Can You Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill? – The Best Way to Do it

If you have a charcoal grill and you want to smoke some meat, you need some way of actually getting smoke. If you have smoked before on your charcoal grill, you’ve probably been using something like wood chips or chunks. Or maybe it’s you first time smoking, and are unfamiliar with the whole process.

In this article, we will look at using wood pellets for generating the smoke for giving your meat that smoky flavor. We will also look at how to best use the pellets, the benefits of using pellets, and more.

Even though wood pellets are made for pellet smokers, they can definitely be used in a charcoal smoker, and it works quite well actually. Wood pellets will smoke almost immediately once heated up, and will generate a lot of smoke in a short time period. This will give a lot of flavor really quickly.

There are a few ways of using them in a charcoal grill. The most popular method is to first heat up the charcoal until they have that burning glow and then sprinkle the pellets on the charcoal. The pellets will smoke the same minute you sprinkle them into the hot charcoal. You can also use a pellet tube or a smoker box.

Should you use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill for Smoking?

First I want to say that using wood chips and wood chunks is the way that you are “meant” to generate smoke in most types of grills. Pellets are built mainly for pellet grills which automatically adds in new wood pellets when needed.

Using wood pellets is still a good way to get smoke is definitely a great option as long as they’re built for cooking. The flavor is usually always good, and you will get a lot of smoke.

That being said, pellets won’t last for that long, so you will need to keep re-adding them if you’re smoking for longer periods of time.

So yes, use wood pellets if you have them. In my experience you will get great results; the flavor is good and the food will definitely get smoked. They smoke quicker than wood chips, but also run out a lot faster.

Benefits of Adding Wood Pellets to a Charcoal Grill

There are actually some benefits of using wood pellets in a charcoal grill, which we will look at now.

  • Wood pellets are made out of tightly pressed saw dust which allows them to generate a lot of smoke very quickly. In my experience, this is actually a quick way to get a little bit of that smoky flavor while cooking your meat without having to smoke for multiple hours.
  • They are very easy to use. Just chuck them in the charcoal when the charcoal is ready. You don’t need to worry about soaking anything doing anything else.
  • Pellets are very cost efficient compared to it’s counter parts. Due to how they’re built, they will generate more smoke and heat per dollar than wood chips or wood chunks.
  • Using a pellet tube you can pretty easily use wood pellets for cold smoking. Since it’s cold smoking it also doesn’t require any charcoal for heat. It works by filling the pellet tube with pellets, and then lightning one end on fire. After a few minutes the pellets will smoke. Close the lid and you can now do cold smoking.

The Downside of Using Pellets

The following is really the only notewothy downside of using wood pellets in my experience; If you’re smoking for longer periods of time you need to add in pellets more often so you don’t run out of smoke.

You can’t counter this by adding a lot of pellets at once as it will generate too heat and too much smoke.

You will need to constantly keep an eye on your grill and add in new pellets as needed.

Wood chips are a bit easier to use than wood pellets in my opinion. I wrote and article about wood pellets in an electric smoker. Electric grills mainly uses wood chips for smoke and there lot of comparison between the two types of wood.

Can I Use Pellets INSTEAD of Charcoal?

We have mainly talked about using pellets for adding flavor, but you can actually also use wood pellets as the only heat source without using any charcoal.

I will, however, first say that mixing charcoal with pellets is the best way to go as it is a lot easier to get constant heat with charcoal, and they will also last much longer than pellets. It is also a lot easier to get high temperatures with charcoal.

That being said, It’s actually possible use pellets instead of charcoal altogether. I wouldn’t really recommend as it’s hard to do. The difficult thing is to get enough heat, and often you will just end up with way too much smoke and little to no heat. It’s not impossible but it can be hard, especially if you’re a beginner. I would only do it if you don’t have any charcoal.

How to Use Pellets Instead of Charcoal

Here is how I would go about doing it. The difficult part is getting a high enough temperature, but the trick is to keep the pellets on fire as it will generate the necessary heat.

  1. Pour in the pellets into the grill
  2. Set pellets on fire. Preferably use fire starters and BBQ lighter as it will be easier to get enough fire.
    You need to make sure that the pellets ignite and that the fire keeps burning for a while at least. Otherwise you will end with a very low temperature. When you think the fire is strong enough and that it will keep burning, you can close the lid and let the temperature rise.
  3. The pellets will gradually begin to smolder and generate smoke. Hopefully by now the temperate is rising. Make sure that the fire doesn’t run out, as the temperature will drop.
  4. Depending on how high a temperature you want, you will need to keep the pellets on fire. Fire means combustion, and combustion means heat (combustion is basically a chemical process that generates heat).

If you’re using pellets you probably want to smoke, which is often somewhere between 200-300 degrees F. If you’re not smoking you can actually also get enough heat for high temperature grilling and even searing.

If you want to do long term smoking with pellets only, you will manually need to refill the grill quite often and reignite the pellets to keep the temperature constant.

I found this video that I think will help you get a clearer image of how to use pellets as fuel.

Using Pellets instead of Charcoal

How to Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill for Smoking

Using wood pellets for smoke works great in a charcoal grill, and it’s very easy. There are a few ways of doing it. The simplest and most straightforward method is simply to sprinkle them on the charcoal, but we will also look at using a pellet tube and a smoker box.

Let’s look at the things you need to do when using wood pellets.

Firing up the coal

First and foremost we need to heat up the coal, and you probably already know how to do this. Using a grill starter is probably the best method, but you can also just throw the coal directly in the grill and heat them with a BBQ lighter.

When the charcoal get that red hot burning glow get them in the grill if they aren’t already there, and get ready to add in the pellets.

Sprinkling the Pellets Into the Charcoal

The most straightforward way is simply to sprinkle the pellets directly on the charcoal. They will begin to smoker almost immediately.

Pellets produce a lot of smoke very easily, and in a very short time, and they are also likely generate a lot of heat. Make sure not to add too many at once, as you will generate too much of a heat spike and a whole lot of smoke. You want an even temperature throughout the entire smoking process.

Re-adding Pellets

Pellets are usually used in a pellet grill that automatically dispenses pellets into the smoker throughout the smoking process. Since you don’t have this type of luxury on a charcoal grill you’ll need to add new ones in when needed.

Pellets are made of saw dust and they burn out fairly quickly. I would check every hour or so. As said before, when you adding in new pellets don’t add to many. One or two handfuls should do it.

Also Read: How Long do Pellets Last in a Pellet Grill

Using a Smoker Box

A good way that works for both pellets and wood chips is to use a smoker box. Simply put the pellets into the smoker box and place it somewhere on the grill rack above the charcoal. A smoker box usually has holes on the lid so that the smoke can escape.

If you don’t have a smoker box, you can also just pack the pellets in an aluminum foil wrap, and poke some holes on top for the smoke.

Using a Pellet Tube

You can also use a pellet tube. A pellet tube works by filling it with pellets, and then igniting the pellets one end of the tube. The pellets in the tube will burn from one end to the other. This will take some time, and that way you don’t need to worry about refilling pellets as often.

As mentioned before, you can also use a pellet tube for cold smoking as you don’t need the charcoal.

Final Thoughts

Using wood pellets in charcoal grill is definitely a good way to add some additional flavor. In my experience it gives equally good results as using wood chips or wood chunks. You can also use them as a replacement for charcoal altogether. This is fairly difficult as you need make sure that the pellet stay on fire, so that they generate enough heat. It can easily happen that you will end up with a lot of smoke and almost no heat.

Mixing them with charcoal is the best option. Use the charcoal for heat, and use the pellets for flavor. All you need to remember when working with pellets is that they pack a punch and will produce a lot of smoke quickly. If they combust they will also produce a lot of heat. Don’t add in too many and you will be fine. Also, pellets will burn out fairly quickly so you’ll to re-add new ones slightly more often than with something like wood chips.

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