How to Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill


Want to use the beautiful aromas and flavors from your pellets in your grilling? It turns out it’s not as tricky as you might think. Here’s how to use your wood pellets in a charcoal grill.

how to use wood pellets in a charcoal grill

Wood pellets are a fantastic fuel source. They don’t contain any of the bark or dirt that standard wood logs do, so they burn cleaner. They also cost less per energy unit than almost all other types of fuel, including lump charcoal or briquette brands.

Today I’m going to show you how wood pellets can help meat flavor, the benefits of using wood, and how to use them.

wood pellets in smoker

How Do I Use Wood Pellets on a Charcoal Grill?

Ready to get the most out of your new favorite wood fuel? Here’s how to use wood pellets in your grill the right way.

Mix Your Pellets With Charcoal

It’s absolutely fine to use these little wood bullets on a charcoal grill, but you need to make sure that you are using barbecue pellets (not the heating kind I outlined above).

Some people might want to use pellets on their own, but I prefer to mix them with charcoal. This helps ensure that heat levels stay high enough to cook with, while also still leaving a good amount of flavor on the food. On their own they tend to burn out far too quickly in a charcoal grill.

Use a Chimney Starter

Fire up your grill by using a chimney starter. If you haven’t done this before then be sure to get a good durable starter (they’re fairly inexpensive but will last you for ages) and then check out my guide how to start a charcoal grill.

Transfer the lit coals from your starter to your grill. Put the lid back on but leave your vents wide open.

Add Your Pellets

Once you are sure that your charcoal grill has heated up, add your wood pellets to the coals. Try to toe the line between sprinkle a small amount over and heaping a load on top. We only want to impart flavor here, so just add a very thin layer of them over the coals. As a measurement guide, I try to use about half a cup, which should buy you about 30-40 minutes of smoke.

Once the pellets ignite then you are ready to cook for food. It’s best to wait until this point because then you’ll know that your pellets are emitting a good amount of wood flavor.

Open the Vents Halfway

Close the lid back on top, and tweak the grill’s vents to be half open. Use your grill thermometer to gauge if you need to open or close them.

If you need more time, then after about 30 minutes you will need to remove your grill’s lid and add more wood pellets.

Consider a Pellet Tube Smoker

pellet smoke tube lit

Pro tip: Try using a pellet smoke tube. These robust little tubes work by you filling them with pellets before placing on top of your lit coals. The pellets are then packed in tightly together which means they emit a much stronger flume of smoke, creating a stronger and more robust flavor for your food.

The good news is that smoke tubes are cheap to buy, but are one of the best investments you could make for your home grilling and barbecue.

What Are Wood Pellets?

The vast majority of modern pellets are made from a combination of sawdust and wood shavings. These are then compressed together through the use of a binding agent before being exposed to heat.

wood pellets for charcoal grill

They’re pretty small in shape, resembling a bullet, but they’re powerful in impact. They’re mainly used for wood pellet grills, and fans rave about the beautiful and unique wood flavors they bring to their food. It’s a type of flavor that gas or charcoal simply doesn’t give you.

Find out the big differences between pellet grills and charcoal

To be clear, here we’re talking about barbecue pellets, not heating pellets. Barbecue pellets are designed to be used safely with food without passing any dangerous chemicals onto your food. Heating pellets on the other hand are designed for appliances like home heaters and as a result to contain harmful chemicals.

If you’re going to buy wood pellets, always make sure that you are buying ones that are specifically designed for BBQ or outdoor cooking.

Pellets also come in different flavors, which means that you can enhance your cooked meat by using flavors like hickory, apple or mesquite.

It’s why wood pellet smokers and grills are becoming more and more popular, as people look for ways to improve their grilling even further.

What you might not know though is that you can actually use these pellets in your charcoal grill to enhance your cooking even further. No need to change grills from charcoal or gas to wood. No, no, no.

If you think about it, it does make sense. The most traditional type of fire that we can think of is a log fire.

Cooking with wood has grown in popularity however, with many people starting to opt for wood pellet grills over gas or traditional charcoal models. Perhaps it’s brought on by people wanting to recreate something similar to their home wood fires, or perhaps people want to be able to impart a bit more flavor on their food using flavored wood. Either way, a lot of people are keen to use it as a different means of fuelling their outdoor cooking.

The truth though is that you don’t necessarily need a wood pellet grill in order to use the fuel type. If you already have a charcoal grill that you’re happy with then we can simply adapt it to start using wood pellets as a fuel source.

What Are the Benefits of Using Wood Pellets for Grilling?

Compared to charcoal, wood pellets are far more eco-friendly. They’re made from wood shavings and sawdust which means they’re repurposed materials.

Just be sure to avoid pellets containing chemicals or additives, as these are far more likely to be toxic.

Wood pellets are also far more energy efficient (source) and come in a large range of flavors and aromas. Some of the most popular flavors are oak, hickory and mesquite, while fruitier varieties are available, like apple or maple. What I particularly love about them is that different flavors match different kinds of meat better. For example, applewood matches perfectly with pork, while a deeper wood like hickory can really bring out the best in a beef brisket.

Pellets also tend to be much easier to clean up as they don’t leave a lot of leftover ash, and they also burn more evenly with far fewer heat fluctuations than charcoal often presents.

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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