There’s an overwhelming number of choices when it comes to smoking pellets! Different brands with different claims, different types of wood and a whole heap of sometimes conflicting advice.
Do you need to use the same brand of pellets as your pellet smoker? Which pellets are going to give the best flavor for what I’m cooking? And, how do I know my pellets are going to give a good burn time with minimal ash?
You’re right, not all pellets are created equal.
So, in this review, we’ve sorted the best from the rest to give you a go-to list of the best pellets for smoking. You can confidently pick any of these smoker pellets, fire them up in your smoker and get reliably great results.
But, in this guide we also give you a bit more information about what pellets are, how they’re made and how to best store them. If it’s about smoker pellets and you need to know it, it’s here.
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Bear Mountain 100% Natural Hardwood Pellets
High heat, lots of thin blue smoke, minimal ash and a good range of flavors has made Bear Mountain our go-to pellets for smoking.
There’s no fillers, binders, or bark, creating a perfectly clean smoke every time. And, we’ve found them to be consistent when it comes to their 5% moisture target, resulting in pellets that don’t clog the auger while putting out a nice hot heat that’s also great for grilling.
Bear Mountain are upfront with what’s in their pellets stating that they do contain alder or oak as a base wood. This helps to create a more consistent burn with reliable heat and smoke levels, regardless of the variety chosen. So, if you’re after something that is 100% one wood, try Cookin Pellets instead. But, we rate Bear Mountain for a better and more consistent burn.
- No fillers, binders or bark
- Optimal 5% moisture level for consistent performance
- Available in a range of varieties
- Available in a range of sizes for cost effectiveness
They don’t look like anything fancy. But, don’t be fooled, there’s nothing budget about what’s in these pellets.
Cookin Pellets are one of our favorite smoking pellets because they are 100% what they say they are. No added oak or alder to pad it out, no bark, no fillers, no oils, and, no binders. Just 100% whatever wood it says it is on the front of the pack.
They’ve been a top seller for years and perform consistently in terms of flavor, smoke and burn time.
Just be aware that because they are pure and don’t contain any oak or alder, the temperature and smokiness is going to vary depending on what type of wood you buy. In general, we find that they don’t get quite as hot as Traeger. But, the flavor is better.
At the end of the day, they’re a great choice for anyone who wants an unadulterated smoker pellet.
- Variation in max heat and smokiness between different types of wood (as you’d expect because they’re pure)
- Inconsistent performance in terms of ash production
Rec Tec Grills Pellets
Rec Tec stand behind their high-quality, premium grills. And, their hardwood pellets are equally as good.
At the moment, there’s only one variety and their packaging is pretty plain. But, this 100% oak and hickory blend is a great all-round pellet that’s versatile in flavor and consistent in performance.
As with all of our recommended pellets for smoking, Rec Tec’s Ultimate Blend is free from additives and fillers. They’re dense, low ash and burn nice and hot.
Compared to other pellets, we’ve always found Rec Tec’s to have one of the lowest levels of powdered sawdust at the bottom of the packet too. They are more expensive, but at least with less leftover residue, you’re getting all of what you pay for.
- 100% hardwood – no fillers or additives
- Minimal leftover powder in bag
- Burns well with good heat, nice smoke and low ash
- More expensive than most other options
- Only available in 1 variety at this stage
Ol' Hick Jim Beam Bourbon Barrel Pellets
Wood smoked is great. But, bourbon smoked is even better! And, these Ol’ Hick Smoking Pellets are legit made from bourbon barrels.
They’re pure oak so you get a good burn with clean smoke and high heat. But, you also get a distinctly bourbon flavor that you just wouldn’t be able to infuse in meat any other way. They’re pretty much pure genius and we’re here for it!
Additive free and great to pair with practically any type of meat, seafood, vege or even dessert, the Ol’ Hick Jim Beam Pellets are a must-try even if it’s a one-off.
- Smooth flavor of real Jim Beam creates unique flavor
- Clean burning because they’re made of 100% oak
- No additives
- Obviously only the one flavor
Traeger 100% All-Natural Hardwood Pellets
As the original pellet grill manufacturers, you can trust that Traeger know what they’re doing when it comes to the pellets used to run them.
Made from 100% natural hardwoods with no binding agents or fillers, they’re full of flavor while being clean burning, low ash and great thin blue smoke. There’s 10 different flavors to choose from, 8 pure and 2 blended.
They’re sustainably sourced in the USA from virgin hardwood sawdust that’s then compressed using a special palletization process that’s known to be the ‘gold standard’ of pellet production.
Keep in mind that although they are indeed 100% hardwood, it’s not necessarily 100% alder in the alder pellets. To improve heat production, Traeger supposing mix woods to create a product that will consistently hit the temperature you need, while keeping enough to give the desired flavor. It’s hard to find a heap of information about it. But, they’re one of the most widely used pellets and do perform very well.
- Consistently hot and clean burn across the flavor range
- Sustainably produced
- Manufactured in the USA
- Real wood
- No fillers
- Consistent quality
- There’s a bit of bad press and not a lot of information about Traeger being misleading with it’s 100% hardwood claim because it’s apparently not all the stated hardwood
What Are Smoking Pellets?
Wood smoking pellets are the fuel source of all pellet smokers. And, basically, they’re compressed sawdust.
When timber is cut at a lumber mill, it creates a lot of sawdust. Instead of wasting this byproduct, it can be collected, dried, ground, and, compressed to form 100% hardwood pellets that actually burn more effectively and efficiently than logs themselves.
Compressing sawdust causes lignin, a natural substance in wood, to heat up and soften so that it can be passed through a machine that shapes it into cylindrical pellets. Once it cools, the lignin hardens so it holds the pellet together without any glues or additives. After this, they’re cut into short pieces and packaged ready for use.
Heating Pellets Vs Cooking Pellets
It’s important to note that cooking pellets used for smoking are NOT the same as heating pellets used to fuel pellet heaters.
While the best wood pellets for smoking generally contain nothing but food grade hardwood, heating pellets are produced from lumber that may contain chemical or pesticides. Because of this, heating pellets are only suitable for use in heating stoves and should NEVER be used in a pellet smoker even though they’re cheaper.
Do I Have to Use the Same Brand of Pellets as My Smoker?
Most pellet smoker manufacturers also sell their own brand of pellets. It makes sense for them to get in on those after initial sale dollars and provide customers with everything you need to pellet smoke.
But, there’s absolutely no reason that you MUST use the same brand of pellets as your smoker.
Smoking pellets are made to a uniform size so any pellet will fit in any auger without causing jams or other problems.
They might have told you that if you don’t use, for example, Traeger’s pellets with your Traeger smoker then you’ll void the warranty. But, it’s actually illegal for any company to enforce a warranty that’s got implied conditions like that. They can legally make those claims. But, they can’t stick to it so you don’t have to either.
What is important though, is that you do use quality pellets that are going to keep your grill running well and your food tasting good. But, it doesn’t have to match.
Common Problems With Smoking Pellets
There can be a huge difference between high quality smoking pellets and poor quality ones.
In fact, one of the most common pellet smoker problems, abnormal temperature fluctuations, can actually be caused by bad quality pellets putting out too much ash that then interferes with the heat regulating sensors. Mechanically, there’s actually nothing wrong and simply switching to a better quality pellet fixes the issue altogether.
Some of the reasons that bad quality pellets might cause poor performance are:
- Poor compression in manufacturing causes pellets to crumble and burn ineffectively
- Pellets contain bark which doesn’t burn as well as the actual wood causing temperature spikes and lots of ash
- High moisture content either leftover from manufacturing or due to poor storage causing low temperatures and too much smoke
If you’re having a problem with your pellet smoker and you’re not sure if it’s actually your pellets, just try a fresh bag from a different manufacturer first.
Different Types of Smoking Pellets
Smoking pellets are either 100% the specified wood, or, a blended combination that’s usually about 30% flavor and 70% a cheaper burning wood.
And, while manufacturers can be a bit misleading, trying to pass off filler blends as 100% the flavor wood, blends aren’t necessarily bad. Oak or alder is often used as the base because it burns well. This actually helps create a pellet that performs consistently with good heat and smoke levels while still giving the desired hardwood flavor. It also keeps the cost down for you as well.
So, while there is a place for 100% pure woods like Cookin Pellets, using oak or alder as a base doesn’t mean it’s a poor quality pellet.
What are the Best Wood Pellet Flavors? And, Which Pellets For Which Meat?
Different types of hardwoods will give your meat a different flavor. And, while pairing your meat with the right type of pellets isn’t essential, it can enhance your results.
Keep in mind that when it comes to the best type of wood for smoking, it is subjective. Everyone has different tastes so take this as a guide. But, feel free to experiment with it as well.
FAQs About Using Smoker Pellets
How long do wood pellets burn in a grill?
The burn rate for smoking pellets can vary hugely. It’s not only dependent on the cooking temperature, it also changes with the type of wood used, the size of the grill, how insulated it is and what the weather is like outside.
As a general rule, you can expect smoker pellets to burn anywhere between 1/2 a pound to 3 pounds per hour.
Well-insulated smokers being run at a lower temperature will consume a smaller amount of pellets while less-insulated smokers set to a high grilling heat will burn more.
Do I need to soak wood pellets?
Never soak smoking pellets!
In fact, the best pellets for smoking are produced very carefully to hit a target of about 5% moisture content. This helps them put out optimal heat and smoke while minimizing ash production.
Unlike whole pieces of wood, soaking pellets will cause them to disintegrate, clog your auger, heat poorly and produce bad smoke.
Can you use pellets in regular smoker?
Even though smoking pellets are designed for pellet smokers, they can actually be used on any charcoal barbecue to give a natural wood smoked flavor.
The best way to use pellets in a regular smoker depends on the type of smoker used. Check out the video below for instructions on how to set up smoking pellets on a variety of barbecues.
Are wood pellets safe to cook with?
High-quality, food-grade smoking wood pellets are safe to consume. All of the brands recommended in this review are free from glues, binders and fillers so they’re 100% hardwood and don’t contain anything toxic.
But, it’s important to remind you that heating pellets are NOT safe to cook with. Pellets made for burning in a pellet stove are made from wood that’s been treated with insecticides and other chemicals which clearly aren’t safe for consumption and will make you sick.
To keep your smoking pellets safe for cooking, it’s also important to store them properly. If they’re stored in an open bag, the pellets might absorb moisture giving mold and fungus the opportunity to grow and create a toxic environment.
FAQs About Storing Smoker Pellets
Can I leave pellets in the hopper?
It’s best practice to empty any unused pellets out of the hopper after every single smoke.
Most pellet hoppers don’t have a tight seal and can let moisture/humidity in that will soften and start to disintegrate your pellets. Moist pellets can lead to jams, won’t burn as well and encourages mold to grow, which isn’t safe to consume.
How do I store smoker pellets?
If you can’t keep pellets in the hopper then how do you store them? Can you just leave pellets in the bag they came in?
Some brands, like Cookin Pellets, say you should store pellets in their bag, even after they’ve been opened. But, in most cases, using an air-tight container will keep them in the best possible condition to prolong their life. We like Oklahoma Joe’s Pellet Bucket Kit that comes with a scoop and a mesh insert to separate out any wood dust.
Note: Don’t store pellets near heat or flames. They are flammable after all!
How long do wood pellets last in storage?
How long smoking pellets last in storage depends hugely on how good a condition they came in and how well they’re stored.
Stored in a humid climate in an open bag, smoking pellets might not even last 1 month before starting to break down. But, stored correctly in a weatherproof bucket, quality smoking pellets can easily last 6 months + in perfect condition. We’ve even had some in storage for a few years that were all good.
How do I know if my wood pellets are bad?
It’s always a good idea to check your pellets before you load the hopper.
A good wood pellet will look smooth and shiny with minimal cracks, if any. Pellets should easily snap in half when you break them. If they do, they’re fresh and good to go.
Pellets that have a dull surface, lots of cracks or that are visibly wet are bad and should be disposed of.