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Best Pellets for Smoking? Quality, Price & Performance

Bear Mountain
4.8/5
Cookin Pellets
4.7/5
Traeger
4.8/5
recteq
4.8/5
Pit Boss
4.7/5
Ol' Hick Jim Beam
4.6/5

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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How We Tested the Best Pellets for Smoking

We haven’t just picked bags of pellets off the shelf willy-nilly.

To test the best pellets for smoking, the team at Burning Brisket selected a large sample of the most popular brands and flavors currently on the market.

We looked what’s in them, including if they were purely the stated wood or a blend. If they made the cut, we opened the bag and assessed them for their moisture content, dust levels, and size of the pellet.

Then, we tried each and every brand, testing them for both low and slow smoking and high-heat grilling in the same pellet smoker for consistency. Notes were made on the temperatures we were able to reach and maintain, smoke production, smoke quality, and ash production.

After that, the results were put together and the best of the bunch were recommended here.

Note, most of the smoker pellets used here are brands we have used for months or years. We have gone through many a bag of them over this time so have been able to check the quality and performance over multiple bags and have tried more than one wood variety in each brands range.

Table of Contents

The Best Pellets for Smoking: Our Top Choices

If you’re looking for a quality smoking pellet to use in any brand of pellet smoker, look no further than one of these great picks.

Note – The pictures featured here are just a sample of one wood variety sold by each of these brands. Read our guide on the best varieties of woods for smoking for more info on which flavors pair well with which meats.

Bear Mountain 100% Natural Hardwood Pellets

4.8/5

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. But, in our opinion, that’s not a bad thing!

Oak and alder burn consistently which helps to create reliable heat and smoke levels, regardless of the variety chosen.

Pros
Cons

If you’re after something that is 100% one variety of wood, try Cookin Pellets instead. But, we do rate Bear Mountain for a better and more consistent burn.

Cookin Pellets

4.7/5

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.

Pros
Cons

Traeger Premium Hardwood Pellets

4.8/5

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 a great producer of that ideal, thin blue smoke. There’s a decent range of different varieties to choose from with their Signature being the most popular.

But, what I really do love about Traeger pellets is that 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 all Traeger hardwood pellets are indeed 100% hardwood, it’s not necessarily 100% cherry, mesquite, or apple in that bag of pellets.

To improve heat production, Traeger supposingly do mix woods to create a product that will consistently perform well, hitting both low and slow temperatues as well as the high heat you need for great grilling.

It’s hard to find a heap of information about the exact breakdown of their mixes. But, Traeger pellets are widely loved, we’ve been using them for years, and they really do perform very well.

Pros
Cons

Pit Boss Hardwood Pellet Blends

4.7/5

Another of our regular go-to smoking pellets is this, Pit Boss’s range of hardwood blends.

They’re usually significantly cheaper than a lot of the competition. But, the quality is still right on up there.

They’re advertised as blends. But, if you read about the Bear Mountain and Traeger pellets above, you’ll know they’re not 100% purely what the front say they are either, and for a good reason.

So, what you’re getting is the flavor of the hardwood on the front, mixed with a base wood that provides a steady and reliable burn at all temperatures. There’s still absolutely no fillers, oils, artificial flavors, glues, or chemicals, just true hardwoods for real wood flavor.

The flavor is great, ash production is low, and we’ve never had any issues with heat after using Pit Boss pellets regularly for years.

Pros
Cons

recteq Ultimate Premium Hardwood

4.8/5

Recteq stand behind their high-quality, premium grills. And, their hardwood pellets are equally as good.

They’re all natural with no fillers, binders, or preservatives. They’re upfront about what’s in them. And, recteq actually test and measure their ash production which seemed about right to us at the claimed 1%.

The recteq Utlimate Blend is their original and most popular product. We found it to be nice and dense, burning well at all temperatures while producing a great flavor that’s typical of your Southern-styles of barbecue.

Compared to other pellets on the market, we’ve always found recteq’s to have one of the lowest levels of sawdust at the bottom of the packet too. But, they can be hard to get your hands on at times. What is there usually gets snapped up pretty quickly.

Pros
Cons

Ol' Hick Jim Beam Bourbon Barrel Pellets

4.6/5

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.

Pros
Cons

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.

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.

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:

This is a manufacturing error which causes pellets to crumble and burn ineffectively.

Bark doesn’t burn as well as the actual wood does. Instead, it causes temperature spikes and lots of ash both of which aren’t ideal for cooking in a pellet smoker.

If smoking pellets are too wet, they’ll simply fall apart into sawdust. But, before they get that badly damaged, even abosrbing a little too much moisture either in manufacturing or due to poor storage causes low temperatures and too much smoke.

Wet pellets will also swell causing auger jams.

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.

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’s a very subjective topic! Everyone has different tastes so take this as a guide. But, feel free to experiment with it as well.

Which pellets do I pair with my meat?

FAQs About Using Smoker Pellets

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.

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.

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.

Check out these pellet tube smokers. They’re a cheap and easy way to use hardwood smoker pellets on any type of smoker. And, they can even be used to cold smoke too.

High-quality, food-grade smoking wood pellets are safe to cook with. 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.

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.

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.

But, there’s a lot of good pellet storage options. For more solutions, check out our how to on pellet 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.

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.

Both Traeger and Pit Boss pellets are some of the best on the market.

Both have a good selection of flavors, and, are subject to strict quality control measures.

Pit Boss, however, can be slightly cheaper per pound because you can buy them in larger bags.

For a full run down of Pit Boss pellets vs Traeger pellets, check out our comparison.

Kate Brown, the founder and voice behind Burning Brisket, is not your typical pitmaster or restaurateur. Her expertise in barbecue grew from a humble desire to cook exceptional meals for her family. From overcoming burnt brisket mishaps to establishing her boutique cattle ranch, Kate shares her passion to help 'ordinary' individuals cook extraordinary barbecue, believing that simplicity often yields the best flavors. Kate is commited to making great barbecue accessible to all with the right resources and some tasty practice.

About Burning Brisket

Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

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