Close up image of a wood pellet grill with a rack of ribs in the lower left corner, a chicken in the upper left corner, and a man's hand holding tongs and a rack of ribs in the upper right corner. Butcher's paper laid out on the shelf in front of the grill.
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I made two quiches on the pellet grill the other day. I used a bag of competition blend wood pellets in the hopper of my pellet grill. I’ve made quiche a thousand times and a thousand different ways —but the two I made on the smoker were by far the best I’ve ever made.

The smoker helped the bottom crust crisp to perfection. No soggy bottoms here! And the cheese and eggs absorbed a beautiful and delicate smokiness that elevated the flavors to a new level.

 I’ve officially entered the rabbit hole of smoked, baked goods.

Part of learning to bake on a smoker is learning the flavor profiles of all the different types of pellets available.


So join me while I explain the different varieties of pellets you can buy for your pellet grill and how they can help flavor your foods.

What are wood pellets?

Image of various hardwood cut into smaller pieces. Most cut into circles. The bottom right corner shows wood cut up into wedges for firewood. Hardwood fills the entire image.
Photo by Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash

Smoker pellets provide the fuel and the flavor for a pellet grill. The pellets burn, creating the heat needed to cook your food. But they also release a clean smoke flavor that permeates your food.

Pellets are made from sawdust and leftover wood in the lumber industry, making them a great way to use materials that would otherwise go to waste.

The benefits of cooking with wood pellets

  • Creates a lot of energy at a lower cost: Wood Pellets can produce over one million BTUs for around $20.
  • Burns with lower emissions (for the environmentally conscious).
  • Pellets cost less than other similar fuel types. Cheaper and easier to distribute than wood chips.
  • Even and consistent heating
  • Complex flavor

Types of wood pellets you can buy

Close up image of beef brisket. Brisket has a black seasoned crust with pink meat. Butcher paper in the background.
Photo by Israel Albornoz on Unsplash

The type of wood pellets you need for cooking on your pellet grill depends on several factors. The first and probably most important is flavor. Some pellets burn faster than others, too. If you’re unsure where to start, many companies offer signature or competition blends. We primarily use a competition blend in our backyard pellet smoker but break out the particular pellet flavors for special foods.

Be sure you’re using food-grade pellets. Home heating pellets are not the same. They look similar, but they might have some fillers and won’t be made from 100% natural, food-grade wood. Food-grade pellets are only made from hardwood trees. Home heating pellets can be made from softwoods like pine which burn differently and can taint the flavor of the meat.

Pellets made for cooking on a pellet grill will burn more cleanly and evenly. They will provide better flavor to your food.

Wood pellets can range from mild to strong, and each has a unique flavor profile that can give your food. Here’s a breakdown of each type:

Hickory

Image of the top of a hickory tree from below. Hickory branches and leaves on the right side of the image with blue sky on the left side of the image.
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Hickory is one of the most popular types of wood for smoking on a grill. It’s also one of the most robust flavors. Hickory provides a strong smoke flavor that compliments most types of meat and cheeses. Depending on your tastes, hickory can be a bit strong when cooking chicken and fish. You can try and balance that out with a more mild wood such as apple.

Apple

Image of an apple tree. Apple tree trunk and apples in the foreground and green grass in the background. Light grey sky in the top right corner of the image.
Photo by Emmalee Couturier on Unsplash

You’ve seen the tag lines on a lot of foods. From applewood smoked bacon to applewood smoked shrimp, apple is another contender that is up there with other favorites on the pellet grill. Applewood lends a bright and fruity smoked flavor to meats and baked goods. It’s mild enough for pies and quiches but can also make a kicking smoked chicken.

Cherry

Close up image of a cherry tree branch with cherries and leaves in the foreground and blue sky in the background.
Photo by Gala Iv on Unsplash

I just about start drooling when I think about a cherry-smoked rack of ribs. Cherry is a subtle, slightly sweet, fruity-flavored wood that compliments everything from ribs to chicken and even cherry pie!

Oak

Close up of a cross cut of oak wood.
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

If you’re concerned about using too strong of a wood. Or, if you’re not interested in anything fruit-forward, oak might be what you’re looking for. Oak is a medium smokey wood with a slightly more than mild, but not as strong as hickory or mesquite. You’ll get an even smoke flavor with a slight nuttiness when you use oak on a pellet smoker. Oak is a great all-purpose wood pellet.

Alder

Image of alder wood trees. Alder trees in the background and evergreen trees in the foreground.
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Like oak, alder goes well with virtually anything you can cook on a pellet grill: chicken, fish, beef, pork, cheeses, and baked goods. For a mild even smoke flavor, go with alder.

Pecan

Close up image of unshelled pecans.
Photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

I haven’t tried it just yet, but I have my heart set on a smoked pumpkin pie using pecan pellets. Pecan pellets offer a nuttiness that reminds me of Thanksgiving all year long. Pecan pellets can create a slightly spicy and nutty flavor and are excellent for grilled “baked” goods. Smoked beef patties, anyone?

Maple

Maples branches with yellow and red maple leaves. Sun shining through the leaves. Blurred maple tree and blue sky in the background.
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Believe it or not, maple is one of the more mild woods for your pellet grill. With a slightly sweet finish, maple is perfect for ribs, chicken, or even a smoked Thanksgiving Turkey.


Mesquite

Image of downed mesquite tree in the mesquite sand dunes of California.
Photo by Jordi Vich Navarro on Unsplash

If the word mesquite makes you think of hearty Texas BBQ, then you would be correct. Mesquite is not for those wanting anything remotely subtle or mild. Mesquite pellets will bring in a lot of flavor, and they go well with hearty meats such as beef ribs and brisket. But, don’t discount mesquite when smoking stronger flavored fish such as salmon and trout. Mesquite can help cover up any “fishiness” for even the pickiest seafood eaters.

Blends of wood pellets

If, even after all that, you’re still not sure what to use, you always be safe with a blend. Pellet companies craft expertly balanced wood blends for everyday cooking and grilling. We primarily use Camp Chef’s competition blend (maple, hickory, and cherry) in our ReqTec smoker unless I’m baking, then I tend to switch it out for other flavors of wood pellets.

For some pellet smokers, emptying pellets out of the hopper can be a pain. So if you plan on changing up your pellets often, you may not want to load your hopper to full capacity every time.

I often wait till our pellets get low to change out my pellets and plan my grilling recipes as the hopper runs low!

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