After testing a few hundred pounds of pellets, in this article I share the best wood pellets for smoking that you can buy today for your pellet grill or smoker. We will show you ten great wood pellet brands and flavor paring options to up your BBQ game.
I also discuss the various methods of manufacturing and “mixes” utilized by various brands, which has a lot to do with what makes a pellet product better than others.
As you will see from the images below, we went through several bags of pellets while testing.
This article will go over blends, pellet flavor profiles, and meat pairings, and of course, who is making the good stuff. By the end of this article, you will know which pellet brands are putting out good products and which pellet flavors are suitable for smoking different meats and adding good smoke flavor. More importantly, you will understand what distinguishes each brand.
In this article, you will learn:
- What are the different flavor profiles.
- Manufacturing and blends.
- Which brands and wood pellets manufacturers are making a “good product”.
- Which foods go well with which wood flavor profile.
- Where to find them.
Best pellets for Smoking and Grilling
- Bear Mountain BBQ 100% All Natural – Best Overall
- Lumber Jack – Runner Up
- Cookin’ pellets 40 Perfect Mix Smoking – Third Place
- Traeger – Good Choice
- Pit Boss – Budget Friendly
- Camp Chef Smoker Grill Competition Blend
- Asmoke Apple
- BBQrs Delight
- Louisiana Grills Pennsylvania Cherry
- Rec Tec Grills Ultimate Blend
1. Bear Mountain BBQ 100% All Natural – Best Overall
Bear Mountain BBQs pellets contain 100% natural hardwood without any additives, binders, or fillers. Their most popular blends include oak and alder, made entirely from natural recycled hardwood sawdust locally sourced from mills around the United States.
This company has been in operation since the 1990s, and their dedication to producing a100 all natural hardwood and sustainable fuel stems from the fact that they source their primary ingredient from local wood mills: sawdust. This company even utilizes #4 LDPE plastic for its packaging bags and provides its customers with information on where to take their plastic bags for recycling.
Another thing you’ll notice is how sturdy the packing bag is. Other brands use thin plastic bags that easily tear and get holes from anything around them. Bear Mountain Bags are made using a kind of plastic film that protects the pellets well.
Finally, the reason we picked this brand as our runner-up, is the product’s quality. At my local hardware store, I purchased a bag of Bear Mountain Gourmet blend. I expected a lot of little broken-down pellet bits, dust, and “loose” pellets because pellet bags are usually thrown on the store floor. However, because the product is of high quality and has a low moisture content, when I opened the bag, I was greeted by an incredible scent and nicely pressed, hard, and dry.
We rank Bear Mountain as the best because their blend offers a good balance for grilling and smoking foods.
What we like:
- Amazing quality and reasonably priced.
- Flavor is prevalent and noticeable.
- Nice packaging seems to protect the product well.
- We noticed very little dust in the bag.
What to consider
- Although these are high quality, they are made using locally sourced ( USA ) mills wood dust; unlike Lumber Jack below who uses real harvested original trees. Still Bear Mountain offers a fine balance between quality and price, thus taking our number one spot on this list.
2. Lumber Jack Competition Blend – Best for Slow and low smoking
Lumber Jack pellets are made from actual harvested tress and not sawdust or manufacturing by product from a lumber mill. Let’s get that out of the way because it is important. Lumber Jack has its own log plan and harvest real tress.
Another thing that this company does differently is adding and using the tree’s cambium layer, which is below the tree’s bark. The bark does add flavor, but it creates dirty smoke, to reduce dirty smoke and ash, Lumber Jack uses the cambium layer for a fine balance of flavor and low ash residue in their hardwood flavors, Oak and Hickory.
Lumber Jack only fully de-barks the trees when creating blends or fruity mixes so that the fruit flavor is more prevalent over the base wood, still giving 100 percent wood.
What we like:
- Premium product using real trees, real wood, and the cambium layer for optimal flavor.
- Great for smoking briskets and large meats where “heavy” smoke flavor is needed.
- Consistent quality through their entire line of flavors.
- You can get 100 all natural hardwood like Oak, Hickory, not fillers just 100 percent real wood.
What to consider:
- You will pay more for this level of quality.
- Zero artificial flavors.
The Cookin’ Pellets brand makes good blends, and those who like a fruity, smokey taste will enjoy these blends. These pellets are good quality and we like that they sell samples or smaller bags, allowing you to test and try them before you commit to a large purchase.
Traeger makes amazing pellet grills and makes great accessories for their grills, including cooking pellets.
Traeger grills BBQ pellets are known to produce less ash than other brands. They are manufactured from 100% hardwood and do not contain any additives or binders. Less ash means there will be less mess to be cleaned and less time spent using a shop vac to clean the firepot.
These pellets are available in different flavors and work well with many smoker brands. I purchased a bag of Traeger’s Signature Pellets for my tests. The “Signature” blend is perfectly suited for a variety of meats. During my testing, I noticed they had a pleasant aroma, and I smoked chicken and pork with excellent results and flavor.
Pit Boss is another big name producing good pellets. Pit Boss Pellets are available in popular flavors and blends, including Oak.
These pellets work on Pit Boss grills and smokers as well as other grill brands. The wood used to make these pellets is sourced from all around the USA and does not contain chemicals or binders. We like the Pit Boss Competition Blend; it goes well with everything, and Pit Boss pellets are reasonably priced.
Camp Chef’s Pellets Competition Blend goes well with most meats and is a popular mix. This hickory, maple, and cherry mix is made from a selection of premium virgin hardwoods and made in the USA.
7. Asmoke Apple
All Asmoke wood for their pellets is sourced directly from real fruit orchard trees. The apple trees are harvested, brought to their plant, and processed within a few days to preserve their flavor and freshness. Asmoke apple pellets are packaged in tear-resistant bags. Asmoke knows a thing or two about pellets, they make one of the finest portable pellet grills on the market today.
A few days after our trees are harvested, they are chipped and turned into fuel. One of Asmoke’s highest priorities is the protection of the environment. All Trees that are cultivated are replanted right away, So That Future Generations May Enjoy Them.
BBQrs’ Delight Pellets are another great selection and quality pellets for barbecuing. Their flavors include cherry, pecan, mesquite pellets, hickory pellets, apples, and Jack Daniel’s pellets (yyes, as in the whiskey brand ).
I use Jack Daniel’s wood scraps, and the flavor is amazing. When the pellets burn, expect a strong, smell and taste. This product is also made here, in the USA.
Louisiana GRILLs is a 25-year veteran of the BBQ manufacturing game. There is a good choice of flavors available: oak-hickory, peaches, whiskey cans, cherry, and apple. All flavors are available in 20 lbs and 40 lbs bags.
We recommend the slightly sweet Cherry Blend or the Competition Blend Pellets as a good all-rounder. This blend pellets combine maple, hickory, and cherry, making them ideal for almost every food.
Rec Tec Pellets are good pellets. Their blends fit every type of smoking and grilling style. It burns much better than a traditional pellet, and its flavor is strong but not overpowering. The final results are great for different types of fish and meat, with a natural smoky taste throughout.
The oak and hickory mix is much better than you may think. They could last several hours and can be used for cooking and smoking a broad selection of foods. The ash output is minimal, with good heat energy compared to other brands.
How and Why We Picked these wood pellets: what makes some better than others
When selecting pellets, we considered a variety of factors, including flavor, blend or mix, and manufacturing process. For the purposes of this article, we are going to refer to the three manufacturing methods as Method A, B, and C.
We are aware that certain wood flavors pair better with certain foods, so we have included options that pair well with poultry, pork, seafood, and vegetables.
However, quality, manufacturing, and the wood blend are the most important considerations when purchasing this kind of fuel. Not every pellet brand manufactures their product using the same process or uses pure wood blends.
What makes some pellets better than others?
In short, the type of wood, tree origins, blend composition, and most importantly, moisture content, all contribute to the quality of the end product.
Flavor is subjective, and flavor has nothing to do with the quality of the pellets. However, the quality of the product will impact how much flavor you get out of them. Remember that!
In addition to the mixes and manufacturing methods discussed previously, moisture content also affects the pellet’s quality. A pellet with low moisture content will burn hot and quickly because less energy is consumed burning moisture.
Accordingly, pellets with a higher moisture level will burn slower and lower, but produce more smoke due to their moisture and water content. Thus, a delicate balance of moisture is optimal unless you have a specific need.
Poorly compressed and low-quality pellets are easy to spot because you will see lots of dust in the bag and they break down easily. Grab a handful and squeeze gently.
Method A – Top Quality – 100% Natural | Most Pure Blend
There are companies that use 100 percent hardwoods that are turned to a perfect size wood dust and compacted down to pellets using absolutely nothing but heat, pressure, wood and no binders, fillers or flavoring oils, just real wood. This is what we consider a 100 percent natural hardwood blend.
Pure hardwoods like oak or hickory provide a clean and constant burn, plus lots of smoke and flavor. So, if you are wanting to smoke meat “low and slow”, a pure blend of oak or hickory should be at the top of your list.
- Maximum smoke flavor
- Pure Wood, 100 percent natural
- Burns hotter
- More expensive
- Harder to find in stores
- Some can produce dirtier smoke if the mix includes tree bark. ( but bark = flavor / smoke )
- More ash production
Method B – Still 100 percent natural | Blend – not so pure
Then there are brands that use a “base wood” like oak or alder and then add a mix of other woods like apple, cherry, or pecan flavor wood for example, or create their own blend mix or create custom flavors like “Gourmet”, “Signature”, and others.
This brands are still making a 100 percent natural product just not as pure of a blend as the “manufacturing model A” described above. They are using a base and then adding other flavor wood for actual flavor.
In some cases this method is a common and necessary practice. For example, cherry would burns fast, and is not a dense as other hardwoods, so in order to create a better pellet that burns consistently and longer an oak “base” is used. Again, this is not always a problem as long as no additives or chemicals are used.
- Less expensive than pure hardwood
- More available.
- More custom flavors and blends
- Less ash production
- Less smoke, less smokey flavor.
Method C – Still Natural | Blend not real wood, more flavoring oils
Lastly, We have the third kind of pellet manufacturing method, which involves using binders and natural flavoring oils such as soybean oil and other flavor infusers. Although still natural, they have less of the real thing, wood. Sometimes the flavor you read on the bag is far from real wood and more like “oil flavors.”
The binders and oils are natural but not real wood, so in most cases you get less smoke and flavor, but these types of blends tend to be cheaper.
- Readably accessible
- Can be found cheap
- Since the blend is heavily controlled during manufacturing, most blends produce very little ash.
- Natural flavoring oils also act as a lubricant and help “weaker” auger systems.
- Least amount of flavor.
Smoking Pellet Pairings – flavor guide/chart
Wood flavor and food pairings are subjective, but here is a pellet flavor guide chart to help you get a good idea of what flavors work best with what meats.
A Quick Intro: What are smoking wood pellets? How are they made?
Wood pellets are a by-product of wood manufacturing, wood processing mills, and forest management. Wood manufacturing plants (lumber mills) generate thousands of pounds of wood sawdust. The sawdust is recycled and turned into wood pellets.
So, if you are sitting on a nice wooden chair, part of the sand dust left behind from its manufacture was most likely converted into the pellets.
Also, some pellet companies use recycled trees discarded during the forest fire mitigation process, which is environmentally friendly and needed to reduce the risk of forest wildfires. Wood pellets are therefore considered a renewable fuel.
The majority of pellet products are manufactured from recycled timber from lumber mills. The wood is shredded into little bits or compressed sawdust that is later dried before being pressed into the thin pencil pellet shape we are all familiar with. The compression allows lignin, a natural polymer in plant tissues, to soften.
Do you have to use the same brand of pellet as your grill?
Absolutely not. However, many people don’t think there can be an alternative to purchasing pellets from a pellet grill manufacturer. Manufacturers sometimes recommend against using other pellets except their own.
You can use other brands in your grill as long as they are good quality. Sure cheap brands can damage your grill but any good pellet brand will work.
Our research led us to test over a hundred pounds of wood pellets. Yes, as you saw in the images above, we purchased multiple bags and cooked with all of them. Our testing led us to pick Bear Maintain as our top choice and best overall BBQ wood pellets, with a very close second choice being Lumber Jack as our choice for smokers and smoking meats.
Wood pellets are a great way of cooking and getting a great wood-fired flavor. Experiment with different combinations of meats, and vegetables with several wood flavors. In our research, we found that Bear Mountain wood pellets are an amazing product that produce great flavor, and yes, they are affordable.