How Are Traeger BBQ Wood Pellets Made?

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Traeger Pellet Grills LLC was started in 1985 by Joe Traeger and is now based in Salt Lake City, Utah, under different ownership. Wood pellet grills and BBQ wood pellets have become a niche of the wood fuel industry. However, while wood pellets over the previous decades have been a very small niche in the BBQ industry, it’s grown considerably. Where previously, Traeger pellet grills were only available in the US and Canada, they are now sold all over the world.

Traeger Pellet Grills
Traeger produces a wide range of domestic wood pellet grills/smokers:

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Introduction To Traeger Pellets

Below, I’ve included our BBQ pellets database so you can see the full range of BBQ pellets that Traeger currently produces.

Update: You may want to check out my Traeger pellets review article, where I reference a blind taste test, a Traeger patent, and a lawsuit against Traeger on how their pellets are made.

Below, I’ve included a video I found on the Traeger wood pellet manufacturing process. While generally similar to how all wood pellets are produced, there are a few notable differences.

While it’s generally acknowledged that cooking with charcoal produces improved flavored food over gas, the cooking process is harder to control.

BBQ wood pellet grills use a hopper and feed auger in a similar fashion to pellet stoves and boilers. Therefore, the temperature of the cooking process can be precisely controlled.

How Are Traeger Wood Pellets Made?

While I have my main post on how wood pellets are made, I thought I would share with you Traeger’s own video on their process. It’s slightly different from the ‘normal’ wood pellet production process.

However, most of the equipment is the same. Check out the video below to watch how Traeger wood pellets are made. Please note, it takes 40 seconds to get through the promotional content before they start to show the actual pellet manufacturing process.

At 40 seconds into the video, you start to see the process of how Traeger Wood Pellets are made

Raw Materials and Preparation

Making Traeger Wood Pellets
Traeger has to deal with a range of woody biomass materials to produce their BBQ wood pellets

One area where Traeger has a different (and generally) more difficult pellet manufacturing process is dealing with a wide range of raw materials. They produce BBQ wood pellets from Hickory, Mesquite, Apple, Cherry, Oak, Alder, Pecan, Maple and various other blends.

That’s a lot of raw material management to take care of. Its also interesting to note that Traeger appears to be making wood pellets from whole logs, not just sawdust waste.

Normally with a typical fuel pellet plant, you prepare a standard raw material, typically either softwood or hardwood. You then set up the plant to deal with that particular raw material.

That can involve setting up the hammer mill with a certain-sized screen. It can also involve setting the dryer to a certain rotation speed. Finally, it can involve using a specific die at the right compression ratio in the pellet mill.

With a compression ratio that’s too low, a wood pellet will not form. If the compression ratio is too high, it will lead to a blocked pellet mill die. With Traeger, they have multiple different wood species to deal with in separate batches.

Hence, producing wood pellets to a consistent quality while not blocking the die will be more complicated than a typical plant producing pellets for stoves and boilers.

Now, when you watch the video above, if you pay close attention, you will notice the narrator makes an important point. He states that the other wood species are mixed with alder or oak. Therefore, with an applewood pellet blend, its not 100% applewood.

It’s not clear what percentage of the mixture used to make Traeger BBQ wood pellets is actually applewood. I don’t believe they are mixing the raw materials together before the wood pellets are produced.

As referenced above, this would make the process more complicated and harder to control pellet quality. More than likely, they are mixing the separate batches of wood pellets together before packaging.

Size Reduction via The Hammer Mill

Hammer mill feed hopper

A front loader places the woody biomass into the hammer mill feed trough

The first part of the Traeger wood pellet plant appears to be their hammer mill trough feed hopper. A screw and belt conveyor will then take this material at a controlled rate into the hammer mill.

The hammer mill is likely fitted with a 5mm screen, as Traeger produces 6mm BBQ wood pellets. The material produced from the hammer mill is now a small consistent particle size suitable for the pellet mill. However, the raw material first needs to be dried down to the perfect moisture content.

Drying The Wood Sawdust Before The Pellet Mill

If you have read my main page on how to make wood pellets, you will know that getting the moisture content right is very important. As this is a large-scale pellet plant, Trager is using a large rotary dryer.

The video itself does not actually demonstrate the order of their process correctly, showing images of the pellet mill before images of this rotary dryer.

Large rotary dryer
Traeger is using large rotary dryers to reduce the materials’ moisture content ready for the pellet mill

You have to set up the rotation speed of the dryer to suit the raw material moisture content of the wood you’re processing. In general, the optimum moisture content for the pellet mill is 12%.

As stated at the start of this post, Traeger has significant challenges due to the wide range of woody biomass materials they have to process.

Depending on how long the material has been sat in the yard, that will impact the starting moisture content.

Testing the moisture of the raw material and changing the dryer rotation speed could be very labour intensive. Furthermore, if you get it wrong, it could disrupt the whole process, even leading to a pellet mill die blockage.

While it’s not shown in the video, I would imagine they have inline infra-red moisture meters. These constantly monitor the raw material as it enters the rotary dryer.

The computer can then adjust the speed of the dryer to suit the wide range of different raw materials this pellet plant has to process.

While these inline infra-red moisture meters can be very expensive, on a pellet plant such as this, they can be invaluable. Plus, you also have to remember these are BBQ wood pellets.

On a value-per-weight basis, BBQ wood pellets produce the most profit by far of any other wood pellet sold as fuel or animal bedding.

The Large Ring Die Pellet Mill

Where the Traeger wood pellet process differs from standard fuel pellet production is in the use of food-grade soybean oil.

Vegetable oil is often fed into pellet mills via drip-feed tanks or peristaltic pumps to reduce the pressure within the die and avoid die blockages.

However, too much oil will reduce the compression of the wood pellet to a point where it doesn’t form at a sufficient density. Wood pellet density is crucial for efficient combustion.

Large ring die pellet mill
Traeger uses a large ring die pellet mill and food-grade soybean oil to aid the process

Traeger wood pellets are made with food-grade soybean oil as these are BBQ pellets. The smoke from Traeger wood pellets penetrates the food to produce the delicate and delicious wood smoke flavours.

Therefore using a food-grade oil in this instance is good practice. For standard wood pellet production, it’s common to use other pellet binders to aid the process.

The Differences Between Ring Die and Flat Die Pellet Mills?

Traeger has chosen to use a ring die pellet mill over a flat die pellet machine. The advantages of a ring die are increased roller and die life, more consistent pellet quality and a lower power input per ton of pellets produced.

The material is fed gradually into the centre of the ring die pellet mill. The type of ring die pellet mill Traeger is using is a vertically mounted die. However, there are horizontally mounted ring die variants.

Ring Die Pellet Mill
A typical design of ring die pellet mill

Typically, two rollers are located on the inside of the die. The pellets are produced on the outer edge of the die.

The rollers are not actually set against the surface of the die. There should be no metal-to-metal contact.

The rollers are set with a small gap, typically 1mm, to create a carpet of material against the die. This gap improves pellet quality and also increases roller and die service life.

Now, there are large flat die pellet mills used to produce wood pellets in commercial pellet plants. However, its far less common, as they are not as efficient as ring die pellet mills.

On the small-scale end of the market, particularly low-budget machines, they are commonly flat die pellet mills. The most frequently seen small flat die pellet mills are made, as you have probably guessed, in China.

Can you produce wood pellets/BBQ wood pellets with a small flat die pellet mill? Technically yes, I’ve done it myself, as you can read on my about page.

However, you need to be aware that its not easy, and it can get very frustrating. If you are able to get the process/raw material controlled accurately enough, it can be done though.

Cooling The Traeger BBQ Wood Pellets and Packaging

Traeger Wood Pellet Packaging
After the Traeger Wood Pellets have been cooled, they are ready for packaging into 20lb bags

After the wood pellets leave the pellet mill, they first need to be cooled before packaging. The wood pellets leave the pellet mill very hot.

As the wood pellets still contain between 7-10% moisture, if they are placed in a plastic bag hot, they will sweat and break apart.

The reason plastic bags are used is it’s very important to protect wood pellets from moisture. Therefore it’s very important to let the wood pellets cool before they are packaged in bags.

Large counterflow coolers will be used where a fan pulls air through the pellets and vents the moist air to the outside.

In the screenshot from the video above, you can see the operator filling standard 20lb bags. This is a typical bag size also used for fuel pellets.

However, you can also source Traeger BBQ wood pellets and other brands in small pouch bags. These can be purchased as part of a set to try and range of BBQ wood pellets in a smoke tube.

Conclusions On How Traeger Wood Pellets Are Made

Generally, the process is very similar to how I describe the pellet production process in my other posts.

The main difference with Traeger wood pellets is the wide range of different species they have to deal with.

Furthermore, they are producing a food-grade product. As Traeger has to source a wide range of wood species, the logistics of getting those different raw materials to their pellet plant in sufficient volumes must be a challenge.

However, it’s important to remember BBQ wood pellets are very profitable. I have a post on the best smoking pellets if you would like to review all the competing brands.

Therefore, while it will take more time and effort, and their raw material will cost more, the results are worth it.

I must admit as well after I used BBQ wood pellets for the first time, the food produced on my gas BBQ just seemed a bit boring! Please review my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide to learn more.

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