I love my Lil’ Tex Traeger Grill. The thing is amazing, churning out delicious meaty meals time and time again. It’s getting on in years, and after this latest winter, it seemed like the grill had smoked its last brisket. It wouldn’t turn on, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Thankfully, I’ve got it working again — but it definitely took some trial and error, so I wanted to share my troubleshooting process for anyone else who thinks they may have killed their beloved smoker.
First things first, a little bit about how the damned thing works. In reality, there’s only three electronic components to this grill: the AUGER, the HOT ROD, and the FAN.
- The AUGER transports the pellets from the hopper into the combustion chamber.
- The HOT ROD introduces the heat in the combustion chamber needed to burn the pellets.
- The FAN pulls air from beneath the hopper and forces it into the main chamber of the Traeger, circulating the air and encouraging the pellets to burn properly.
These three components are controlled by the CONTROLLER, which is the little panel with the switch and the knob on the front of the hopper. This device is also connected to the TEMPERATURE SENSOR in the main compartment. Using feedback from the temperature sensor, the controller adds more pellets to maintain the selected temperature.
The controller, the fan, and the motor for the auger are all located underneath the hopper. They can be accessed by removing the protective cover on the bottom of the hopper, or by removing the controller from the front of the hopper. All the screws used to hold these items in place are identical, so don’t worry about mixing them up.
In my case, none of this was working. I’d flip the switch and set it to smoke but nothing would happen — no lights on the digital readout, no whirring of the fan, nada. It was dead as a doornail.
Here’s how I fixed that.
Step One: Check the Power Cable
With computer issues, my first instinct is always “have you tried turning it off and on again?” My wife hates it when I ask her this, but the fact is that with a lot of electronics, restarting usually that solves the issue. So I always start with this approach regardless of the complexity of the electronics, checking the power source and re-seating the plug.
Also, sometimes power outlets fail. It happens. Try unplugging the grill and plugging in something else, like a lamp. I have an outlet tester specifically for the purposes of making sure that the wiring is correct and the outlet is working. If other things don’t work in that outlet, then you should investigate the outlet — make sure the breaker isn’t tripped in the house, and if it’s a GFCI outlet that the internal breaker (or any upstream breakers in the circuit) is reset.
Once the outlet is confirmed to be working, try plugging in the grill again. Maybe it just wasn’t seated right before? Give it a shot.
If the controller still doesn’t power on and nothing else seems to sputter to life then we can narrow down the source of the issue to one of three things:
- The internal breaker is tripped in the grill.
- The controller has been compromised.
- The power cable has an internal fault.
Let’s work in order of most likely to least likely and try to figure this out.
Step Two: Check the Internal Breaker In the Grill
The folks at Traeger were smart enough to include a circuit breaker to protect the controller in the event of a power issue.
The circuit breaker is located on the rear of the controller board.
In older models, the breaker is contained within a black cylindrical container vertically placed on the lower left side of the panel. It can be accessed by removing the plastic cap and pulling the breaker out.
With the newer models, the breaker is in the same general place but it is aligned horizontally on the board. The housing also allows you to visually inspect the breaker, and should have a spare breaker handily strapped to the top of the housing.
If in either situation the breaker appears “tripped” (should see some black smoke residue inside the glass vial or other damage) then the breaker needs to be replaced before the grill will work.
NOTE: With the older model, I couldn’t get the breaker out of the housing without fracturing the soldered connections between the breaker and the board itself. Be careful, and if you have an older style board consider replacing the whole thing anyway.
Step Three: Visually Inspect the Cables
While we’re in here, give the cables a quick once-over. And honestly, if you’re still stumped at this point you’re going to need to get them all accessible anyway to replace the controller.
They should be zip-tied in a bundle just to the right of the controller underneath the hopper and accessible from the controller cut-out. Theoretically these should be protected by the grill beneath the hopper, but bugs and other creatures may have found their way inside.
You may need to cut the zip ties in order to get the cables out for inspection. Be sure to NOT cut the plastic insulation around the cables, and DO NOT pull on them with a lot of force!
If they still look good then let’s move on to replacing the controller.
Step Four: Replace the Controller
There’s some good news and some bad news here.
The bad news is that this might be one of the more expensive parts to replace on the grill. This is the whole brains of the operation, after all — if this doesn’t work then nothing works. On their website, Traeger offers this part for about $100.
The good news is that this part is somewhat common among Traeger knock-offs, and there are a good number of aftermarket suppliers available. I bought this specific replacement controller for about $40. Be aware that this may void your warranty, but in my case the grill was more than three years old and no longer under their warranty.
While you’re replacing controllers, there’s also the option to go with something a little more fancy. There are options available with temperature probes built into the controller that will cook your meat to the perfect temperature every time.
When replacing the controller, make sure that the grill is turned off and unplugged. One at a time, remove each of the three cable pairs from the old controller and install them in the new one. NOTE that the connectors are keyed (meaning they only fit one way) and have a tab that keeps them from being uncoupled. You may need to grab a pair of pliers and pull the old controller’s plug away from the cable plug to get it to release.
Once complete you’ll need a screwdriver to un-hook the temperature probes from the old controller and install them on the new one. Remove them one at a time so that they go into the same position on the new controller.
With the new controller installed, plug the grill back in and try to turn it on.
Step Five (?)
At this stage my grill started working again. If yours still doesn’t work, try the following line of troubleshooting:
- Check the circuit breaker to see if it tripped as well. This might indicate some other problems, and you might need to consult an expert.
- Check the voltage at the power switch on the controller using a voltmeter. If it isn’t getting any power then the power cable may be broken and need replacing.