There’s nothing quite like cooking outdoors.
Whether you enjoy cooking over an open fire, grilling, smoking, or all three, you know that food cooked outside somehow always tastes better than food cooked inside.
One way that many outdoor cooks enhance the wonderful flavors of their meals is by adding wood pellets to their smoker or pellet grill. When you use wood pellets for cooking, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a deeper and richer flavor that is not like anything you, your family or your guests have ever tasted before.
It’s time for you to give wood pellets a try. Choosing high-quality wood pellets is simple and using them is even easier. The upgrade in taste that you’ll experience is worth it. You’ll be amazed when you try your smoked or grilled meats and discover that cooking with wood pellets truly elevated them to the next level.
Read on to learn all about using wood pellets for cooking.
Table of Contents
Why Use Pellets?
When you cook outdoors, you want your meat to be as tasty and flavorful as possible.
In order to achieve this, many outdoor cooks spend hours marinating their meat before putting it to heat. Others focus on developing elaborate and involved combinations of spices to create the perfect taste they seek.
These are great ways to add flavor to your smoked meats but adding wood pellets to your smoker or using them in a pellet grill is another even quicker and easier way to do so.
There are so many different types of wood pellets from which to choose. Each has its own flavor profile. The flavor depends on the type of tree from which the wood came.
Either way, it’s likely that you’ll immediately notice the difference in the taste of your finished product when it’s time to eat. You and the people you feed will even be able to identify the specific flavor of wood pellets that you used; that flavor is infused in the food.
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of using wood pellets, you don’t need to be. Most wood pellets are made from trees on tree farms. New saplings are planted after the trees are cut down.
In other cases, they are made from dead wood. Some manufacturers use storm-damaged trees or trees that are at the end of their life cycles.
Once the tree is harvested, it is dried completely and is then ground down into sawdust. Then, that sawdust is highly pressurized using extreme heat to create compact yet lightweight pellets for use in your pellet grill or smoker. The finishing touch is when they are coated with the tree’s natural polymer, known as lignin, which holds each pellet together.
Because of the composition of wood pellets for cooking, they create very little ash. In fact, an entire forty-pound bag of pellets may create only half a cup of ash when they are burned down to nothing. This makes cleanup simple.
Types of Pellets
There are three main types of pellets on the market today. As a result, you’ll notice a wide variety of brands and also price points to consider.
When you begin to shop for wood pellets, you’ll find some very inexpensive options. The reason that some pellets are much cheaper than the others is that the cheapest pellets are used primarily for heating, not cooking.
Standard pellets are made for wood stoves and the scents they give off often come from artificial flavors. Because they are not all-natural, these are not food safe. Some can actually be dangerous to you if consumed; even if you decide to take the risk, you’ll find that they don’t offer the same level of flavor as food-grade wood pellets.
Blended Wood Pellets
The next level up as far as price goes are blended wood pellets. They are for cooking, but in order to keep the price low, they are made from natural wood that has only a little identifiable flavor, like oak or alder, combined with a more flavorful wood like hickory or mesquite.
This type of wood pellets works well and because they are priced at an affordable price, it’s possible to use them several times a week without doing too much damage to your wallet. However, your meat won’t be quite as tasty as it will be when you use wood pellets that are made of 100% flavored wood.
Flavored Wood Pellets
Flavored wood pellets are the most expensive of the options when it comes to choosing wood pellets for cooking, but they’ll also produce the best results. These pellets are made from 100% flavored wood, so their flavor will completely pass into the foods you grill or smoke.
Popular flavors in this realm include maple, cherry, hickory, and others. Flavored wood pellets may contain one type of flavored wood or may contain several as a blend, but all of the wood included offers identifiable tastes. If you’re looking for a very flavorful pellet where the passage of the flavor into your meet is undeniable, look for 100% flavored wood pellets. These are the best pellets for smoking and grilling. We review some flavored wood pellets in this post.
How to Shop for Pellets
There are a few different factors you should keep in mind when shopping for wood pellets for cooking. Whether you are using them for smoking or pellet grilling, you want to choose the safest and tastiest type for your family, and you want to get the biggest bang for your buck.
If you’re looking for the best pellets for smoking and grilling, consider all of the following factors.
Although the prices of different wood pellets for cooking depends on the composition of the pellets, it can also depend on the brand. Some brands are more expensive than others simply because they have built a name for themselves.
However, there are some smaller, regional brands that are excellent, but that are still priced low while they get their footing in the industry.
Now that you know the difference between the types of wood pellets explained above, you can apply that knowledge to find the best smoker pellets and the best pellet grill pellets for you and your family. In most cases, the more expensive the pellets are, the better quality they are, but if you take the time to read the labels you can often find a great deal at a lower price.
All-Natural, No Filler
Reading the labels is so important. You want to make sure that the pellets you purchase don’t include any spray-on texture or flavor, no chemical additives, and no other enhancers. The best smoking pellets should say all-natural on the bag.
If you’re unsure of the composition of a specific brand of wood pellets, visit the company’s website or contact them via email. Reliable, reputable companies will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about their products.
If you’re using the wood pellets you buy in the near future, then the warranty isn’t all that relevant to you. But, if you are going to buy a large bag that may last several seasons, you’ll want to make sure the pellets you buy are long-lasting. Most brands of wood pellets should be guaranteed for a full year, but some can be stored for two years or more.
When you store your wood pellets for future use, make sure you store them in a cool, dry place. Since you will be using these pellets to cook food, you don’t want them to get wet; they could grow mold or mildew that could later make you sick.
One of the literally neatest things about cooking with wood pellets is the fact that cleanup is minimal. Most complete bags of high-quality wood pellets burn down to almost nothing; you will end up with less than a cup of ash when your meal is ready to eat.
Pellets that have more bark content will create larger quantities of ash. Also, manufacturers use oil to dye the pellets during the manufacturing process; the more oil that remains, the greater the ash. Seek out wood pellets with low bark and oil content to experience the best results and for the easiest ash clean-up when you’re done cooking.
Also, the more compact your pellets are, the better. Loosely compacted pellets will burn faster and will create more ash. To check to see if the pellets you’re considering are compact, check the bottom of the bag. There will always be some dust there, but the less dust, the better.
Wood Pellet Flavors
When it comes to wood pellet flavors, the vast number of different flavors that are available to you will amaze you. You may even find you are a bit overwhelmed by all the options. Don’t be. Instead, be excited about them. You have the time and opportunity to work your way through them and try all of them in time.
Some flavors work better with certain types of meat and fish than others.
For starters, you may try mesquite or hickory wood pellets for cooking beef or steak. Those also go well with poultry, and so do fruit and apple pellets. All of the above are great additions to pork; fruit pellets are perfect for fish.
You can also add flavor to veggies with wood pellets. Hickory works wonderfully with mixed veggies, and you might find that you love the combination of apple pellets and potatoes.
These are just a few of the options available to you in the world of using wood pellets for cooking. In addition to those mentioned above, you might consider trying pecan, maple, walnut, mulberry, sassafras, savory herb, or other flavored wood pellets.
The options are endless. Wood pellets provide you with a fantastic opportunity to get creative with flavors on the pellet grill or smoker. Don’t limit yourself. Try them all; dive in!
Best Rated Pellets
There are dozens of different brands of wood pellets and some are better than others. However, once you’ve taken all of the above-described factors into consideration, most of the one you choose depends on your own personal desires and tastes and the amount of money you wish to spend. The best wood pellets are the pellets that you like best.
If you’re looking for direct, personal advice on which wood pellets to choose for a specific situation, many online forums exist to discuss pellet grilling and smoking. The users in these groups are very enthusiastic and are often quite excited to share their experience and expertise with people who are new to this type of cooking.
These forums offer a wealth of information about the wood pellet cooking hobby; they mention some brands of wood pellets time and time again. Some of the most popular brands include BBQr’s Delight, Lumberjack, Cookin’ Pellets, and Bear Mountain. Experts also recommend Traeger, Pit Boss, and Jack Daniel’s brands as well.
Try Using Wood Pellets for Cooking Today
Now that you know all about using wood pellets for cooking, you’re likely excited to get started. The options are nearly endless, and you’ll enjoy trying them all. What are you waiting for? Wood pellets are a fun and exciting adventure in cooking, and you’ll love their ease and flavor. Your family, friends and other guests will, too. Now, go get cooking!If you’re interested in reading more great posts about backyard fires and backyard cooking, check out the rest of our blog for more.