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Difference in smoke flavor from pellet manufacturers

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    Difference in smoke flavor from pellet manufacturers

    Hi all, I just watched Mad Scientist BBQ on YouTube, and he talks about different flavor profiles for different pellet manufacturers. Basically Traeger gets a beating because they produce almost zero smoke flavor, and it seems like (not 100% proven) that they add flavors and additives to get hickory flavor from 'regular' sawdust for example.

    Now, I don't own a pellet grill, and I don't plan on buying one either, but I'm curious to hear from all pit members that currently have a pellet grill. What do YOU think?

    - What are the top 3 most common pellet brands used?

    - Do you agree with Traeger pellets adding almost zero flavor?


    #2
    I have tried Traeger pellets and have to agree with the reviews. I have two that I have used that I like and they are LumberJack and Grilla Brand. I used their blend for both and have been very pleased with the overall profile.

    Comment


      #3
      I don’t own a pellet pooper either. So I know absolutely NOTHING about using one. But, I do read. I read a lot. And, I read a lot here on the Pit. It appears that a common complaint of the beloved P-P is lack of smoke flavor or diminished smoke flavor. I read of maneuvers to enhance smoke. So, I surmise that yes, there is a problem in Mudville (see Casey at the bat Henrik). So, in a quest fer “settin it & fergettin it (see Ron Popiel to those of you in Oconomowoc) & graphs & readouts & techno stuff it just seems like a problem with saw dust.

      Comment


      • Old Glory
        Old Glory commented
        Editing a comment
        We like to say "subtle" smoke flavor.

      #4
      I bought a Traeger 575 last year at our lake house in Wisconsin and loved it so much I bought a Grilla Silverbac for my house on Illinois. I also own a WSM which I still use too. I have used Traeger’s pellet brand, Grills’s brand (which I believe is actually made by Lumberjack) and Bear Mountain. I’ve used Bear Mountain the most sine they seem to run good sales on their website. It also helps that Bear Mountain makes great pellets too.

      I actually have a 20lb bag of Traeger Cherry pellets in my trunk right now that I picked up from Costco when they had a sale to coincide with a demo they were doing. Right now I have 6 bags of pellets, mainly Bear Mountain.

      Do they add flavor? Absolutely. As much as what Jeremy’s stick burner does? Ah, no. But I have done burgers, whole chicken, and steak on both the Silverbac and my Weber genesis at the same time with the same rubs. There was no doubt that there is an obvious taste difference and the Silverbac won hands done. Im trying to arrange a play date with my WSM and the Silverbac to try the same thing but that hasn’t happened yet mainly due to weather or timing issues. I did ribs once on both but the ribs on the WSM were done in about 4 hours, which was about 2 hours earlier than the Silverbac and my family pounded them right away.

      I might get into stick burning one day, like Jeremy does in his videos. But not now. I love my smokers and am very happy with all of them.

      Comment


        #5
        Every fuel has differences. in the charcoal world, there's lump (domestic and imported), many kinds and formulas of briquettes and unique charcoal like coconut and other fibers. Even wood logs, is it green or aged or kiln dried? Pellets have the same variety. Geography is a factor (what wood is available to make the pellets). Traeger has multiple pellet manufacturing facilities, geography will dictate what's in the fuel. I don't think it's marked on any Traeger bag where it's made. Same with Pit Boss, which is available nationwide. There's other brands that have name recognition (Kingsford, Cuisinart, Royal Oak), but making pellets is contracted out with pellet manufacturers. There's been consolidation of pellet manufacturers by Lignetics (Bear Mountain, Lumberjack).

        It's been an interesting ride being in the pellet business. When I started in the business in 1999, there were 5 manufacturers of pellet grill fuel. With the boom in pellet fired grills, fuel needs have expanded as well. Many pellet manufacturers have gotten into making pellet grill fuel, because heating fuel took a price dip when natural gas was cheap. That's not the case since drilling has closed down. I'm replacing my 30+ year old, non-functioning pellet heater for this winter. Looking forward to it!

        Comment


        • jfmorris
          jfmorris commented
          Editing a comment
          I don't have a fight in this game, not owning a pellet grill, but CandySueQ - can you tell us if you (BBQr's Delight) still make the B&B pellets I see at Academy? I seem to recall that coming up a few years back. I always felt that the 40 pound bag of B&B Championship Blend would be a good buy if it is using your oak/cherry/pecan pellets. If not, I'll stop recommending them to my friends with pellet smokers...

        • CandySueQ
          CandySueQ commented
          Editing a comment
          Yes, we make B&B. Champ Blend is the same as BBQr’s Delight Contest Mix.

        #6
        I've been pellet pooping since 2016. There have been a number of threads here in The Pit on this question, with much varied results from "can't tell the difference" to "yes, very noticeable difference" - with a consensus that the smoke profile is less than wood/charcoal-based cooking.

        Personally, I use CookinPellets.com, Lumberjack and Camp Chef. I'm not sure who makes the CC brand, but I really like their 100% Apple and 100% Cherry. I like Lumberjack for their 100% Oak which I use for most Beef and high temp cooks. I like the CC pellets for most pork cooks. CookinPellets' big seller is their Perfect Mix, but I actually prefer some of their unique offerings like Sugar Maple, Apple Mash and every once in awhile they have Wine Barrel Oak.

        All 3 of those do not use filler like Alder or Oak - that is the knock on Traeger and PB. Info has been published that says that they use oils to flavor their pellets to get the hickory and other flavors they sell. However, a heck of a lot of folks use those brands without any complaints for better or worse.

        That's my $.02.

        Comment


          #7
          I have turned out some pretty good food, and still do, from my pellet pooper and I buy whatever's on sale (usually Pit Boss from Wallyworld). I did quit using Traeger pellets some time ago as they were pretty weak with smoke and I really couldn't tell one "species" from the other. However, my stick burner is a game changer and the smoke/flavor profile is amazing, but I still use my PP for convenience or that kiss of smoke on recipe ingredients, in a casserole, or on a steak/burger before searing off.

          Comment


            #8
            My apologies in advance this will get long. First thing to address is flavored oils. Traeger owns a patent for this, however I've never seen any evidence anywhere that they actually do it, they could, but again no evidence. Lots of companies own patents for ideas that they never implement. As someone that's owned numerous pellet grills and tried quite a few different pellets I do have quite a few thoughts on this, as well as information I've picked up over a decade of doing this. CandySue hinted to some of it, but left some of the details out.

            So I'll dive into pellets first. The first two things are base wood and bark. When it comes to single species pellets (i.e., a bag of 'Hickory' pellets) most of the pellets out there are not just hickory. Almost all of the single species pellets are 60-80 percent either oak or alder. For example, Traeger if manufactured East of the Mississippi is 80 percent Oak, if West it's 80 percent Alder. Many of the others do the same at a 70-80 percent ratio of oak/alder to hickory. I believe LumberJack uses 60 percent base to flavor wood. I have only found three companies that do 100% flavor woods. CookinPellets, Kingsford, and LumberJack. Yes, LumberJack does both. You do have to respect LJ, as they are not secretive about what they put in their pellets and tell you right on the bag, you can get Hickory blend or 100% Hickory. Why do most manufacturers use a base wood? Price control and BTU control. Using 80% oak, makes Cherry, Apple, Hickory, Maple all behave pretty consistently in the grill as the oak is controlling most of the burn rate and heat output. However, Oak and Alder have a much milder smoke profile than the flavor wood. This is definitely one of the reasons that pellet grills are noted for their light smoke profile.

            Next is bark, some companies use it in pellets, some strip it. CookinPellets strips the bark, LumberJack does not. I don't really know details after those two producers. There's plusses and minuses to both. Pellets without bark burn quite a bit cleaner, leaving less ash behind, but in theory those that use bark could have a better smoke profile. I generally prefer the no bark like I prefer non kingsford charcoal because of the less mess it leaves behind and also less ash to potentially blow on your food.

            Blends are where all the chaos comes in. Blends have become super popular recently and I think a lot of that personally is because quite of few of the blends have no basewood or far less of it. So, when you pick up a bag of a Brand X Competition Blend it might be 40 percent Hickory, 30 percent Maple and 30 percent Cherry. When someone starts burning that compared to their old 80/20 blends, they tend to love it as there's more flavor. I'm not convinced that it's the blend that people love versus just 100% flavor woods. It's also hard to tell who doesn't still do some base wood in their special blends too, a lot of that is secret. I think everyone should have to disclose exactly what is in their cooking pellets since they are used to cook food.

            Now onto grills. There's definitely a difference from grill to grill. While I still use different pellets from time to time, I've settled on CookinPellets 100% Hickory as my standard. So, generally my poopers just get filled with that and topped off at the start of each cook. I've noticed considerable differences in smoke profile from grill to grill. The worst I've had Traeger Silverton. However, the Traeger Junior I started with was really good for smoke profile. So, it's isn't even a brand thing. It's at least 3 things, controller/programming, exhaust design, and drip pan design. We'll start with the drip tray since it's the easiest. The Costco Special Silverton was terrible because it had a drip pan that had less than a 1/4" gap all around the perimeter for air and smoke to flow from below the grate to above. That naturally would encourage the airflow to stay around the perimeter of the grill. The SmokeFire, however, has no drip tray, so smoke flows everywhere through it, giving it the best smoke profile I've seen yet in a pellet grill by a mile (I suspect the MAK will be close, but since I'm planning on keeping it forever, I have actually been using up all my non CookinPellet bags around the garage before settling back into my 100% Hickory and had 10-15 bags of Weber when I started as well as others).

            Next is exhaust. The grills with an exhaust spread across the back versus a side stack have always given me a more pronounced smoke profile. I haven't totally figured this one out and it could be that the better controllers are also paired with the this exhaust style, but I suspect there's a lot more to it. I suspect the back exhaust tends to get a better circular motion swirling/rolling over the food versus the stack where it could behave more like a funnel working around the tray and up the sides and out the stack.

            Finally, the controller. Digital Thermometers have made pellet owners paranoid. When the Maverick's really hit the scene a lot of pellet grill owners started whining that their grills fluctuated too much in temp. In reality, this fluctuation is the easiest way to make the smoke profile better on a pellet grill, but there's a balance. If it fluctuates too much it's hard not to burn sugars in rubs and such. This is what made my Treager junior a good grill. It had a strong timing element and would go +/- 25 degrees from the set point (adjusting the p settings per seasons), that fluctuation let pellets smolder for a while every couple minutes creating more smoke. However, people whined about the fluctuations everywhere and didn't want to learn how to adjust p settings. So, Traeger, all the other manufacturers really, started working on super tightly controlled PID controllers. Some of these controllers can keep the temp within a few degrees the entire cook. Imagine a conveyer belt just dropping a single pellet into the pot every 15 seconds. What this does is keep a hot constant fire going and reduces smoke output. So, whining has made pellet grills worse.

            Now, if you think I'm totally full of crap (and in some cases I am, but I'm pretty confident I'm not here), think really hard about the controller evolution they past 3-4 years. Grilla, CampChef, Weber, Traeger, etc. have all taken their fancy PIDs and added what to them? Smoke modes like 'SuperSmoke' on a Traeger, the Smoke level on the CampChef, etc. Read the disclaimers to these settings and what do you see? Something to the effect that using these settings will cause much wider variations in cooking temperatures from the set point. So, after all the whining about swings, then there was whining about less smoke and they had to put old control algorithms back into the new fancy PID controllers under a special setting. There's other factors here too like fan control and such that some companies invest more time into pulsing fans versus constant running, etc. That's how some can keep more constant temps without giving up a decent smoke profile. However, the complications of developing detailed fan control are a lot more costly than just having it on/off and controlling temps mostly with the auger.

            There are other details too. Different fire pot designs can promote more smoldering, how little or much a grill leaks, etc. It's the whole package that makes the end result, but what I outlined are what I think the biggest contributors are from my experiences.
            Last edited by glitchy; October 29, 2021, 09:25 AM. Reason: Fixing a couple typos

            Comment


            • glitchy
              glitchy commented
              Editing a comment
              CaptainMike I actually have a drip tray design in my head I would make and try out if I had any metalworking tools. I think it would give a lot more smoke, but still capture grease. Curious to hear your results if you try that.

            • glitchy
              glitchy commented
              Editing a comment
              Henrik you’re too kind, thanks for the compliments!

            • DaveD_SpaceBBQ
              DaveD_SpaceBBQ commented
              Editing a comment
              I'm coming along months later, reading up on pellets, and this post is absolute GOLD. Thank you so much for the thorough discussion!! I had noticed ample smoke flavor from my vertical p-smoker, but couldn't really tell the varieties apart (all PB & Traeger "blends") and now I know why: they're all 80% oak. Just ordered some 100% flavor wood pellets from CookinPellets. Thanks again!
              Last edited by DaveD_SpaceBBQ; January 22, 2022, 01:00 PM.

            #9
            I have been using a Camp Chef pellet grill for four years and have tried many many brands and flavors. I started with the free Camp Chef pellet bag that came with the grill, not good at all. I've used all of the economically cheaper brands but found them to be exactly what you pay for. I now use Lumberjack brand pellets along with Bear Mountain for my cooks. When I'm smoking I use the Lumberjack and when I'm grilling or using it as an oven I use the Bear Mountain because the pellets are a little larger than the Lumberjack and hold the heat without using as many. As far as smoke flavor goes, it is very subtle however using a smoking tube takes care of that. It's easier to add more smoke than to take it out. I mainly use apple, Lumberjack sweetwood blend and supreme blends, along with Bear Mountains oak. Both Lumberjack and Bear Mountain are 100% the advertised wood without fillers. This weekend will be Bear Mountain used for a couple of roasted chicken.

            Comment


            • CandySueQ
              CandySueQ commented
              Editing a comment
              The typical verbage is "100% wood" not "100% Hickory Wood"

            #10
            I currently don't have any pellet grills, but when I did I used CookinPellets primarily. I saw the same video and he referenced some pellet cooker expert saying they are one of the best out there. I personally didn't notice a difference in any pellet brand I tried. So to me it is just the nature of pellets. They just don't produce enough smoke flavor no matter the brand in my own experience. That's why I got out of the pellet game in favor of charcoal and wood chunks.

            Comment


              #11
              I run a Blazin' Grid Iron. Had it almost a year but use it 3-4 times per week. Usually fire up Cookin' Pellets and BBQ Delight. I have tried hickory, apple, cherry, maple, and competition blends. I haven't found that much difference between these two or between wood species. The smoke is subtle and not as strong as charcoal and chunk for sure but that is perfect for the majority of my cooks which are 90% reverse seared steaks, roasts, or chops or chicken. If I do low and slow BBQ I use the Egg or WSCG. I really love my Pellet Cooker and will always have one.

              Comment


                #12
                Twenty years ago when I began pellet smoking I used Traeger because that was all I found. Then I discovered LumberJack and really liked the smoke and aroma they produced. Then I found BBQr's Delight and switched to them as I believed they outdid LJ. But then I moved to Oklahoma and can't find them here.

                My favorites are LumberJack, Grilla, and B&B. They all produce for me and I'm equally happy with each.

                LJs are often on sale at Atwoods for $6.99 ($8.99 reg.) and B&B are found at Academy for $9.99. Grilla have to be ordered online.

                Comment


                  #13
                  When I got my Recteq a couple years ago I bought a bunch of their branded pellets to start with. They call them “Ultimate Blend”. 1/3 white oak, 1/3 red oak, 1/3 hickory. They worked great and the smoke profile was on the light side which is how we like it. I kept using them buying via Amazon. Not sure who makes them for Recteq but the rumor is that Cookin’ Pellets does it.

                  A new bbq supply store opened near me in the spring and they sell Cookin’ Pellets. So to support the store I switched to those. Their Perfect Mix blend. Although the blend of woods is different than the Recteq brand, I really can’t tell the difference. They work well in the cooker and we like the food it turns out so I will keep using them.
                  Last edited by Jfrosty27; October 29, 2021, 10:10 AM.

                  Comment


                    #14
                    I use BBQr's Delight exclusively in my Yoder. Often I use an a-maze-n tube to boost the flavor.

                    Comment


                      #15
                      Something else to consider is using adjuncts to increase your smoke profile. I have the Heavy D diffuser by Smoke Daddy and it really amps up the smoke.

                      Comment

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