Wood Pellets vs. Wood Chips: Getting to the Root Of It

November 16, 2022

As far as wood pellets vs. wood chips go, the differences include burning efficiency, smoke consistency, flavor, longevity, price, and more.

My family are old-school BBQ-ers which means that I grew up using wood chips in my grills and smokers. And, it continues to be my favorite today. That being said, it is important to understand the difference between each fuel source so that you can make an informed decision for yourself.

In this post, I am going to talk about how wood chips and pellets are made, how they work, and what the pros and cons are. Let’s begin!

Wood pellets vs wood chips

Are Pellets the Same as Wood Chips?

The first thing that I want to clear up with wood pellets vs. wood chips is whether or not they are the same.

No, wood pellets and wood chips are not the same. Yes, both wood pellets and wood chips are technically made from the same base substance, but they have a different form and different function.

As the name suggests, wood chips are made from the wood of deciduous nut and fruit trees. The chips are made from wood chunks that have been passed through a wood chipper.

On the other hand, wood pellets are made from compressed fiber such as compressed hardwood. This comes from sawdust that is created when wood is being lumbered.

The process to make wood pellets is a bit more complicated. It starts by removing the moisture from the fiber. The fiber is then ground into dust. This dust is fashioned into small cylindrical pellets.

Yes, although they may function differently, wood pellets and wood chips are used for smoking meats and other food items.

Which is Better Wood Chips or Pellets?

Let’s face it, this is the real reason that most people are interested in wood pellets vs. wood chips – they simpler want to know which one is better.

Well, here is a here a breakdown of wood chips vs. wood pellets:

Efficiency

Wood pellets certainly win in this round. The thing about wood pellets is that they catch fire more easily. As a result, they begin to produce smoke at a faster rate, allowing the smoking to get started earlier on during the cook.

As an added bonus, wood pellets burn slowly, which ensures that wood pellets are able to manage a low temperature which is just what you need when slow cooking meats.

Consistency

If you are looking for consistent smoke, then you should purchase wood pellets for the job. As the wood pellets burn slowly, they release smoke at a more a measured rate. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about your meats cooking too quickly or too slowly.

Wood chips burn at a faster rate which means that sometimes a great deal of smoke is released and at other times, less smoke is released.

I have also found that pellets offer more control. As it easier to determine the rate at which the pellets are smoking, you can ensure that your meat cooks and smokes at the perfect rate.

So, if you want greater consistency choose wood pellets.

Wood pellets in hands

Flavor

I do have to admit that I can’t declare a winner as easily when it comes to flavor. This is because I have found that each of these fuels work better in varying circumstances.

As wood chips burn quickly, more smoke is produced. This means that more flavor is released into the meat as well. However, at times, this smoky flavor can be a bit overpowering.

This is why I find that woods chips are great for smoking strong flavored meats like beef, while they are not as well as suited to chicken, turkey, and pork.

The wood pellets create less of a smoke flavor, although it is still noticeable. This makes it perfectly suited to more delicately flavored meats as you don’t have to worry about the smoke overpowering the natural flavor profile.

If you want to use pellet smokers and still get that strong, smoky flavor, then you can use a pellet tube smoker.

Here, a greater number of wood pellets are stuffed into a tube with holes. This concentrates the smoke and lets it out accordingly.

Versatility

I would argue that wood chips are the more versatile fuel source. This is because wood chips can be used with a charcoal grills, electric smokers and grills, and gas grills too.

Pellets, on the other hand, can only be used with a pellet grill. It certainly can’t be used with a charcoal grill or a gas grill. In some instances, depending on the make and model, it may be used with an electric smoker or grill.

This doesn’t mean that the wood pellets aren’t versatile in their own way. Not only can they be used in pellet smokers, but they are also great for cold smoking.

This is when you want to smoke nuts, cheese, and delicate meats without having the foods or meat cooked.

Longevity

If you have ever wondered:

Do pellets smoke longer than wood chips?

Then the answer is a resounding yes! As I have already mentioned, pellets will burn at a slower rate than wood chips. Due to this, the pellets are able to last a lot longer during the smoke.

This makes them especially well suited to long cooks. Unlike with the wood chips, you don’t have to worry about constantly refilling the smokers or grills when smoking larger cuts of meat.

It also means that you don’t go through as many pellets as you do wood chips. And, this can help you save money in the long run.

Price

If you are trying to look for the right fuel source for you, then you have to consider cost.

When it comes to the upfront cost, wood chips are more cost effective. This is because there is less process and procedure involved in making the wood chips.

Pellets, on the other hand, take more time and equipment. There is also the fact that various brands can try to mark up the price by claiming that the pellets have various features.

The upside, though, is that pellets last a lot longer during the smoke. Therefore, you don’t have to use quite as much. In turn, you don’t have to buy as much as you would wood chips over the same period of time.

Wood Chips for Smoking

Can I Use Wood Pellets Instead of Wood Chips?

In most cases, you can’t substitute wood chips with pellets. This is because they have a completely different makeup.

Pellets are meant for pellet smokers and chips can be used for most other grills and smokers.

In the case of some electric smokers, you may be able to use pellets instead of wood chips. Typically, though, there needs to be a different attachment or else you can’t swap out one fuel for the other.

Always check the manufacturer’s instructions before choosing chips or pellets.

A Note About Soaking Wood Chips

Now, I can’t talk about pellets and chips without talking to you about soaking chips.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of people do this. They believe that this helps to create more smoke but this isn’t the case at all.

First of all, to truly smoke the chips, you would have to leave them in water for many hours to ensure that all the moisture is properly absorbed.

What’s more, when you try to smoke with wet wood all that you get is steam. So, instead of smoking meats, you end up steaming them.

Not only is this going to make your cook take longer, your smoked meats won’t taste the same. Not to mention, you don’t get that gorgeous crispy layer on top.

Wrapping It Up

This is what you need to know about the differences between wood pellets and wood chips. Now that you are aware of them, knowing the right fuel source for you is going to be a breeze. Not to mention, you are now aware of which one you should steer clear of, based on the grill or smoker that you are using.

Happy smoking!

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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