You probably know that smoking with wood pellets is highly convenient. All you have to do is set a timer—and then go do whatever else you need to do before your guests arrive. What you might not know is that, when you barbecue with wood pellets, you open up a wide range of flavor possibilities for vegetables, meat, potatoes, and baked goods. Many grillers are also unaware of the different kinds of smoker pellets available to them. In fact, most people don’t know that different pellet types can affect the overall taste of their food.
It might be enlightening to know learn the story behind smoker pellets before getting into the details about which specific types to buy. So, before I tell you where and how to identify the best smoker pellets, here is a brief summary of the history behind this hot grilling trend.
Brief History of Smoker Pellets
It is 1982, and Americans are seeking affordable heating sources in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. Joe Traeger, whose family owns a heating company in Oregon, begins experimenting with an economical alternative—wood pellets. These pellets, a byproduct produced by lumber mills, seem to fit the bill.
Although the stoves were popular, barbecue fans probably recognize the Traeger brand because of its contribution to grilling. In 1985, after accidentally sending his Fourth of July bird up in flames, Traeger decided to apply his wood pellet technology to grills—and thus avoid carbonized chicken dinners in the future.
Thus was born Traeger Grills® and, with it, many innovations. Traeger’s company created a device that had an auger to feed the smoker pellets, and a blower that helped the pellets burn. The arrival of the digital age and electronic controllers allowed the development of a system that included a thermostat in the cooking chamber, which would send a signal to the fan and auger to let them know when to start doing their thing.
Originally, such systems were simply known as “grills.” These days, they are usually called “smokers.” All smokers cook using indirect heat, which is perfect for people who prefer not to introduce their meats and veggies to an open flame. If you are an avid steak lover, smoking is probably for you!
Benefits of Smoker Pellets
If you are a huge fan of smoked poultry, pork chops, prime rib, salmon, and brisket, then a pellet smoker is definitely the way to go. If you’ve never seen them, smoker pellets are eraser-sized capsules of compressed sawdust that bear a striking resemblance to rabbit chow. Keep in mind that, owing to their composition, smoker pellets turn immediately to sawdust if they get wet.
Unlike charcoal briquettes, smoker pellets do not contain additives and fillers. This means they combust completely with zero ash! The best smoker pellets provide heat and flavor to your meat, vegetables, and other foods, without having to add any wood chips.
With pellets, you don’t have to worry about overly smoky food, because this rarely happens with smoker pellets. Billed as “set-it and forget-it,” pellet smokers require less attention than a traditional grill, although I suggest that you still keep an eye on your food while it cooks. The behavior of smoker pellets can be a little counterintuitive—the hotter the pellets get, the less smoke they produce.
With all that in mind, you might be thinking, “Well, that sounds great! But, what about the flavor?” As it happens, smoker pellets come in a wide variety of flavors. Allow me to introduce you to your new best friends.
Hardwood Smoker Pellets
The best manufacturers of smoker pellets focus on using high quality wood in an assortment of natural flavors sure to please even the most particular grill operator. These pellets will bring a woodsy, smoky flavor to your meat. Check out the pellet/food combinations below to make it easy for you to determine the ideal smoker pellet flavor for your BBQ day.
- Oak. Smoke pellets made from oak tend to be mellow and familiar. For the best results, use oak smoke pellets for fish or beef on the grill.
- Alder. This type of pellet goes very well with any type of meat, such as chicken, lamb, pork, turkey, fish, or beef. Alder infuses your meat with a delicious, earthy taste that is not too overwhelming.
- Maple. If you want meat—such as pork, beef, or turkey—with a tang of sweetness to it, then the maple smoker pellets are the best choice.
- Pecan. Your taste buds will be blown away with the flavor produced by pecan smoker pellets. Pecan pairs especially well with pork and beef.
- Hickory. Want something you can use regularly? Then hickory is an excellent choice. You can use hickory for any type of meat. However, it doesn’t pair well with fish, so keep that in mind!
- Mesquite. If you are up for fish on your BBQ day, then mesquite is perfect for your grill. Mesquite pellets will sharpen the natural flavor of, and add a bit of spiciness to, the fish. You can also use it for chicken and beef.
Let’s move on to the fruity-flavored wood pellets!
Fruitwood Smoker Pellets
When you shop for the best smoker pellets, you might want to sample some fruit-flavored varieties. You won’t regret it! Fruit-flavored pellets will take your smoking experience to whole new level.
- Apple. Apple is great for poultry and pork, as it adds tartness to the meat.
- Cherry. For a gourmet flavor, use cherry-flavored smoker pellets on pork, beef, or chicken.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line when it comes to the best smoker pellets? It is all about control. And, of course, taste. BBQ day with family and friends is meant to be fun, and nothing says fun like a chance to experiment with different flavors. Don’t forget to try out the different pellets before the big day to discover the best combination for your guests—and get some extra mileage out of the summer weather.