Everyone in your neighborhood knows when you have a pellet grill in the backyard. The drifting pellet smoke provides an appetizing aroma, and they can’t help but notice.
If it hasn’t happened already, you will – without a doubt – have a moment when a passing neighbor asks whether you own a smoker.
However, it’s one thing to smell the smoky aromas and another thing to taste them. Wood-fired smoke enhances everything you cook in a pellet grill, and your choice of wood flavors – referring to the types of wood – can make a big difference when combined with specific foods.
From choosing what type of wood pellets for your grill, to how quickly they burn, to proper storing methods; follow these 5 tips to master the flavors you achieve with your pellet grill.
1. Select High-Quality Wood Pellets
There are many wood pellet options in the marketplace, but they’re not all made equally. If you choose to branch out from your brand of pellet grill, always make sure you select premium wood pellets.
Premium wood pellets – like Traeger and Camp Chef pellets – are made from 100% natural, food-grade hardwood. These pellets are produced without fillers, bark, or binding agents. They provide a clean, healthy fuel source that lasts longer with even smoke, consistent temperatures and favorable results.
High-quality wood pellets also keep your grill performing at its best and most effective.
Cheaper, low-quality pellets are generally lower in density and contain higher moisture content. You’ll burn through more pellets, and there’s a greater chance your pellet grill could experience problems. Also, temperatures are inconsistent and more ash is produced with low-quality pellets, which then floats inside your grill and potentially contaminates your food.
2. Choose Food-Grade Wood Pellets, Not Heating Pellets
Since we’re determining the values of quality wood pellets, we also need to distinguish between two types.
IFA Country Stores sell smoker pellets and heating pellets. They’re both compressed wood, but they are not the same and each has a specific purpose.
Heating pellets are less expensive than smoker pellets, but for a good reason. Heating pellets are intended for wood-burning stoves and are not produced for food consumption. They’re mostly made from softwoods – such as pine – which produce unfavorable flavors.
This wood may be sourced from wood products like plywood or particleboard that include fillers and binding agents, making it unsafe for your food and your grill. It’s great for heating your home, but avoid using heating pellets in your pellet grill.
Smoker pellets – as mentioned above – are made with one primary purpose: to add delicious wood-fired flavor to your favorite meals.
Premium smoker pellets, such as those produced by Traeger and Camp Chef, are made from 100% natural, food-grade hardwood. They’re a clean, healthy fuel source, designed to consistently cook great.
3. Complement Your Favorite Foods
Each pellet flavor, or type of wood, has a unique taste and naturally complements certain foods. Wood pellet flavors are generally classified in a range from mild to strong; with woods such as alder and maple on the mild end, and hickory and mesquite on the stronger side.
Which wood pellet flavors enhance your favorite foods? Try some of these combinations, find the ones you love, and take your grilling to the next level.
Alder wood pellets provide good smoke with mild flavor and aroma. It’s a highly versatile wood that pairs well with most–if not all–foods.
Add a lightly fruity smoke to mild flavored meats, baked goods and vegetables. Apple wood pellets combine so beautifully with chicken, you’ll never want to cook it any other way again.
Naturally enhance your food with a subtly sweet, fruity flavor. Cherry wood pellets provide a robust smoke with great overall taste. Make sure to try it once. You’ll more than likely try it a second and third time too.
Arguably the most popular barbecue wood nationwide, hickory pellets deliver a strong flavor. Hickory complements many types of meat very well, but it’s especially good with traditional barbecue meats such as brisket, tri-tip and pork shoulder. If you find hickory a little strong, try mixing it with milder pellets such as oak or apple.
Maple wood adds a mild, lightly sweet touch that pairs well with nearly all foods. Use maple pellets when you’re smoking the main dish on Thanksgiving or Christmas. The subtle difference is sure to impress the entire family.
Enhance your meat with a hearty smoke flavor. A barbecue favorite in Texas, mesquite pellets infuse a robust smoky taste into brisket and many of our other favorite cuts of meat.
On a scale of smokiness, oak pellets fit right in the middle. Oak is stronger than apple wood and lighter than hickory, and provides a mild, nutty flavor to fish and veggies, along with pizza and baked goods.
Many people are surprised to find out that their pellet grill is perfect for making baked goods, and pecan pellets add that special touch. Use pecan wood anytime you want to add a nutty, lightly sweet and spicy flavor to your food.
All-Purpose Wood Pellets
Traeger and Camp Chef also provide an all-purpose blend of wood pellets.
The Traeger Signature Blend and the Camp Chef Competition Blend both combine maple, hickory and cherry hardwood flavors. These blends are both versatile and provide a full-bodied smoke flavor that’s tasty with every meal.
Speciality Wood Pellet Blends
A variety of other blends are available with complex flavors intended for your summer barbecues, holiday turkey, wild game, and personal tastes (Traeger Texas Beef, and Camp Chef Charwood–charcoal and wood mix–Cherry or Hickory). Exploring the various options is the best way to enhance your grilling skills and open your palate while creating new savory recipes.
The Best Woods for Whatever You’re Smoking
4. How Long Does a Bag of Wood Pellets Last?
There’s always one question we hear time and again. How long does a 20 lb bag of wood pellets last?
Rule of thumb: 1 lb of pellets / hour
On average, your pellet grill will burn through 1 lb of wood pellets per hour, but this also varies depending on the heat level and time of year.
For longer smoked foods such as pulled pork and brisket, you’ll likely use fewer wood pellets. When the pellet grill temperature is on the high end for things such as pizza and rolls, the average will increase upwards to 3 lbs. per hour.
Naturally, when you turn up the heat, it will burn through more wood pellets.
During the winter months, the cool outdoor temperatures will also force your pellet grill to work harder to maintain the desired heat level.
Insulated blankets are available to help retain more heat within the grill. They do help, but keep in mind; cooking times will still increase a little this time of year, and your grill will burn more wood pellets. If you do get an insulated blanket, some people also use them all year long feeling it keeps the pellet grill temperature even more consistent.
Learn more about winter pellet grilling
Always plan appropriately and make sure you have enough wood pellets around before starting up the grill.
5. Properly Store Your Wood Pellets
When you keep wood pellets around, make sure they’re not just laying around. Moisture negatively affects the pellets and sometimes makes them unusable. Even inside an unopened bag, your wood pellets should be kept dry and off the ground.
Store your wood pellets indoors in an airtight container to prevent moisture from reaching them and absorbing into the fibers. Our IFA food-grade, 5-gallon buckets with gamma seal lids are a great option for portable, economical, air-tight storage.
Always remember, “when you’re lookin’, it’s not cookin’.” Be patient; keep the lid down and the smoke inside the pellet grill. Maintain a meat thermometer, and trust the process until you reach the perfect internal temperature on everything. Your grill and wood pellets will do most of the work from there.
Cooking with wood changes the atmosphere, aromas and tasty experience of your backyard barbecue. Experiment with different wood types and find the flavors you and your family love best. You may just notice your neighbors taking an extra lap or two past your house to catch more of that appetizing, smoky aroma.
When you need wood pellets or supplies related to pellet grilling and outdoor cooking, visit your local IFA Country Store. We’re happy to help you cook all the things you love.
Find an IFA Country Store near you
Information for this article was provided by Mike Stauffer, Branch Manager, American Fork IFA Country Store; Jason White, Asst. Manager, Riverton IFA Country Store; Bart Keller, Asst. Manager, Draper IFA Country Store; Eric Thomson, Lawn, Garden & Outdoor Cooking, Cedar City IFA Country Store; and Kent Mickelsen, Outdoor Cooking Category Manager, IFA.