Welcome to my J.A.M. (Just Ask Mike) Session, a weekly column where I answer your basic electrical questions. If you’re a newbie who’s never plugged in a shore power cord (or ask – what’s a shore power cord?), or wonder why your daughter’s hair dryer keeps tripping the circuit breaker, this column is for you. Send your questions to Mike Sokol at mike (at) noshockzone.org with the subject line – JAM. Today Mike discusses powering a pellet grill from a solar generator.
Looks like I’m getting a Z Grills pellet smoker for Christmas (at least that’s my secret Santa hint). Since I like to boondock and this seems like the ideal way to make some great eats for my family and friends while we’re off-grid, is there any way it can be powered from a solar generator?
I hate the idea of running a gasoline generator in the woods or on the beach since it will disturb the peace and quiet. And I don’t want to run down my camper battery during the day when I’ll probably need it for the night.
I have my eyes on a Jackery 1,500-watt Explorer with 400 watts of solar panels. Could this solar generator run a pellet smoker for 8 hours? Any info would be great. —Sam (the cook)
Dear Sam (the cook),
Great question. And I hope you invite me by for smoked brisket or ribs sometime. The interesting thing about pellet grills is that most of the energy usage happens in the first 5 minutes or so while it powers a heating element to get the pellets burning. After that it just needs enough power to run the electronics and auger that feeds the pellets into the fire box.
How many watts does a pellet grill use?
I found this information on the Traeger grill website, which should have a very similar power draw:
The first few minutes is when the most power is needed. The small, metal igniter rod needs to get red hot in order to ignite the first few pellets that drop into the firebox. Approximately 300 watts is needed to accomplish this. Then only about 50 watts is needed thereafter to keep the fan, control panel, and auger running. The burning pellets do most of the work.
How many watt-hrs does that translate into?
Well, let’s assume 300 watts are needed for the first 6 minutes to get the pellet igniter up to temp. That works out to 300 watts of power times 1/10th of an hour, which equals 30 watt-hrs. Not too bad so far.
Now, what about the 50 watts continuous power it needs for 10 hours to do a brisket? Well, 50 watts of power times 10 hours of running equals 500 watt-hrs of energy. Now we add 30 watt-hrs of startup energy to the 500 watt-hrs to run the fan and auger, and that equals 530 watt hrs. Let’s round that up to 600 watt-hrs just for grins.
How many watt-hrs can a solar generator supply?
The solar generator you’re looking at really has a good bit of battery power, plus 400 watts of solar panels to boot. Here’s what I found on the Jackery website:
POWER UP YOUR LIFE: With 1800 wattage and the 1534Wh capacity, the Explorer 1500 will power most of appliances. Solid and practical for devices, power tools, and even larger appliances such as electric stoves, electric microwave ovens, air-conditioners, and refrigerators.
Now we just have to divide the 1,534 watt-hrs of advertised storage by the 600 watt-hrs needed to smoke a brisket, and it appears you’ll be in great shape. In fact, you could smoke a brisket two days in a row and still only use 1,200 watt-hrs of your 1,534 watt-hrs of battery capacity.
But wait, there’s more…
We just need to do some simple arithmetic to figure this out. In addition to the stored energy in the battery, we also we have to add in the 400 watts of solar panels that can gather power from the sunlight.
The general rule of thumb is that a 100-watt solar panel can supply about 300 watt-hrs of power every 24 hours. So let’s multiply 4 solar panels times 300 watt-hrs per panel, and we see that if the sun is shining it should be able to capture around 1,200 watt-hrs of energy per day.
You could be smoking brisket forever with a solar generator
If this works out as the numbers indicate, your Jackery 1,500-watt solar generator could be gathering twice as much energy from the sun as the pellet smoker needs to run for 10 hours each day. So, as long as you don’t run out of pellets (and brisket), you could be making smoked meats forever.
Of course, if the sun don’t shine, then you’re on battery power alone. But that’s still okay since you have enough stored energy in the lithium battery to last for at least 2 days of pellet smoking.
Am I sure about this?
Well, I’m reasonably sure that the watt requirements published by the manufacturers are correct. So if they didn’t lie about the numbers, then my calculations are correct.
However, to know for sure I need to test. So in the interest of science (and the fact that I’m already a Weber grill master), I’ve asked Z Grills to supply me with a pellet smoker to test, and Jackery for a 1,500-watt solar generator to power it.
I’ll do this experiment in my backyard. If it works as envisiond, I may take it on the road this spring for a number of RVelectricity seminars I’m scheduling. And yes, I really am a good cook on a grill, and I take my smoked and grilled food seriously. So if this all works out, I could be sharing smoked brisket and wings with you at an RV rally.
Tony Barthel has offered to do an experiment
Also, in the interest of science (and taste buds), I’ve discovered that our venerable RV storyteller Tony Barthel has never lost a chili cooking contest he’s entered. So if we end up at the same RV rally he’s offered to use the brisket I smoke on my pellet grill to make a special brisket chili for you all to test. I’m salivating already!
And yes, I’m serious about this. Be sure to watch for my RVelectricity newsletter this Thursday, where I’ll list the RV shows and rallies I’m planning to attend in 2022. And if the smoke is with me, I’ll be doing some smoker grill experiments at the same time.
OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.
Let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
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I’m 100% in on this idea! The big question, when? I even already have the Jackery 1500 which I wrote about a while back.
The Mike and Tony show – coming soon to an RV show near you!
Also, one of my sons has a baking and pastry degree from the Culinary Institute and makes $1,000 weddings cakes. Kevin’s been developing his own recipes for cupcakes and pastries that are sugar free, dairy free or gluten free for his clients that have special dietary requirements. He’s offered to record some baking videos in my Rockwood GeoPro kitchen demonstrating his recipes and techniques for RVers who like pastries and cake but may have food sensitivities. Stand by for flavor!