5 Best Wood Pellets for Smoking and Grilling in 2020
Smoking your meats has always been a popular pursuit, given that it's as much of an art as it is an effective way to cook your meats. As we've previously discussed, there are two ways to smoke meats; regular smoking, which is just putting meat over a smokey fire, and cold smoking which is letting the smoke come into contact with the food, but not the fire.
Now, if you have your heart set on smoking your meats, a proper fuel source is required. Yes, you can use charcoal and regular wood, but sometimes you may want more control over the flavoring. This is where wood pellets come into play. Best smoker pellets are often made from sawmill run-off, such as sawdust, and compressed into little pellets that are perfect for fuel!
Before we continue, let's get one thing straight. There are two types of wood pellets; heating and smoking. A heating pellet is just that, used for fuel. They can contain pesticides or other chemicals while smoking pellets are made for their smoke release. Basically, never use heating pellets for smoking, and don't use smoking pellets for heating.
At a Glance: Top 5 Picks of Wood Pellets
Top 5 Best Wood Pellets Review
This said, we're going to review today the top five best wood pellets for smoking, so you know which brands are the best and will deliver the best flavor!
A smaller company founded back in 2006, CookinPellets aimed to create wood pellets that are perfect for smokers but with the added benefit of having no fillers or additives.
With wood pellets, fillers tend to be more common and cheap pieces of wood added to buff up the pellet. An additive, meanwhile, is a chemical that will produce different flavors.
CookinPellets has none of that. Each pellet is made only of the heartwood of primarily hickory, with added pieces of hard maple, apple, and cherry. No bark what-so-ever, and because this is a mix of popular hardwood you'll be granted a very mild and pleasant flavor. Of course, as this is premixed, you won't be able to experiment with flavors but for those wanting an easy smoking job, these wood pellets will do the trick.
You get forty pounds worth of wood pellets and CookinPellets work for both long smoking or short smoking, and even cold smoking! This said, the pellets may not suitable for all grills and smokers, so make sure to read in advance if you can use CookinPellets or not.
Traeger is a well-regarded company when it comes to grilling. Their specialty is what they call "wood fired", that is using wood pellets as opposed to charcoal or gas. They also produce their own line of grills, sauces, and rubs!
Best of all is that the Traeger wood pellets are quite affordable, and they're all sourced in the United States. No need to worry about what's inside!
Speaking of what's inside, you have a mix of hickory, maple, and cherry hardwoods. No barks, no fillers, none of that. Traeger produces a variety of different wood pellets, and the signature blend is their three most popular wood pellets all wrapped into one bag! They were even nice enough to provide guides on their bags to show you what those pellets will pair best with.
Traeger wood pellets tend to be on the larger size so you'll need to break them down for your pellet grill or smoker. Also, keep them away from moisture! While most wood pellets will turn to dust if exposed to moisture, the Traeger pellets seem to fall apart if a single drop of water gets into the bag.
Makers of famous grills and cookers, it's no surprise that Camp Chef would throw their hat into the ring with their apple hardwood pellets.
The pellets are made without fillers or additives, which we would expect, and you get two twenty pound bags! Which is great as you don't have to risk both bags at the same time!
The apple wood smoke is quite wonderful for poultry and pork, and also pairs nicely with other foods including cheeses and sausages. The pellets are made in the United States and are designed to leave less ash than other wood pellets on the market. We found that they burned really well, but also very fast. So these are great for short smokes, unless you want to use both bags at once.
Sometimes you need a stronger, richer flavor. RecTec certainly agrees, which is why their pellets are made of oak and hickory. A perfect blend for when you need something strong. The pellets are designed to be as consistent as possible so there won't be gaps when burning them.
Unlike other wood pellets, the RecTec pellets are extremely dense and compact. The idea is they'll release much more energy when they burn.
The compressed energy makes RecTec perfect for longer smokes as you can manage how much smoke is released and for how long. They burn easily and produce a rich and hardy smoke, which we expect. As we also expect, the pellets are made of only hardwood with no fillers or additives. All in all, this makes these pellets perfect if you need uniformed smoking.
While not the cheapest option on our list, this is the one you want if you're planning on leaving your smoker up-and-running throughout the night.
As we discussed previously, many wood pellets are created from the cast-offs of sawmills. And there is nothing wrong with this. Lumber Jack, however, decided to just skip the middleman and use their own wood to make their own pellets.
The result are pellets that are smaller than others on the market and on our list, but are carefully monitored throughout their creation to ensure a high-quality pellet!
Unlike many other wood pellets, Lumber Jack actually leaves the flavor and aroma of the bark. They remove the bark from their product, after all, they use only hardwood without anything else, but make sure to leave that fuller flavoring behind. Lumber Jack's pellets burn with easy, leave little ash, and have a wonderful flavor. What more can you ask for?
These were our top five best wood pellets for smoking. We're sure you'll love them as much as we do! We honestly like the mixed pellets ourselves, as while we can't really mix our own flavors, the results are top-notch! That's one of the best things with smoking, there is so much room to experiment. After all, it's as much of an art form as it is practical!
Things To Consider Before Buying Wood Pellets For Smoking
If you're planning on buying a pellet grill, or wanting to use wood pellets for your smoker, there are some key things you should know about. We've already reviewed our top five wood pellets on the market and you know which wood pellets we think are the best, so this article is going to cover the basics on wood pellets so you'll never be in the dark again! Well, at least with wood pellets.
Now let's cover the basic. What is a wood pellet? Wood pellets are essentially highly compressed sawdust and bits of wood, normally collected from lumber mills. Hey, why waste perfectly good sawdust? The dust and bits of wood are forced through a very small cast to give them the pellet shape, which in turn causes a natural polymer in the wood to heat up, soften, and then cool down. A natural glue to hold the pellet together.
That's the basics of what a wood pellet is. Compressed sawdust and bits of wood. Now that we covered the basics, let's look more into what you'll want to consider when buying wood pellets.
Know The Difference Between Smoking And Heating Pellets
We talked about heating and smoking pellets in our review a bit, so let's cover the differences in full here. Heating pellets are just that, used in heating and not for cooking. Smoking pellets are made of hardwoods, like oak, hickory, cherry, and apple, while heating pellets tend to be softwood like spruces or pine. Softwood is quicker to burn than hardwood, but also leaves more dust.
More importantly, heating pellets leave absolutely no flavor in your meats. So yes, you can use them, but you won't have any flavor. Not to mention heating pellets may also use wood that's not safe for foods, possibly containing a cocktail of different chemicals and pesticides that can easily leave you sick. So don't take your chances, make sure to always buy proper smoking pellets.
Now you think this wouldn't matter much given you're going to be lighting them on fire, but believe it or not, wood pellets aren't made the same. More expensive wood pellets will use the hardwood as advertised and lack filler or additives. In wood pellet talk, the filler is cheaper woods like oak while additives are chemical flavoring agents. Now, this doesn't mean they're bad, but the flavor is going to be substantially different.
A high-quality wood pellet will be made of 100% that advertised wood. Meaning you get all that flavor, but for a price. It's expensive to use nothing but cherry wood, after all. Blended pellets, meanwhile, use a mix of flavored wood and filler wood to keep the price down. Although it's up to you to decide if you really care for 100% hardwood or don't mind that there are filler and additives in your wood pellets.
But let's talk about something you will care about, and that's the quality of the wood pellets themselves. Ideally, wood pellets should remain as pellets. While they will fall apart if exposed to moisture, they shouldn't fall apart in the bag.
Always check the bag of pellets to see if there is dust at the bottom. A little dust is OK, but if you see a lot of dust avoid that bag. The pellets are going to fall apart and this will mess up your smoking.
The big problem of low-quality pellets is that they create uneven heating which you can taste and feel with your food.
The biggest draw of wood pellets are the flavors, which are achieved either through additives or by using 100% of the advertised wood. Is there one particular flavor that's better than all the others?
Well, no. It all depends on your tastes after all. We'll give you a rundown of the most popular flavors and which foods they pair with best.
You can also mix flavors to your heart's desire, pairing stronger flavors with milder flavors. Some pre-packaged wood pellets already come in blended mixes, which while it is helpful for novices to smoking can be inconvenient for those wishing to do their own mixing.
Your Smoker Or Grill?
Remember what we said when not all pellets are the same quality-wise? The same is true with grill pellets and smokers. Namely, some pellets might be too big for your grill or smoker. This is assuming that you're using a pellet grill or smoker that feeds on pellets, and not just throwing your pellets on a charcoal grill.
Systems designed for pellets normally have an automated feed system which draws the pellets to the fire. Pellets that are large can get stuck in this system, while pellets that break apart easily can arrive at the fire as just dust. Not to mention creating enough ash to clog the feeder up. So when picking your pellets, be sure to find the ones that will fit. They're not universal.
The last major concern is if your wood pellets have a bark in them or not. We recommend going with the bark-less wood pellets, and here's why. Bark will burn at a different temperature than wood, and when mixed into the pellet this creates uneven heating and smoke. Not to mention plenty of ash will be left behind that you need to clean up.
So, avoid pellets with bark. There are some pellets that have the same taste as if you were smoking with the wood, bark and all, and we recommend these over pellets with bark. As previously mentioned, it'll be easier to clean up and just be less of a headache in the long run.
There you have it, the major things to consider when buying wood pellets for smoking. In reality, as long as you buy a high-quality brand like Traeger, Lumber Jack, or CookingPellets you won't have to worry about the issues we listed above. Your main concern will be with the flavor! As we say, smoking is an art and your wood pellets are like your paint. Feel free to mix them up and explore new and exciting flavors you never thought of!