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.
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
- CookinPellets 40PM Perfect Mix Smoking Pellets
- Cherry Flavor BBQR’s Delight Smoking BBQ Pellets 20 Pounds
- Apple Flavor BBQR’s Delight Smoking BBQ Pellets 20 Pounds
- Traeger Pellets
- Lumber Jack Apple Blend BBQ Grilling Pellets 20 LB Bag
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?
- Heating Pellets Aren’t the Same as Barbecue Smoking Pellets
- What are the Best Pellet Flavors for Smoking?
- Pellet Grill Problems are Often Caused (and Fixed!) by the Pellets Themselves
- Do I Have to Use Traeger Pellets in My Traeger Grill?
- Our Picks for the Top 5 Best Wood Pellets for Smoking
- Final Thoughts
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:
- Flavored wood
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.
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
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
- 100% flavored hardwood
- No bark
- All heartwood
- 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.
Bbqr’s Delight Cherry Smoke Flavor BBQ Pellets
Used my 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
- Burns hot
- 100% wood
- Low ash
- 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.
Bbqr’s Delight Apple Flavor Smoking BBQ Pellets
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
- 100% hardwood
- Burns clean and hot
- Manageable size
- 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!
Traeger Pel319 Hickory 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
- Consistent quality
- All real wood
- Excellent burn properties – clean, low ash, thin blue smoke
- 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!
Lumber Jack Apple Blend Bbq Grilling Pellets
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
- Higher percentage of flavor wood than in most blends
- Quality tested by an independent lab
- More intense flavor than some other brands
- 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!
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?
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Thanks for reading, and happy grilling!
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