Welcome to the modern era of cooking. Thanks to wood pellets, grilling to perfection while infusing distinct flavor is easier and more effective than ever before.
The art of smoking foods is all about consistent and level temperatures which starts with your fuel of the fire. Whether in the form of chunks, chips, or wood pellets, it’s best to use some type of hardwood for smoking.
Traditionally, wood chips or chunks have been used in grills and outdoor ovens large enough to use them. Grillers with smaller setups can also use wood chips or wood pellets in gas or charcoal grills by using a smokebox, and recently, wood pellet grills have been making BBQ magic at homes as much as at restaurants. Many grillers enjoy using hardwood pellets because of their convenience and effectiveness compared to other fuels.
Like wood chips, wood pellets are made from the byproducts of sawmills that would otherwise go to waste. The byproduct gets ground, dried, and then sent to a forming die. The forming die rotates while pressurizing the wood, and a knife inside the machine cuts them into uniform-sized pellets. Then it’s time for the pellets to cool down so they don’t stick to one another.
The process for making industrial wood pellets and flavored wood pellets for smoking food is the same. But the best pellet makers are more selective in the types of wood they use. For example, flavored wood pellets will often source trees from local apple orchards and blend it with oak or hickory.
Many revere wood pellets for being all-natural. There’s no need for using chemicals or glues because once pressurized, the lignin (an organic polymer) found in wood helps the pellets bind together naturally. The only added ingredient in wood pellets might be a hint of food-grade soybean oil which is sprayed on the dry wood fibers to feed them into the forming die.
Wood pellets typically come in a 20-pound bag, but the pellets themselves aren’t large or heavy at all. It’s easy to scoop your wood pellets into your pellet grill hopper, close the lid, and turn the switch to ON. Depending on cooking time, you may have to add more pellets to the hopper, but you never have to worry about soaking, stirring, poking, or prodding.
Working with wood chips can get tricky because you have to soak them so that they’ll burn slow and long. Wood pellets, on the other hand, burn hot and long by design. You don’t want to get them wet, or they’ll quickly ruin. Experimenting with flavors is as easy as mixing and matching the flavors of wood pellets. You can buy popular blends, or invent your own!
The following are general guidelines for which types of foods pair well with which types of wood pellets.
These pellets are the most versatile because of their mild flavor and aroma. Alder wood gives off a great amount of smoke without overwhelming even the most delicate flavors like chicken, fish, or baked goods. Try these Bacon Wrapped Scallops next time you are looking to add that perfect wood-fired taste with your Alder pellets. Shop Alder.
Most often used with poultry and pork, apple wood pellets offer a light fruity smoke that helps enhance mild flavored meats. Apple pellets take this Smoke Roasted Apple Pie to a whole new level of awesome. Think about it -- apple wood smoked apple pie? Unbelievable. Shop Apple.
One of the more flavorful pellets, cherry wood lends itself to application where you want to add a hearty smoke flavor. Check out these Marinated Beef Ribs. Between the marinade and the cherry smoke, these flavorful ribs don't require any sauce to be exceptionally flavorful. Shop Cherry.
Probably the most widely used pellets in barbecue, hickory pellets release a strong flavor that complements most meats. Some people find hickory can be a little strong and like to mix it with a milder pellet like oak or apple. Using hickory pellets with this Anytime Pork Roast will definitely impress. Shop Hickory.
Mild with a hint of sweetness, maple pellets are great on pork and especially turkey. Using maple pellets to smoke your holiday Herb Roasted Turkey, and your family will request that you cook every year. Shop Maple.
A favorite of Texas BBQ, mesquite pellets infuse your meat with hearty smoke flavor. That super smoky flavor is great for recipes like these Southwestern Stuffed Peppers that are begging for a little something extra. Shop Mesquite.
Oak is a great middle ground as far as smoke intensity goes. A little stronger than cherry or apple, and a little lighter than hickory, Oak is great to use with fish and veggies or — like with Mahi-Mahi Shish Kabobs — both at the same time. Shop Oak.
Deliciously nutty and even a little spicy, pecan pellets are great with beef, pork, or poultry. They add a great depth to baked goods as well. Be sure to try this recipe for Mom's Best Pumpkin Bread and enjoy the added nutty flavor from the Pecan smoke. Shop Pecan.
Hickory, cherry, and maple come together to achieve a classic BBQ blend that pairs well with any classic BBQ food. Use this wood pellet blend to smoke the foods you already love. A signature blend gives it a full-body flavor that’s sure to impress. Get yours here.
Blending these mild smoke flavors adds a nice gentle touch of smoke, making it a go-to for seafood, vegetables, and desserts. Drizzle some olive oil over a tray of your favorite vegetables and roast them -- snap peas, asparagus and/or Brussels sprouts would go especially well with the sweet smoke flavor. It’s also a nice touch for corn on the cob, salmon, or your catch of the day.
If you’ve got a signature summer spice blend or marinade, be sure to pair it with Leinenkugel’s Wood Pellet Blend. This pellet blend combines alder, maple, and a hint of citrus flavor, which will lift mild flavors and add a hint of citrus zest. Seafood lovers ought to try this with a skewer of shrimp and peppers, or use it to finish off lobster tails. It also pairs well with sweet and savory poultry, fish, and vegetables. A must-have for BBQ on the beach.
This one’s for the spice lovers. As stated above, many grillers like to cut the strong flavor of hickory with a milder wood but different smokes for different folks, and this blend packs a punch. Try it with minimally seasoned fatty cut of pulled pork to make worlds of meaty flavor and smoky goodness collide. The nutty touch of pecan wood also pairs especially well with Asian-style flavors like sweet and sour and teriyaki marinades. This is a must-try for anyone who loves grilled pineapple.
Wine and spirits get a lot of their flavor from aging in wooden barrels. Now you can bring that same touch to your cooking with this special wood pellet blend of oak, hickory, alder, and apple for a one-of-a-kind flavor that’s both sweet and spicy. Best to try this blend with any meat or vegetables that would pair well with your favorite red wine or finest spirits. Sure to be a hit with venison. Order your own here.
There’s a popular debate about barbeque flavor that’s going beyond the sauce. And this blend is a calorie-free, chemical-free way to give that brisket or rack of ribs a little extra magic. The sweet and hearty cherry wood flavor paired with the Texas classic mesquite is sure to wake up the flavors even more. It adds a nice touch to any steak or sausage, and if you can handle the heat, try it with spicy jerk chicken.
Before using pellets on a gas grill, clean the grill thoroughly. Place the pellets in a smoke box or pan that can withstand high heat. Turn down the central burners and turn up the outer burners before placing the smokebox inside.
Temperature control in a gas grill is relatively simple -- you keep the lid closed and adjust the knobs that correspond to the burner under your smoke box. The downside is, unless you use two equally-sized smoke boxes, circulating the smoke evenly will be challenging. Most wood pellets smoke for around 30 minutes, so if you're grilling for multiple hours, you'll need to open the grill to add more pellets (this lets heat escape).
Divide the grill in half -- one half is the “hot zone” for coals and smokebox, the other half is the “cool zone” where you’ll put a foil dish filled with water. Place heated coals on their designated side with the smoke box and wood pellets resting on top. Then fill the tray with water and place your meat over the tray.
The challenge with this method is maintaining a low temperature with coals. Most smoking recipes recommend cooking below 250 degrees Fahrenheit whereas coals will typically burn much hotter.
Simply pour your wood pellets into the hopper and set your desired temperature.
The main advantage pellet grills have over their alternatives besides convenience is optimal temperature control. The fuel burns well, and fans inside the pellet grill circulate the heat and smoke around the meat evenly so it cooks just right.
The oven inside your home is simply not designed to handle the sort of smoke wood pellets create, and using them inside your oven could fill your kitchen and home with smoke and endanger your family by creating a serious fire hazard. Similarly, wood chips and wood chunks, whether soaked or not, should not be used in an oven or stove.