Do I Need To Soak Wood Pellets? (Answered)

Do I Need To Soak Wood Pellets

As pellet grills have become more popular, more and more folks are trying different cooking methods on these grills.

After all, pellet grills are great for almost anything. Whether you plan on searing a steak, smoking corn on the cob, or using the pellet grill for everyday grilling, pellet grills seem to do it all.

Experienced BBQ enthusiasts that are used to soaking wood chips before smoking have asked if wood pellets need to be soaked.

So do wood pellets need to be soaked?

Generally, wood pellets should not be soaked. Pellets are made by compressing sawdust together so soaking pellets will cause them to expand and fall apart. Soaked wood pellets will not burn and can cause damage to the pellet smoker.

Although soaking helps wood chips smoke better, wood pellets should not be soaked.

Let’s cover what wood pellets are and run a test of soaking wood pellets in water to show you why wood pellets should never be soaked.

How Wood Pellets Are Made

Wood pellets are exactly what it sounds like – pellets made of wood.

Typically wood pellets are created by compressing wood chips or sawdust into tiny pellets. The compression creates heat which melts the natural lignin in the wood.

Raw Materials for Wood Pellets

The natural lignin acts as a glue to hold the compressed wood together in the pellet shape. The lignin is what gives the wood pellets their shape and their shine.

Effectively, wood pellets are just loose wood dust and pieces compressed together into a pellet. The only thing holding the pellet together is the lignin. After being compressed together, the wood pellets are cooled and then placed into bags.

Do Not Soak Wood Pellets

Generally, wood pellets are sold in 20-pound bags and will always be completely dry.

The reason why the wood pellets are dry is that all the moisture has been extracted during manufacturing to compress the sawdust together to form the pellet.

If the wood pellet gets wet or exposed to a lot of moisture then the wood pellets will expand.

Below is an image of dry wood pellets on the left versus wood pellets that got wet on the right.

Traeger-Pellets-Expanded-From-Water

The wood pellets that got wet are fully expanded, mushy, and will not ignite in a pellet grill.

Expanded wood pellets need to be discarded since they can no longer be safely used in a pellet grill.

How Wood Pellets Are Used In A Pellet Smoker

The reason why expanded wood pellets cannot be used in a pellet smoker can be explained once we understand how pellet smokers work.

Below is an illustration that shows how wood pellets go from the hopper into the auger which feeds the pellets into the firepot.

How A Pellet Grill Works

If expanded or wet wood pellets are placed into the hopper then the auger will jam. The auger is just a screw that slowly pulls the wood pellets into the firepot. If the auger jams then the pellet grill will stop working.

Another possible issue from expanded wood pellets is that the fire can expand from the firepot into the auger and hopper.

Generally, smoke will start exiting from the hopper when the fire has expanded into the auger. A fire that expands into the auger and hopper can cause damage to a pellet smoker.

So never use wet or expanded wood pellets in a pellet smoker.

Why People Soak Wood Chips

Now that we know wood pellets should never be soaked, the reason why people ask this question is that wood chips should be soaked before smoking.

Unlike wood pellets, wood chips benefit from a soak since it helps the wood chips smolder longer.

Wood chips are not the primary fuel source in a charcoal or propane grill so the wood chips are just used to create smoke.

However, in a pellet grill, the wood pellets are both the source of heat and smoke. So soaking is not needed with wood pellets since pellet grills burn pellets slowly to create both heat and smoke.

Can You Add Pellets To Pellet Grills While Cooking?

Wood pellets can be added to a pellet grill’s hopper at any time. Topping off the hopper with additional wood pellets while the pellet grill is cooking is safe and will help the grill continue to operate during a long smoke.

However, make sure that the hopper is not empty or that there isn’t any “tunneling” with the pellets before adding more pellets. Below is an image of my Traeger pellet grill’s hopper where the pellets can be seen to be stuck to the side and the auger is visible.

Traeger hopper with wood pellets tunneling

The situation where the hopper has pellets stuck to the sides while the center is empty is called “tunneling.” The hopper isn’t technically empty but the auger will not be able to feed pellets that are stuck to the side.

So the pellets need to be gently shaken into the auger before topping off the hopper with more pellets.

Can I Use Other Brand Pellets In A Traeger Pellet Grill?

Any brand of wood pellet rated for pellet grills can be used in a Traeger pellet grill. Heating pellets that are intended for heaters should not be used for cooking since they can contain contaminants and adhesives that are not safe for consumption.

There are multiple brands that manufacture wood pellets that can produce more smoke, different flavors, or are more cost-efficient than Traeger wood pellets.

For example, other brands such as CookinPelletsPitBoss, or Lumberjack wood pellets can be used with Traeger pellet grills and without any issues.

So feel free to experiment with other wood pellet brands and flavors to find your favorite blend.

Final Thoughts

Unlike wood chips, wood pellets do not need to be soaked before smoking. In fact, wood pellets that get wet will expand and become unusable. Discard any wet wood pellets before using a pellet smoker.

Overall, pellet grills are beginner-friendly and low maintenance. So the wood pellets do not need to be soaked before smoking. Just fill up the hopper, plug the pellet grill in and turn it on.

Smoking food could not be any easier with a pellet grill compared to traditional charcoal and stick burners.

So get out there and start smoking since you don’t need to soak your wood pellets before smoking.

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Steven

I'm learning how to catch, grow, and cook my own natural food and my goal is to help others eat more food from nature. Eating natural food can taste great, be affordable and accessible with a little planning. Don't get me wrong, I still eat taco bell and pizzas every so often, but I'm trying to eat more dank food from nature! So let's eat tasty natural food together.

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