How to Test the Hot Spots in a Pellet Smoker

Hey there my fellow pellet smoking fiends and welcome to my post where we will take a look at how to test the hot spots in a pellet smoker. Now, as someone always looking for something to smoke in my Traeger Pro Series 22 Pellet Smoker, I have been checking out some recipes lately for inspiration.

How to Test the Hot Spots in a Pellet Smoker - Header

And a couple I have come across have mentioned the fact that for best results, I needed to place whatever I was smoking on either the hottest, or coolest parts of the smoker. And as I didn’t know that information about my smoker, it was time to run some tests.

And of course it also gave me an excuse to smoke some chicken thighs as well – haha.

Check out my: Traeger Chicken Thighs – Recipe and Cooking Guide

How to Test the Hot Spots in a Pellet Smoker

As it turns out, Pellet smokers, like all cooking appliances, all have their little quirks, one of which is the presence of hot spots. In short, these are areas within the smoker that, due to design or airflow patterns, tend to be hotter than others.

And as I have found out in some of the recipes I have been looking at, identifying and understanding these areas can significantly improve your smoking results, ensuring even cooking and perfect smoky flavors.

There are a number of ways you can do this of course. I will run through the methods I used and then highlight some of the others below. Here’s how to test for hot spots in your pellet smoker:

Option 1 – Cook stuff

This is the step I used and simply involves cooking something in different areas to literally see which areas cook first. The trick here is to use a product that is quick to cook and will show color quickly as well such as chicken thighs (my choice), vegetables, biscuits or even just plain old slices of bread.

To do this, undertake the following steps:

  • Choose your item of choice – remember you want something that will cook relatively quickly and sensitive to temperature variations.
  • Place them in different areas of the smoker.
  • Observe the cooking process, noting any discrepancies in cooking times or doneness.

As above, I chose chicken thighs and set the temp to around 135°C/275°F. After about an hour I could see definite differences in color and level of cookedness (is that word?). This gave me a great understanding of the hotter areas in my smoker.

How to Test the Hot Spots in a Pellet Smoker - chicken on smoker

Option 2 – Use Water Pans

Should you not want to cook anything – or have anything suitable to cook, another method to identify hot spots is using water pans. This test works in a similar fashion to the cooking method except you are using water temperatures instead.

This is how it is done:

  • Fill several small, identical pans with equal amounts of water.
  • Place them at different spots across the grill grate.
  • Run your smoker at a set temperature for a specific period (an hour, for instance).
  • Measure the water temperature in each pan using a thermometer. Differences in temperature will indicate how heat is distributed across the cooking surface.

Option 3 – Thermal Imaging

If you are someone who rreeeaalllllyyyyy wants a clear picture of your pellet smoker temperature ranges, then you can definitely go for ta more high-tech approach. This entails using thermal imaging cameras or infrared thermometers to provide a detailed heat map of your smoker.

For this, you will need to:

  • Preheat your smoker to your desired cooking temperature.
  • Scan the surface of the grill grate with your thermal imaging camera or point your infrared thermometer at various sections of the grate.
  • Record the temperatures to identify the warmer and cooler areas.

Tips for Managing Hot Spots

So, once you have done all of this, you can now manage your cooks based on the hot spots you have identified. The level you take this to is of course determined on how specific you want to be with temperatures etc. and what you choose to cook.

Depending on what you are cooking, you can manage your heat spots by:

  • Rotating your food during cooking to ensure even exposure to the smoker’s hot and cool areas.
  • Using heat deflectors or smoker boxes to help distribute heat more evenly.
  • Adjusting the placement of your food based on the hot spots you’ve identified, using cooler areas for foods that require lower temperatures – such as fruit and vegetables.


So there you have it, my tips for checking the hot spots on Traeger grill smokers. I hope it has been of assistance but as usual, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out by commenting below. I would also love to hear of your own experiences, learnings or suggestions here as well.

Are there any other products you have been looking at but want to know more about? If so, please comment below and I will do my best to get some details for you.

Until next time

Have fun and get smoking!


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