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A simple smoking pellets guide to up your game

Let’s shatter the laws of physics for a sec. Imagine zipping back in time to the Caribbean circa 1492. You jump out of your high-tech pod, smoking pellets in hand, and head to the nearest Taino tribesman cooking meat over a fire pit.  If the poor chap hasn’t had a stroke at the sight of you, showing off your bbq wood pellets would surely create a mind melt of epic proportions. Rhetorical banter aside, we’ve come a long long way in the food and flame game. Our BBQ ancestors could never have imagined where their necessity for survival would take the wider world. Smoker pellets are yet another step in the evolutionary chain, so today we’re putting these compressed characters under the microscope. Ready? Let’s begin.


What are wood pellets?

Smoking pellets (AKA wood pellets) can be both a flavour enhancer and a fuel source. This means that they can have an effect on everything form the taste of your food, to the performance of your grill. Now, wood pellets are made up of a combination of sawdust and hardwood shavings. In terms of the manufacturing process, the mixture is pressurised and compressed using specialised machinery, creating long and thin rods. These rods are then cut down into individual half-inch pellets. You would think some sort of chemical tomfoolery is needed to create these wooden wonders, but that’s not true. The magic lies in wood itself. You see, the mixture binds together thanks to lignin – wood’s all natural internal binding agent. Generally, most smoking pellets are made up of oak – a stable burning wood. Then the oak is blended with other hardwoods or fruitwoods. This basically enhances the flavour and aromatic qualities the pellets via the smoke that they emit. More on blends in a little bit.


How does wood type affect wood pellet performance?

We have touched on this general concept before, however a refresh always works a treat. The key material in wood pellets is obviously wood. Therefore it makes sense that that different woods, with different properties, will produce different types of wood pellets with varying performance qualities. For example, woods with varying densities deliver pellets with varying burn speeds, and burn temperatures. Also wood type will affect the aroma and strength of the smoke released during burning. Looking at one example, hickory burns slower than cherry. So if you are using the latter, you will use more pellets.


A close up shot of unlit smoking pellets


The advantages of using hardwood wood pellets?

Here’s a quick top 8 reasons to use wood pellets for a smoker or grill.

  • Pellets are super clean burning since they contain no bark or scrap wood
  • They produce less than 1% of ash. Breezy clean up in-coming!
  • Super low internal moisture levels
  • High British Thermal Unit ranking
  • Lower levels of carbon dioxide emissions
  • Pellets are more energy efficient
  • Costs less per energy unit than most other types of fuel
  • Easier to control and maintain consistent temperatures


Smoking pellet blends Vs 100% flavoured woods

Let’s frolic a little further towards the smoking pellet event horizon. We don’t want to get too close or we will be sucked into the never ending minutia. So what are some of the main differences between smoking chips  and pellets? Most wood pellets are made from 100% natural hardwoods. However, often the product name on the bag doesn’t quite tell the full story. Say you buy some Hickory wood pellets, the reality is that the pellets will actually be a blend of Hickory and  a different wood – like Oak for example. If you buy Hickory wood chips or chunks instead, these would be 100% Hickory. Pellets are blended for a couple of reasons. Mixing flavoured woods with Oak is more economical for one thing. Secondly the Oak blend also gives the pellets a more stable and consistent burn.


What are some smoking pellet food pairings?

Ah yeah! Now you’re talking. Obviously your hardwood wood pellets will infuse a particular aroma and flavour into any dish. However there are certain dishes that compliment certain wood flavours to the max – meaning more stuffing your face and more happiness all round. Let’s check them out.

  • Pork:Apple, Cherry, Hickory, Maple, Pecan, Alder
  • Poultry:Apple, Alder, Hickory, Pecan, Apple, Cherry
  • Beef:Hickory, Oak, Mesquite, Alder, Cherry, Alder, Pecan
  • Vegetables:Apple, Pecan, Alder, Maple, Hickory
  • Seafood: Alder, Oak, Mesquite
  • Baked Goods:Alder, Apple, Cherry, Maple, Oak, Pecan

That’s a quick overview. And here are a few extra details you need to know.

Mesquite is definitely one for the for Texas-style BBQ fanatics. It is super intense and super rich in flavour with notes of spice. A perfect match for meats with potent flavours.

Meet the versatile, yet classic, Hickory! It’s not quite as strong as mesquite but it pairs with many different types of meat.

Maple is mild and smooth, caressing and complimenting pork flavours. Great for outdoor grills!

If you’re looking for strong and sweet, Applewood is where it’s at. Goes down a treat when mixed with pork and chicken.

Oak brings stability and versatility to the party. It is fairly neutral with a subtle flavour profile. This means you can match it with pretty much anything.

Mild mannered with a subtle sweetness – it’s Cherry! Pork, chicken, beef and lamb need some Cherry love people!

Pecan is powerful, robust and yet seriously smooth. We’d say it’s defo one to cook with chicken and pork.


What are the differences between smoking pellets and heating pellets?

Basically there are two types of wood pellets: heating pellets and smoking pellets. Both are made from compressed wood and wood by products, however they are definitely distinct with different purposes.

Smoking pellets are food-grade pellets. Essentially this means that each pellet is made from 100% hardwood without any chemical nasties – think additives, accelerants and binders. Looking for wood pellets for a smoker? This is where it’s at.

Heating Pellets contain a mix of woods. This mix includes softwoods such as pine. The issue with softwoods is that they contain a resin that permeates food leaving a bitter and unpleasant taste on the tongue. Why would you do that to your palate? Ultimately heating pellets are meant for burning. So heat is the priority. This is another reason why heating pellets contain other impurities including bark and leaves. These impurities could be damaging to your health.


A close up shot of smoking pellets being lit up with a burning woodies natural firefighter


How to use wood pellets for smoking?

There’s never only one way to do anything. The philosophy applies to using wood pellets in the BBQ game. Just a quick overview here: you can use smoking wood pellets in gas grills, charcoal grills, all kinds of smokers and of course, pellet smokers too. Let’s delve a little deeper into the pellet matrix.


Pellet smokers

Ok Ok, this is some fairly obvious stuff! With pellet smokers, the pellets themselves are actually the main fuel source – producing both heat and a smoky flavour infusion. So how doe sit all work? Great question. Well it’s all fairly simple: you just pour your smoking wood pellets into a box located on the side of the pellet smoker. This box is called a ‘hopper’. In a flash of automated tech wizardry, the pellets are fed by an auger into s all hot box or burn pot. It is here that the pellets are ignited, producing heat and smoke.

So what’s all the hype about with these pellets smokers? Their key selling point is that you can regulate the smoker’s temperature with a built-in thermostat. We know right? Now you can control and create a constant temperature without having to worry about monitoring your heat source.

Don’t have a pellet smoker? Relax! No need to lock yourself in the nearest dark cupboard and unleash your inner anxieties. You can use wood pellets in a regular charcoal grill too. Let’s get into it.


How to use bbq smoking wood pellets on a charcoal grill?

Sure it can be tempting to just throw a gargantuan pile of wood pellets into your charcoal grill base and go to town. But slow your roll for a sec! While using wood pellets in isolation can work, maintaining a constantly high heat is difficult. We’d recommend using a mix of charcoal and smoking pellets for the best results. Taking a broad view, your pellets should be more of a flavour enhancer rather than a heating source in this instance. So what’s next?

Wait until your charcoal is nice and hot, then add some wood pellets to your coals. Yes this a fun thing to do but please restrain yourselves. No need to go nuts in frenzy of pellet chucking. We are trying to impart flavour here, not blow up your grill in an inferno. About half a cup of pellets should work nicely, providing 30-40 minutes of smoke. Once your pellets are ablaze, emitting a steady stream of smoke, then you are ready to start cooking. Next open your vents halfway and close the lid back on top. You can always use a grill thermometer to see whether you need to open or close your vents. If you are still cooking after 30 minutes, simply remove your grill lid and pop in another half cup of pellets.


Product shot of Big K Smokeys Hardwood smoking pellets


Where can I find bbq pellets in the UK?

Ah yes! This is the logical conclusion after all this learning! The good news is that you can pick up some of our Premium Smokeys Hardwood Pellets from our website. Every pellet is made up of a premium mix of equal amounts of Hickory, Maple and Cherry, delivering a consistent and flavourful burn. Purity is par for the course as we’re talking about 100% natural virgin, bark-free sawdust with no additives, fillers or binders. As if things couldn’t get any better, the nifty 9.2kg/20lb box comes with a handy pouring spout so no more faffing and groping around in bags. Trust us: you need these smoking pellets in your life!

Well there you have it people! We hope the smoke of the unknown has cleared when it comes to smoking pellets. You should know all the facts and info with crystal clear clarity. If you want to know more about bbq smoking in general, get a load of this blog