Humans have been cooking over wood since we harnessed fire. To put it simply, something magical happens when you mix heat, smoke, and food - whether it be animal, vegetable, or mineral (smoking salt is a thing!). The image of the caveman cooking a mammoth leg over a raging campfire has fortunately been replaced by a Michelin chef cooking waygu beef over a crazy hot flame or a BBQ pit master rendering proteins low and slow with wisps of warm flavorful smoke.
All pellets created for wood pellet grills should be "food grade" and are completely safe to use in your grill. There are no glues or adhesives - just 100% pressurized wood. Whatever you do, DO NOT use heating pellets in your grill. They're considerably cheaper, but not safe for cooking or consumption.
Manufacturers often recommend using their own special wood pellets for the best results - as you might have assumed, this isn't exactly necessary. What the recommendation really means is that for the absolute best results with your pellet grill it's important to use 100% hardwood pellets.
In general, most food grade wood pellets are very similar. There are a few unique differences however:
Wood Pellet Differences:
- The type of wood used. You can get wood pellets in a wide variety of species. Anything from oak, maple, apple, alder, mesquite, cherry, maple, hickory, or pecan.
- The "blend" of the pellets. Many popular pellets are blended with the desired species plus oak. Oak is typically used because of it's superior burning and smoking properties, but 100% species pellets are popular due to their distinct flavor profile (the level of ash will vary considerably).
- The quality of wood used. Some pellets generate more ash than others. It's really a combination of the pellet and the machine you're cooking on. Nicer grills typically create less ash.
- Some pellet manufacturers have gone the extra step of flavoring their pellets with herbs, charcoal, or whiskey. Some call these cheating or unnatural, but if you like the results, who cares!
- All this gets further complicated as pellet brands often subcontract their pellet manufacturing and the pellet manufacturers often use different suppliers for their source wood. Long story short, the supply chain is variable and impossible to completely quality control every batch based on brand. Most users will never tell the difference.
It all really comes down to personal preference and convenience. Here's a couple we like: