The Best Wood Pellets for 2024, According to Chefs

Pellet grills have gained popularity over the last decade due to their user-friendly design. They’re quick and easy to start, operate, and cool down. Some die-hard barbecue purists see the convenience of these grills for their day-to-day life, leaving all-night fire watching for their professional work and using a pellet grill for feeding their families. With smoking becoming more straightforward, more people are moving into that realm for home cooking and facing an array of wood options.

Smoking is simply the process of slow-roasting foods while they take a bath in the terpenes and flavonoids released from burning wood. For those unfamiliar, those compounds are what give hops, citrus, cannabis, and most other plants their distinctive aromas and flavors. Not all smoke is the same because different wood contains differing terpenes and flavonoids in varying amounts. Consider how these pair with different foods as your guide to choosing wood. For this project, we spoke to Matt Bolus, chef-partner of Nashville’s 404 Kitchen, and Paul C. Reilly, chef and co-owner of Coperta and Apple Blossom in Denver, to gather their thoughts on wood and food pairings and what they look for when purchasing their smoker pellets.

Best Overall

Bear Mountain Oak Wood Pellets

bear mountain oak bbq wood pellets

Amazon


When most folks think of barbecue or smoked food, they immediately think of hickory as the standard wood. In reality, it’s not. Oak is the most ubiquitous wood in barbecue because some varieties grow in almost every region of the country. Depending on its application, its flavor can be mild and subtle or punch-you-right-in-the-grill pronounced. Because of this, it’s versatile to the point that it serves as well on fish as on brisket.

Oak sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s a cheaper hardwood than fruitwood or other hardwoods like hickory, and it’s sometimes used as a filler in manufacturing pellets to keep costs down. But in our eyes, it’s incredibly versatile, burns clean, and gives the right amount of smoke. The Bear Mountain pellets use a mix of red and white oak for a deeper flavor and more concentrated burn.

Best for Chicken

Traeger Pecan Wood Pellets

traeger pecan bbq wood pellets

Amazon


Smoke can easily overwhelm poultry, so you want to find a wood with character but not something that will overcome the flavor of the chicken. Hickory can be a fine choice, but it can be all you taste on lighter-flavored foods. Pecan is sweet, nutty, a bit spicy, and has a roundness of flavor that will accent but not overpower your yardbird; some describe it as hickory lite. Traeger’s chips are slow-burning, with no fillers or binders, so they burn clean and leave minimal ash to clean up.

Best for Pork Shoulder

Camp Chef Orchard Apple Hardwood Pellets

Camp Chef Orchard Apple Hardwood Pellets

Amazon


Most pork-consuming cultures worldwide make some version of pork with fruit. It could be European with apple sauce or stone fruit, Filipino with citrus or banana, Mexican with candied cactus or pineapple – you get it. Given this, it’s natural that we’d lean towards a fruitwood for pork shoulder. It’s not that the wood will lend sweetness to the pork, but the fruity terpenes will lend a complimenting depth. Think of fruit as a flavor that lies in your mouth from side to side and sweetness as a vertical flavor. In that context, apple makes perfect sense.

Best for Ribs

BBQr’s Delight Peach Pellet Grill Fuel

BBQr's Delight Peach Pellet Grill Fuel

BBQr’s Delight


Keeping with the fruit and pork theme, think about an excellent rib: slightly sweet, tart, sticky, and spicy. Again, peach wood won’t be sweet in the sugary sense, but the sweetness of the aroma will permeate the meat and complement your rubs and mops. Fruit woods skew to the more expensive end of the pellet scale, so you may wish to cut your peach wood with something benign, like oak, or look for a blend with other hardwoods to stretch your pellet budget.

​​Best for Beef

Louisiana Grills Texas Mesquite Hardwood Pellets

Louisiana Grills Texas Mesquite Hardwood Pellets

BBQ Guys


The wood will probably be mesquite if you’re smoking in south or west Texas. Hickory is prevalent in the northern part of the state, and post oak is stealing some market share, but mesquite is still holding firm. Why are we talking about Texas? Nothing quite exemplifies Texas barbecue as much as beef. Sure, there’s turkey and sausage, but beef brisket and ribs overshadow those by degrees of magnitude. So, beef and mesquite just go hand in hand. Mesquite burns hot and makes a distinguished, intense smoke that sets the bark in a way few other kinds of wood can. Flavor-wise, it is fierce and earthy and requires a judicious hand to keep the smoke in check, but those same qualities make it pair especially well with beef and other red meats.

Best for Turkey

Lumber Jack 100% Cherry Grilling Pellets

Lumber Jack 100% Cherry Grilling Pellets

Amazon


Not all poultry is created equal. Turkey is bigger in size and flavor than chicken and needs reciprocal treatment. That’s not to say that you can’t use the same wood for both, but a little sweet cherry wood smoke on a turkey highlights the meat in a more refined way than many other woods. Its slightly sweet, earthy flavor brings a little more to the party than, say, the heady smoke of pecan. Cherry doesn’t generate as much heat as other hardwoods, so it will require a larger quantity of pellets by comparison if you want to do any high-heat cooking with it.

Best for Lamb

CookinPellets Premium 100% Hickory Pellets

CookinPellets Premium 100% Hickory Pellets

Amazon


Lamb is a beautiful protein, but there is no denying its fat’s pungent quality when it renders. This is a case where force could be met with force and result in satisfying results. You all know the flavor of hickory from bacon, if nowhere else. It’s a thick flavor that can be bullying but can play nice when paired and applied correctly. Because of lamb’s potency, the strength of hickory’s flavors can’t overwhelm it, and you can adjust the level of smoke flavor to your liking without fear of losing the star of the show.

Best for Salmon

Bear Mountain Oak Wood Pellets

bear mountain oak bbq wood pellets

Amazon


Alder is the default smoking wood for salmon in the Pacific Northwest. In techniques appropriated from Indigenous people of the area, salmon was salt-cured, then slow-smoked for a couple of weeks to preserve the fish for leaner times. Alder wood is plentiful in the region, and the slightly sweet, subtle smoke it produces lends flavor that balances well with the clean, fattiness of wild salmon.

Hot smoking salmon is more common in the present day, and a piece of salmon can go from refrigerator to grill to plate in an hour or so. Alder provides consistent heat, is fast burning but not overly hot, and because it is fast-growing and plentiful, it is not as expensive as fruit woods. Alder is a fine wood for many other delicate foods that need a more subdued smoke flavor, such as other fish, seafood, poultry, or vegetables.

Best for Seafood

BBQ’rs Delight Orange Wood Pellets

BBQ'rs Delight Orange Wood Pellets

Amazon


In my part of the country, the barbecue culture is seafood. Smoking fish is a discipline unto itself, and the historical wood of choice was the now-federally-protected mangrove tree. Obviously, we can’t condone or promote that use, so the latter-day preferred wood is citrus, preferably orange. Orange brings spicy sweetness to the fish or seafood, with an unmistakable scent when burning. It’s also quite expensive compared to hardwoods, so we recommend blending it with a low-terpene, less expensive wood, like oak. You can purchase pure orange pellets or a pre-blended oak/orange mix from BBQr’s Delight.

Best for Veggies

Memphis Grills Maple Natural Hardwood Pellets

Memphis Grills Maple Natural Hardwood Pellets
BBQ Direct.

With a range of flavors, textures, and moisture content to consider, pegging a wood that will work for all veggies is a bit challenging. “Fruit woods are good for carrots, but horrible for cabbage. Fruit woods are often too mellow for vegetables,” says Reilly. “You can put your late-harvest tomatoes under mesquite and make a great barbecue sauce, but that doesn’t work with more delicate vegetables,” says Bolus. Maple is strong enough to stand up to bolder flavors but subtle enough for lighter vegetables, cheeses, fruits, or seafood. Its flavor is mild and subtly sweet; we find that it brings a balance of smoke to sweet to the table that can work across a spectrum of flavors and textures.

Our Favorite

Though each tastes like smoke, the flavors and characteristics of these woods vary. Choosing the best wood pellets depends on the food you’re smoking and your flavor preferences. We like the Bear Mountain Oak Wood Pellets for a good, versatile wood that pairs with almost anything. For those looking for something more distinct, you can go to the far end of the intensity spectrum with Louisiana Grills Texas Mesquite Hardwood Pellets or BBQ’rs Delight Orange Wood Pellets for a more restrained and nuanced flavor.

Factors to Consider

Flavor of the Wood

This is probably the biggest decision to make, so we wrote this as a guide to which woods pair well with certain foods. Reilly takes a variation on “what grows together goes together” and looks at which foods are typically paired on a plate. We covered fruit and pork, but maple and bacon are a strong pairing following this mindset, as are fruitwoods and duck.

100% or Blended Woods

We’ve presented 100% hardwood options in this list to help you get to know the flavors, how they react, and how they burn in your smoker. Pure wood is by no means the only way to smoke. Once you are familiar with the flavors, choosing to use more than one wood will follow for the naturally curious. You can experiment and mix your own blends or rely on off-the-shelf blends that many pellet grill and pellet manufacturers have put the research and testing into for you.

Remember that you don’t have to use the same wood throughout the entire process when blending or using blended woods. Bolus likes to start with a base wood like oak for the heavy lifting of the smoking, but then throw in another wood, such as cherry or perhaps bourbon barrel pellets, to add a layer of flavor complexity at the finish of the smoke.

Burn Rate

All the pellets we’ve recommended have what we’ve deemed an acceptable burn rate; about a pound of pellets per hour of smoking. Grilling skews these results due to higher temperatures requiring more fuel. We’ve noted where there are variations or when wood tends to burn hotter or faster. So do keep in mind that you’ll need a good supply of pellets for whatever the job is, and check with your grill and the pellet manufacturers to determine the number of pellets needed before you start to smoke.

The Research

For this article, we spoke to chefs Matt Bolus and Paul C. Reilly about wood and food pairing and their experiences with different woods and pellets. We then took their insight to apply to offerings of each type of wood and sought out what we determined to be the best of each based on quality, the durability of the pellet, burn time and combustibility, and price.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you use wood pellets in a charcoal grill?

    Yes, you can. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. One way is simply building a nest out of foil that you fill with pellets and then placing it over a low burner. The heat from the burner will ignite the pellets, and the low heat will keep them at a smolder, which will be your smoke source. Another way is to purchase a pellet tube, which you fill, ignite, and allow the pellets to smolder on a cool part of the grill.

  • How long do wood pellets last?

    The burn rate of a good pellet is about one pound per hour for smoking. Again, higher heat will require more fuel. As for how long wood pellets last in an opened package, note that they can disintegrate after a time, as the highest quality pellets consist only of compressed wood. You can expect wood pellets to last about three months in average humidity. Moisture speeds up deterioration. Keeping wood pellets in a sealed container will expand their life span to six to 12 months.

  • How should you store wood pellets?

    Ideally, you should keep your pellets in a sealed container, shielded from the elements, to get the maximum shelf life.

Our Expertise

Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with decades of experience in the food industry. His written work appears in Food & Wine, Food Republic, and other publications. For this piece, he interviewed Matt Bolus, chef-partner of Nashville’s 404 Kitchen, and Paul C. Reilly, chef and co-owner of Coperta and Apple Blossom in Denver.