When it comes to deciding the best wood pellets for smoking meat there isn’t a One Size Fits All answer.
Some people want the pellets that will give them the strongest smoke flavor, others want the best value but don’t want to void the warranty on their pellet grill. Other folks are more interested in getting the best smoke flavor for whatever is on their pit.
Let me walk you through the difference in these pellets so you can choose the best one for your cooking style.
100% Hardwood Pellets: It Does Not Mean What You Think!
You need to take a careful look at a bag of pellets to understand what you are really buying. It is extremely common to see a label that reads something like, “100% Hardwood: Cherry” and think that it is a bag of wood pellets made from cherry.
The reality is that most companies are selling a blend that is 80-90% oak with 10-20% cherry. Technically the label is still correct because the pellets are 100% hardwood and there is some cherry in the bag. When you examine the label a little closer it will use phrases like “Cherry Flavor” or “Cherry Blend”.
These companies are using a cheaper wood like oak for the heating value and the more expensive wood like cherry as a “Flavoring Wood”. There is nothing wrong with the blended pellets (I use them often) but it is a MAJOR factor if you are trying to find the BEST cherry pellets or the BEST hickory pellets.
One company that sells 100% Flavor Wood Pellets is Lumberjack.
Are Traeger Wood Pellets Pure Flavor Wood or Blends?
There is no indication on the Traeger labels for their “Cherry” or “Hickory” , etc pellets that indicate if they are pure Flavor woods or a blend so I called the Traeger help desk and asked!
The Traeger rep told me that the pellets are made from almost 100% of the flavor wood indicated on the label. He said the reason they don’t label the pellets as “100% Cherry” is because there is a small residual amount of different woods in the processing equipment when they switch product batches.
The video that Traeger published in 2012 makes it very clear that the pellets they were making a few years ago are BLENDS.
Whether they are a blend or not, Traeger pellets are pretty dang good and I have my smoker filled with them at the moment. One of the things I like about Traeger pellets is that they have a great distribution system in place. You can buy Traeger pellets at Home Depot, Amazon, Costco, etc. This comes in handy if you want to be consistent in your cooks and use the same product every time.
Best Value Wood Pellets
Pit Boss has really brought down the price of wood pellets for smoking. The Pit Boss pellets are blends but they come at a price point that makes you not care! Seriously, there is nothing wrong with wood blends. In this post, Best Wood For Smoking Brisket, you can see how world champion pitmasters blend oak and hickory to suit their cooking styles.
If you would rather spend your money on meat to smoke instead of the pellets to smoke it with then buy the Pit Boss pellets. They are the best bang for your barbecue buck!
FAQ For Choosing the Best Wood Pellets
There are several considerations that go into picking pellets and I hope these FAQs help you make a decision.
Do I Have to Use Traeger Pellets in My Traeger Grill?
Some folks have the impression that they must use Traeger pellets in their Traeger pellet grill or else the warranty is voided. This is NOT correct. Traeger strongly recommends using their pellets but using their pellets is not required by the warranty.
The same is true for ANY pellet grill. You can use Pit Boss pellets in a Camp Chef grill, Camp Chef pellets in a Traeger grill, etc. It is actually against the law for a manufacturer to force you to buy more products from them to continue the warranty.
How Long Do Wood Pellets Last?
It is tempting to order several hundred pounds of pellets at once to have a steady supply for the whole grilling season. Wood pellets will last for a very long time (years) if they are stored properly.
What is the Best Way to Store Pellets?
The two things that will destroy your pellets is water and pressure.
Do not store the bags on the ground and do not stack the bags on top of each other. Ideally you would store your excess pellets inside where you didn’t have to worry about rain or humidity. If you must store the bags in your garage or shed then it would be a good idea to invest in a waterproof container.
What Are Food Grade Pellets?
Food grade pellets is a term that was made up by the pellet grill industry to keep people from using the same wood pellets used for home heating in their pellet grills.
I have been unable to find a single government or industry standard that defines and regulates a product called “Food Grade Wood Pellets”.
In concept, Food Grade wood pellets are 100% hardwood and would not have any chemical additives for use as binders. In practice, a Food Grade Pellet is whatever the manufacturer wants it to be.
Which Pellets Have the Strongest Smoke Flavor?
One of the problems with using a pellet smoker is that the fire burns so clean and the smoke flavor doesn’t come through as strong as some people like.
If this sounds like you then I suggest going with a 100% pure flavor wood that has a strong smoke profile. Hickory would be my primary choice.
Which Pellets Burn the Hottest?
The difference in the heating value between different hardwoods in not meaningful. Hickory, oak, cherry, etc all burn with just about the same heat output.
What will make the biggest difference in heat output is the moisture content of the pellet, not the choice of hardwood. The wood used for pellets is typically kiln dried to a moisture content of 5%. If anything happens that exposes the pellets to moisture (stored in a humid warehouse for a long time) then the moisture content will creep up and the heating value will go down.
There is no simple way of telling by brand or product what the current moisture content of the pellet is.