on small hardwood pellets that are fed from a storage hopper into a burn pot where they are ignited to produce heat and smoke. This leads to a common question many pellet grill owners have: can you leave unused pellets in the hopper after grilling or do they need to be emptied out each time?

Quick Answers

In short, there are a few factors to consider when deciding whether to leave pellets in the hopper or empty it out between uses:

  • Moisture absorption – Pellets left in the hopper can absorb moisture from the air and break down over time.
  • Pest intrusion – Rodents or insects can get into the pellet hopper and contaminate the pellets.
  • Pellet jams – Stale, moist pellets are more likely to jam the auger system.
  • Fire hazard – Pellets won’t spontaneously combust but leaving the hopper full increases risk if a fire does start.
  • Freshness – Fresher pellets burn better and impart better smoke flavor.

Many pellet grill manufacturers recommend emptying the hopper between uses to prevent pellet breakdown and jams. However, this isn’t strictly necessary. Pellets stored in airtight containers in climate-controlled conditions can last for months without degrading. The key is keeping them dry. In humid environments, consider emptying the hopper or using a grill cover.

Should You Empty the Pellet Hopper After Every Cook?

Whether you need to empty the pellet hopper after each cook depends on a few factors:

Moisture Absorption

One of the biggest enemies of wood pellets is moisture. When pellets are exposed to humidity in the air, they will gradually absorb moisture over time. This can lead to the pellets swelling and breaking down into sawdust or even disintegrating completely if they get wet enough.

Wet pellets don’t flow as smoothly through the auger system and can jam the gears or moving parts. They also don’t burn as cleanly or efficiently in the firepot. This produces more ash and less heat. It also affects the smoke flavor, making it harsher and less pleasant.

For this reason, pellet manufacturers recommend emptying the hopper if the grill will be stored in warm, humid conditions between uses. However, during the cooler or drier months, pellets can usually be left in the hopper without much issue.

Pest Contamination

An opened bag of pellets left sitting in the hopper can attract rodents like mice or insects who want to nest or feed on the pellets. This contaminates the pellets not only with germs and droppings, but also with the pests themselves.

For instance, stories abound of grilling enthusiasts starting up their pellet grills after a period of disuse only to find ants, cockroaches, or mice being fed directly into the firepot. This can be alarming as well as unhygienic.

Sealing the unused pellets in an airtight container prevents pests from getting in. But any pellets left sitting in the hopper are vulnerable to infestation, especially if stored outdoors. So emptying the hopper between uses is a good way to avoid attracting pests.

Risk of Pellet Jams

As mentioned, wet pellets are more prone to disintegrating into sawdust. This sawdust can accumulate in the auger and jam the gear system that feeds the pellets into the firepot.

Stale pellets left sitting unused for weeks or months can break down and bind up the auger as well. This usually requires disassembling the pellet feed system to clear out compacted sawdust and pellets.

Emptying the hopper after each cookout and refilling it with fresh dry pellets minimizes the risk of jams and blockages during your next use.

Fire Safety

Pellets that are soaked with moisture can spontaneously combust and start a fire in rare cases. However, unused dry pellets sitting in the hopper pose very little fire risk on their own.

That said, leaving the hopper full does create more potential fuel should a grease fire or electrical malfunction ignite. So some people empty the hopper as a basic fire-prevention measure after each use.

Maintaining Pellet Quality

Fresh, dry pellets burn hotter and produce better smoke than old pellets that have been sitting exposed to the elements. Keeping the hopper full between uses means you’ll be cooking over less optimal pellets.

For the best performance, many pellet grill owners top up the hopper with fresh pellets right before each cook while their old pellets go into an airtight storage container. This ensures you’ll always be grilling with high-quality pellets.

Tips for Storing Pellets in the Hopper

If you choose to leave pellets in the hopper between grilling sessions, here are some tips to store them properly:

  • Keep the hopper lid closed and latched to make it air and water tight.
  • Cover the grill to protect the hopper from rain, snow, and other precipitation.
  • Place a desiccant pack in the hopper to help absorb excess moisture.
  • Consider adding a pellet saver device to push pellets back from the auger intake.
  • Avoid very humid storage conditions like an uninsulated garage or outdoors.
  • Inspect the pellets visually for damage before each use.
  • Occasionally remove and stir the pellets by hand to break up any clumps.
  • Empty and clean out the firepot before storage to remove ash that can absorb moisture.

Taking some basic precautions allows unused pellets to be left in most pellet grill hoppers for weeks or months at a time with no issues.

Use a Pellet Dump System

Many pellet grills now come equipped with a quick pellet dump or purge system. This allows you to easily empty all pellets out of the hopper into a bucket or bin for convenient storage after each cook.

Models like the Traeger Ironwood and Timberline have this feature built-in. Aftermarket pellet dump kits are also available to add to your existing grill. This makes clearing out the hopper much simpler than scooping out the pellets by hand.

Invest in a Grill Cover

A good waterproof grill cover will protect your pellet hopper from exposure to rain, snow, and other moisture. This prevents pellets from absorbing humidity while sitting unused between cooks.

Look for a cover made from a durable, weather-resistant material like vinyl or polyester. It should fully cover the hopper and surround the entire grill on all sides.

Covers with padded insulation also help moderate interior temperatures and humidity levels. Make sure to lock or tie down the cover so it doesn’t blow away in high winds.

Use Moisture-Absorbing Desiccants

Placing moisture-absorbing desiccant packs in the pellet hopper will actively draw out humidity and keep pellets dry. These are the same small packs often found in product packaging.

Look for desiccants made from silicone or clay as they are non-toxic. You can pick up inexpensive desiccant packs at many hardware stores or order them online.

Two or three 2-gram packs are usually sufficient for an average pellet grill hopper. Replace them periodically as they absorb moisture.

Add a Pellet Stoker/Saver Device

Aftermarket pellet saver devices are available that attach to the drop chute and automatically push pellets back away from the auger intake when the grill is off. This prevents the pellets from disintegrating into dust due to the agitation from the auger.

Devices like the Pit Boss Pellet Stoker mount inside the hopper and are powered by a AA battery. When operating, they slowly oscillate to keep pellets loosely moving away from the auger intake.

Using one of these devices allows pellets to stay fresh and intact for much longer periods inside the hopper.

How Long Can Pellets Last in a Hopper?

With proper storage, high-quality hardwood pellets can realistically last for 2-3 months in most pellet grill hoppers without degrading too significantly.

However, heat, humidity, and exposure to the auger agitation will cause them to break down much faster than this. Under less ideal conditions, pellets may only last for 2-3 weeks before absorbing excess moisture or turning to sawdust.

Here are some general guidelines for pellet longevity in hoppers based on storage conditions:

  • With a waterproof cover in a dry climate – 2-3 months
  • Without a cover in humid conditions – Less than 1 month
  • Stirred manually every few weeks – 1-2 months
  • Without stirring or rotation – Less than 1 month
  • With desiccant packs – 3+ months
  • High temperatures (90°F+) – 1-2 weeks
  • Constant pellet saver agitation – Less than 1 month

No matter what, periodically emptying and replacing old pellets ensures you always have superior, fresh pellets for grilling. Only leave pellets when convenient, not by default.

Signs Your Pellets Have Degraded

Here are some telltale signs that unused pellets left sitting in the hopper have absorbed too much moisture or broken down:

  • Sawdust accumulation around auger intake
  • Pellets have visibly swollen in size
  • Pellets have turned mushy or are disintegrating
  • Black powder or flour-like fines in the hopper
  • Pellet jam or auger seized up during operation
  • Smoke output seems low and weak
  • Grill fails to heat up to expected temperatures
  • Food has weaker smoke flavor than normal

At the first signs of moisture damage or degradation, empty out all old pellets and replace with a fresh batch. Also inspect the auger system for any sawdust or pellet debris buildup and clean as needed.

Storing Leftover Pellets Properly

To save any pellets removed from the hopper for future use, proper storage is important.

Here are some tips for storing unused pellets:

  • Keep them in a sealed bucket, bin or drum with an airtight lid.
  • Use a food-grade plastic container or metal can/drum.
  • Avoid porous containers like cardboard that allow air exchange.
  • Add some desiccant packs to the storage container.
  • Keep pellets in a cool, dark place around 75°F.
  • Avoid storage in uninsulated sheds/garages with temperature swings.
  • Refill pellet hopper as needed and keep remainder sealed.

With an airtight container and some desiccant packs, pellets can be saved for use for up to 6 months or longer without losing their efficacy.


Should I empty the hopper when not in use?

It’s generally recommended to empty the pellet hopper when the grill won’t be used for extended periods of time, primarily to prevent moisture absorption issues. However, with proper storage precautions like a waterproof cover, desiccants and occasional stirring, pellets can safely remain in the hopper for weeks or months between uses.

How long do pellets last in the hopper?

With optimal storage conditions, pellets can realistically last around 2-3 months in the hopper before degrading. Poor storage with excess humidity or heat will cause them to deteriorate much faster in 1-2 weeks.

Do pellets go bad in the hopper?

Pellets can go bad in the sense that they can absorb moisture, break down, jam augers and generally become unsuitable for efficient burning. Proper dry sealed storage extends their lifespan, but humidity will eventually render pellets in the hopper unusable.

Should I put pellets back in the bag?

It’s fine to pour unused pellets back in the original bag for storage, as long as the bag can be fully sealed to prevent moisture absorption. For even better results, store opened pellets in an airtight plastic bucket or metal drum with desiccant packs.

Can pellets get wet in the hopper?

If left exposed to rain or high ambient humidity, pellets in the pellet hopper can definitely get wet. Using a waterproof cover and keeping the hopper lid sealed helps protect them from moisture.

Where is the best place to store pellets?

The ideal place to store unused pellets is in an airtight plastic or metal container kept in a cool, dry place around 75°F. Avoid humid environments like garages and direct sun exposure. Keep pellets sealed and use desiccants for long term storage.


Leaving pellets in your pellet grill’s hopper between cooking sessions is generally fine for shorter term storage, as long as proper moisture prevention steps are taken. Use a grill cover, keep the hopper closed, and add desiccant packs to prolong the pellet’s lifespan.

For long term storage or when subjected to humid conditions, removing and sealing the unused pellets is recommended. With optimal storage methods, pellets can last 2-3 months or longer before needing to be replaced. But inspect them regularly and change out any degraded pellets as needed.

By following these pellet storage and hopper tips, you can reduce pellet waste and always have high-quality pellets ready for your next succulent smoked barbecue masterpiece.

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