Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: April 25, 2022

Pellet grills and pellet smokers are becoming a popular alternative to wood and charcoal for these outdoor cooking methods.

Wood pellets have even brought smoking into the realms of the propane-powered grill, which was previously not possible.

Our research has revealed the relatively simple manufacturing process for these wood pellets!

Quick Summary

  • What raw materials go into the making of wood pellets?
  • What is the process used to produce the pellets?
  • We also discuss the use of binding agents and chemicals in the manufacturing process.
  • Is there a difference between standard wood pellets and pellets for smoking?

Some people may have concerns over the manufacturing process for wood pellets to ascertain whether they are safe to cook food.

We cover all these aspects to set your mind at ease and to satisfy the curiosity of those who are simply interested in the process behind the product!

What Are Wood Pellets Made From?

Hand full of wood pellets

Wood pellets are becoming a popular method of sourcing wood for barbeque grills and smoking meat.

Products such as pellet grills and pellet smokers are designed to take advantage of this clean biofuel to present an alternative to the charcoal grill.

Old school smokers and grillers have approached this new fuel with some skepticism, particularly around what goes into making these pellets.

Since we will be cooking our food over these products, it is understandable that people want confirmation to ensure no toxic chemicals or inappropriate additives are included in the pellets.

We will examine the materials that go into making wood pellets and the processes used to give you peace of mind regarding this BBQ fuel.

Material Used To Make Wood Pellets

A stack of sawmill logs

The materials used for wood pellets can be from various sources and generally make use of wood waste that would otherwise be thrown away.

The main source of materials for the wood pellets is sawmills.

Branches trimmed from logs, off-cuts of milled logs that are too small or irregular to be useful as lumber are all used as raw material.

Wood chips and sawdust from the actual milling process are also collected and used in the pellet manufacturing process.

These by-products would ordinarily be a waste material for the sawmill that would cost money to dispose of.

With the wood pellet industry, this waste material can now be used and become an additional income stream for the business.

What Is The Process Used To Make Wood Pellets?

Sawmill logs inside a factory for wood pellets

The raw wood off-cuts and waste bits and pieces are first put through a chipper to reduce the size of the material.

These smaller pieces are then ground down to wood fiber, or in some cases, a fine powder.

The wood fibers are then scanned with a magnet to remove any metals that may have found their way into the wood during any part of the process to this point.

Excess moisture is then removed from the wood fibers through a drying process that reduces the moisture content in the wood to 6%.

After the drying process, the wood is ready to be made into pellets, using a pellet mill.

A pellet mill is essentially a large press that forces the wood fiber through a die to create the desired size pellets.

The process involves heat and extreme pressure to force the wood fibers through the pellet sized holed in the die to produce pellets on the opposite side [1].

The heat is an important aspect of the process to help the pellets retain their shape after exiting the back of the die.

Is A Binding Agent Used In Wood Pellets?

Holding a single piece of wood pellet on other hand

No binding agents are used in the production of wood pellets.

Many people falsely assume that binding agents or glues are used to get the pellets to retain their shape.

However, this is not the case; the pellets stay together due to the heat used during the manufacturing process.

Wood contains a natural product called lignin, which melts under the heat produced during the pressing process.

The melted lignin hardens after the pressing process and acts as the binding agent to keep the pellet together and retain its shape.

Even though the pellet may feel smooth, as if an adhesive has been used in the manufacturing, you can rest assured that these products are glue and binding agent-free and will not introduce harmful fumes into your BBQ or smoker.

Are There Any Chemicals In Wood Pellets?

Wood pellets getting burned from the inside of a grill

The manufacturing process for wood pellets does not use any chemicals at any production stage.

Consequently, no chemicals can contaminate the pellets from the actual manufacturing process, but what about the lumber source?

Most pellet producers are careful in their choice of suppliers for the raw materials for pellet production.

Most use sawmills as the primary source, where raw, untreated lumber is being processed.

This reduces the risk of processed timber becoming part of the materials used to make wood pellets.

Treated or processed timber could introduce harmful chemicals into the wood pellets if this wood was used for raw materials.

Some pellet manufacturers use waste lumber from industries that make wood products.

This source of materials for making pellets holds more of a risk for introducing chemically treated wood into the process.

However, pellet manufacturers are keenly aware of this risk and only use materials from trusted sources where the risk of chemical contamination is minimal.

Are Pellets For Smokers Produced The Same Way?

An amount of wood pellets being dragged using a tool

Pellets produced for use in pellet grills are usually made from hardwood species trees to produce a good quality pellet that will have a long burn time.

Softwoods are generally not suitable for pellets since most of these woods are resinous, which produces a dirty burn, with much soot and tar released from the wood.

Consequently, these woods are generally avoided for wood pellet production.

Most people smoking meat will look for a particular wood species to impart a specific smokey flavor to the meat.

As a result, most people look for pellets of a flavor-wood ingredient for their smokers.

Wood such as pecan, applewood, oak, hickory, and cherry wood are some examples.

Pellets for smokers are made in exactly the same process as any other wood pellet.

However, the manufacturers are aware of the needs of smokers and will include specific flavor-woods in the blend to produce pellets with the appropriate smoke flavor [2].

The only difference in the production of wood pellets for smokers is in the choice of the wood used to make the pellets.

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Conclusion

The process to make wood pellets is a chemical-free, binding agent-free process that creates a clean-burning biofuel safe to use to cook food.

Pellets for pellet smokers are made in the same way as those for pellet grills, the only difference being the selection of wood for the production of the pellets.


References:

  1. https://www.naturallywood.com/products/wood-pellets/
  2. https://www.traeger.com/support/pellet-guide

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