Pellets and wood chips are very different and should be chosen specifically for the type of smoker you are using.
Let's take a look at whether you can use pellets in an electric smoker safely.
Whether you have recently purchased or frequently use an electric smoker, you understand you need some kind of wood to...you know...smoke the food.
But what type of wood is the best option and does an electric smoker work in the same way as a pellet smoker?
In this article, we will be discussing if you can use pellets in an electric smoker.
We will go into detail about the differences between an electric and pellet smoker, wood chips vs wood pellets, and the best type of wood to ultimately use in your electric smoker.
What Type of Wood do I Need for my Smoker?
While they all heat and smoke the food that is being cooked, there are some fundamental differences between the various types of smokers, and what kind of wood product to use.
(Just to clarify, we are not talking about type of wood like hickory, oak, etc., but size and shape of the wood like chips, chunks, or pellets.)
What Is An Electric Smoker?
In general, electric smokers are a reliable cooking source because they allow the temperature of the food to remain extremely consistent like an oven as they are plugged into your electricity.
You do not have to worry about adjusting the valve on a propane gas canister or stoking and managing charcoal during the cook.
For a beginner, an electric smoker may be the best option as they tend to be easier to use compared to all the other options mentioned.
Two potential downside to having an electric smoker is that it needs to remain close to a power source, whereas you have more freedom of portability with a gas or charcoal smoker.
Also, In terms of the highest temperatures they can reach, gas and charcoal smokers can typically reach a higher temperature compared to an electric smoker.
Like an oven, the food in an electric smoker is cooked from the hot air produced by the electric heating element. To smoke the food you need to add a wood fuel in a separate pan that also gets heated up to create the smoke.
Wood chips are made from the same type of wood as wood pellets but are a different shape and consistency. Instead of being in the shape of pellets, wood chips are chips of wood that are around two inches long.
They are still reasonably priced and help to create the smoky flavor you know and love from a smoker.
They are the more favorable option when using an electric smoker because they provide a smokier taste to the food and will burn for longer than the wood pellets.
This is particularly useful in an electric smoker as the food typically cooks at a lower temperature over a longer period. By using wood chips, smoking will be consistent over a longer time.
As with wood pellets, you can get wood chips in a variety of flavors to help enhance the taste of the food you are smoking, such as hickory, maple, and oak.
What are Wood Pellets?
In a previous article, we covered how pellet grills work and how they burn small pieces of compressed sawdust called...you guessed it, pellets... at a specific rate to create the amount of heat and smoke you desire.
Like electric smokers, pellet grills, like the ones we like from Zgrills usually have a digital controller where you set a dial or touchpad to maintain a steady temperature for the grill/smoker.
An automatically run auger then slowly feeds these pellets to an electric heating element that ignites the pellets thus providing both your heat and your smoke for the cook.
As the temperature rises, the auger stops. As the temperature falls back down, it starts back up and feeds more pellets in order to maintain a consistent temperature range.
One downside to the conveniences of a wood pellet grill is that you usually have to use THEIR brand of pellets as well. Which you guessed it...are specifically custom sized for their grills.
There are off-brand varieties you can purchase but you need to make sure they are the correct size to be compatible for your grill or they might get stuck in the hopper or auger and jam up the insides.
Can You Use Pellets In An Electric Smoker?
So...electric smokers recommend using wood chips in the smoking tray but all you have are wood pellets just sitting around and waiting to be used in that big bag that came with your pellet grill.
So can you use wood pellets in an electric smoker?
This is a question that is unfortunately highly debated with no concrete and clear answer to be found on the web. While some say that you can, others strongly recommend that you do not.
If wood pellets are all that you can use, they will not necessarily break your electric smoker, they just might not be as effective at smoking your food in comparison to wood chips.
Pellets, being so much denser, won't burn until they reach a higher temperature, such as when they come into direct contact with the electric heating element of a pellet grill.
However, the lower heat of an electric smoker smoking tray, which will cause wood chips to smolder, may not prove enough heat to have the same effect on the pellets.
Some hybrid brands of electric smokers such as the Bradley models DO use a heating element and feed own brand of compressed sawdust pucks to accomplish this, however, once again you must use THEIR brand of pucks.
"All I Have are Pellets, I Want to Try it Anyways"
If you really ONLY have pellets and want to give them a go anyways in an electric smoker tray designed for chips here are a few tips:
- As they burn at a higher temperature, those who have used them in their electric smoker have recommended putting a small number of wood pellets in at a time, instead of filling the tray.
- Spread them out to decrease the density and allow them to smolder better. Add them in small quantities at a time until you see how they react in the smoker.
Should I Wet The Wood Chips Before Smoking?
Although we discussed this topic at length in our article about how to use a smoker box, we thought we would go ahead and answer this one more time because it is one of the biggest mistruths in bbq. (And there are a lot).
There is absolutely NO REASON to EVER SOAK your wood chips.
Soaking them in water does not cause them to smolder. Lack of oxygen is what causes wood to smolder and create smoker.
Hence the use of an oxygen-limiting smoker box, cooking chamber, or electric smoker tray.
If you throw a handful of wet wood on hot charcoals, it will not smoke. It will STEAM for about 10 seconds before the water evaporates and they ignite. No smoke.
You need to limit the oxygen.
First of all, soaking wood chips in water for only 30-60 minutes will not soak the wood, this is why we make boats out of wood.
Second of all, it will only delay how long until your wood DOES start smoking as you wait for all the water to evaporate.
While it is not universally recommended or ideal, if you exercise caution, you can use pellets in an electric smoker.
However, wood chips are likely to work better in an electric smoker, and it also depends on the brand.
If your specific make and model of smoker strongly advises against using wood pellets, we recommend that you follow this advice.
And NEVER try the other way around by feeding wood chips or the wrong size pellets into a pellet grill hopper.
Looking to make some puled pork in your electric smoker? Check out this article discussing our favorite wood chips for making pulled pork.
Here are some of our other favorite varieties and brands of smoking wood chips for your electric smoker:
|Zorestar Wood Chips for Smokers - 6 pcs Variety Pack of Oak | Alder | Cherry | Apple Chips for Smoking and Grilling + Bonus e-Book
|Western BBQ Smoking Wood Chips Variety Pack Bundle (4)- Apple, Mesquite, Hickory, and Cherry Flavors
|Jack Daniel's 01749 BBQ Smoking Chips, 1 pack, Black
|Oak, Cherry, Hickory, and Alder Wood Smoking Chips- 4 Pints - Wood Smoker Shavings Value Pack- Resealable Pints of Extra Fine Cut Sawdust - Perfect for Smoking Guns, Smokers, Smoke Boxes (0.473176 L)
|Wood Chips for Smoking Variety Pack, 2 Lbs Each, Apple, Mesquite, Hickory & Cherry Flavor Wood Chips for Smokers & Grills, Bake, Roast, Braise and BBQ, 4-Pack | USA Made
|BBQr's Delight Wood Smoking Pellets - Super Smoker Variety Value Pack - 1 Lb. Bag - Apple, Hickory, Mesquite, Cherry, Pecan and Jack Daniel's
|Camerons Wood Smoking Chips Variety Gift Set - Set of 8 Pints (0.473176 L) Extra Fine Cut Sawdust - Smoking Guns, Smokers, Smoke Boxes (Oak, Apple, Cherry, Pecan, Maple, Bourbon, Hickory, Mesquite)