Everything You Need to Know about Choosing Wood Pellets for Perfect Barbecue
After spending weeks comparing different models of pellet smokers and then finally making your decision, you’re ready to cook your first meal. This whole pellet smoker deal can be quite confusing. You have to figure out what kind of meat you’re going to cook (I’d start here), and all the different tools you’ll need. Then, you need to figure out the best wood pellets for smoking whatever meat you plan on cooking first.
What are Wood Pellets?
Before we decide what the best wood pellets for smoking are, let’s look at exactly what is a wood pellet.
In the simplest terms, wood pellets are the fuel your smoker needs to produce the flavorful smoke, and fire needed to make delicious low and slow BBQ. Most pellet smokers are set up the same way.
Pellet Smoker Basics
The wood pellets go in a “hopper” or box that is off to the side of the smoker and feed into an auger.
The auger slowly turns, feeding the wood pellets for your smoker into a small box at the bottom of the chamber.
The box has a hot rod in it that will heat up the pellets. This heat will create the smoke fire needed to get your grill up to temp and help you cook delicious smoked BBQ.
Now that we understand why pellets are important, let’s look at our options.
Types of Wood Pellets for Your Smoker
There are a variety of wood pellet flavors you can choose. In fact, there are 8 very common flavors, along with several other blends of flavors made by various brands.
The most common flavors of wood pellets for your smoker are as follows:
- Alder – Alder is a milder wood, and because of this I believe alder are the best wood pellets for smoking seafood. It’s also great for Beef, Poultry, Seafood, and Vegetables.
- Apple – Perfect for Pork, Poultry, and Vegetables
- Cherry – I think cherry pellets are the best wood pellets for smoking pulled pork. Pork, Poultry, and Vegetables all benefit from this flavor.
- Hickory – This flavor is best paired with Beef, Pork, and Poultry
- Maple – Wonderful with Pork, and Vegetables
- Mesquite – The strongest flavor, pairs best with Beef
- Oak – In my opinion, oak pellets are the best wood pellets for smoking brisket. Upgrade your Beef, and Seafood with this one.
- Pecan – Pork, Poultry, and Vegetables work best with this flavor
The food pairings listed above are only a recommendation. In fact, one of the reasons I love using my smoker is because it allows me to let my creative juices flow.
Most of the time I cook with a 50/50 blend of Hickory and Cherry. Recently I’ve been cooking a lot with Oak too. I like these flavors because they are mild but still impart that delicious smoky flavor into the foods I cook.
How to Choose a Wood Pellet Flavor Your Family Will Love
With so many flavors available, it can be tough to decide which flavors will suit you and your family’s palate. Before you decide on a flavor or blend, I’d recommend buying a few 1 lb bags of pellets at this link so you can try out the different flavors and see what you like best.
Which Brand of Wood Pellets Should You Choose for Your Smoker?
Now that we understand the different flavors, let’s look at the different brands available. There are a lot of different wood pellet brands, and personally, I’ve only tried a few.
When you’re picking a brand of pellets, there is one thing you should know. If the pellets are cheap, there’s a reason. Since I’ve taken on this obsession with smoking meat, I’ve started spending a good amount of time in smoking meat forums, and Facebook groups.
One of the common complaints people raise is that their pellet smoker just won’t get up to temp. The controller is at 350, but the temp is only getting up to 275.
There are quite a few different brands of pellets available on the market, and I’ve noticed that some of the cheaper brands tend to not burn as clean, resulting in more ash. That extra ash makes it more difficult for your smoker to get up to temp.
Clean Up That Ash!
One side note, another necessary evil is to regularly clean the inside of your grill. You don’t have to do a deep clean, but taking the grill grates out and using a shop-vac to regularly clean up the ash will make a huge difference.
It doesn’t matter how much you spent on your pellet grill, it can’t beat the physics of fire. More ash equals less oxygen.
The Wood Pellets I Use
I already shared that I prefer a blend of hickory and cherry pellets, or oak pellets. I’ve tried quite a few different brands of pellets to varying degrees of satisfaction, but I always come back to the Traeger brand pellets that burn very clean.
For a while, I was using Lumber Jack pellets because of the price, but I noticed I wasn’t getting consistent temperatures in my grill, so I switched back to the Traeger brand.
Storing Your Wood Pellets
One of the big things we haven’t mentioned is how to store pellets for your smoker. In addition to making sure you pick the right flavor profile, and brand, it is equally important that you store your pellets properly.
DON’T store your pellets in the bag they came in, on the floor of your garage or back patio. The pellets will soak up moisture in the air, and they will not burn well.
DO store your pellets in an airtight container. I use a large dog food container with a lid that works perfectly.
I put a one-cup scoop in there, and anytime I need to top off my hopper I just pull a few scoops out and then seal it back up.
Now You Know How to Choose Pellets for Your Smoker
We covered everything wood pellets for your smoker in this post. It’s not sexy but knowing about your pellets is a necessary evil. I made a few recommendations to you in this post, and here is a recap:
- Understand how much smoky flavor you want. Mesquite is the strongest flavor. Cherry is the mildest flavor.
- If you’re not sure which flavor you will like, buy this sample pack so you can try each flavor.
- Buy an airtight pellet storage container -yes this is a link to a dog food storage container, trust me, it works perfect – to keep your pellets dry and protected from the elements.
Now that you know everything you need to know about wood pellets for your smoker, go cook something delicious!