In high-rate activated sludge (HRAS) processes, reducing the solid retention time (SRT) minimizes COD oxidation and allows to obtain the maximum energy recovery. The aim of this research was to operate a pilot plant with an automatic control strategy to assure the HRAS process stability and high COD fractions removal at very low SRT. This study combines simulation and experimental tools (pilot plant 35 m3·d − 1) operating at SRT (0.2 d), HRT (0.6 h) and DO (0.5 mg·L −1) treating high-strength raw wastewater, at 18–26°C, at variable flow. The research includes the effects of temperature, influent concentration and MLSS reactor concentration over the sCOD, cCOD and pCOD removal. The study points out that the best parameter to control the HRAS at a low SRT is not strictly the SRT but rather the reactor MLSS concentration: operating at 2,000±200mg·L −1 assured a stable process despite the large influents variation. Low SVI values of 50–70ml·g −1 indicated the good settling properties of the biomass. With only a 6.9% COD oxidation, a high organic matter removal (57±9% for COD and 56±10% for BOD5), was reached. The high removal efficiencies for pCOD (74%) compared to the (29%) for sCOD and (12%) for cCOD also confirmed the importance of settling efficiency and stability in the HRAS. The direct correlation between COD influent and COD removal makes advisable to use the HRAS as a replacement of the primary clarifier. The HRAS acted efficiently as a filter for COD and pCOD peak loads and, in a lesser extent, for BOD5, while sCOD peaks were not buffered. The adopted model presented a good fit for COD fractions except for pCOD when the temperature exceeds 23 °C.