While I have my best value pellets article and even my article on how to choose the best pellets, they are quite general when referencing meat (beef, poultry etc). With this article, I thought it would be useful to provide a resource that gets more specific on which pellets are generally going to work best for which specific meat. Please remember though, these are only suggestions. I would encourage you to play around to find your personal flavor preference.
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.
Smoking Meat With Pellets Is Different…
You’re thinking at this point, ‘smoking with pellets is different to what!?‘. Well, while BBQ pellets are indeed made from real wood, they are not wood in its natural form.
In other words, smoking with wood logs/chips will produce different results than smoking with wood pellets, with both positive and negative aspects.
For instance, on the positive side of things, as pellets are produced in a very consistent process, their density/moisture content across all brands/flavors are more or less the same.
The consistency of pellets means that its easier to get consistent results when smoking meat. Which for many people in today’s busy world with limited free time is the key appeal of smoking with pellets.
However, the consistency of pellets and how efficiently they burn also means they generally produce less smoke and a milder smoke flavor into the meat than smoking with wood logs/chips.
As a result, smoking meat on an offset smoker, charcoal smoker, or Kamado can produce different results even when the same type of wood used and all other parameters (temp/time) are the same.
Therefore, if you are looking to increase the smoke flavor in the meat you’re cooking, beyond just choosing pellets with a strong smoke flavor, here are some important tips.
Tips To Increase Smoke Flavour In Meat When Smoking
First off, smoke adheres to and penetrates meat best when the meat is cold. Therefore, before you place the meat on your pellet smoker, you want to have it in the fridge beforehand.
This means all your prep (trimming/seasoning) of the meat should have been done earlier, and you then placed the meat back into the fridge to lower its temperature again.
Smoke also adheres better to a moist surface. Now the salt as part of your rub/seasoning will help to draw moisture out of the meat for better smoke adhesion to the surface of the meat.
However, if you want to take things a step further, you could also consider adding a water pan to your pellet smoker or maybe spritzing the meat during the cook with water or another liquid for more flavor.
Though consider the fact that over-spritzing could create a problem. Why? Well, to spray the meat, you have to open the lid. In doing so, you are letting out the smoke/heat. So it can be a trade-off.
Different Pellets For Different Cuts Of Meat?
The first thing to note is that wood smoke only penetrates into the meat up to about 1/8″. So don’t be under the impression that the longer you smoke a piece of meat, the deeper into the meat the smoke flavor will go.
Also, while most of the smoke is absorbed into the meat while its cold/moist, the meat will continue to absorb smoke particles all the way through the cooking process.
With this in mind, you may want to consider trying different pellets for different cuts of the same type of meat. For instance, choosing different pellets for beef brisket over a thin beef steak.
To smoke a brisket its going to take many, many hours. Whereas reverse searing a steak (smoking then searing) obviously takes much less time, typically under an hour, and even less for a thin steak.
Therefore, when cooking thicker cuts of meat, you may want to choose pellets on the lighter smoke flavor side of things, or there is a risk you could produce something that is too smokey for your taste.
White Smoke vs Thin Blue Smoke
If you have been doing your research on barbequing, you have probably come across comments such as ‘you only want thin blue smoke‘ when smoking, which is generally true but not always.
White smoke is produced when the fire is burning the wood at its lowest efficiency, typically when the fire is first started. However, its possible to make a pellet smoker produce more white smoke.
Many pellet grills/smokers have a Smoke Setting that deliberately produces more smoke which could be a mixture of white/thick blue smoke, more visible than typical thin blue smoke in any case.
There are also some other adjustments, such as Traeger P-Setting and the Pit Boss P-Setting which can be used to adjust how much smoke those particular pellet grills/smokers produce.
If you smoked something like beef brisket with the Smoke Setting for the entire duration of the cook (potentially around 12 hours, maybe more), I can pretty much guarantee you, you’ll think that brisket tastes horrible.
White smoke contains larger smoke particles (hence why you can see it more clearly than thin blue smoke). The easiest way to think about it is white smoke is going to produce a stronger flavor.
To the point though, with on a long cook, too much white smoke will produce an acrid taste in the meat. However, some white smoke at the start of a long smoking session can provide a base of smoke flavor.
Also, if you are smoking thin cuts of meat, as discussed above, something that’s going to cook pretty quickly (burgers, for instance), then white smoke can actually be useful.
Again, this is a case of playing around with the Smoke Setting on your pellet smoker and seeing if you like the results it produces. Only you can really be the judge of that.
The Best Wood Pellets For Specific Meats
Now that we have the above-associated smoking topics out of the way, we can now get down to some general recommendations for which pellets for which meat.
Again, these are general recommendations/initial guidance. I would always encourage you to try different pellet flavors to suit your own personal preference, regardless of what I or anyone else recommends.
The links below to the different pellet flavors go to my ‘best value’ articles, where I spent many, many hours researching which brands offer the best value pellets on a $ per lb basis. Enjoy :).
As a very general guide, with the deep natural flavor of beef, it can be smoked with a wide range of pellet flavors without the flavor of the pellet smoke overpowering the beef (mostly).
Mesquite pellets which arguably produce the strongest smoke flavor of the pellet flavors, can work well with beef if you prefer a strong smoke profile. Hickory pellets also produce a strong smoke flavor, less intense than Mesquite pellets though.
Even if you like a stronger smoke flavor, consider my comments above on the thickness of the meat cut. Using Mesquite pellets for a long smoke (brisket) maybe be too intense for some people.
However, a quick smoking session with Mesquite pellets for some thin beef steaks/burgers would not produce a smoky flavor of the same intensity.
Lower down the smoke intensity ladder you have Hickory, Oak pellets, and further down on the smoke intensity spectrum, you have Apple, Cherry, Pecan etc
|Pellet Flavors For Beef||Smoke Flavor|
Generally, when smoking pork, the very strong flavor of Mesquite can be overpowering for the meat. Therefore, the strongest flavored pellets for Pork that are normally considered are Hickory pellets.
Consider my comments above with regard to how thick the cut of meat is as well. Are you slowly smoking a large pork shoulder or quickly smoking some thinner pork tenderloin etc?
Personally, for longer smoking sessions of large pork cuts, I would advise stepping down the smoke flavor intensity to Oak pellets or maybe even reclaimed liquor barrel pellets for a unique flavor.
However, if you generally prefer a lighter smoke flavor in your food, then Apple, Cherry, Mapel, or Pecan pellets are worth considering.
|Pellet Flavors For Pork||Smoke Flavor|
The category of poultry is obviously pretty large. Therefore, there are more considerations to take into account when choosing the best pellets for the particular type of poultry and your taste preferences.
For instance, chicken, turkey, duck, and goose are all poultry, but they obviously taste very different. You also have to consider the difference in smoking time between a whole bird and just smoking a fillet etc.
With chicken, it generally emphasizes smoke flavor more than naturally stronger flavored poultry such as duck or goose, or even turkey. Therefore, you may want to consider a lighter smoke flavor for chicken.
However, Oak pellets are a good all-rounder that can produce a nice mild smoke flavor profile in all poultry. Or maybe you go with reclaimed oak liquor barrel pellets for a slightly different flavor.
|Pellet Flavors For Poultry||Smoke Flavor|
With lamb, the strongest I would personally go on the smoke flavor spectrum is Hickory pellets. I personally don’t think that Mesquite works well with lamb at all.
To be honest, I think lamb tastes best with mild smoke profile pellets, such as Oak, or going for one of the many custom pellet blends with an Oak base is not a bad option at all.
Lamb is also well known to work well with fruitwoods (Apple, Cherry, Maple etc). While these options for Lamb are not my own personal preference, as I’ve said above, its really about personal and trial & error.
|Pellet Flavors For Lamb||Smoke Flavor|
Like poultry, wild game is another pretty wide category that actually includes some poultry (wild turkey, wild geese, and ducks). But it also includes animals such as rabbits and deer/venison etc.
For wild game, its generally advised to go with a strong to mild smoke flavor choice from the likes of Hickory, Oak, and Walnut pellets. Almond pellets from Knott Wood in my custom pellet blends article would also work well.
With wild game meat, generally, if you go with a light smoke profile flavor choice (Apple, Cherry etc), you are really going to struggle to taste the additional flavor of that wood smoke.
Therefore, when smoking wild game meat, you may want to consider choosing a pellet flavor stronger than you normally think you would prefer to properly accompany the bold flavor of wild game meat.
|Pellet Flavors For Wild Game||Smoke Flavor|
Conclusions On The Best Pellets For Smoking Meat
When it comes to choosing the best pellets for smoking a particular type/cut of meat, I and others can provide you with prompts/suggestions, but really it all comes down to personal preference.
I know of some people who are very happy to just purchase their favorite bag of blended pellets, and they use it for every type/cut of meat they smoke.
I know of other people who swear by just using Apple pellets to smoke everything. Really, it all comes down to how strong of a smokey flavor you’re looking for in your BBQ.
Don’t be afraid to try a certain pellet flavor with a certain meat just because its not shown as a matching pair on some chart you came across, mine included. You just have to try it for yourself.
You can use the above information I’ve provided as a general guide, but a lot of that information is based on my personal experience/preferences.
That’s it! I hope you found the above useful as a nudge towards finding your personal preference for which pellets for the specific type/cut of meat your smoking.
As always, if you would like to learn more, please check out my Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide or my expanding Cooking Guides for various different brands of pellet grill/smoker. 🙂