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), all the different tools you’ll need, and what kind of wood pellets for your smoker you’re going to use.
What are Wood Pellets?
Before we dig deep into the topic of choosing the right pellets for your smoker, let’s look at exactly what wood pellets for your smoker are, and why they are important.
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 setup 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 in the bottom of the smoke. The box has a hot rod in it that will catch the pellets on fire. This fire will create the smoke and heat 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 – Great for Beef, Poultry, Seafood, and Vegetables
- Apple – Perfect for Pork, Poultry, and Vegetables
- Cherry – 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 – 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. I like these flavors because they are both 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.
These threads are always entertaining because of the variety of ideas and “fixes” people provide. One of the most common being, “shouldn’t have bought a Traeger”. Or maybe you should have spent $20 on a bag of pellets instead of $10? The cheaper brands of pellets tend to not burn as clean, resulting in more ash, and lower temps.
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. 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 was getting as consistent of 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 and does not suit my palate. 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!