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Using aromatic wood smoke is definitely one of the best ways to infuse your dishes with extra flavor. Smoking meat (or fish, or seafood, or veggies) creates complex flavors that can hardly be achieved with anything else. If you have heard about wood pellets, but aren’t sure whether you should try them, this guide is here to solve this question (and another to help you find wood pellet under $500).
Before we start, we’ll give you the short answer: Yes, wood pellets are definitely worth looking into for use in a smoker. Even though they look kind of process, quality wood pellets actually contain only 100% hardwood. At the same time, they burn much longer and much more consistently than wood chips, for example.
In today’s guide, you’ll find a list of 8 best wood pellets for smoking available on the market. If you are not sure what kind of pellets to choose, refer to our buying guide in the second part of the article.
Table of Contents
- What Are Wood Pellets?
- Wood Pellets vs Wood Chips
- Wood Pellets Flavor Guide
- Final Thoughts
Our pick: Smokehouse Products BBQ Pellets
Runner up: BBQrs Delight Wood Smoking Pellets – Super Smoker Variety Value Pack
In a hurry? This is our winner!
Best Wood Pellets For Smoking – Comparison Table
Best Wood Pellets For Smoking – Reviews
Best Wood Pellets For Smoking – Buyers Guide
What Are Wood Pellets?
You’ve probably heard pellet grills, and those grills use pellets as fuel – the heat is generated from pellets, that is. While flavorful wood pellets can also be used in pellet grills, wood pellets made from aromatic woods have a much wider application in smoking meats.
Smoking wood pellets can be used in all kinds of smokers. This includes electric smokers, propane smokers, and old-school smoking over charcoal. Pellets can be used both for cold smoking and hot smoking too.
But what exactly are wood pellets? Pellets are small chunks of fuel made from wood that has been ground up and then compressed. The compression actually causes natural polymers in plant tissue to act like a glue, there is no need to use anything else but wood. High-quality wood pellets will be made from 100% natural hardwood, although some manufacturers add oils to enhance flavor.
Wood Pellets vs Wood Chips
When it comes to smoking meat in all kinds of smokers, the two main choices you have in terms of smoking fuel are wood chips and wood pellets. Both are made from processed hardwood. Of course, you could also use whole chunks of aromatic wood, but this is something that requires lots of skill and won’t really work with electric or propane smokers.
The difference between wood chips and wood pellets is basically in the amount of processing. Wood chips are simply small chips of hardwood. Wood pellets are essentially sawdust that has been compressed.
One of the main advantages of smoking wood pellets over wood chips is that they burn much more consistently. Before it is formed into pellets, the sawdust is dried out to ensure an even level of humidity. This, in addition to the highly compressed form of pellets, ensures an end product that burns low and slow.
Even though wood chips are less processed than wood pellets, they can be extremely difficult to use, especially when smoking meat for a long time. They do provide flavorful smoke, but only for a short time as they burn out quickly. This means you’ll have to refill the wood chip box very often if you want a consistent smoke. With wood pellets, you will need to refill much less often.
Wood Pellets Flavor Guide
When smoking meat or anything else, the level of smokiness and the flavor of your food will depend on the type of wood pellets you choose, so this is obviously a very important decision.
Different types of smoke go with different types of meat. For this reason, choosing the right type of smoke wood is a very important decision. You’ll want to achieve the distinct smoky flavor without going overboard and getting a taste that is too overpowering.
If you are unsure which type of wood pellets you want, this guide should help you find the right flavor:
Mesquite is one of the most popular woods for smoking, especially in the US. Mesquite wood pellets have a unique flavor unlike anything else. The flavor is also quite strong, so you should use it sparingly if it is your first attempt. Because it’s so strong, mesquite can easily overpower the taste of your food, but if used right it results in an amazing flavor enhancer.
The only case where you can safely use mesquite alone is with robust chunks of red meat, like pork butts or briskets. However, small quantities of mesquite in combination with other wood pellets with a milder flavor can be used to complement almost any dish. If you are new to mesquite, we suggest you try it first combined with hickory or oak, as many people can the flavor to be too strong when they first try it.
Hickory is probably the most versatile wood used in smoking. The flavor of hickory smoke compliments all kinds of meat. Not only this, but it is also used for smoking certain types of fish, like salmon. Hickory wood pellets create a flavorful smoke that is still quite heavy, so it’s strong enough to be used with larger cuts of meat.
Hickory has quite a strong taste compared to apple or oak, but it’s definitely milder than mesquite. It gives a sweet, fruity, fragrant smoke. Most people like the taste, but some it can still be too strong. In this case, mix it with oak or some other milder wood.
For an introduction to hickory wood pellets, we suggest you try smoking some chicken first. Season it with some olive oil, black pepper, paprika, and thyme and smoke to perfection using the CookinPellets 40H Hickory Smoking Pellets, for example.
Alder is the most versatile wood, thanks to its mild flavor with a subtle touch of sweetness. This is the “vanilla” of wood pellets, it’s rather neutral and it doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the food.
This is the West Coast’s choice of wood pellet. If you’re eating salmon or scallops on the Pacific shore, good chances are they’re smoked on this type of wood.
Alder wood is a perfect choice for delicate meat. It’s great for poultry and seafood, as it creates a nice amount of smoke, while giving the food a subtle aroma. On the other hand, this won’t be many people’s first choice for other types of meat, like beef, for example. It just doesn’t give enough flavor.
Apple is one of the most popular choices of wood pellets. This is a classic BBQ type of wood and it goes with just about anything. It’s best suited for pork and poultry, but try it with vegetables and seafood – you won’t regret it.
Apple provides the food with a mild fruity smoke. It’s strong enough to intensify the flavor of red meat, yet it’s gentle enough to not overwhelm the taste of tender meat like a chicken.
Fruitwood like apple can work great with cookie dough. Furthermore, if you want your mind to be blown, try out cooking an apple pie with applewood. It only gives the pie a hint of smoke, and it tastes like heaven!
Fruitwoods are mild and sweet, but cherry also gives a bit of a bitter taste. This wood is a great choice for most types of meat. If you want to achieve that sweet smoke flavor, this is your go-to type of wood pellets. If you’re planning on making pork or beef ribs, do not miss out on the amazing flavor cherry can provide your meat with.
Cherry wood pellets will give your meat that beautiful smoke ring and a dark color, which is something that every BBQ enthusiast will cherish. And we’re not talking just about red meat – your chicken will have that beautiful dark brown color that will make your mouth water just by looking at it.
Pecan is the most popular choice of nutwood, and for a good reason. It gives a mild and nutty flavor that goes well with all kinds of meat, and it’s also a bit spicy. Pecan wood works great with meat that already has a strong flavor, like a steak, as it won’t get overpowered by the amount of smoke. Furthermore, it also works well with food with short cooking time, such as hamburgers, as they quickly take on a taste.
Nutty flavors also work great with baked food, so pecan is a good choice when making pizza or bread. Furthermore, you can smoke different types of nuts with pecan pellets, as it will further enhance them with a smoky flavor.
Maple is yet another type of wood that gives a mild sweet flavor. It’s great for a variety of food, from poultry and pork to vegetables. It’s a bit stronger than apple or cherry, but it’s mellow enough not to worry about the possibility of maple overpowering the food flavor.
Avid maple fans will claim this is the best choice of wood pellets for poultry. It’s decently mild for tender meat, and you can rest assured it won’t overwhelm the taste of the meat. Maple gives a nice golden brown color and a bit of sweetness. It’s especially great for turkey. With this type of wood pellets, you will surely make an unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner.
This is one of the go-to wood pellets for smoking. It’s stronger than apple and cherry, and it can work with different types of meat. It creates a medium smoke, and its flavor can range from neutral to moderate intensity. Oak gives a beautiful mahogany color to your meat. It’s one of those woods that work well by themselves, but can also be combined with apple, pear or hickory to spice up the food flavor.
While it does work well with all kinds of meat, you do need to be a bit careful with poultry. Such delicate meat takes in smoke rather quickly, and oak taste might overwhelm the taste of the meat. Avoid that by combining it with other mild wood pellets.
Yes, there is a lot to choose from when it comes to smoking wood pellets, and there is no way to know what you like until you try it. On top of that, many manufacturers also offer their own unique blends of different woods. These blends are actually a really good choice for beginners, as they are usually created to be versatile and go well with all types of meat and even cheese or veggies.
If you are wondering whether to get wood chips or wood pellets, we think pellets are definitely worth trying out (with pellet grills being portable). They are really the fuel of the future. However, when it comes to choosing the type of wood to use for smoking, the decision becomes really personal. Some people love mesquite, but others can’t stand it. Fruit woods go well with poultry, but not so well with a rack of ribs, for example. It all depends on your preferences.
However, it’s also important to choose quality pellets where you are sure you’re getting 100% hardwood. In this regard, we found that the Smokehouse Products BBQ Pellets rank best. Their pellets are just what it says on the package, and they have been providing consistent quality for years.
If you are excited to try out all kinds of wood and can’t make up your mind on which flavor to get, we suggest you go with Super Smoker Variety Value Pack from BBQrs Delight. This way, you can try out different flavors and find out what you like, or even make a custom blend.