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Best Wood Pellets for Smoking – Top Flavor and Value

So, you’ve been bitten by the pellet grilling bug, have you? Can’t blame you for that!

Pellet grills offer a distinctly satisfying alternative to traditional barbeques and smokers. If you’ve landed here by accident, but you want to know more, check out our Pellet Grills vs. Charcoal Grills article!

What you’ve no doubt discovered is there are a wide variety of pellets available to choose from. As you might imagine, not all are created equal. Which ones should you choose? That’s just one of the many questions we’ll answer here in our guide to the best wood pellets for smoking.

Wood chunks and pellets isolated on white

Keep reading to learn what goes into a wood pellet and how they’re made. We’ll also talk flavor and the difference between different types of pellets. Finally, we’ll discuss and review five of the best pellets we most recommend.

Ready to grab a handful of information?

At a Glance: Our Top 5 Choices of Best Wood Pellets for Smoking in 2018

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

What are Smoking Wood Pellets and How are They Made?

Pellet grills are designed to use specially made wood pellets rather than charcoal or pieces of actual wood. What are wood pellets? In a nutshell, they’re compressed sawdust.

They are made from bits of real wood, generally salvaged from lumber mills. (Waste not, want not!) The wood is shredded into small pieces and dried before being forced through a very small hole in a die.

The compression causes lignin, a natural polymer in plant tissue, to heat up and soften. After passing through the die, the lignin cools and hardens and acts like a glue, holding the wood in the pellet shape. Once shaped, they’re cut into short lengths and packaged.

Heating Pellets Aren’t the Same as Barbecue Smoking Pellets

We’ll discuss this more in a bit, but it’s important to point out the distinction.

There are unflavored wood pellets available, and they’re made in the same way as smoking or grilling pellets. However, they’re not meant for grills. Instead, they’re made for pellet stoves used for heating homes.

Don’t make the mistake of grabbing heating pellets and then wondering why your ribs aren’t smoky and delicious!

What are the Best Pellet Flavors for Smoking?

It’s a bit of a strange thing to talk about the flavor of wood, but that’s what sets smoking apart from charcoal or gas grilling!

Smoking Pellets Don’t all Give the Same Taste

There are a ton of different wood pellet flavors you can choose from. It’s hard to say what the best smoke flavor is, it being a matter of opinion. However, some flavors lend themselves to certain foods better than others. Here are a few examples of the best smoking woods:

  • Alder – salmon, poultry, game birds
  • Apple – poultry, pork, lamb, seafood
  • Cherry – all meats
  • Hickory – pork and ribs
  • Maple – poultry, vegetables, cheese
  • Mesquite – red meat
  • Oak – all meats, often blended with other wood
  • Pecan – poultry
  • Walnut – red meat, game

Mixing flavors is also fun. What will your go-to combo be?

100% Flavored Wood Vs. Blended Pellets

Though there are many flavors, essentially there are three different kinds of smoker pellets to choose from:

  1. Flavored wood
  2. Blended
  3. Standard

Let’s have a quick look at each type:

Flavored Wood Pellets

These are made of 100% flavored wood and no filler. Filler is generally oak, which burns well but contributes little flavor of its own. These are the most expensive pellets.

Blended Wood Pellets

Blends mix filler and flavored wood to keep costs down. Typically, the ratio is about 30% flavored wood to 70% filler.

Standard Pellets

Made entirely of wood with little to no flavor properties, these pellets are generally reserved for heating.

Pellet Grill Problems are Often Caused (and Fixed!) by the Pellets Themselves

Automated pellet smokers are awesome. They monitor their own temperature and add pellets as needed to hold at whatever temperature you set it to. At least, that’s what they’re supposed to do.

Many pellet grillers find themselves dealing with wildly fluctuating temperatures. That’s the last thing you want when you’re smoking a colossal brisket all day!

It may seem that the problem lies in the grill, but often it’s the pellets that are the cause.

Bark is Great on Your Brisket, Not on Your Pellets

You might think that seeing bark on your pellets means they’re more natural and therefore higher quality. Kind of like seeing a bit of potato skin on fresh-cut fries, right? Not the case.

You can get pellets with or without bark, but we recommend bark-less.

Bark doesn’t burn at the same rate as wood, which can lead to inconsistent temperatures. Plus, they leave behind more ash. That can cause your grill to misread the internal temperature, and it makes a bigger mess for you to clean.

Wood Pellets Vary in Quality

Doesn’t everything, though? In our reviews and round-up, we’ll steer you clear of the cheap stuff, but here are some things to be aware of if you’re shopping for pellets on your own.

Poorly compressed pellets won’t hold together and may fall apart when the auger pulls them in, or as you’re scooping or pouring from the bag. That means they won’t burn well, resulting in lower temperatures, poor smoke, and generally an unpleasant time for you.

So before you buy, check the bag for dust at the bottom. If there’s a lot, that means they’re falling apart already. Avoid!!

So, before you blame your temperature problems on your grill and start ordering replacement parts, try switching to a better brand and see if that doesn’t fix the problem.

Do I Have to Use Traeger Pellets in My Traeger Grill?

One of the leaders in the pellet grill category is Traeger. Being the savvy company that they are, they sell not only pellet grills and smokers but also their own brand of wood pellets. The implication is, of course, that you must use Traeger pellets in a Traeger grill. In fact, they even warn you that using other brands will void your warranty. Electronics companies have been doing this sort of thing with accessories for years.

The truth is, while Traeger makes very good pellets, it is not necessary to use them in your Traeger grill. Furthermore, it would be pretty darn hard for them to prove using someone else’s pellets caused any warranty issues.

What is important is to use good-quality pellets and steer clear of cheaply made stuff that could potentially foul up your food and your grill.

Our Picks for the Top 5 Best Wood Pellets for Smoking

Now that we understand wood pellets a little better, let’s review our top 5 picks for your pellet grill.

Cookinpellets 40PM Perfect Mix Smoking Pellets

CookinPellets 40PM Perfect Mix

 

Founded over 5 years ago, Cookin Pellets started with a small home wood mill after an unsatisfactory pellet grilling experience. Their Perfect Mix blend combines four of the most popular hardwoods for smoking into a single, exclusive smoking pellet package.

Size: 40 pounds

What’s in them: Hickory base with Hard Maple, Apple, and Cherry

Pros

  • 100% flavored hardwood
  • No bark
  • All heartwood

Cons

  • Pre-mixed flavors don’t allow you to experiment
  • 40 pounds is a LOT of pellets

Why we like them

By using four of the most popular hardwoods, CookinPellets 40PM Perfect Mix deliver nothing but flavored smoke.

This blend should lend itself to just about anything you want to smoke, too. It’s a good introductory pellet for someone just starting out with a pellet grill thanks to its blend of quality pellets with a crowd-pleasing smoky taste.

Whether you’ve made your decision, or you just want to check them out a little further, everything you need is just a click away.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Bbqr’s Delight Cherry Smoke Flavor BBQ Pellets

Cherry Flavor BBQR's Delight Smoking BBQ Pellets 20 Pounds

Used by numerous competitive grilling teams, BBQr’s delight makes good quality, 100% natural wood pellets in a variety of flavors. Cherry is an ideal choice for any meat you’ve got on your grill.

Size: 20 pounds

What’s in them: two-thirds oak, one-third cherry

Pros

  • Burns hot
  • 100% wood
  • Low ash

Cons

  • Milder flavor than you’d get with 100% flavor wood (this might be a “Pro” for some people)
  • A bit pricey for a blend

Why we like them

Blending with oak and nothing else ensures a good, steady burn at an appropriate temperature.

These are really nicely formed pellets, made without filler or oil and we expect them to burn clean.

The 20-pound bag is a manageable size, giving you plenty of chances to try different food, but without feeling locked in long-term.

Ready to pellet grill like a pro? Follow the link we’ve conveniently provided to place an order now.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Bbqr’s Delight Apple Flavor Smoking BBQ Pellets

BBQR's Delight Apple Flavor Wood Smoking Pellets 20 pounds

This brand of pellets is a favorite of many grillers on the competition circuit. They are very well made, with low moisture content, and they burn hot and clean. If you want to grill like the pros, choose the fuel many of them use.

Size: 20 pounds

What’s in them: two-thirds oak, one-third apple

Pros

  • 100% hardwood
  • Burns clean and hot
  • Manageable size

Cons

  • As with all blends, there’s less flavor than with 100% flavor wood (but you might want that)
  • If you’re into steaks, ribs, and brisket, apple may not be the best flavor choice

Why we like them

We always like knowing a reputable manufacturer backs a product. And, when the professionals often use that product, so much the better.

BBQr’s Delight has a wide range of products from many types of wood too, so if you like what you taste, you’ll want to try some of the dozen other flavors they offer. It’s nice to be able to stick with one line, knowing you’re going to get quality every time.

If an apple a day sounds like grilling heaven to you, point, click, and shop!

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Traeger Pel319 Hickory Pellets

Traeger PEL319 Hickory 100% All-Natural Hardwood Grill Pellets

You can’t go wrong when you buy from one of the most trusted names in the business.

If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, you may not know that Traeger is a beloved name in the industry. They’re kind of the Harley-Davidson of pellet grills. They make grills, rubs, sauces, and, of course, pellets, but they’re synonymous with the term ‘pellet smoker.’

Size: 20 pounds

What’s in them: 100% hardwood

Pros

  • Consistent quality
  • All real wood
  • Excellent burn properties – clean, low ash, thin blue smoke

Cons

  • Not actually made of hickory wood (pellets are alder and/or oak with natural flavoring oils)

Why we like them

Traeger pellets are some of the best you can buy. Hickory is a very popular flavor for grilling and smoking, making this a great choice.

By opting for flavored hardwood instead of flavor wood, you’ll get all of the natural flavors, but with the enhanced burn quality of oak or alder.

If you’re already a Traeger fan (a Traegermeister?), you already know you want these. If you don’t know Traeger, it’s worth a try to see what all the fuss is about. Click the link and get smoking!

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Lumber Jack Apple Blend Bbq Grilling Pellets

Lumber Jack Apple Blend BBQ Grilling Pellets 20 LB Bag

 

This company prides itself on making premium quality wood pellets suitable for anyone from weekend warriors to professional pitmasters.

Lumber Jack takes a different approach to their product – they de-bark the oak in the blend, but leave it on the flavor wood for a more intensely flavored smoke.

It’s also interesting to note that Lumber Jack doesn’t use cast-offs from sawmills. This is a dedicated wood products business and they use their own trees for making pellets for both cooking and heating, as well as shavings for pet bedding.

Size: 20 pounds

What’s in them: 60% red oak, 40% apple

Pros

  • Higher percentage of flavor wood than in most blends
  • Quality tested by an independent lab
  • More intense flavor than some other brands

Cons

  • With some quantity of bark present, you may see a bit more ash than with other brands

Why we like them

It’s hard to argue with extra flavor! That’s what pellet grilling and smoking is all about, right?

We think a little extra ash is an acceptable trade-off for real wood flavor.

Also, because they’re 100% wood, we know they’re going to burn great and provide excellent smoke.

Lumber Jack has an extensive product range, meaning you can pick and choose, mix and match, and always know the quality you’re going to get. Highly recommended!

Itching to snag a bag? It’s easy – click the link and get ready to smoke!

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Final Thoughts

Can’t you just smell and taste that smoke already? We love pellet grills for their convenience and the great results we get when we use them. Which of our top 5 best wood pellets for smoking are you going with? And can we come over for some barbecue?

If you know someone who has been struggling to find just the right pellets for his or her grill, do them a solid and share the link to this article. The same goes for anything you find on the site that you think might help out a friend. It’s all free, and it’s all free to share!

Be sure to connect with us on social, and if you have any questions, comments, tips, and anecdotes, please do share them in the comments below. We love to talk grilling with our friends!

Thanks for reading, and happy grilling!

 

Product image credits: © Amazon.com

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com.I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

6 thoughts on “Best Wood Pellets for Smoking – Top Flavor and Value”

    • Hi Bob,

      I’m not aware of that specifically advertise this property I’m afraid, though most ‘high quality brands’ shouldn’t swell from only moisture in the air as they are so compacted and tight, there’s little room for any water to get in. Is there a brand you are having issues with? Are you covering your pellet smoker while not in use to help prevent water ingress?

  1. I noticed on the first choice one of the pro’s is it’s all heart. Why is that better? The heart isn’t as dense as the outer layers so to me it seems like the FOH wouldn’t be as robust. And the tree is pushing everything outward while it’s growing so I would guess that the parts closest to the bark would be, better seasoned or be more efficient. I just got a smoker so I’m still learning

    • Hi Meow,

      It’s almost like the ‘bark on or off’ debate for smoking wood. With sapwood vs hardwood, some say the heartwood is best, because it contains less minerals and components that can muddle the flavor compared to sapwood. Also, the heartwood is much more resistant to disease and rot than the outer layers of bark and sapwood, so there is less likely to be any damaged, diseased or rotting pieces of wood mixed in to what’s used for cooking.

      In all fairness, I’m a ‘burn it all’ kinda guy. I’ve used wood with bark on, and bark removed, and pure heartwood and honestly, I cannot tell the difference to the end product (the food I eat). If there are differences, they will be subtle and mostly buried under the overall taste of smoke, rub, sauces, etc. But having said this, I’m just one guy with one opinion, and there are people who swear the best wood for cooking with is the heartwood, so it’s worth mentioning in any description.

  2. I’m new to this so apologies if this is a naive question. I’m struggling with the term “flavor wood”. does that imply that flavor is added to the pellets in the production process via oils, etc.? or does it simply mean that the wood has it’s own natural flavor properties? thx!

    • Hi Ryan,

      Exactly that, yes. When people refer to ‘flavor wood’, they mean explicitly that which is added to provide a certain flavor.

      It is somewhat confusing (and perhaps incorrect you could argue) because ALL wood imparts a flavor. But generally speaking post oak and maybe a couple of others are seen as ‘filler’, or there for burning for heat, while other woods such as mesquite, hickory, cherry, apple…and many, many more…and there to add a particular flavor profile.

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