Answers to all your wood pellet safety questions. Pellet chemical content and health information to keep you safe when cooking with pellets.
A common concern with all types of grills is whether the fuel we use is toxic. Charcoal grilling has sparked debate about the presence of carcinogens in smoke; with propane was the inhalation hazard; and drive around with wood pellets when the fuel is dangerous.
Are grill wood pellets poisonous? And if ha, to what extent? Does the risk outweigh the reward? Let’s take a deep look at this article.
First a disclaimer. I am by no means a health professional, nor am I a scientist. I just want to lay out all the facts that I know and summarize them neatly so you can make a sensitive decision for yourself. I’ll put links to everything I’ve read on the subject and be as transparent as possible.
How are grill wood pellets made?
Wood pellets come in many forms and can be used for many purposes, but in grilling and pellet smoking grills they are made from compacted sawdust.
The wood, sometimes fresh, sometimes recycled, is processed in a hammer mill. The mill grinds and beats the wood until it forms a mixture indistinguishable from dough. This condition facilitates the handling of the wood and its pressing through pellet forms.
The dough is made into holes with a diameter of about 6 mm by a press. Quickly think of this as a cheese grater.
As the wood goes through this stage, it also heats up. This helps the granules to solidify and also allows the natural binders in the wood to reactivate and form a natural glue that holds the granules together once the wood cools again.
After cooling, the granules are cleaned and dusted to remove all traces of sawdust. They are then packed and distributed.
This process is an excellent way to ensure each pellet is packed as tightly as possible so that it can deliver as much heat and energy as possible when used.
The process also ensures that very little moisture remains in the wood. This ensures that each granule can burn to its full potential without being dampened (literally) by any water content.
A dry and tightly packed wood pellet guarantees high energy and maximum combustion.
Are wood pellets toxic?
When the granules are prepared by the above method, there is little risk of toxicity.
The production process is such that the wood pellets used are produced in the most natural way possible, without only using the original proportion of natural wood.
This method is used by well-known brands such as Pit Boss and Traeger. If you’re also buying a big brand, you don’t have to worry.
If you buy cheaper granules, there is a high chance they use chemical binders or additives in their granules to account for production costs.
This not only applies to wood pellet production, but also applies to cheap briquette and charcoal production.
Discover the differences between pellet and charcoal grills
Whether they’re in the form of fillers or flavor enhancers, there’s a risk your pellets will become spoiled by the addition of chemicals, especially if they’re subjected to heat and burned to release chemicals.
It is recommended to avoid these and always buy all natural wood pellets from reliable brands.
That’s not to say that natural wood pellets don’t have their own dangers, though ( source ).
Aside from the obvious fire hazard that applies to any thermal fuel, emissions from your grill should be a primary concern.
Like all wood, pellets emit carbon monoxide gas. Prolonged exposure to this can be harmful, so always try not to be in direct line with smoke emissions coming your way.
However, the good news is that you are not in any real danger if this happens. Exposure to carbon monoxide would require standing in smoke for significant hours and burning at high temperatures.