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et’s talk about smoking — food, that is! Smoke is one of the essential components of the barbecue flavor you crave. Savory, succulent meats and vegetables with crisp, smoky edges piled in a bun or lined up on a skewer are the kind of summer foods we can’t get enough of. 

There are lots of ways to get an exciting, smoky flavor into your food. The core concept is using some kind of wood fuel to introduce more smoke to the area where your meal is cooking so that its flavors and aromas can soak into the foods.

You can smoke meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, and even fruit. The sky is the limit. Once you have a good setup for smoking, you won’t be able to resist experimenting. 

Today, we’re going to look at one of the easiest and most accessible fuels for smoking food: Wood pellets. Quality wood pellets burn clean, produce consistent temperatures, and are available in a wide variety of wood types and blends to bring a custom flavor to your grilling. We’ve rounded up the five best wood pellets for smoking, and will compare CookinPellets Perfect Mix, Bradley Smoker Special Blend Bisquettes, Lumber Jack Competition Blend, Traeger Hickory 100% All-Natural Hardwood Grill Pellets, and Pit Boss BBQ Wood Pellets.

What are Wood Pellets?

Wood pellets for smoking are small pieces of compressed sawdust. The fine powder is tightly packed and thoroughly dried. They are denser than natural wood and tend to burn hotter. 

You can use wood pellets by including them in a smoker box included with your grill or purchased separately. You can also wrap them in an envelope of heavy-duty foil with a few holes poked in the top to let smoke escape. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your grill or smoker.

What to Look for in Wood Pellets

There are lots of different wood pellets on the market, and they’re not all the same. There are a few things to consider when shopping for wood pellets and achieving the results you want.

Cooking Pellets vs. Heating Pellets

You may encounter two different types of products when shopping for wood pellets. Cooking pellets are food-grade and 100% hardwood. They are intended to produce smoke that touches your food and there are strong regulations about what is allowed to go into them.

Heating pellets, while they look the same and follow a similar manufacturing process, are intended for use in heaters and not for cooking. They are not food grade, and as such can contain binders and other impurities that shouldn’t touch your food or cooking equipment. Even the inclusion of softwoods like pine introduces a high amount of resin to the material, which will burn with an ashy, bitter smoke. 

Cooking with heating pellets is at best non-tasty and at worst poses a health risk. Make sure you look for terms like BBQ pellets, food-grade, and 100% hardwood.

Binders, fillers, and flavoring

The highest-quality pellets will tell you what they’re made of, including the type of woods used. We’ve already covered that they should be 100% hardwood, but there are many hardwoods in the world and they smoke differently. Some, like oak, have a more neutral flavor while others, like mesquite, produce an intense and unmistakable type of smoke. 

Some cooking pellets start with a more plentiful, less flavorful wood like alder and add flavoring oils to mimic the taste of woods like apple and cherry. These tend not to produce a very authentic flavor, so it’s valuable to do a little research and look beyond what it says on the front of the bag.

Pairing your Food with your Wood Type

From sweet and delicate applewood to strong, spicy mesquite, different hardwoods produce a wide spectrum of flavor and aroma. The best type of wood to choose depends on the kind of food you’re cooking and the final flavor you’re shooting for. 

A good rule of thumb is matching your wood’s flavor intensity to the food you’re cooking. A light meal of white fish will pair better with a smoking wood that has a gentler flavor, such as maple. On the other hand, hearty brisket pairs perfectly with walnut or mesquite, which produce very strong flavors. 

Many wood pellets also offer blends chosen to balance specific flavors. These can be especially good for beginners who want to avoid over-flavoring their food. 

The Best Wood Pellets for Smoking

CookinPellets Perfect Mix is a blend of hickory, cherry, hard maple, and apple woods. The company includes no additional fillers or other woods. They burn very clean and don’t produce a large amount of waste ash, making for a more true flavor and easier clean-up. 

The blend of hickory, maple, and popular fruit woods offer a balanced flavor that goes well with many types of grilling. The hickory helps the flavor from these pellets stand up to heartier meats like beef and game but they won’t overwhelm fish or chicken.

Though shaped specifically for the Bradley Smoker, these briquettes can be used in other smoker boxes to produce clean, consistent smoke. Bradley blends natural hardwoods to achieve specific flavors meant to compliment a wide range of cuisine. They produce little ash, so you don’t have to worry about creosote or bitter build-up. 

Lumber Jack makes their wood pellets from actual trees and controls the quality of manufacturing start-to-finish. You can be sure there are no fillers or residues. They’re a smaller size, increasing surface area and maximizing smoke. The flavor of these pellets is maximized by using the bark and cambium layers of the tree rather than adding oils or other artificial flavorings.

Traeger uses 100% hardwood with no additives or fillers and does all of their sourcing and production in the USA. This enables them to maintain exacting standards of quality control so you can rely on the flavor and consistency of their products.
These hickory pellets are an ideal match for beef, pork, and wild game. 

These natural hardwood pellets from Pit Boss are a blend of maple, hickory, and cherry. They include no binders or additives, producing a hot, clean burn. The flavor is balanced and versatile, working well for many types of meat and vegetables. 

Good Pellets, Great Flavors, Unforgettable Grilling

Whether you’re an experienced smoker or looking for an upgrade to your grill-out game, boosting smoke is a great way to achieve big barbecue flavors. CookinPellets Perfect Mix is a versatile blend that offers the nuanced flavors of four popular hardwoods without the addition of unpleasant fillers. These all-purpose pellets can punch up the flavor of any meal and guarantee everyone lines up for seconds. 

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