How to Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill (Should You?)

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If you use a charcoal grill for your outdoor cooking experiences, you may be wondering if you can add wood pellets into the mix. Will it ruin your grill? Will it even work?

In this TheGrillingDad.com article, you’ll learn:

  • If you can use wood pellets in your charcoal grill
  • How to make it work
  • And much more!
a charcoal grill with hot coals and a grilling grate over the top

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Can You Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill?

Have you been using a charcoal grill to cook outdoors but are looking for a way to bring in a little more smoke? You have come to the right place because we are going to tell you how you can add wood pellets to your charcoal grill to change the flavor of your favorite meats.

The answer to the question of whether or not you can use wood pellets in your charcoal grill is a resounding yes. You can use wood pellets to create a smokier flavor profile for your outdoor cooking sessions.

While this is something you can do, you will want to follow specific instructions to ensure that you are doing it correctly. Keep in mind that you cannot replace your charcoal with wood pellets, but you can add them into the mix.

Related >> How Much Charcoal To Use In a Grill

What You Need to Know About Using Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill

Even though it is perfectly safe to use wood pellets on your charcoal grill, there are specific factors that you should consider first. These factors are designed to shed some light on the appropriate usage and what you should avoid.

It is important to keep in mind that charcoal should always be the main source of fuel in your charcoal grill. This is because wood pellets typically burn much slower than charcoal and can lead to your food cooking unevenly.

Wood pellets, though designed specifically for pellet grills, can be used to compliment your charcoal and add a delicious flavor to your favorite meats. This is to say that using wood pellets should be done sparingly and not as the main source of fuel.

Related >> How Fast Does a Pellet Grill Heat Up

How to Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill

If you have decided to try using wood pellets in your charcoal grill, there are specific instructions that you should follow. It is important to know that these instructions are designed to help you to use the pellets correctly so you will get the best smoky flavor profile for your meats.

Curious as to how to use wood pellets in your charcoal grill? Follow these steps to learn more.

1. Light Your Charcoal Grill

Using the methods you would typically use, start the process by lighting your charcoal grill to get the charcoals heated up. Whether you put your charcoal into the base of the grill and use a starter fluid or use a chimney to light your coals, this is the first step in the process.

Keep in mind, most charcoal grillers prefer to use a chimney starter to light their charcoal grill since it is a much easier process. All you have to do is put a bit of newspaper in the bottom of the chimney and then fill the rest with charcoal.

Once your chimney is filled with charcoal, you can then light the newspaper which will in turn ignite the charcoal. After the charcoal has turned a white, ashy color, you are ready to pour them into the charcoal base.

We have a guide on other ways to light a charcoal grill without lighter fluid or a chimney

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2. Add Wood Pellets

As soon as your charcoal is in the base and heated to the desired temperature, it is time to go ahead and add in your wood pellets. You will need to be careful at this point to not add too much of the pellets so you do not smother the charcoal.

Related >> How To Control the Temperature of Your Charcoal Grill

Most experts who have used this method suggest that you scatter the pellets evenly across your charcoal to achieve a more evenly distributed cooking experience. Once they are added in, you can then replace your grill grates and wait for the wood pellets to ignite.

For most grilling sessions, you may only need about a ½ cup of wood pellets to be able to produce smoke for about 45 minutes. If you need longer, you can always add more pellets to ensure that the smoke stays the entire cooking time.

3. Start the Cooking Process

Once you have your charcoal and wood pellets fired up and ready, then it is time to start cooking your favorite meats! The process for cooking should be the same from here on out when it comes to grilling your food.

You should, however, keep in mind that you may need to add more wood pellets along the way if you find that there is less smoke than you want. The best advice is to add in more wood pellets for about every 30 minutes of cooking time.

wood pellets going into a charcoal grill

Why You Should Use Wood Pellets in Your Charcoal Grill

If you have been using your charcoal grill for some time and wonder why you would ever add in wood pellets, there are quite a few advantages you should consider. At the heart of the process, however, is your personal preference and what flavor profiles you are trying to reach.

Wondering why you should use wood pellets in your charcoal grill? Keep reading to find out.

Smoky Flavor Profile

For many people, there is nothing better than having a robust, smoky flavor profile in your favorite meats. In most cases, while charcoal will produce a unique flavor, it does not quite reach the level of smokiness you may be interested in.

Wood pellets on the other hand, because they are made from real wood, will give you not only a smoky flavor, but also come in a wide variety of flavors. This is mostly because wood pellets are made from various types of wood such as apple, hickory, mesquite, pecan, cherry, and even alder. 

Easy Clean-Up

If you are wondering how much extra work you will have during the cleaning process if you add in wood pellets, the answer is not much more. This is because wood pellets leave behind very little ash and residue.

Because of this, most of your cleaning after the grilling session will be used to clean out the ash that the charcoal left behind. This means that using wood pellets does not add to your cleaning time, so giving it a try may be worth it in the long run!

Related >> How To Clean a Charcoal Grill

Eco-Friendly

Wood pellets are made using scrap wood or sawdust of otherwise processed wood in lumber yards. Once this is collected, it is compressed together to form wood pellets that you use today in most pellet grills.

Since wood pellets are essentially repurposed wood, they are deemed as being an eco-friendly choice when it comes to using them in outdoor cooking. In most cases, they are not treated with chemicals before they are packaged, however, you should check to be sure.

lit charcoals in a charcoal grill

Tips on Using Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill

Knowing that using wood pellets has many benefits when used in your charcoal grill should be enough to pique your interest in trying it out. While it is a simple way to add variety to your outdoor cooking experience, there are some things you should keep in mind.

Tip #1: Your Food Will Taste Different

Anytime you do something different with your grilling sessions it can affect the result. This sometimes means that your food comes out tasting somewhat differently than you might expect it to. 

In the case of adding wood pellets to your charcoal grill, you should be able to notice a different flavor profile in your meats. This is because the wood pellets alone will add a smoky flavor, not to mention if you are using ones that come from a specific wood.

It is important to experiment with different types of wood pellets as you get into using them along with your charcoal. You may discover that you prefer specific flavors more than others on certain foods.

Overall, the goal of adding wood pellets to your charcoal grilling sessions is to add a more robust and smoky flavor to your favorite foods. Because of this, it should be expected that your food will taste much better than just using charcoal.

Tip #2: Make Sure You Purchase the Right Wood Pellets

Like other outdoor cooking products, there are many different brands and varieties of wood pellets on the market. In addition to the many flavors that exist, you will also find that some of them have been processed with certain chemicals. 

To get the flavor profile you are looking for, it is important to purchase wood pellets that have not been processed with chemicals. This is because instead of just the smoky flavor, it will also give it a somewhat chemical taste.

Another reason it is important to look for the right wood pellets is that you don’t want to make the mistake of purchasing heating pellets instead. Heating pellets are designed to be used as fuel for heating pellet stoves and other heating units inside the home.

If you make the mistake of purchasing pellets that are either not designed for outdoor cooking or have added chemicals, you will be disappointed in the result. While one will only give your food a chemical taste, the other choice could be toxic, so be careful.

Related >> Wood Pellet Storage Ideas

Tip #3: Do Not Use Wood Pellets as the Main Source of Fuel

If you have decided to try using wood pellets in your charcoal grill, there are many things that you need to consider before putting it into action. While making sure you buy the right kind is important, you should also consider how much you need.

Since wood pellets burn off quickly in a charcoal grill, they are not meant to be the only source of fuel. They are meant to be an addition to your charcoal to give your food a more robust smoky flavor.

According to most grilling experts, it is recommended that you start with about ½ cup of wood pellets. You may add additional pellets about every half hour you are cooking if it seems that the smoke is dying down.

Alternative to Using Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill

For those who are not quite ready to experiment with using wood pellets in your charcoal grill to produce more smoke, there are alternatives out there. Using a smoker tube or box can give you the smoke you are looking for without having to worry whether or not you are using too many wood pellets.

A smoker tube or box is an inexpensive alternative to tossing wood pellets on your charcoal grill and will produce the same amount, if not more, smoke you desire. These tubes or boxes are filled with wood chips and placed directly on the charcoal fire to add that smoky flavor profile you are looking for.

As with most things you experiment with, there is a bit of a learning curve with using a smoker tube or box. You will need to be careful and monitor the smoke that comes out so you do not overpower your food with the smoke that is produced

At the end of the day, smoker tubes and boxes can be a great alternative to wood pellets in your charcoal grill. They can provide you with the smoke you desire and can last much longer than the wood pellets that you toss on top of your charcoal.

If you want to learn more, we’ve got a guide on using wood chips on your charcoal grill.

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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