Are Wood Pellets Toxic? [BBQ Burning Questions]

All your wood pellet safety questions answered. Pellet chemical content and health information to help you keep safe while pellet cooking.

Are Wood Pellets Toxic
Table of Contents (Click to Quick Jump)

A common concern with all types of barbecue is if the fuel we’re using is toxic. With charcoal grilling it’s been the debate over the presence of carcinogens in the smoke; with propane it’s been the danger of inhalation; and with wood pellets it’s around if the fuel is dangerous.

Are BBQ wood pellets toxic? And if so, to what degree? Does the risk outweigh the reward? Let’s take a deep look in this article.

wood pellets in grill hopper

First a disclaimer. I am in no way a health expert, nor am I a scientist. I simply want to display all the facts that I am aware of, and outline them in a clear way so that you can make a sensible decision for yourself. I will link to everything that I have read around the subject, and be as transparent as possible.

How are BBQ wood pellets made?

Wood pellets come in many forms and can be used for a lot of uses, but in the context of barbecue and for pellet smoker grills they are commonly made from compacted sawdust.

The wood – sometimes fresh and sometimes recycled – is processed through a hammer mill. The mill smashes the wood and beats it down until it forms a mix that isn’t too dissimilar to dough. This state makes it easier to manipulate the wood and to press it through pellet moulds.

The dough is processed through a press into holes that are about 6 millimeters in diameter. Think of this almost like a cheese grater.

While the wood goes through this stage, it’s also heated. This helps the pellets solidify, and also enables the natural binding agents within the wood to reactivate and form a natural glue to hold the pellets together once the wood cools again.

Once cooled, the pellets are cleaned and dusted down to remove any leftover sawdust. They are then packaged and distributed.

best wood pellets for smoking

This process is a great way to make sure that each pellet is packed and densely as possible, so that it can provide as much heat and energy as possible when it comes to use.

The process also ensures that very little moisture is left in the wood. This ensures that each pellet can burn to its maximum potential without being dampened (literally) by any water content.

A dry, densely packed wood pellet ensures high energy, and maximum burn.

Are wood pellets toxic?

When pellets are produced in line with the process above, there is little threat in terms of toxicity.

The production process is designed so that the wood pellets you use are produced as naturally as possible, using only the original contents of the natural wood.

This method is employed by famous big name brands like Pit Boss and Traeger (source), so if you buy big brand then you have nothing to worry about.

If you buy cheaper pellets then there is a high chance that they use chemical binding agents or additives in their pellets to help lower production costs.

This isn’t exclusive to wood pellet production, and is also true for cheap charcoal and briquette production.

Find out the differences between pellet and charcoal grills

Whether they’re in the form of filler contents, or ‘enhancing’ flavors, the addition of chemicals runs of the risk of turning your pellets toxic, especially when they are then exposed to heat and burn up to emit chemicals.

I recommend avoiding these and always buying all natural wood pellets from trusted brands.

That isn’t to say that natural wood pellets don’t have their own dangers, though (source).

Beyond the obvious fire hazard that’s true for any heat fuel, emissions from your grill should be a key concern.

Just like with any wood, pellets emit carbon monoxide gas. Long exposure to this can be harmful, so always try to stand away from being directly in line with smoke emissions coming your way.

The good news is though that should you do this then you are not in any real danger. Significant carbon monoxide exposure would require standing in smoke, burning at high heat, for hours.

Still hungry? Check out more BBQ posts

outdoor gourmet triton xl review 1 Outdoor Gourmet Triton XL [Pellet Grill Review] - The Outdoor Gourmet Triton XL offers barbecue beginners an affordable entry point to pellet grilling. But how does it compare… ...
Pit Boss 700FB Pellet Grill Pit Boss 700FB Review: Best Pellet Smoker of 2021? - Everything you need to know about this classic pellet grill. All your questions are answered with our Pit Boss 700FB… ...
Savannah Stoker Pellet Grill Controller featured image Savannah Stoker Pellet Grill Controller [Review] - The Savannah Stoker WiFi PID is one of the best pellet grill controllers today. Everything you need to know for… ...
best vertical pellet smoker 5 Best Vertical Pellet Smokers of 2021 (Reviewed & Rated) - Vertical pellet smokers offer a whole new barbecue experience. They provide a larger cooking space and better airflow than many… ...
get more smoke from traeger Traeger Tailgater Pellet Grill | Reviewed - Tailgate grills need to be portable and easy to use, without being weak or flimsy. How does Traeger compare? Does… ...

Get BBQ recipes straight to your inbox!

    We respect your privacy and will never spam you. Unsubscribe at anytime.