Skip to Content

How to Use Wood Pellets in a Charcoal Grill (better flavor!)

Using wood pellets in charcoal grills is a great way to add unique flavor and smoky goodness to your outdoor cooking. So here’s how to use wood pellets in a charcoal grill.

As a general rule, add smoking wood pellets to a charcoal grill using a pellet grill tube though they can also be sprinkled on hot coals or placed in a foil pouch that sits on the hot coals.

Whether you’re using gas grills, electric grills, or charcoal grills, adding hardwood pellets can help enhance the taste of any dish. After all, not all of us can afford a wood pellet grill such as a Traeger.

Before beginning, it’s important to understand how to safely and effectively use wood pellets in a charcoal grill.

From choosing the right type of pellet for your needs to avoiding flare-ups caused by too much heat, we’ll cover everything so that you can get the best results from using wood pellets in your next barbecue.

Table of Contents:

wood pellets charcoal lg

Choosing the Right Wood Pellet for Your Grill

Wood pellets are an excellent choice for adding wood flavors to your grilled foods.

Whether you’re using a hardwood, charcoal or gas grill, wood pellets can add a unique smoky flavor that will enhance the taste of whatever you’re cooking. Before utilizing wood pellets for your grilling, it is critical to recognize which type is most suitable and how they should be applied.

When choosing wood pellets for grilling, consider the type of food you’ll be cooking and the desired level of smoke flavor.

Different types of hardwood such as hickory, oak, mesquite, and pecan provide different levels of smoke intensity so choose accordingly.

Hardwood pellets are ideal because they burn longer than softwoods like pine or cedar which tend to burn too quickly when exposed to high temperatures from direct heat grilling methods such as searing steaks or roasting vegetables on a hot fire.

If possible, buy high-quality wood pellets from reputable manufacturers as lower-quality products may contain additives that could affect the taste of your food.

CLICK HERE to see my favorite wood pellets on Amazon!

Once all other factors have been considered, it’s just a matter of finding what flavors work best together when mixing different types of wood into one batch.

For example, think about combining sweet fruit woods like cherry with stronger-tasting varieties like mesquite.

This way, even if one variety burns out quicker than another, there won’t be an overwhelming difference in taste due to its partner providing some balance throughout the entire process while still giving off plenty of flavorful smokiness from both sides.

Selecting the ideal wood pellet for your grill may seem challenging, yet with attentive thought to taste and heat production you can find one that fits your requirements.

With proper preparation before use, it’s time to explore whether or not soaking wood pellets in water prior to grilling will improve their performance.

Check out my recent article on the best wood pellet flavors to use for chicken on a grill!

Key Takeaway: Wood pellets are a great choice for imparting smoky, complex notes to your barbecued dishes when using either charcoal or gas grills. To create the desired flavor, it’s essential to select an appropriate hardwood and explore the potential of combining different types.

Do You Soak Wood Pellets Before Using in a Charcoal Grill?

Wood pellets can be an excellent option for infusing smoky flavor when grilling.

However, when adding them to your charcoal grill there is an important question that needs answering: should you soak the wood pellets before using them?

The short answer is no.

Unlike wood chips which need to be soaked in order for the water content inside of them to evaporate and create smoke, soaking wood pellets will not make any difference as they do not absorb water as chips do. Soaking also takes away from their natural flavors, so it’s best avoided if possible.

And because wood pellets are basically compressed wood akin to particle board, soaking too long might actually cause them to dissolve.

Instead of soaking the pellets, simply put them directly into your charcoal grill or pellet tube smoker after lighting the fire with lump charcoal or briquettes.

Key Takeaway: Wood pellets are a great way to add flavor and smoke to your charcoal grill without the need for soaking, providing an array of delicious smoky flavors. For larger smokers with pellet hoppers, fill it up before lighting and keep preheated ashes untouched underneath for consistent temperatures throughout cooking.

Can You Add Wood Pellets Right to the Charcoal in a Grill?

It’s not suggested to combine wood pellets with charcoal in a barbeque in large quantities.

Wood pellets are made of compressed sawdust and other hardwood particles that burn hotter than charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal.

Adding them directly to hot coals can cause flare-ups and create too much heat for your food.

If you do decide to add wood pellets right on top of your lit charcoal, make sure you buy high-quality ones like pecan or hickory which provide more intense flavors than cheaper varieties.

But also just gently sprinkle them over the charcoal or (before lighting), mix the pellets in thoroughly with the charcoal.

More on the “sprinkle” method below.

You should also be aware that, unlike charcoal, wood pellets don’t stay lit for long so if you want sustained smoky flavor throughout your cooking process then you’ll need to keep adding them regularly.

It’s best to use either a foil pouch or pellet hopper instead, as they will help keep the temperature steady while adding flavor from the smoke created by burning wood pellets.

More on that next!

What Are the Best Ways of Adding Wood Pellets to a Charcoal Grill?

Using a pellet tube for wood pellets on a charcoal grill

Another option is using a pellet tube smoker like this one on Amazon – these are designed specifically for adding smoke flavor without having to open up the lid of your grill and risk losing all that delicious heat.

They’re easy enough for anyone new to grilling with wood chips or chunks; just fill the pellet smoker tube up with pellets, light one end, and let it sit over indirect heat until its contents have burned out completely (usually takes about an hour).

This particular one is an Amazon’s Choice product, currently under $20 bucks, with almost 14,000 near-perfect reviews!!

CLICK HERE to check the current price on Amazon.

Using aluminum foil for wood pellets on a charcoal grill

Using the foil pouch method for wood pellets to be used in conjunction with charcoal grilling is a great way to add flavor to your food.

The pouch should be placed directly on the hot coals, as this will allow the pellets to smolder and create smoke that will infuse your food with flavor.

However, it is important to keep the pouch closed while it is on the coals, as this will help contain the heat and ensure that the pellets burn slowly and evenly.

If you place the pouch on a cooking grate, it may not get hot enough to smolder and create smoke.

When using an aluminum foil pouch for wood pellets, it is important to keep an eye on it while it is cooking.

The pouch should be removed from the coals once all of the pellets have burned up, as leaving them in too long can cause them to catch fire.

Additionally, if you are using a grate instead of placing the pouch directly on the coals, make sure that there is enough space between the grate and coals so that heat can still reach the pouch.

Using the sprinkle method for wood pellets on a charcoal grill

The sprinkle method for wood pellets is a great way to add a smoky flavor to your food when using a charcoal grill.

The amount of wood pellets you use will depend on the size of your grill and the type of food you are cooking.

Generally, it is best to sprinkle the pellets on top of already hot coals or on top of unlit coals before lighting. This will ensure that the pellets are evenly distributed and that they have enough time to burn and release their flavor.

If you want an even stronger smoky flavor, you can mix the wood pellets in thoroughly with the charcoal before lighting. It’s really just about personal preference and how much smoke you want.

This will ensure that all of the charcoal is infused with smoke as it burns. However, be careful not to add too much as this can cause flare-ups and make it difficult to control the temperature.

Once your grill is lit, adding more wood pellets during the cooking process is not necessary unless you want an even stronger smoky flavor. If you do decide to add more, be sure to do so sparingly as too much can cause flare-ups and make it difficult to control the temperature.

Key Takeaway: Using wood pellets in a charcoal grill can add intense flavor, but it’s best to use foil pouches or pellet hoppers instead. For more smokiness without having to open the lid of your grill, try using a pellet tube smoker; alternately, mix some soaked wood chips into the coals before lighting up for an easy solution.

Do Wood Pellets Cause Flare-Ups in a Charcoal Grill?

Bear in mind that wood pellets can produce a higher heat than conventional charcoal briquettes.

This means that if you use too much of them, they could cause an unexpected flare-up on your grill. To avoid this, start by adding just a few handfuls of pellets and see how it goes from there. If the heat gets too intense, cautiously add pellets bit by bit until you discover an ideal temperature for your cooking.

Another factor to consider when using wood pellets in a charcoal grill is their size and shape.

Be sure to pick pellets of the correct size and form that fit into your grill without hindering air passage or clogging vents. Smaller pieces may be easier to work with but larger ones may provide more consistent heat over time which can be beneficial depending on what type of food you’re grilling.

It’s also important to note that different types of woods have different levels of flammability so choose wisely based on what type of flavor profile you want from your grilled foods – mesquite has an intense smoky flavor while applewood provides a sweeter taste with mild smokey notes.

You’ll also need to soak hardwoods such as oak before putting them into the fire because they take longer to ignite than softer woods like pine or cedar do which helps prevent flare-ups caused by dry wood igniting too quickly inside the firebox.

If all else fails and you still experience the occasional flare-up due to burning wood chips or chunks, try increasing the distance between them and whatever it is you’re cooking – a technique commonly referred to as ‘banking’.

This should help reduce any risk associated with flying embers or sparks coming off those hot spots near where food would normally go directly onto the grate.

Key Takeaway: Employing wood pellets in a charcoal grill can be advantageous, yet monitoring the temperature level is important to prevent unexpected flare-ups. Additionally, different types of woods have varying levels of flammability so choose wisely based on what flavor profile you want from your grilled foods and if all else fails try increasing the distance between them and whatever it is cooking – often referred to as ‘banking’.

What Are the Benefits of Using Wood Pellets on a Charcoal Grill?

One of the main benefits of using wood pellets on a charcoal grill is that they provide a more intense flavor than regular charcoal.

The smoke produced by the burning wood adds an extra layer of flavor to your food, making it more flavorful and complex. Additionally, wood pellets burn hotter than regular charcoal, allowing you to cook food faster and more evenly.

This makes it easier to achieve the perfect sear or char on your food without having to constantly adjust the temperature of your grill.

Another benefit of using wood pellets on a charcoal grill is that they are much easier to clean up after use than regular charcoal.

Since they are made from sawdust, they don’t leave behind any ash or residue like regular charcoal does. This makes it much easier to clean up after grilling and ensures that your grill stays in good condition for longer periods of time.

Finally, wood pellets are also much more environmentally friendly than traditional charcoal.

So even if you use them with charcoal, you can still use less charcoal than normal.

Since they are made from sawdust, they don’t produce any harmful emissions like regular charcoal does when burned. This makes them a great choice for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint while still enjoying delicious grilled food.

Are Heating Pellets Different from Smoking Pellets (and can they be used on a grill?)

Heating pellets should not be used on a grill or added to charcoal.

Heating pellets are designed to be used in pellet stoves and furnaces while smoking pellets are designed for use in smokers and grills.

They are softwood pellets typically. But may also contain hardwoods, repurposed materials, and forest scrap, while smoking pellets are made from hardwoods like oak, cherry, hickory, pecan, and apple.

Heating pellets also contain sap and resin which can cause them to burn faster than smoking pellets.

Heating pellets produce more heat than smoking pellets because they burn faster. They also produce more ash than smoking pellets because of the sap and resin content.

The ash produced by heating pellets can clog the burn pot of a pellet stove or furnace if not cleaned regularly.

Smoking pellets produce less heat but create a more intense smoke flavor when used in a smoker or grill.

Heating pellets could be used on a grill but they will not provide the same flavor as smoking pellets. The sap and resin content of heating pellets will cause them to burn faster than smoking pellets which will result in less smoke flavor being imparted to the food being cooked on the grill.

Additionally, heating pellets will produce more ash than smoking pellets which can clog up the grills burners if not cleaned regularly.

And they may also impart a chemical taste that will negatively impact the flavor of your food.


By using wood pellets in combination with hot coals, you can achieve the desired smoky flavor of hardwood without experiencing any flare-ups or drastic temperature changes.

Wood pellet smokers are pricey!

So this is a great way to add the different flavors to a charcoal smoker or grill in a way that won’t break the bank.

The best way is to place them on top of hot coals for maximum temperature control and indirect heat for even cooking results. Keep experimenting with different types of wood pellets until you find the perfect combination that will give your food an unforgettable taste.

Image by Ernesto Rodriguez from Pixabay and Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

As an Amazon Associate I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases if you click to Amazon from my site and choose to make a purchase. You can read my complete affiliate disclosure for more details.

Jeff Campbell