Traeger Pellet Grills LLC was started in 1985 by Joe Traeger and is now based in Salt Lake City, Utah under different ownership. Wood pellet grills and BBQ wood pellets have become a niche of the wood fuel industry. However, while wood pellets over the previous decades have been a very small niche in the BBQ industry, it’s grown considerably. Where previously Traeger pellet grills were only available in the US and Canada they are now sold all over the world. Many still consider Traeger pellet grills the best available. Besides producing pellet grills, Traeger actually produces their own brand of BBQ wood pellets of various different flavours. Below I’ve included a video I found on the Traeger wood pellet manufacturing process. While generally similar to how all wood pellets are produced, there are a few notable differences.
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.
While it’s generally acknowledged that cooking with charcoal produces improved flavoured food over gas, the cooking process is harder to control. BBQ wood pellet grills use a hopper and feed auger in a similar fashion to pellet stoves and boilers. Therefore the temperature of the cooking process can be precisely controlled. Traeger also produces the Traeger fire pit and a wide range of Traeger grill accessories.
How are Traeger Wood Pellets Made?
While I have my main post on how wood pellets are made, I thought I would share with you Traeger’s own video on their process. It’s slightly different from the ‘normal’ wood pellet production process. However, most of the equipment is the same. Check out the video below to watch how Traeger wood pellets are made. Please note it takes 40 seconds to get through the promotional content before they start to show the actual pellet manufacturing process.
Raw Materials and Preparation
One area where Traeger has a different (and generally) more difficult pellet manufacturing process is dealing with a wide range of raw materials. They produce BBQ wood pellets from Hickory, Mesquite, Apple, Cherry, Oak, Alder, Pecan, Maple and various other blends. That’s a lot of raw material management to take care of. Its also interesting to note that Traeger appears to be making wood pellets from whole logs, not just sawdust waste.
This is a 20lb bag of Traegers Signature blend of various hardwood pellets. Essentially a good allrounder for cooking pretty much any meat: Image – Amazon.com
Normally with a typical fuel pellet plant, you prepare a standard raw material, typically either a softwood or hardwood. You then set up the plant to deal with that particular raw material. That can involve setting up the hammer mill with a certain sized screen. It can also involve setting the dryer to a certain rotation speed. Finally, it can involve using a specific die at the right compression ratio in the pellet mill.
With a compression ratio that’s too low a wood pellet will not form. If the compression ratio is too high it will lead to a blocked pellet mill die. With Traeger, they have multiple different wood species to deal with in separate batches. Hence, producing wood pellets to a consistent quality while not blocking the die will be more complicated than a typical plant producing pellets for stoves and boilers.
Now, when you watch the video if you pay close attention you will notice the narrator make an important point. He states that the other wood species are mixed with alder or oak. Therefore, with an applewood pellet blend its not 100% applewood. It’s not clear what percentage of the mixture used to make Trager BBQ wood pellets is actually applewood. I don’t believe they are mixing the raw materials together before the wood pellets are produced. As referenced above this would make the process more complicated and harder to control pellet quality. More than likely they are mixing the separate batches of wood pellets together before packaging.
While all varieties of Traeger Wood Pellets only include 100% hardwood pellets, in a bag of Apple flavour its not actually 100% applewood: Image – Amazon.com
Size Reduction via The Hammer Mill
The first part of the Traeger wood pellet plant appears to be their hammer mill trough feed hopper. A screw and belt conveyor will then take this material at a controlled rate into the hammer mill. The hammer mill is likely fitted with a 5mm screen, as Traeger produce 6mm BBQ wood pellets. The material produced from the hammer mill is now a small consistent particle size suitable for the pellet mill. However, the raw material first needs to be dried down to the perfect moisture content.
Drying the Wood Sawdust Before the Pellet Mill
If you have read my main page on how to make wood pellets you will know that getting the moisture content right is very important. As this is a large scale pellet plant Trager is using a large rotary dryer. The video itself does not actually demonstrate the order of their process correctly, showing images of the pellet mill before images of this rotary dryer.
You have to set up the rotation speed of the dryer to suit the raw material moisture content of the wood your processing. In general, the optimum moisture content for the pellet mill is 12%. As stated at the start of this post, Traeger has significant challenges due to the wide range of woody biomass materials they have to process. Depending on how long the material has been sat in the yard that will impact the starting moisture content. Testing the moisture of the raw material and changing the dryer rotation speed could be very labour intensive. Furthermore, if you get it wrong it could disrupt the whole process, even leading to a pellet mill die blockage.
While it’s not shown in the video I would imagine they have inline infra-red moisture meters. These constantly monitor the raw material as it enters the rotary dryer. The computer can then adjust the speed of the dryer to suit the wide range of different raw materials this pellet plant has to process. While these inline infra-red moisture meters can be very expensive, on a pellet plant such as this they can be invaluable. Plus, you also have to remember these are BBQ wood pellets. On a value per weight basis, BBQ wood pellets produce the most profit by far of any other wood pellet sold as fuel or animal bedding.
The Large Ring Die Pellet Mill
Where the Traeger wood pellet process differs from standard fuel pellet production is in the use of food-grade soybean oil. Vegetable oil is often fed into pellet mills via drip-feed tanks or peristaltic pumps to reduce the pressure within the die and avoid die blockages. However, too much oil will reduce the compression of the wood pellet to a point where it doesn’t form to a sufficient density. Wood pellet density is crucial for efficient combustion.
Traeger wood pellets are made with food-grade soybean oil as these are BBQ pellets. The smoke from Traeger wood pellets penetrates the food to produce the delicate and delicious wood smoke flavours. Therefore using a food-grade oil in this instance is good practice. For standard wood pellet production, it’s common to use other pellet binders to aid the process.
The Differences Between Ring Die and Flat Die Pellet Mills?
Traeger has chosen to use a ring die pellet mill over a flat die pellet machine. The advantages of a ring die are increased roller and die life, more consistent pellet quality and a lower power input per ton of pellets produced. The material is fed gradually into the centre of the ring die pellet mill. The type of ring die pellet mill Trager is using is a vertically mounted die, however, there are horizontally mounted ring die variants.
Typically two rollers are located on the inside of the die, the pellets are produced on the outer edge of the die. The rollers are not actually set against the surface of the die. There should be no metal to metal contact. The rollers are set with a small gap, typically 1mm to create a carpet of material against the die. This gap improves pellet quality and also increases roller and die service life.
Now, there are large flat die pellet mills used to produce wood pellets in commercial pellet plants. However, its far less common, as they are not as efficient as ring die pellet mills. On the small-scale end of the market particularly low budget machines, they are commonly flat die pellet mills. The most frequently seen small flat die pellet mills are made as you have probably guessed in China.
Can you make BBQ wood pellets with a small flat die pellet mill? : Image – Amazon.com
Can you produce wood pellets/BBQ wood pellets with a small flat die pellet mill such as the example above? Technically yes, I’ve done it my self as you can read on my about page. However, you need to be aware that its not easy and it can get very frustrating. If you are able to get the process/raw material controlled accurately enough it can be done though.
Cooling the Traeger BBQ Wood Pellets and Packaging
After the wood pellets leave the pellet mill they first need to be cooled before packaging. The wood pellets leave the pellet mill very hot. As the wood pellets still contain between 7-10% moisture if they are placed in a plastic bag hot they will sweat and break apart. The reason plastic bags are used is it’s very important to protect wood pellets from moisture. Therefore it’s very important to let the wood pellets cool before they are packaged in bags. Large counterflow coolers will be used where a fan pulls air through the pellets and vents the moist air to the outside.
In the screenshot from the video above you can see the operator filling standard 20lb bags. This is a typical bag size also used for fuel pellets. However, you can also source Traeger BBQ wood pellets and other brands in small pouch bags. These can be purchased as part of a set to try and range of BBQ wood pellets in a smoke pot.
This is a range of various BBQ wood pellet flavours produced by BBQrs Delight, another popular brand: Image – Amazon.com
Conclusions on How Traeger Wood Pellets are Made
Generally, the process is very similar to how I describe the pellet production process in my other posts. The main difference with Traeger wood pellets is the wide range of different species they have to deal with. Furthermore, they are producing a food-grade product. As Traeger have to source a wide range of wood species, the logistics of getting those different raw materials to their pellet plant in sufficient volumes must be a challenge.
However, it’s important to remember, BBQ wood pellets are very profitable. I have a post on the best BBQ wood pellets if you would like to review all the competing brands. Therefore while it will take more time and effort, and their raw material will cost more, the results are worth it. I must admit as well, after I used BBQ wood pellets for the first time, food produced on my gas BBQ just seemed a bit boring! Please review my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide to learn more.
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.