Can You Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill: C’mon Let’s Light Your Fire

November 17, 2022

Yes, you can use wood pellets in a charcoal grill but you can’t use them as the only source of fuel – you have to use coal as well.

Charcoal grills are great but let’s face it, they can produce a lot of stinky smoke. So, at some point or another, you may have wondered can you use wood pellets in a charcoal grill? I have been grilling for a couple of decades now so I have had the opportunity to try out various wood sources and pellets do work.

Below, I am going to talk about how to use wood pellets along with coal, the advantages of doing so, and some bonus tips. Let’s get started!

Can you use wood pellets in a charcoal grill

Can You Use Pellets in a BBQ Grill?

As you are aware, hardwood pellets are traditionally used in a wood pellet grill. And, traditionally, you use wood chunks or sometimes wood chips in a charcoal grill.

However:

Can you burn wood pellets in a grill?

Yes, you can use wood pellets in charcoal grills, they don’t just have to be used in pellet grills or wood pellet smokers. They can be a great substitute for wood chips.

That being said, you can’t use wood pellets alone in your charcoal grill. This is because charcoal grills are designed in the same fashion as wood pellet grills. Instead, the wood pellets have to be combined with the lump charcoal.

What to Know About Using Wood Pellets?

Now that you are aware that you can use pellets in a charcoal grill, let’s take a closer look at how this can effect your smoking and cooking:

Cleaner Smoke

There is no denying that charcoal is great for grilling and smoking – in fact, it is one of the oldest fuel sources for barbecues.

That being said, charcoal can be messy, producing a thicker and darker smoke. This has a tendency to impart a deeper smoke flavor. Now, in some cases this can be good but if the flavor profiles of the meat is quite mild, then this much smoke can make the food taste bitter.

Pellets, on the other hand, burns much cleaner. So, it produces just the right level of smoky flavor for all meats.

Now, you may be wondering:

Are wood pellets healthier than charcoal?

There is no evidence to prove that pellets are healthier than burning charcoal or burning wood.

What’s more, there are so many wood flavors to choose from – as many as if you were using wood chips. This includes everything from apple, cherry, and pecan wood pellets all the way up to oak, hickory, and mesquite.

Burns Hotter

Unlike with wood chips and wood chunks, all the moisture has been removed from the pellets. This allows them to burn at a much higher temperature.

Best of all, due to the similarity in size and the dryness, the pellets also burn at a more consistent temperature and rate. Not only is this is great for keeping the temperature in the cooking chamber steady, a more consistent amount of smoke is produced as well.

Produces Smoke for Longer

The pellets also smoke for a longer period of time. This means that you can use fewer pellets during a single cook, saving you money and hassle in the long run.

This does mean that the pellets can take longer to burn and, in turn, this can lengthen the cook. This is something to be aware of when adding it to your grill.

Metal Grill Over A Campfire

How to Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill?

Want to know how to use wood pellets in charcoal grills? Well, here are the step by step guidelines to follow:

Step 1: Use a Chimney Starter

As I mentioned, while you can use wood pellets in a charcoal grill, you can’t use the wood pellets alone.

Due to this, you will need to get your charcoal grill going using charcoal first. Now, you may have your own way of doing this, but I prefer using a chimney starter as this is the best way to get a charcoal grill going without using any kind of lighter fluid.

Add the charcoal to the starter – fill it up as much as you will need for your charcoal grill. Then, light the fire using a lighter cube. Alternatively, you can keep a piece of newspaper at the bottom of the starter and light it on fire.

Place the starter in the charcoal grill and wait for it to catch fire and warm up.

Once this has happened, empty the lit coals into the charcoal grill.

Step 2: Add the Wood Pellets

Once the coals are in the grill, you may want to arrange them. For instance, if you are smoking meat, you will need to create two zones. One will have direct heat and the other will have an indirect heat.

Pile the hot coals to one side of the grill. This will be the direct heat source. The other side is where you will place the meat.

Once the coals have turned to ash, it is time to add in the wood pellets directly on top.

So, how many wood pellets should you add?

Well, this really does depend on how long the cook is going to be and how much smoke flavor you want. On average, though, about 1/4 cup of wood pellets should do.

After the heating pellets begin to produce smoke, then add the meat and close the lid.

Step 3: Smoke Meat Until Done

Wood pellets tend to burn hotter but more slowly than charcoal or wood chips. Due to this, it is unlikely that you will need to add any more wood pellets during the cook.

Still, keep an eye on the smoke and top it up if needed.

Unlike with a pellet grill, the charcoal grill will not stop smoking just because there are no more pellets. The charcoal will fuel the fire but the smoke may not be as clean as with the wood pellets.

Tips for Using Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill

Here are the top tips to follow when using pellets in a charcoal grill:

Burnt Wood in a Grill

Use High Quality Pellets

First things first, always buy high quality wood pellets. No two brands are alike so make sure to invest in a good one.

Now, pellets are a bit more expensive than wood chips, charcoal, or chunks. That being said, these pellets – especially the high quality ones – can last longer. Due to this, invest wisely and you may end up saving money later on.

Pay Attention to Flavor

As with wood chips and chunks, the wood flavor is important. And, as I mentioned, there are different pellet flavors to choose from.

If you are smoking something like chicken, turkey, or pork – stick to the sweeter fruitwoods like apple, cherry, pecan, maple, etc. For beef, you can try mesquite and hickory.

If you are hoping for a more balanced flavor, then you can mix and match. However, don’t change the overall quantity of pellets used.

Use a Pellet Tube Smoker

You should use something that is known as pellet tube smokers. They are cylindrical devices into which the pellets are put in and ignited. This creates a greater concentration of smoke.

You will discover that it is more efficient than simply adding wood pellets to the coals.

Store the Pellets Carefully

This is a bit of a side note but it is definitely one that you should pay attention to. As I said, all the moisture in pellets have been removed which is what makes them so great for burning.

However, if the pellets are stored in a damp place, then the pellet will get ruined and will need to be thrown out.

Wrapping It Up

As you can see, you can use pellets in your charcoal grill. And, now you know exactly how to do this. So, you can get a cleaner, tastier cook with the greatest of ease. Make sure to follow the tips mentioned here for the best results!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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