“Which Flavor of Pellets Do I Get?”
It Might Not Seem Like a Big Decision, But It Can Really Affect Your Cooking. Let Shane Help.
So you’ve decided to jump in with both feet and you bought a new pellet pit. Now you are faced with picking the right pellets for your cooking needs. There are tons of brands and each claim to be the best. To add to it, there are dozens of flavors and blends. So where do you begin?
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to barbecue and especially with pellets. They all have a favorite brand or flavor they use and they also think their choice and reasoning is best. I’m not here to start an argument but just provide some basic info to help out the new users.
Build from the Brand Up
First, start with a high quality brand. If you are getting 50lbs of pellets for $10 be suspicious. Yes, these pellets will burn and yes, you can cook on cheaper pellets. Just be warned – I have found taste to suffer greatly. Remember that those pellets are the only thing creating the smoke and the heat in a pellet smoker. So skimping for the bargain brand will greatly affect the outcome of your cooking adventures.
I have tested about 10 different brands of pellets over the past several years and I keep coming back to the BBQr’s Delight brand. BBQr’s Delight just always seems to fit the bill for both my backyard and competition cooking. They are a high quality pellet providing a great balance between heating efficiency and smoking ability. Meathead Goldwin at Amazingribs.com seems to agree with my findings as well.
Wood pellets come in a dozen flavors and each are better suited for different kinds of meat. BBQr’s Delight has a great chart that breaks out their recommendations here. If you don’t want to buy 13 different flavors, I would suggest keeping these four around:
1 – Mesquite
2 – Hickory
3 – Cherry / Apple
4 – Pecan
If you are like me, you’re used to smoke being a prominent flavor in your final product. Mesquite can typically be way too strong, but lucky for us, pellet pits by their very nature produce a gentler smoke flavor profile. I have found that Mesquite in a pellet smoker is awesome and become my go-to.
Hickory is strong, but not as strong as Mesquite but I recommend it for much the same reasons as I recommend Mesquite.
Cherry & Apple
I know, I know I listed two here. It’s because I use them interchangeably, but if I had to pick just one, I’d pick Cherry. It’s widely known for producing a great smoke ring and great color on your meat, but is still very, very mild.
Last but not least, Pecan. I love Pecan. Pecan is just a fantastic mix of what Hickory can do but with a nice vanilla, nutty finish. Pecan to me is what good bourbon is to most other folks. It hits all the same flavor notes and is so palatable that it suites all occasions. Rather than using Oak, I find Pecan works in its place.
One flavor is great for the backyard, but during competition, I’ll mix two pellet tastes. I love taking 6lbs of Mesquite pellets and mixing them with 4lbs of Cherry pellets. This mellows the Mesquite just a bit yet gives me the smoke ring and color benefits of Cherry.
Choose for You
So which should you choose? Well, I first and foremost recommend everyone experimenting to find what works best for you. That said, here is a list of what I like to use when cooking various things at home:
- Burgers / Brats – Hickory, Mesquite or Pecan – You want to hit the burgers with as much smoke flavor as possible since it is a shorter cook time.
- Pork Ribs – Cherry or Mesquite
- Pulled Pork – I really like Pecan here, but Cherry, Apple and Mesquite or Hickory would be great as well
- Brisket – Mesquite and Hickory – When it comes to big, beautiful beef, go strong with flavors
- Chicken – Pecan, Apple and Cherry – Chicken is not a very strongly flavored meat so you can go lighter
- Veggies – Hickory and Mesquite – Again, it’s a short cook time so I like stronger flavored woods here like
- Steaks – Pecan, Hickory, or Mesquite.
- Salmon – Apple and Cherry, or in a pinch, Pecan
- Whole Turkey – Cherry and Apple over Mesquite – If you are serving this for Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t go super heavy with smoke flavor here
- Pizzas – Pecan
When In Doubt, Foil It Out
What do you do when you only have a strong-flavored pellet but don’t want to over-flavor the meat? Solve it by the old Texas Crutch a.k.a. wrapping with aluminum foil. Many times I’ve wrapped meat once I was happy with the color or to keep the meat from taking on more smoke than desired. It’s a great technique.
You do what works for you and what creates the best results. People will remember the meal, the flavors, and the fellowship, not what pellet flavor you chose.
Remember the first rule of your barbecue – it’s YOUR barbecue.