If you switched to a pellet grill but miss the charcoal flavor, you may be wondering if you can put charcoal in your pellet grill.
In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you’ll learn:
- If you can use charcoal in a pellet grill
- How you can use charcoal pellets
- And much more!
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Can You Use Charcoal in a Pellet Grill?
While technically, you could put charcoal into your pellet hopper, we would strongly advise against doing so. Using charcoal in your pellet grill could cause many different problems for your cook.
For one, pellet grills are specifically designed for pellet use only. Using charcoal could potentially damage your grill. Burning charcoal in a pellet grill could also cause a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide, which could ruin the taste of your food.
Furthermore, individual pellets are all made to the same uniform shape, to make temperature control and fuel usage easier. Chunks of charcoal commonly come in a varied range of shapes and sizes, making it much harder to heat and control the temperature of the grill.
In case you’re wondering, you can use wood pellets in your charcoal grill, though!
The size and shape of charcoal chunks also makes it essentially impossible for the auger system to filter it into the heating chamber. These chunks could also clog or potentially damage your hopper, so we would not try to use charcoal to fuel your pellet grill.
We would also advise against putting the charcoal in the barrel of your smoker to infuse flavor as well. Since chunk charcoal burns at much higher temperatures than pellets do, using charcoal in the barrel of your pellet smoker could result in temperatures higher than what your grill rates as safe. It may also affect the metal that your smoker is made of, since it is not normally meant to withstand such temperatures.
So, while you could theoretically put charcoal chunks into your pellet hopper, it would cause more problems for you than benefits. However, if you really want to infuse your food with that smoky charcoal flavor, there is an option available to you: charcoal pellets.
What Are Charcoal Pellets?
Similar to normal wood pellets, charcoal pellets are small, uniform pellets filled with charcoal made for use in a pellet smoker. The main difference between wood and charcoal pellets is the composition of the material inside.
Wood pellets are made with 100% wood while charcoal pellets are typically made from 100% charcoal or a blend of wood and charcoal. The ratio of wood to charcoal typically varies from brand to brand, so make sure you know what you need before purchasing.
The percentage of wood to charcoal will depend on how much charcoal flavor you’d like to impart into your food, as well as how fast you’d like the fuel to burn. More charcoal in the pellet will give you a higher cooking temperature and a more intense flavor while more wood in the pellet will give you a longer cook time.
Charcoal pellets are the perfect alternative for those without access to a charcoal grill, who still want to enjoy that nice smoky flavor and higher temperatures on the grill. Now that we’ve gone over what charcoal pellets are, let’s get into how to use them in your grill.
How to Use Charcoal Pellets in a Pellet Grill
Using charcoal pellets in your pellet grill is just as easy as using normal wood pellets. Simply fill the hopper with the pellets, turn on the smoker and let it do the work for you.
Keep in mind that charcoal pellets will burn hotter and faster than normal wood pellets. This is due to the way that charcoal itself burns versus how wood burns.
If you are looking for a low and slow smoking fuel, wooden pellets are probably the way to go. However, if you are looking for a little more heat in exchange for fuel length, charcoal pellets can very much help you. Remember, you can also purchase pellets that are a mix of both wood and charcoal if you are looking to really dial in your ideal temperature and cooking time.
Read on to learn about why you may want to use charcoal pellets in your grill.
Why Would You Want to Use Charcoal in a Pellet Grill?
There are many benefits to using charcoal in your pellet grill. The most obvious is to infuse whatever you’re cooking with that distinct charcoal flavor that wood pellets just cannot offer. This is one of the biggest factors for pellet grill owners who do not have access to a charcoal grill.
Another benefit is the higher temperature cooking. Since charcoal burns hotter than wood does, using charcoal pellets will allow you to reach higher temperatures on your grill which you could not previously achieve using only wood pellets.
The wide variety of blends in charcoal pellets also allows you to choose exactly what percentage of charcoal to wood you have in your pellets. This way, if you want more of a cook time and less of a charcoal flavor, you can use pellets that have more wood. Conversely, if you’re looking for a hotter temperature or a deeper charcoal flavor, go for pellets with more charcoal.
Can You Mix Charcoal Pellets and Wood Pellets?
If you are running low on charcoal and/or wood pellets, in a pinch, you can get away with mixing them in order to get your grill running. Keep in mind that the burn rate of these pellets will be different, so keep note of how much of each you are using.
If you have more charcoal pellets than wood pellets, you will probably not be able to cook for as long as you would since charcoal has a faster burn rate. If you have more wood pellets than charcoal pellets, you may not be getting the temperatures or the charcoal flavor you’d like.
Also remember that mixing these pellets will also change the flavor profile of whatever you are cooking.
If you can help it, though, we would advise against mixing the two different types of pellets, as it will be difficult to control the burn rate, which could cause problems for you during longer cooks.
What to Cook with Charcoal Pellets
You can cook anything that you normally cook on a pellet grill using charcoal pellets. Here are a few examples of some dishes that benefit greatly from using charcoal pellets.
Chicken takes on a completely new flavor when cooked over charcoal, and this holds true when using charcoal pellets. It also greatly benefits from a slower, smoky cook.
We recommend butterflying your chicken legs and covering them with a simple spice mix and some neutral oil before putting them on your smoker. The charcoal pellets will impart a great flavor into your chicken, while the higher heat will also crisp up the skin.
Ribs are a go to dish in the barbeque world; however, they are difficult to cook over charcoal because they require a much longer cooking time than a typical charcoal grill setup will allow. Using charcoal pellets allows you to infuse your ribs with that classic smoky flavor while also letting them get up to temp.
Simply season your ribs with your favorite spice rub and let them cook low and slow on your pellet grill. We would recommend also spritzing them with a combination of apple juice or apple cider vinegar frequently during the cook, and to also finish them off wrapped in foil to develop a bark.
Check out our easy-to-follow 321 smoked ribs recipe.
Since the average wood pellets don’t allow for high temperatures which are best for searing steaks, a charcoal pellet cook would be perfect for a large cut of steak like a prime rib.
Thoroughly season your rib roast, we like to cover it in a compound herb butter. Use an internal meat probe to measure the temp of your prime rib. Start it off at a low temperature and let it smoke until you reach your desired internal temperature, then raise the temperature on your grill to sear the outside.
Burgers are one of the most popular things to cook on a barbeque and they can definitely be done on a pellet grill with charcoal pellets!
Form and season your patties before laying them onto the grill. Cook on a high temperature in order to get a nice sear on the meat. You’ll want to let these cook for at least 30 minutes, flipping halfway through to cook thoroughly. The smoke flavor imparted into the meat will definitely shine through and make for a burger experience you may not have had before!
For seafood lovers, salmon is the perfect fish to enjoy smoked, as it can be delicately cooked and also seared for more flavor.
Lightly cover your fish in a neutral oil and season, and simply lay it on your pellet grill at a low temp for a perfect, flaky salmon filet. We would also recommend laying your fish on a bed of sliced citrus, like lemon, so that the skin does not stick to the grill, and to infuse a nice citrusy flavor into your salmon.
Brisket is a fan favorite in the smoker world, and it is a great way to put those charcoal pellets to use.
Make sure your brisket is trimmed of any extra fat or silver skin before seasoning liberally. We recommend using a binder such as mustard to ensure that the seasonings adhere to the meat. Let it smoke on your pellet grill for at least 8 hours. Make sure to keep your grill filled with pellets to allow a sufficient amount of smoke for your brisket. Also make sure to rest your brisket for an ample amount of time so that it does not dry out when you cut into it.
These are only a few ideas of what you can cook on a pellet grill using charcoal pellets, but the only limit is really your imagination!
Here’s our Texas-inspired smoked brisket recipe.
If you are hosting a large group of people, wings are the perfect party food to satisfy the crowd. They can also very much benefit from being prepared on the pellet grill.
Simply toss your wings in a bit of light oil and a seasoning mix and let them roll on the grill at a medium to high temperature for around 30-40 minutes. Make sure to turn them halfway through to cook them through thoroughly.
If you want to make crispy chicken wings on your pellet grill, check out our video below.
Tips for Cooking with Charcoal Pellets
While cooking with charcoal pellets is more or less the same as cooking with normal pellets, the two fueling options definitely have their differences. Keep these tips in mind when using charcoal pellets for the first time:
- Make sure you account for the faster burn rate of charcoal, as well as the higher temperatures; charcoal pellets may not be best for low and slow cooks
- 100% charcoal pellets are waterproof, meaning you could leave as many pellets as you want in the hopper without having to worry about the weather ruining your supply
- Charcoal pellets allow for your grill to reach higher temperatures, so you’ll be able to sear meats easier
- Different blend percentages of wood/charcoal pellets allow you to customize the flavor profile and temperature of your cooks
- Don’t be afraid to try different brands of pellets to find the right flavor profile and burn rate for your needs
- Pellet grills can be used to bake, grill, smoke, sear, roast, and more, so make sure to use it to its full potential