When it comes to grilling, there are many different techniques people use to achieve the best results. One of the more recent crazes when it comes to smoking meat is cooking with grill pellets and pellet grills.
People believe that cooking meat over hardwood pellets rather than charcoal and propane results in a much tastier meat and that it’s a lot healthier too.
However, is this completely true?
Not all wood pellets are known to be good to cook with, but if you are a bit of a novice in the grilling world, you might not be aware of this.
In this article, we will take a deeper look at wood pellets and find out if wood pellets are safe to cook with, and fix some misconceptions about them so you can have a better idea for the next time you go to BBQ!
Wood Pellets Vs Food-Grade Pellets
If you are new to grilling with wood pellets, then you should know that there are actually two different varieties available on the market; wood pellets and food-grade wood pellets.
Wood pellets are the types of pellet that are solely made for use in heat sources, for example in a hot stove. This means that actually, they are not safe for cooking with at all.
These types of pellets are usually made with compressed charcoal, softwoods and a variety of different fillers, which if cooked with food would end up leaving a nasty chemical taste.
Food-grade pellets, on the other hand, have been made from leftover wood materials. This can be wood chips, sawdust, sticks and lumber mill scrap for example.
Therefore, all the materials used to make food-grade pellets are 100% natural and do not contain any binding agents which risk causing any health issues when smoked.
These pellets are therefore safe to cook with and smoke as the fumes will not harm your health or your meal.
Are Wood Pellets Healthy?
Once you have learned the difference between the two varieties of wood pellets available on the market, you will understand immediately to avoid simple wood pellets if you want to cook with a pellet grill, and instead opt for food-grade every time.
But are food-grade pellets all that healthy to cook with?
When it comes to the dangers of grilling in general, high fumes themselves, no matter if they are from pellets or gas, are bound to be a bit risky anyway.
Cooking at high heat will generate a large amount of smoke and this may be problematic for your health if you are exposed to it.
Food-grade pellets that are made from cheaper brands can sometimes still feature extra fillers or binding agents.
Therefore, when you are shopping for your preferred pellets, it is useful to do your research and make sure that the brand you are purchasing from definitely doesn’t include any binding agents in their pellets, and that way you won’t need to worry.
What exactly are Fillers in pellets?
When it comes to flavored wood, you are probably only going to get 100% cherry, apple or hickory when using wood chunks or wood chips.
With wood pellets, there is more of a chance of some filler being included, mostly oak. This is a hardwood and will help to create consistency when burning.
This is especially vital in blends. Some woods will no doubt burn faster than others, and this, in turn, affects your grilling as you will keep adding fuel that burns quickly, and which may lead to flare-ups and hot spots.
By adding oak fillers into the wood, there is, therefore, more opportunity for a stable burn rate across the grill, even when you mix flavors.
Does grilling with pellets cause cancer?
When it comes to grilling, there has always been a fear of ‘catching cancer’.
This fear has grown as it has become apparent that when cooking meats with gas or charcoal grills, this causes the development of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons –PAHs, and heterocyclic amines -HCAs.
These HCAs develop in muscle meats cooked at very high temperatures. These chemicals can cause changes in our genetic material which can possibly increase the risk of catching cancer according to recent research from the Cancer Institute.
These PAH, carcinogenic substances, are formed as fat and juices drip from meat during grilling and into the fire, causing flames to coat the above food with the PAHs.
These PAHs can be formed in smoke from wood pellets as well as charcoal, according to scientists.
How to be safer when cooking with pellets
There is a very slim chance that you will develop cancer after cooking with pellets, and it seems to be more of a myth than reality.
However, in order to make sure you are cooking in the healthiest way possible, try to avoid having any flare-ups and uneven heat as these are the culprits that seem to enhance HCAS occurring in the first place.
Any Intense heat will burn your meat to a crisp and that’s what makes grilling dangerous, as well as distasteful.
If you can try your best to keep an even heat on the grill and avoid any charring of the meat, then you should be perfectly safe.
As well as this, if you use the more modern pellet grills, they will most likely include convection fans which help disperse the air and smoke and help ensure a more even cooking area.
Wood pellets are most certainly going to continue being a popular option when it comes to grilling.
If you make sure to do your research and purchase the correct type, as well as keep an even heat when cooking, then you are sure to remain healthy without any problems when using them with your meat.
If you are interested in purchasing some grill pellets for the first time, we definitely recommend trying brands such as Traeger Grills and Louisiana Grills as they are key players on the market.