Wood pellets are used for cooking meat. They are created by finely grounding hardwood into small cylindrical-shaped pellets.
Unlike wood chips, it would be a mistake to soak wood pellets for smoking meat. Hardwood, food-grade pellets are specially designed to be used dry, enabling them to burn efficiently.
Wood pellets are available in a variety of flavors, ranging from mild to strong. The strong ones include black walnut, apple, hickory, and mesquite and are most suited for beef, pork, and game meat. Mild flavors are cherry, oak, and pecan and are best for cooking beef, poultry, pork, and fish.
How Are Wood Pellets Made?
Wood pellets are a type of natural wood. During the manufacturing process, all the air within the wood’s cellular structure is removed, thereby concentrating the wood into a dense form.
Wood is firmly grounded into small pieces and packed into pellets. The repurposed or recycled wood used for making pellets is often procured from lumber mills or furniture shops having scrap wood.
It is collected by pellet manufacturers, who ground and dry it before sending it to a forming die. Thereafter, it is crushed into sawdust and compressed into wood pellets.
Further Reading: How Are Wood Pellets Made
Why Choose Wood Pellets
Wood pellets can be used in grills or smokers but are best for smoking meat. They can be used for both hot and cold smoking.
Pellets release intense smoke faster, sealing food and moisture and adding a smoky flavor to it. They have the advantage of producing steady smoke without generating too much ash. This leads to easy and even smoking of meat.
Pellets burn hotter and more gradually as compared to wood chips. This makes it easier to control the smoker’s temperature, which determines how fast your meat cooks. Secondly, using less fuel to maintain a particular temperature is cost-effective in the long run.
Moreover, it is impossible to overdo the number of wood chips and the food rarely ever becomes bitter.
Unlike wood pellets, wood chips are often soaked in water before use. It helps generate steam when you set it ablaze.
Steam helps ensure that the meats end up moist rather than dried out and tough. However, some sources say it makes no difference, and moisture can be added by spraying water or apple cider. Wood chips are more suited for a grill (other than a gas-powered one) rather than a smoker because they produce bitter-tasting smoke that can ruin your meat.
While smoking wood chips does not have an adverse reaction, soaking wood pellets in a smoker will damage them. If soaked, they can expand and get ruined.
One of the major advantages of using wood pellets is that you do not have to soak, stir, poke, or prod them while smoking. They are designed to burn slower and longer. Remember never to soak wood pellets, or they will swell and ruin quickly.
How Are Wood Pellets Used In a Smoker?
Wood pellets can be used in pellet smokers, gas grills, and charcoal grills. Pellet smokers are specially designed to cook meat using wood pellets.
They are quite easy to use. All you have to do is load pellets into the hopper, set the correct temperature, and start the grill. Once programmed, the grill will use a rotating auger to add pellets from the hopper as required. This feature helps maintain the pre-set temperature.
Besides the automated auger, a fan is also used to help regulate and maintain temperature. Extra fuel in the form of oxygen is blown over the burn pot to speed up the burn rate and produce an efficient and consistent burn. The lower your temperature, the more smoke will be created.
Pellets come in a myriad of different woods to fit your taste. Make sure you use food-grade pellets. Do not use heating pellets instead of BBQ wood pellets. Heating pellets are made of pine and wood, which can negatively affect the food’s flavor as they are made of particleboard, plywood, and building agents.
Using food-grade pellets burns the meat faster and cleaner than heating pellets. Always keep in mind never soaking wood pellets as you soak wood chips because pellets will only work when dry.
Further Reading: Do Pellet Grills Give Smoke Flavor?