Can You Use Pellets in an Electric Smoker? Answering a Difficult Question

August 22, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

In short: It depends on the brand. Some brands such as Char Broil has a smoker box for various types of fuel. On the other hand, if you are using a Masterbuilt electric smoker, you’re not supposed to use wood pellets.

Coming from a long line of pitmasters, I have had plenty of practice using a wide variety of smokers. I have also done my fair share of experimenting.

In this post, I will answer the question can you use pellets in an electric smoker in great detail. Let’s get started!

Can you use pellets in an electric smoker

Is It Possible to Use Wood Pellets in an Electric Smoker?

Now, I should say that this is a hotly debated argument. Unlike with using wood pellets with a propane smoker, there is far more opposition here. There are some who say that it is perfectly alright to use wood pellets in an electric smoker and others who think that it is a bad or even dangerous idea.

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So, who is right? Well, there isn’t a wrong or right side per see.

The thing is, wood pellets have been designed for pellet smokers and pellet grills and not an electric smoker. The pellet smoker contains a system of hoppers, augers, and firepots that work to transport and burn the wood pellets.

An electric smoker, on the other hand, does not have such a system in place. Despite this, it is still technically possible to use wood pellets in an electric smoker.

The better question, though, is should you?

Well, each electric smoker is different. As such, I would advise you to check the user manual for guidance. In cases such as the Masterbuilt electric smoker, you will find specific guidelines telling you not to use pellets.

The Char Broil electric smoker, on the other hand, has a smoker box that can take either wood pellets or wood chips. Thus, here you can use it.

As for the Pit Boss electric smoker, there are no instructions provided.

My advice would be to err on the side of caution. If pellets are specifically banned with your particular electric smoker, then steer clear. If anything goes wrong during the smoking process, you will be held accountable and the warranty will be void.

Keep in mind, manufacturers know their machines best of all. They know what can help it run as well as what can cause it serious damage. As such, it is best to follow their guidelines to prevent any unnecessary issues.

For the brands that don’t specify against using wood pellets, you can give it a try. I would still do some research or ask pitmasters about their experiences to see if you should go ahead with this experiment or not.

pellets heat wood

Tips for Using Wood Pellets in an Electric Smoker

If you do insist on using wood pellets in your electric smoker, then you should follow these guidelines:

Start with a Shorter Cook

If you are going to be smoking a brisket or something equally as large in your electric smoker, then I would skip the pellets. Use wood chips for a long and good smoke.

When testing out wood pellets, it is a good idea to cook something small and relatively fast cooking. This leaves less room for something to go wrong or for your electric smoker to begin malfunctioning.

Steaks or smaller roasts are some of the options for such an experiment. And, avoid in investing in expensive meats in case the cook doesn’t go the way that you want it to.

Choose the Wood Pellets Carefully

The first thing that you should do is ensure that you are using high quality pellets. Now, usually, I would say that it wasn’t important to use pellets that are of the same manufacturer as you electric smoker.

Under these circumstances, though, it is probably best. There is a chance that you using pellets that are of the same brand as your electric smoker may yield better results.

The other thing to consider is the wood pellet flavors. As you are aware, the smoke flavor produced by these pellets are infused into your food. Thus, you need to choose a flavor that complements the meats you are cooking.

Keep in mind that options such as hickory and mesquite can produce slightly bitter smoke. Oak, is a milder version but can still be too strong for some delicate meats. If you are looking for something light and sweet then go with fruitwoods like apple, cherry, pecan, and maple.

Use a Smoker Box

Now, most electric smokers cook food by the hot air produced by the electric heating element. In these machines, the smoke comes from the wood chips that are arranged on a wood chip tray.

I would advise against placing the wood pellets there, however. Instead, add the pellets to a smoker box and keep it on the heating element. This way, the pellets don’t come into direct contact with any of the heating components.

This can reduce the risk of anything going wrong and also offers up greater smoke control during the cook, too.

Use a Lower Temperature

Since you can’t be certain of what is going to happen when you add wood pellets to your electric smoker, it is always best to start smoking at a lower temperature.

Now, some people do suggest cold smoking, but I don’t think this is a good idea. Cold smoking is where you smoke foods at a temperature below 140 degrees F. The problem is that the risk of food poisoning when cooking at such temperatures is high.

I would suggest starting off at around 180 to 200 degrees F. Of course, you can simply use the smoke setting on your machine. Most electric smokers have smoke settings that are around that range.

Healthy Chicken Skewers

Keep a Close Watch

Usually when you use your electric smoker you are probably used to setting up temperature control and then walking away. When testing out pellets, though, you should stay close to the electric smoker for the duration of the smoke.

For one thing, you will be able to see if the pellets are producing as much smoke as is needed to cook and flavor the meat. For another, if anything is amiss, then you can stop the smoking process and power down the grill immediately.

How Often Can You Use Wood Pellets in Your Electric Smoker?

If your first experiment was a triumph or at least concluded without any major issues, you may be wondering if you can repeat it. And, if so how many times can you use pellets instead of wood chips?

Personally, I would tell you take the win and to avoid using pellets in your electric smoker again. It is difficult to know what continuous use of the pellets may do to your smoker.

If you do happen to run out of wood chips and only have pellets to work with then, sure, you can use it in case of an emergency. Otherwise, stick to the wood chips or chunks as much as possible.

In doing so, you can guarantee an uneventful smoke. You will also have an easier time smoking your meat to the right flavor and texture. It can also be done at a faster rate.

So, why create any unnecessary hassle for yourself by using pellets in an electric smoker when you can just use the recommended wood chips instead?

Why are Wood Chips Best for Electric Smoker?

There are plenty of differences between wood chips and pellets. The main element, though, is that they burn at different rates.

Wood pellets burn hotter, but take a longer time to catch fire. Wood chips, on the other hand, catch fire much sooner but they also burn faster and you have to replace them fairly often.

Nevertheless, wood chips are seen as the more natural option. They are literally smaller pieces of wood. As such, they give off a more authentic smoky flavor. You can also guarantee that they don’t contain any additives, either.

What About Wood Chunks?

Wood chunks are essentially a larger version of wood chips. The benefit here is that these pieces can burn for a longer time. This makes them ideal for longer smokes. It isn’t uncommon to use both wood chips and larger pieces for the same cook. This way, you get the best of both worlds.

Still, it is a good idea to check whether your electric smoker brand will accept these type of fuel. The Masterbuilt electric smoker does, but there is a precaution you need to follow.

The Masterbuilt electric smoker manufacturer maintains that you shouldn’t use any wood that is larger than the size of the fist as this can cause issues.

Thus, always read the instruction manual of your smoker brand to determine if you can use the larger wood chips and if there are any guidelines that you should follow when doing so.

shavings trim wood chips

Wrapping It Up

Whether or not you can use wood pellets instead of wood chips is entirely up to the brand of smoker that you are using. While it is not possible with options such as Masterbuilt electric smokers, you may potentially be able to get away with it with Pit Boss electric smokers.

Still, always be cautious whenever you experiment with using wood pellets. After all, you don’t want something to go wrong, do you? Thus, you should take all necessary precautions.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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