The art of smoking foods has been around for centuries, and it has been one of the first techniques used for food preparation.
Today, innovations in outdoor cooking equipment allow the use of hardwood pellets to infuse wood flavors and a smoky flavor to meats.
These pieces of equipment include vertical pellet smoker and pellet grills.
However, many who do not have access to such equipment think that cooking over charcoal is their only option.
They sometimes ask themselves, “Can I use wood pellets in a charcoal grill?”
If you are one of them, you’ve come to the right place.
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What Are Wood Pellets?
For those who do not yet know, wood pellets are pressurized or compressed wood particles from hardwood shavings and sawdust.
A pellet manufacturer uses the wood’s all-natural binding agent, lignin, to form these wood particles into pencil-thick rods.
To create the pellets, makers break these rods into smaller pieces, usually about half an inch long.
Can I Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill?
The short answer to this question is definitely, yes.
Using wood pellets to add smoke flavor to charcoal grills has been a practice for many who enjoy outdoor cooking.
As a matter of fact, mixing the use of charcoal grills and pellet smokers has been a technique exploited in barbecue competitions across the country.
As an at-home user, the trick is to use barbecue wood pellets during the cooking process.
Many types of meat get a smoky flavor profile from these wood pellets, significantly improving food quality.
However, there is a technique to it.
Pellet grill makers and pellet manufacturers design and formulate their products to maximize the robust flavor profile one can add to cooked meat.
With charcoal grills, getting the amazing smoke flavors into the meat is not always a bit more complicated.
Mixing charcoal with pellets can improve the smoke flavor in your food, and you don’t need to spend so much on expensive pellet smokers.
Using Charcoal Vs Wood Pellets
There is a difference between using charcoal and wood pellets as a source of fuel for charcoal grills.
While pellets are not ideal for smoking food on a charcoal grill, mixing pellets with charcoal has many benefits.
One advantage of wood pellets is that you won’t get your hands dirty every time you add pellets to your grill.
Another advantage of wood pellets is clean smoke, which can reduce the possibility of bitter-tasting foods.
Charcoal emits very little smoke when burning well, so it doesn’t add that smoky flavor that most people enjoy.
Of course, the advantages of a steady burning natural fire can be hard to beat. This is why charcoal is a go-to grilling fuel for many people.
When combining charcoal and wood pellet, you can get the perfect balance of the slow, clean burn of charcoal and the smoky wood pellet flavors in your food.
Different Types of Wood Pellets
When choosing a source of fuel for your charcoal grill, you should pay attention to the type of wood pellet to use.
Not all wood pellets are suitable for cooking, and some of them can ruin your food.
Food Grade Wood Pellets
Different brands of wood pellets offer plenty of flavor variations for you to choose from and experiment on.
Just be sure that the pellet manufacturer you are buying from only makes food grade wood pellets.
You can find high-quality wood pellets for cooking in packages indicating the type of wood used:
- Mesquite Pellets
- Hickory Pellets
- Pecan Pellets
- Apple Pellets
- Cherry Pellets
- Oak Pellets
- Maple Pellets
These woods add a natural sweetness to the taste of food
If you want the different flavors of wood pellets infused into your food, you will also find variations of wood pellets mixed into a single pack.
Some pellet manufacturers only make wood pellets for the single purpose of heating homes.
Heating pellets may come from recycled wood planks containing inedible substances, such as paint residue and dangerous chemicals for wood treatment.
It would be best if you did not use these pellets on pellet grills, as they can be harmful to your health.
Using Wood Pellets on Charcoal Grills: Step-by-Step
Pellet grill makers design energy-efficient devices that use fruit woods and mild woods as a source of fuel, but they usually cost too much.
With a charcoal grill, you can take advantage of the slow cooking process and get the smoky flavor attributed to pellet grills.
To get the different pellet flavors into your food, all you have to do is mix pellets with charcoal.
Follow these steps:
Step 1: Light Up Some Charcoal
Begin the cooking process by starting a charcoal fire as you normally would.
First, add crumpled newspaper to your chimney starter, and fill it close to the brim with charcoal.
Remove or lift your grilling grate and position the chimney starter at the bottom of the grill.
If you do not have a chimney starter, tuck the crumpled paper into the bottom of your grill and cover it with charcoal.
Use a match or stick lighter to set the crumpled paper on fire.
If you’re patient enough with this method, you don’t have to use lighter fluid to set your charcoal ablaze.
Step 2: Add the Pellets
Once the charcoal heats up and turns bright orange, move them from the chimney starter to the cooking chamber of your grill.
Spread the charcoal across the cooking area and scatter a thin layer of barbecue pellets evenly over the charcoal.
Wait for the pellets to fire up.
Step 3: Start Cooking
Use a grill thermometer to check if you have the desired temperature in your cooking chamber.
Once you are happy with the heat output, replace the grill grate and start cooking.
Mix more pellets with charcoal and add the mixture into the cooking chamber as you see fit.
If you added enough charcoal the first time, you might not even have to add lump charcoal throughout the cooking process.
As a general rule, add half a cup of pellets to get about 20-25 minutes of smoke.
- Ensure your charcoal is burning well, and avoid adding pellets if the charcoal is burning out.
- Every 30 minutes, add more wood pellets on top of your hot charcoals to continue the smoke generation.
- Never add more pellets if the last pellets have not entirely burned through.
- Adding a larger quantity of pellets will likely not add more smoke but will result in flare-ups.
- Keep the charcoal bed free from charcoal ashes, as this will prevent the pellets from smoking quickly.
Using a Pellet Tube Smoker
When grilling with wood pellets, one grilling accessory you can take advantage of is a pellet tube smoker.
Traditionally, you would fill the pellet tube, get it smoking, and place it on the grill grate, which works well.
However, You can fill it with wood pellets and set it atop a charcoal fire.
Place the open end directly on the charcoal and the closed end away from the burning charcoal for best results. This will reduce the likelihood of the entire smoke tube flaring up.
If you dial in this method, you can produce a broad smoke plume to envelope food while cooking.
Recommended Wood Pellets
There are many wood pellets available in the marketplace today so it is a challenge to pick one.
First, let’s start with a flavor, “when in dought, get the pecan out.”
There are so many flavors but it has been our experience that pecan wood pellets are the most versatile flavor going well with the largest variety of foods.
When looking at brands of pellets our tests have shown most pellets to be so similar that it leaves us to question if they are all made in one factory.
Now we know that there are many barbeque wood pellet factories, but our point is that any good quality pellet should work fine.
Our top choice is Pecan Flavor BBQR’s Delight Smoking BBQ Pellets.
We have found this product works well, tastes good, and has been readily available.
Can I Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill?
Using pellets in charcoal grilling is a technique practiced by many barbecue lovers.
Try it out and mix different flavors of barbecue wood pellets with your charcoal grill.
With some experimentation, adding wood pellets can provide you with better-tasting food.