There are many different uses for wood pellets, from being used as a heating fuel in stoves and boilers to the very popular use of BBQ wood pellets. If you’re not familiar with what a pellet is and how they are made you may be asking yourself the question, ‘do wood pellets go bad?’ Also, do they have a shelf life?
With this post, I hope to answer that question, as its a more complicated question than most people probably think. The most basic answer is yes, wood pellets can ‘go bad’. However, with this post, I want to talk about the various ways a wood pellet can ‘go bad’. Also what causes pellets to go bad and how to stop it from happening.
Finally, I’ll also discuss something that most people are not aware of, some wood pellets are just bad to begin with. So I’ll discuss how you can test pellets to see if they were badly made.
Disclaimer: Hey! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon or other sites are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase.
Why Can a Wood Pellet Go Bad?
There are two main factors that cause a wood pellet to go bad and that’s moisture and rough handling. I’ll discuss each of them under the subheadings below.
You actually need some moisture to make a wood pellet. However, once the wood pellet has been formed moisture is its enemy. Due to the highly compressed state of a wood pellet and their low moisture content (below 10%) they are naturally seeking out moisture to absorb. That’s why pellets make such a good animal bedding product for horses.
Therefore, if you don’t keep wood pellets dry, they will absorb moisture and expand. Once expanded they are no longer pellets, just sawdust, and can no longer be used in pellet stoves, boilers and grills.
It’s important to note the main risk to a wood pellet from moisture is not from liquid water. Its water in the air (humidity) which commonly causes pellets to go bad.
If your wood pellets are stored loose you want to make sure the air around them has a low humidity. A simple/low-cost humidity meter can alert you to a high humidity before the wood pellets go bad: Image – Amazon
Wood pellets are fairly durable. However, too much rough handling will cause them to break apart and create excessive fines and dust. This dust can cause some pellet stoves, boilers and grills to become blocked up. Therefore, in my post on the top BBQ grill pellet brands, I discuss sieving the wood pellets before they are placed into the hopper.
Can Traeger Wood Pellets Go Bad?
Yes, a Traeger wood pellet can go bad if they not protected from moisture and with poor handling. Traeger wood pellets are made in a very similar fashion to other wood pellets. In terms of leaving BBQ pellets in the hopper of your Traeger pellet grill and them going bad, it depends on where you store the grill. Storing the Traeger grill in a garage or shed with pellets in the hopper during the summer months will be fine.
Some Traeger wood pellets come in resealable bags where others do not. If you don’t protect your Traeger wood pellets from moisture they will go bad: Image – Amazon
However, leaving pellets in the hopper over winter when you’re not using the grill its highly likely they will absorb moisture. Therefore at the end of the grilling season, you should empty the pellets out and store them in a sealed plastic bag. That way you will be able to use those barbeque pellets again next year no problem. The exception to this rule is charcoal pellets which do not absorb water.
How Do You Stop Wood Pellets Going Bad?
To maintain the shelf life of a wood pellet the first issue to address is moisture. Pellets typically come in plastic bags to protect them from moisture. However, what if you don’t use the whole bag in one go? Some stove brands state to never use a previously opened bag of pellets in a stove. This advice is given by Clarry and their portable pellet stove.
Reseal or Tie Open Bags of Wood Pellets
Some BBQ wood pellets such as those from Traeger come in resealable bags. If the bags aren’t resealable you can use a cable tie or wire ties to close up the bag. Also, if there are any tears in the bags make sure to use some tape to cover up the holes.
Reusable cable zip ties are a good method to use on your opened pellet bags to protect them from moisture and from going bag: Image – Amazon
Keep Wood Pellets in a Low Humidity Environment
Resealing bags is good, however, if you store them in a high humidity environment moisture could still get into the wood pellets through small gaps. Therefore, try not to store your wood pellet bags in a damp garage or shed, they may still go bad.
Be Gentle When Moving Your Wood Pellet Bags
Now, good quality wood pellets will not break apart easily when moved around. However, you don’t want to be too rough. Being too rough will increase the percentage of fines/dust in the bags. Another reason to be gentle is otherwise you may tear a bag, and then there are the issues of moisture penetration.
Some Wood Pellets Are Just Bad To Begin With
Up until this point we have been discussing how to keep wood pellets from going bad. However, some wood pellets are just made poorly in the first place. For heating fuel, there are various wood pellet grades. To achieve a specific grade the ash content of the wood pellets, their moisture content and their density will be tested.
How To Test If a Wood Pellet is Bad?
There are a couple of quick little tests you can do to see if you have good or bad pellets:
Place the Wood Pellets in a Glass of Water
The most basic test is to take some pellets and drop them in a glass of water. If the pellets sink to the bottom they have been produced to a high density. They, therefore, can generally be regarded as good pellets with regards to compression.
You have to be quick with this test though, as they will instantly start to absorb the moisture. Also, don’t leave the wood pellets and water in the glass (like I did). As they absorb the moisture they will expand. The expanded pellets in the bottom of the glass were quite hard to get out. I had to use a knife to scrape out the material, I just couldn’t get it out with my fingers.
The Snap Test
The second test is what I call the ‘snap test’. You want to pick up a wood pellet and place horizontal force on it. A good wood pellet will break into just two pieces with a ‘snap’ sound you should be able to hear. A bad wood pellet will crumble into several pieces and produce small bits and dust, as shown in the diagram below:
The Shine Test
This is the simplest of all the tests, you just need to look at the wood pellets. However, it’s not the most conclusive test. Therefore I would always still perform a Snap Test to judge if the wood pellets are good or bad.
A good wood pellet has a nice smooth surface, with minimal if any cracks. A shiny pellet is the sign of a good quality product. A dull pellet with surface cracks indicates its not as durable and therefore probably a bad batch of pellets.
Do Pellets have a Shelf Life?
So you now know that wood pellets can go bad if they are not protected from moisture and if they are handled too roughly. But what about their shelf life? Even in ideal conditions will a wood pellet eventually break apart?
Well, I’ve still got a small sample of the first wood pellets I made back in 2007. They have been kept in a plastic container with the lid on. These pellets still have a nice surface shine with no cracks. They even still pass the snap test. Therefore, if you are able to keep wood pellets away from moisture they don’t have a shelf life. They will maintain their integrity and density.
Back in 2007 when I first become aware of pellet grills and smokers the only brand I was really aware of was Traeger. Traeger is really where this whole concept of cooking with pellets started in the 1980s. It was a ‘slow burner’ (pardon the pun) but since the 2010s is really when pellet grills and smokers started to get mainstream awareness, discussed alongside gas and charcoal grills. There are now over 30 pellet grill/smoker brands that I’m aware of, and the link above goes to my A to Z list of brands article.
Now, you may already be aware of a few of the other brands such as Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Z Grills and I’m sure you are aware of Weber, though you may not have known they have entered the pellet grill game. However, they are now many, many more brands to look into. Some may be what are commonly referred to as ‘Traeger clones’, but many others are offering their own unique designs and features.
A pellet grill/smoker is only as good as the BBQ pellets you put into it. The type/quality of the BBQ wood pellets you use will impact temperature performance and smoke flavour. There are many pellet flavours including Apple, Hickory, Mapel, Oak and Walnut to name but a few. However, some brands are hardwood blended pellets whereas others are 100% single wood species.
In this article, I provide details on over 20 brands of BBQ wood pellets, their range of flavours, whether they are 100% single wood species or hardwood blended pellets, their typical price and where they are available. I also provide tips on how to get the best deal when buying BBQ wood pellets and how to test pellet quality. Finally, I discuss the new kid on the block, charcoal pellets and their special attributes compared to all other hardwood BBQ pellets.