Grilling can be done with different techniques, but of late, pellet grills have claimed the spotlight. People believe that cooking the meat in the smoke and smell of hardwood pellets adds largely to the flavor, and that is true. Moreover, they infuse the meat with soft and woody flavors that is impossible to achieve otherwise.
But as great for the cooking these are, there is one thing that a lot of people wonder – are wood pellets toxic? Could they be dangerous to health? And truth be told – we weren’t sure ourselves. We knew of the basic grilling safety and that grilling can be dangerous if you don’t follow the rules and consume too much grilled meat. But never thought about the actual possible dangers of pellets themselves.
So, we decided to investigate this further and learn whether are wood pellets toxic no matter what or is it just about the safety rules?
How Are BBQ Wood Made?
When we want to understand are wood pellets toxic or not, we first need to understand how these are made and used.
Wood pellets are used for various purposes and thus can be made in several ways. But when it comes to wood pellets for smokers, these are made of compacted sawdust. So in the process of making these, recycled or fresh wood is put under a hammer mill and processed. The hammer mill converts the wood to fin dough-like consistency which then goes through molding. These are then pressed into holes that are 6 mm in diameter. At this stage, heat is also applied to the pellet grills to help in compressing.
What are Fillers in Pellets?
Fillers in pellets help to create consistency when it comes to burning.
Blended wood for smoking ribs, cheese, or any other food needs fillers since some woods burn faster than others. Thus, fillers try to bring a balance.
Moreover, fillers allow for a stable burn rate. And unlike wood chunks, pellets do not give homogeneity to your fire to feed on.
Wood Pellets vs Food-Grade Pellets: What’s the Difference?
When it comes to answering questions such as do wood pellets contain chemicals, it’s important to understand the different types of pellets that are available in the market. These come in two varieties – wood pellets and food-grade pellets.
Wood pellets are made of charcoal, different fillers, and softwoods which makes them unhealthy for smoking purposes since they leave a chemical-like smell and taste. You must also keep in mind that wood pellets are mostly used in heat sources, like stoves. So they are not the best choice for cooking.
Meanwhile, food-grade pellets are made from leftover wood materials that are natural and safe. They have fewer fillers and won’t tamper with the taste of your food to influence your health at all.
So, are wood pellet grills healthy? – Yes, but only if you use 100% natural food-grade pellets as a fuel source.
Are Wood Pellets Safe to Cook With?
Pellets that are made from 100% natural materials will not cause any harm when smoked. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t run across untrustworthy companies that may not deliver the safest and best pellets. Thus, it’s always better to go with a more popular and reliable company that has good user feedback. Generally, Traeger pellets are best when it comes to smoking and grilling – they are neither toxic nor inauthentic.
Does Grilling With Pellets Cause Cancer?
People keep asking if wood pellets toxic but to be honest, eating much-grilled meat is pretty risky on its own.
Whenever we engage in cooking meat with charcoal grills or gas, it produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, along with heterocyclic amines. These are also called PAHs and HCAs respectively.
HCAs are a result of cooking meat at a high temperature. High temperature causes the chemical property of the meat to change which can cause a change in the genetic material of the consumer. This has sometimes been known to increase the risk of cancer.And when fats and juices from the meat drip into the fire while cooking, it produces carcinogenic substances that have health risks and leads to cancer. PAHs can also be formed in the smoke, that comes out from charcoal and wood pellets.
How To Be Safer When Cooking With Pellets
The chances of having cancer from pellets or wood grilling are very very slim. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re 100% safe – it’s always best to remember about proper safety:
- Try avoiding uneven heating and flare-ups. You may also use a temperature controller for the best results.
- Slow and low cooking is not only the best taste-wise but also health-wise. Intense heat will leave your meat dry and also opens up the chances of carcinogenic substances coating your food.
- Avoid charring of meat, while cooking with wood pellets.
So with that, all said, are wood pellets toxic? – Depends on where you use them. If you use them for stoves, they are relatively harmless, however, they are absolutely not for cooking your food. Thus, If you’re planning on buying wood pellets for the grill, it’s best to get food-grade pellets and keep in mind all the safety tips. If you follow these, the chances of your getting cancer or anything remotely toxic through the grilled foods become very slim.