In 2018, Forbes magazine reported that pellet grills are the fastest-growing segment in the BBQ industry. Every since the patent for the pellet grill auger expired in 2007, the pellet grill market has exploded.
Why are consumers selecting pellet grills over?traditional fuel sources? And exactly what are the best wood pellets on the market?
Pellets vs. Wood Chips or Wood Chunks or Charcoal
Pellets look a little like chicken feed. They do not have the aesthetic appeal as the natural look for wood chips or wood chunks or the nostalgic look of charcoal. Yet more people are selecting them for their superior burning quality.
Simple demonstrations such as?charcoal versus pellets?help illustrate why barbecue lovers are selecting pellets over charcoal on a daily basis.
And as people?learn to cook outside?over an open flame, they recognize they have a choice of fuel.
In short,?wood chips and pellets smoke more quickly than wood chunks and charcoal. They work well for shorter cooking times.
What Makes Pellets Different?
Manufacturers fabricate pellets from sawdust. They compress sawdust into this dry, dense, and incredibly combustible pellet by running the dust through a mill and then squeezing it through small holes. They bind the dust with lignin, a natural part of trees.
So while pellets may look unnatural, manufacturers typically make them from all-natural products.
Because of their compression, pellets usually burn hotter and longer than other wood products. They also smoke?more and produce less ash and creosote than other woods, giving them a cleaner burn overall.
Furthermore, they’re less expensive than other woods since they’re processed from sawdust.
Pellet Differences: Food versus Fuel
Not all wood pellets are made the same.
Initially, manufacturers created wood pellets as a source of heat for pellet burners. They made a warm, dry heat with less waste than typical wood burners, and thus the wood pellets functioned as a biomass fuel.
Developers saw the potential in the wood pellets for smoking food as well, so they began to develop food grade pellets, sterile and safe for cooking food.
As a result, consumers must understand they cannot use any old pellet on their pellet grill. They need food-grade pellets.
Because hardwoods smoke better, manufacturers use them commonly in food-grade pellets. Oak and hickory, for example, have a dense cellular construction, making them ideal for smoking. Nut and fruit woods come in a close second.
Softwood trees such as spruce, fir, and pine have more sap in them, and they burn more quickly. Thus they are not suitable for smoking food.
Storing the Pellets
Consumers must store pellets in a dry environment to keep them fresh and food safe. Think of the term BOOM when looking at how to store pellets.
- B stands for buckets or bins. Once you open a bag, you expose the pellets to oxygen and moisture. Damp and wet pellets will mold, and you cannot use those in your cooker as it will put toxins in food that will ultimately make you sick, so put your pellets in a five-gallon pail with a lid to keep them dry.
- O stands for Off the Ground. Keep your pellets away from rain or a leak. Put them on an elevated surface.
- O?stands for Open when needed. Keep your bag or bucket sealed until you need the pellets. Opening a bag exposes the pellets to oxygen. Oxygenated pellets will harden and crumble eventually.
- M stands for Moisture Avoidance. Moisture is the wood pellet’s arch enemy. It breaks down the product and causes mold and fungus to set in.
This means you should not just keep the pellets away from water, but also from humidity. If you store your pellets in the basement, use a dehumidifier.
flavored wood pellets do not come cheap, and spoiled pellets are worthless, so save money by caring for the pellets.
Just like the right beer goes with the right burger, so do pellets pair with the right meat. Truly the flavor depends on the palate, so these are just suggestions that many people enjoy. Everyone has their own opinion, however, on what wood flavor goes best with what meat.
Less dense meat needs milder flavors. So fish and poultry in particular pair well with mildly flavored woods.
- Alder?works well with?fish and poultry.
- Maple has a sweet flavor and mildness?that pairs nicely with?poultry, cheese, and vegetables. It can darken the meat, and thus it mixes well with alder, oak, or apple as well.
- Beech adds a mild flavor to meats and seafood.
- Apple?flavors pork, poultry, lamb, and ham nicely. Because it has a mild flavor, it does not always work well with red meat.
- Mulberry is similar to apple, so pair it with anything you’d pair apple pellets with.
- Cherry turns the meat a mahogany color?and thus works well for beef.
Oak, pear, and peach all qualify as medium-flavored woods. Oak burns hot and gives a medium smoke flavor, making it ideal for blending with other woods. Pear and peach, like their fruit, produce a light, fruity, and sweet flavor that pairs well with poultry and pork.
- Hickory works well with bacon and ribs, but it requires finesse. Over smoking can cause bitter food. Done right, it produces a strong, smoky, sweet flavor.
- Pecan does not have the strength of hickory but can still cause bitter and pungent food if not used correctly. It burns more cooly and creates a delicate flavor in pork and poultry.
- Walnut mixes well with other woods because of its strong and bitter flavor. It works especially well with red and game meats.
- Mesquite is an oily wood that burns hot and fast. It produces a strong flavor and thus pairs well with dark meats. Because of its oily nature, it can turn food from strong and earthy to bitter and harsh quickly, so only grill masters with some experience should experiment with mesquite.
Five of the Best Wood Pellets
Because of the popularity of pellets, hundreds of manufacturers are now putting them on the market. Here is just a taste of the best pellets out there.
1. Traeger Grills PEL331 Signature Blend 100 Percent All-Natural Hardwood Pellets
You can grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, and bbq with these all-natural pellets.
A 20-pound bag comes in at a moderate price, compatible with other brands, and reviewers claim the blend works especially well with a Traeger Junior grill.
Some brands advertise they have all wood, but their fine print says 50 percent or more consist of white oak. The Traeger blend is no mix, however. Consumers?get Hickory, Maple, Cherry, or?whatever the package says.
This blend is a good combination for beginner pitmasters as they get their bearings. Additionally, reviewers say the product produces?consistent smoke and wonderful taste, and it even works in?a Uuni3 pizza oven.
On the downside, when consumers had the product shipped, they reported weak plastic and damaged packaging. So some bags can come damaged due to thin plastic,?resulting in a spoiled product
2. CookinPellets 40PM Perfect Mix
The CookinPellets come?in large quantity bag at 40 pounds and work well for brisket and pulled pork with a long smoke.
Cooking pellets have a reportedly consistent flavor and value and work well for things cooked at or under 350 degrees. They consist of 100% smoking wood instead of wood laced with smoking oils, which gives them a cleaner burn.
They also cost less than the higher end products but still burn just as well.
However, they leave a?fair amount of ash and come in a box that is snug with the plastic bag. So consumers who used a blade to open the box found themselves opening the bag as well.
3. Traeger PEL319 Hickory 100 Percent All-Natural Hardwood Grill Pellets
Traeger PEL319 comes in at a moderate price at approximately a dollar a pound.
Texas blend works well for brisket and reportedly has no sharp, acidic smoke bite. It?works especially well with large cuts of beef.
Reviewers also report it?smokes a?chicken half nicely on a Weber grill?at a?low heat?and provide more flavor than other brands.
As with the other brands on our list, the PEL319 consists of 100 percent all wood with no bindings or fillers, and thus the clean burn and great flavor.
However, some report the PEL319 is not a good fit for?Uuni Pizza Oven.
4. RecTec Grills Ultimate Blend Pellets
The RecTec Blend comes in at the bottom of the price tag on our list with the least expensive pellets.
They consist of an oak and hickory blend that works in all pellet grills and have a consistent quality.
Additionally, the RecTec pellets have reportedly lower ash and power residue than other pellets along with a good flavor.? They burn notably slower than other pellets and?put out a flavorful, clean smoke.
RecTec is not a name brand people immediately think of when looking for pellets, but reviewers give these high reviews for their low price, clean burn, and flavorful results.
5. BBQrs Delight Wood Smoking Pellets – Super Smoker Variety Value Pack – 1 lb bag – Apple, Hickory, Mesquite, Cherry, Pecan, and Jack Daniel’s
This purchase allows the bbq master-wanna-be to test out different woods for less money. The package comes with one pound of each flavor.
The pellets burn for two to three hours and are good for low and slow smoke. A soup bowl’s worth of pellets will last eight hours, and smokers can try different flavors with a single purchase.
Winner Winner, Smoking Dinner
So, who has the best wood pellets?
As?far as novice smoking goes, the BBQers delight wins because consumers can test out what they want.
As far as overall quality goes, RecTec wins with the least amount of waste, consistent smoke, and solid flavor. Plus, it costs less than the other packages.
Contact us?for more information about the industry’s best indoor and outdoor cookware.