There are many different types of wood pellets on the market right now and this inevitably leads to confusion and misconception so we hope to clear up some of those issues now as well as in our FAQ’s here.
Heating Pellets are NOT the same as BBQ Pellets
There are two types of wood pellets: heating pellets and BBQ, or smoker pellets. Though they look alike and are both made of compressed wood, they are not same.
BBQ pellets are food-grade pellets made only from 100% hardwood. They contain no fillers, binders, or additives, with the possible exception of vegetable-based oil, which is sometimes used during the extrusion process.
Heating pellets, meanwhile, can consist of a variety of woods, including softwoods like pine, which contains resin that infuses food with a bitter unappetizing taste. Even the best quality heating pellets usually consist of 100% softwood, or a hardwood softwood blend, so long as they burn hot and clean. Non-certified pellets may include bark and leaves and other impurities that can adversely affect food flavor and possibly pose a health risk if ingested. Heating pellets are significantly less expensive than BBQ pellets, making them appealing to budget conscious shoppers. However, resist the temptation to save a few bucks and never use heating pellets in a pellet smoker.
Your BBQ Should Have Bark, Your BBQ Pellets Shouldn’t
Bark or no bark—that’s the great BBQ pellet debate. Some pellet makers remove bark from the wood before making their pellets, while others keep it on. The question is whether it’s better to cook with pellets that include bark or with pellets made from wood that’s been de-barked, or if it matters at all.
The argument for bark is that it smolders really well, providing more smoke during the cook and therefore more smokey flavor. Think about it: When you put a log on the fire, the bark almost immediately begins to smoke and smolder. And therein lies the second half of the pro-bark argument: when cooking on an offset you use logs with bark, so why should pellets be any different?
The argument against bark is that it can cause an inconsistent burn and produce excessive ash. Again, consider a log on a fire. Because they have different compositions, the bark and hardwood burn at different rates and produce different amounts of heat. Furthermore, bark doesn’t burn cleanly, it creates more ash than the hardwood. When that ash builds up, it interferes with your grill’s ability to accurately read the temperature, causing large swings. If too much of that ash builds up in the fire pot, it can cut off the oxygen and snuff out the fire.
As for the there's-bark-on-logs argument—while it’s true you wouldn’t think twice about putting wood with bark in an offset, traditional smokers don’t rely on sensors to maintain a precise temperature. With a pellet grill, the less ash it has deal with, the better it will perform.
Do You Have to use the Grill Branded Pellets with your Grill?
Very often, the pellet grill manufacturers instruct you to use their pellets, with some going so far as to state that failure to do so will void the warranty. Why? Well, there’s the obvious reason that they want you buy their pellets. However, it really has more to do with ensuring that the grill runs properly, and that starts with using quality pellets. The easiest way for pellet grill makers to guarantee you’re using good pellets is to have you use theirs, which they know meet the desired quality standards. They can’t make that guarantee about another brand of pellets.
In our experience, it's always best to use a high quality pellet produced by a reputable manufacturer. Most pellet grills can experience problems when fueled with low-quality cut-rate pellets that produce excessive ash. Make sure you purchase from a brand that you trust for the best grilling experience.