Wood Pellets are showing up in many stores as a long-haul friendly biofuel. As a result, they might be attractive to campers and those who want a convenient fuel for their stove or fireplace. However, it can be difficult to assess the safety of a new product – or whether it will do the job you want effectively.
Wood Pellets can be used in your firepit or home if you keep a few crucial factors in mind. I will go into detail on how you can best use Wood Pellets below.
Table of Contents
- What are Wood Pellets?
- Are there Different Types of Wood Pellets?
- Species of Wood
- Ash Content
- Moisture Content
- What Type of Wood Pellets are Best to Burn in a Fire Pit?
- Where can you use Wood Pellets?
- Can you burn Wood Pellets in a Fire Pit?
- Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Wood Stove?
- Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Smokeless Fire Pit?
- Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Fireplace?
- Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Coal Stove?
- Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill?
- Using Wood Pellets Safely
- Wood Pellets in Fire Pit FAQs
- Final Thoughts
What are Wood Pellets?
Wood Pellets are the waste from sawmills, or the repurposed wood from fire damaged trees. Rather than tossing out perfectly good fuel, sawmills turn the waste into sawdust, pressed into pellet shapes, and dried at high heat.
The resulting pellets usually rely on a natural polymer found in wood – lignin – to hold their shape. Rarely, you will see petroleum-based adhesives added to wood pellets, but they are not a universal ingredient.
Are there Different Types of Wood Pellets?
Many types of Wood Pellets exist, since there can be many variables in their production. Species of wood, ash content, and moisture content are all common differences you will see between Wood Pellet types. These variations will impact the amount of residue, the volume of smoke, burn time, and even flavor of any food you cook over the fire.
Species of Wood
The most common types of wood used to make Wood Pellets are Maple, Pine, Mesquite, Cherrywood, Applewood, and Hickory. Whether the wood is hard or soft does not matter much in Wood Pellets, since the production process compresses them to a similar density.
The primary reason to choose one type of wood over another is taste, since each wood will give your cooked food a slightly different smoky flavor. If you will not be cooking over your fire, then one of the cheaper options such as pine is an excellent choice.
The ash content of your wood pellet impacts how much residue there is after the pellets burn. Some ash will be in every type of pellet since heat is used in the production process. The acceptable range is usually up to 3% ash, with premium Wood Pellets sometimes achieving less than 0.5% ash content.
Even though Wood Pellets have been dried, they still retain a small amount of moisture (between 5-10%). The lower the moisture content, the hotter they burn.
What Type of Wood Pellets are Best to Burn in a Fire Pit?
The best Wood Pellet to use will depend on the location of your fire, and whether you are cooking food on it.
If you are in the wilderness in a dirt firepit, higher ash content may be fine. This will create more residue, but you will be burying the firepit, and the residue from the fire will make good fertilizer for the local flora. A lower moisture content will make the fire burn hotter relative to size, so you can stay warm during the night. These options also tend to reduce the price of your Wood Pellets overall.
However, if you are using a reusable firepit (such as your backyard firepit) added residue will need to be cleaned up so the pit can be reused, which might make a low ash content pellet more attractive.
Food will be the most key factor. If you are planning to cook on your fire, it is important to select a food grade Wood Pellet, which does not have any additives. These pellets will be a little pricier, but worth it for your safety since the glues may be toxic. You may also want to select a particular wood for flavor such as Applewood or Cherrywood. If you will not be cooking on your fire, a cheaper wood pellet with additives is fine.
Where can you use Wood Pellets?
Wood Pellets are highly versatile. They are popular for smoking food, and for recreational fires alike. Some familiar places you might want to use them are fire pits, wood stoves, smokeless fire pits, fireplaces, coal stoves, and charcoal grills.
Can you burn Wood Pellets in a Fire Pit?
Wood Pellets are well suited to outdoor fire pits, especially low ash varieties to limit mess. They are easy to light and burn for quite a while, and so are easy to enjoy. The outdoor environment also makes their smoky nature less problematic. You will want to check the temperature tolerance of your firepit since wood pellets burn hotter than traditional wood, and not all models can withstand the heat.
Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Wood Stove?
A wood stove can be tricky to use wood pellets in because wood pellets can be very smoky. This might mean some smoke in your home. With a special insert, using Wood Pellets indoors is possible, and the extra heat in your home may be worth the hassle. There is some heating grade Wood Pellets on the market, which are much cheaper than the food grade variety. Wood Pellets are also carbon neutral.
Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Smokeless Fire Pit?
You can purchase an insert which allows you to use Wood Pellets in your smokeless fire pit. There are several on the market, so make sure the one you purchase will work in your fire pit. You will also want to specifically look for inserts made for pellet fires, since these will drastically differ from other inserts.
Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Fireplace?
You can enjoy the ecofriendly benefits of Wood Pellets in your fireplace with a Wood Pellet tray or basket, which holds the pellets in the fireplace securely. You can close most fireplaces, so that the smoke does not come into the room, and Wood Pellets provide a lot of heat.
Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Coal Stove?
While you can burn Wood Pellets in a coal stove, you may notice a lower heat output. While pellets burn hotter than regular wood, they do not burn as hot as coal. They also burn more quickly, and the stove will need to be fed often. Wood Pellets may remain attractive because it reduces your reliance on fossil fuels but can be pricier. Overall, Wood Pellets may not be the best solution for a Coal Stove even though it is possible.
Can You Burn Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill?
Wood Pellets can be used in a charcoal grill either alone or mixed in with the charcoal. It is however important to keep in mind that you will want premium grade pellets which are safe for food and will not impart a bad taste.
Using Wood Pellets Safely
How Do You Safely Light Wood Pellets in a Fire Pit?
The best way to light Wood Pellets is with a fireplace lighter (one which is longer and keeps your hand away from the flame) or a chimney starter.
How to Use and Burn Wood Pellets in a Fire Pit (Step-by-Step)
1. Fill your firepit with a moderate amount of dry Wood Pellets. Fill until 2-3 inches deep, no need to attempt to stack the pellets or build a tepee.
2. Add a handy Firestarter of your choice. Some highly recommended starters are fire starting gel, paper, or sawdust. You can simply make a little pile of this on top of the pellets.
3. Use a match or lighter to light the Firestarter. Make sure to use something which allows you to keep your hand away from the flame, because pellets start quickly.
Wood Pellets in Fire Pit FAQs
How Long Do Wood Pellets Burn in a Fire Pit?
Most stoves will burn 1-3 lbs. of pellets per hour. This is significantly shorter than coal but almost twice the time of wood.
Do Wood Pellets Give off a Lot of Heat When Burned in a Fire Pit?
Yes – Wood Pellets give off much more heat than traditional wood. In some cases, that heat may be enough to melt your firepit, so be sure to check the manual!
Do Wood Pellets Produce Toxic Fumes When You Burn Them?
Some Wood Pellets are toxic and are not suitable for food or poorly ventilated areas. Look for pellets that say “no additives” or “food grade” to avoid this.
Can You Cook Food Over Wood Pellets?
Yes, you can cook food over Wood Pellets if it is a food safe variety.
Do Wood Pellets Leave a Lot of Ashes after they Burn?
This varies slightly based on the type of Wood Pellet, but pellets produce less ash than traditional wood.
When Should You Avoid Burning Wood Pellets?
You should avoid burning Wood Pellets in poorly ventilated areas, or in cases where the fire will be unattended. Pellets burn long and hot, which is a hazard for unattended fires.
When sourced responsibly, Wood Pellets are a convenient, effective, carbon neutral biofuel. You can use them for a variety of purposes, although you may need to buy an insert to convert an existing device for burning pellets. You can also buy systems intended to burn Wood Pellets. Many diverse types mean you have a lot of flexibility when using Wood Pellets. The only true downside to pellets is their higher cost per pound, which can make them unmanageable for some.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.