Wood pellets are the ideal choice for smoking because they yield an intense smoke that quickly seals in the natural moisture while adding an irresistible smoky flavor to your favorite foods. Achieving the same results with wood chips would require you to use almost double the weight in your drum, bullet, or egg smoker.
Choosing the best wood pellets depends on what flavors you want to add to your food, the type of food you are smoking, and whether you want a blended flavor profile or a singular flavor profile. Take a look at the top wood pellet products below to get an idea of what wood pellets are right for your taste.
- BEST OVERALL: Louisiana Grills 55405 Competition Blend Pellets
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: BBQrs Delight Wood Smoking Pellets Variety Value Pack
- BEST MESQUITE: Traeger Grills PEL305 Mesquite Hardwood Pellets
- BEST HICKORY: CookinPellets 40H Hickory Smoking Pellets
- BEST SWEET AND SMOKY: Green Mountain Grills Premium Apple Hardwood Pellets
- BEST GOURMET BLEND: Bear Mountain BBQ Hardwood Pellets – Gourmet Blend
- BEST CHARCOAL BLEND: Lumber Jack BBQ Grilling Wood pellets
- BEST WHISKEY FLAVOR: Jack Daniel’s Smoking BBQ Pellets
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood Pellets
Before choosing wood pellets for smoking your food, ensure that you have selected food-grade pellets. Heating pellets should be used exclusively with a pellet stove or wood stove and not for cooking because they are made with lower quality wood and other additives that can diminish your food’s flavor and potentially cause you harm. Read on for more critical wood pellet considerations.
Wood Types and Flavors
Wood pellets come in many different types and flavors that can be used to enhance the taste of your food when properly paired. Some of the most common are competition blend, mesquite, hickory, applewood, gourmet blend, fruitwood blend, and charcoal blend.
- Competition blend combines cherry, hickory, and maple hardwoods to produce a sweet, smoky flavor with a fruity tang ideal for a wide range of foods, including beef, pork, fruits, or vegetables.
- Mesquite wood pellets have a robust aroma and a smoky dry taste characterized by a lingering sweetness that they imbue in your food, making mesquite pellets a good choice for chicken and pork.
- Hickory wood pellets give your food a smoky bacon flavor that is great for smoking roasts.
- Applewood pellets have a smoky flavor mixed with a mild sweetness, making them ideal for smoking pork.
- Gourmet blend mixes multiple bold flavors, including pecan, hickory, and mesquite, to add a full-bodied taste to your chicken, pork, or fish.
- Fruitwood pellets are sweet-smelling and sweet-tasting, with a lingering tang that blends well with beef, chicken, and pork.
- Charcoal blends give your food a robust, smoky charcoal flavor similar to the taste of food cooked over a charcoal grill.
100 Percent Flavored Wood vs. Blends
The flavor of wood pellets can be separated into flavor blends or singular flavor profiles, more commonly referred to as 100 percent flavored wood.
- 100 percent flavored wood can refer to a single flavor profile or it can refer to the purity of the wood pellets if they are made without filler. This has the benefit of ensuring that you are not contaminating your food. These wood pellets can also include other types of wood, such as with a competition blend, but cannot be made with wood filler.
- Flavor blends may be less expensive than 100 percent flavored wood pellets because they will typically use a percentage of filler in combination with two or more wood types. While these blends allow you to use different wood types in a variety of combinations they tend to produce a lower quality result when compared with non-filler wood pellets.
You will want to choose an appropriate wood pellet flavor, depending on the type of food you are smoking.
- Beef benefits from charcoal, pecan, mesquite, hickory, gourmet blend, and competition blend wood pellets.
- Poultry is best with lighter flavors offered by competition blend, mesquite, hickory, apple, fruit, and gourmet blend wood pellets.
- Pork offers its own sweet taste that enhances the flavors of apple, fruit, mesquite, hickory, gourmet blend, and competition blend wood pellets.
- Seafood has a narrow taste profile that is really only highlighted with competition blend, apple, or fruit wood pellets.
- Fruits and vegetables should be smoked using hickory, apple, fruit, or competition blend wood pellets for best results.
Wood pellets come with a range of flavors from mild to strong, making certain flavors ideal for one specific type of food and inappropriate for a different type of food.
- Mild wood pellet flavors are best for smoking seafood, poultry, vegetables, and fruit, but they can also be used to accent a strong beef or pork taste. These wood pellets include alder, maple, beech, apple, and cherry.
- Medium wood pellet flavors like oak, pear, or peach are less commonly used but can add a distinct flavor to poultry and pork.
- Strong wood pellet flavors typically include hickory, pecan, walnut, and mesquite. These wood pellets produce powerful flavors that are easily absorbed into ribs, beef shoulder, and poultry, though these flavors may overwhelm more delicate food, like fish.
Grab your grill brush and clean off the grates before you get cooking, but make sure that you have the correct wood pellets for your grill or smoker. While many wood pellets can work with a variety of grills or smokers, some products are only designed to work with one or two cooking implements.
Common smoker types include propane/gas smokers, charcoal smokers, offset smokers, pellet smokers, electric smokers, egg grill smokers or kamado grills, and kettle grills. Wood pellets can be used with offset smokers, pellet smokers, kamado grills, and kettle grills, as well as providing some basic flavor-enhancement to gas, charcoal, and electric smokers if indicated by the manufacturer.
Our Top Picks
The products below were chosen for quality and value to help you find the best wood pellets for your smoking and grilling needs.
Don’t worry about running out of wood pellets with this massive 40-pound bag of competition blend pellets that are made of clean-burning, 100 percent all-natural hardwood, sourced across North America. This type of flavor combination is typically used in smoking competitions because the flavor profile is flexible enough that it can be combined with a variety of challenging foods to great effect.
The blend contains approximately 50 percent maple, 25 percent hickory, and 25 percent cherry wood, giving your food a sweet, savory, and tart flavor, similar to a fruity tang, that greatly enhances a wide range of food including beef, pork, poultry, fish, lamb, wild game, vegetables, and fruit. However, the manufacturer recommends using these pellets exclusively in pellet grills or pellet smokers.
Instead of getting one massive bag of wood pellets in a single flavor, you can try six different flavors with this affordable variety pack. These pellets can be used with many types of outside grills or smokers, including gas, charcoal, and electric, and they do not need to be soaked prior to use for a long-lasting, smoky burn.
The pack comes with one pound of each flavor with approximately 10 uses per bag. The flavors include apple, hickory, mesquite, cherry, pecan, and Jack Daniel’s whiskey, giving you a range of options to help enhance the taste of your food. Due to the wide variety of pellet flavors, this value pack can be used effectively with most meat, meat-substitutes, vegetables, and fruits that you may want to smoke.
If there is one flavor of wood pellets that’s known throughout the southwest, it would have to be mesquite. This southwestern favorite imbues your food with a smoky dry taste, characterized by a lingering sweetness. This 20-pound bag of mesquite wood pellets is made of 100 percent all-natural hardwood with no binding agents or fillers.
The pellets have been sustainably sourced in the United States with 100 percent virgin or non-recycled hardwood that burns with a clean, blue smoke, allowing you to smoke your food for hours to give it that ideal taste. Use these pellets with poultry, beef, and fish to really experience the bold taste of mesquite.
While the flavor of hickory wood pellets should not be overlooked, this bag of wood pellets has another key factor going for it: the quantity of pellets you get in a single bag. This bag of wood pellets weighs 40 pounds, ensuring that you have enough pellets for many long smoking sessions. The pellets are made of 100 percent hickory wood, which produces a clean-burning smoke capable of complementing most meat and meat-substitutes that you smoke.
The pellets do not contain additives or fillers, including oak and alder wood fillers that are typical in other 100 percent all-natural products. Having been dried out before packaging, the hickory wood pellets have a low moisture content that makes them easy to light. They’re also low on ash or dust so you can smoke your food for longer without having to add more pellets.
Applewood pellets are a great way to give your food a sweet, fruity taste while simultaneously imbuing the food with a deep, smoky flavor that will have your mouth watering while you wait for it to finish smoking or grilling. The wood pellets are 100 percent all-natural, made of non-recycled red oak, applewood, and hickory with no fillers, binders, or additives.
These apple wood pellets have a larger diameter size than standard wood pellets, allowing them to burn for a longer period of time. The bag weighs 28 pounds and has been dried out so the pellets burn easier while producing less ash, making clean-up a more pleasant task. Suitable for beef, poultry, pork, fish, vegetables, and wild game.
This 20-pound bag of wood pellets is an excellent option for infrequent smokers who need wood pellets with a flavor profile that can match almost any food option. The Bear Mountain BBQ Hardwood Pellets combine flavors from hickory, maple, cherry, and oak to provide a smoky flavor that has a distinctly sweet undertone. This balanced flavor stands out and enhances beef, pork, fish, poultry, lamb, vegetables, and fruit.
The gourmet blend wood pellets are made of 100 percent all-natural hardwood, meaning that they do not contain binders, fillers, or additives. These pellets can also be used with the majority of grills and smokers, including pellet smokers and grills, gas smokers and grills, charcoal smokers and grills, and electric smokers and grills.
Wood pellet charcoal blends can come in a variety of flavor combinations that accent the taste of charcoal-cooked food, but few flavors come close to this blend of hickory and charcoal. Smoke pork ribs, beef shoulder, or full chickens with these wood pellets to seal in the natural moisture and infuse your foods with a robust, smoky charcoal flavor.
The wood pellets are made in the United States and come in a large, 20-pound bag that has an easy-to-use carrying handle. These hickory and charcoal pellets are made with 100 percent non-recycled tree fiber that contains no additives, so you know that the pellets burn clean. Use these pellets with wood pellet grills or wood pellet smokers.
Jack Daniel’s Smoking BBQ Pellets are made using the mellowing charcoal from the distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., where the charcoal is soaked in whiskey for weeks before being mixed with oak wood and turned into wood pellets. This process gives the wood pellets a strong charcoal and whiskey flavor that adds a strong, permeated taste to thick cuts of beef, pork, and lamb.
These wood pellets come in a large, 20-pound bag, and are made out of 100 percent all-natural oak wood. Without fillers, the pellets burn cleanly and do not produce a lot of ash. This pellet formula is suitable for pellet-fired grills and smokers, but the pellets are susceptible to moisture, so you should store them in a sealed container when they are not in use.
Tips for Using Wood Pellets
Before buying wood pellets for your grill or smoker, you will want to make sure that you select a food-grade product instead of heating pellets. Those are manufactured for use in wood pellet stoves to produce warmth, not grilling and smoking food.
When you open the bag of wood pellets for the first time, do not soak them. Wood pellets do not need to be soaked before use like wood chips. You should also inspect the pellets for mold or fungus every time you use them, spreading them around the grill with your grill tongs. Store the pellets in a dry, sealable container to ensure that humidity does not seep into the pellets, causing them to degrade in quality and flavor.
- Make sure to use food-grade wood pellets and not simple heating pellets for your food.
- You should always inspect your pellets to ensure that there are no signs of mold or fungus which can contaminate your food.
- Wood pellets do not need to be soaked in water prior to use.
- Store your pellets in a dry, sealable container.
FAQs About Your New Wood Pellets
Before investing in a new type of wood pellets, take a look at these frequently asked questions and their answers below.
Q. Are wood pellets safe?
Yes, when wood pellets are used and stored properly they are safe, though you should ensure that you get food-grade pellets for smoking your food.
Q. What is the difference between pellets and wood chips?
Wood pellets are made of hardwood that has been finely ground and compressed, while wood chips are hardwood pieces that have been run through a wood chipper. Pellets are also better suited to smoking meats because they burn at a hotter temperature and a slower rate than wood chips. Whereas wood chips are better for grilling. It should also be noted that you do not need to wet wood pellets, but wetting your wood chips is an effective way to slow down the burn rate for a longer burn time in your grill.
Q. Do wood pellets need to be soaked before use?
No, wood pellets do not need to be soaked before use. In fact, soaking them or even storing them in humid conditions can degrade the quality of the pellets.
Q. Can you use wood chips in a pellet smoker tube?
Yes, you can use wood chips in a pellet smoker tube, but you will end up using a significantly higher amount of wood chips than if you had used pellets. Wood pellets are also much more flavorful than wood chips, so it is better to use pellets if you have them.
Q. How long do wood pellets last in a smoker?
This depends on how high or low the smoker is set to burn, but on average it will take between 8 to 26 hours to burn a full 40-pound bag of wood pellets.