Are Wood Pellets Toxic And Should I Use Them?

Jim Bob – A long-time contributor to GrillBabyGrill. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.

Are Wood Pellets Toxic And Should I Use Them?

Outdoor grilling using a wood pellet smoker provides an indirect cooking experience that is ideal for preparing larger meat slices. The smoke from the pellets infuses your foods with delicious aromas that add extra flavors to your meal. You can even purchase a variety of wood pellet flavors to use with different meats.  

However, it’s crucial to determine if your wood pellets are safe to use with your grill without causing an unacceptable health risk. Even the most committed outdoor grilling enthusiast would admit there is some risk when burning fuel and producing smoke, but when you’re infusing your food, you want to ensure there are no harmful chemicals in your wood pellets. Here’s what you need to know about cooking with wood pellets.

1. What Are Wood Pellets?

Wood pellets designed for use in a stove are for heating only, and you should never use them for cooking. Pellets used for heating your home or cabin may contain a variety of filler materials that could cause harm if you consume food that has been in contact with chemical-laced smoke.

However, you can purchase food-grade wood pellets that contain only natural wood. Although there may be a mix of woods, they are all-natural and do not contain chemicals. These pellet types are suitable for cooking, whereas heating pellets are not. Rather than using chemical bonding agents which could be toxic, food-grade wood pellet manufacturers gather wood materials left over from other processes. 

2. What Is A Filler Material?

Filler is a vague word that could mean a lot of things. Toxic chemicals could be a filler and may be present in pellets that are for heating. However, if you’re wondering are wood pellets toxic and contain unsafe fillers, you’ll be glad to know for food-grade wood pellets, the answer is no. Wood pellet filler is a type of hardwood, and it is usually oak.

Oak wood evens the burn rate throughout the pellets, preventing them from burning too fast or inconsistently. Oak does not affect your wood pellets’ flavor, ensuring you get the full tastes of apple, cherry, hickory, or whichever pellet flavor you choose.

3. What Toxins Are Present During Cooking?

It’s easier to determine if wood pellets are toxic when you know what harmful substances are present during cooking. These toxins occur in different ways depending on your cooking style.

Potential Toxins During Grilling

Smoke is not the primary concern when grilling meat; it’s the protein and fat content you should keep an eye on. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when you grill meat containing muscle and fat over high heat. Researchers link these chemicals to a potential cause of cancer. The most significant risk is when fat drips into the flames, causing flare ups and smoke. 

This factor is why the oak filler material in wood pellets is crucial. By promoting a more consistent grilling experience, the oak filler reduces the risk of flare ups. Maintaining an even heat is one of the best ways to avoid flames charring your meat, meaning your food tastes better and is less risky for your health.

Potential Toxins From Smoking

There is no risk of charring meat or experiencing flare ups when smoking your meals. However, while HCAs are generally not an issue when smoking, PAHs can still contact your food through the smoke. When asking are wood pellets toxic, it can be more important to focus on the smoke that generates from the fat in and protein in the meat.

The amount of PAHs entering your food is likely to be relatively small and not something that should be of concern. Most wood pellet grills also have an effective convection system to diffuse excess smoke.

4. Should I Use Wood Pellets?

We have options to what type of wood to smoke with. Cooking with wood chips is the most natural method for smoking, but I hope that I’ve made it clear that wood pellets would also be a great option.

Are wood pellets toxic is a perfectly reasonable question to ask before preparing your food using this product.  The short answer is that they are no more harmful than any other fuel source. There is always a risk when cooking using smoke, but it is small, and outdoor cooking enthusiasts are happy the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

The most important factor is to buy your wood pellets from a reputable supplier. These manufacturers don’t cut corners and provide wood pellets with natural fillers for excellent results.