Wood Chips vs. Pellets

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Last updatedLast updated: April 14, 2021
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If you are a beginner at grilling or smoking, it can be hard to decide what kind of fuel you need to use to add the best flavor to your food. The most natural and ecological choice is a contest of wood chips vs. pellets, and we wanted to see which one comes out on top.

Even if you are using a gas or charcoal grill, adding wood can give your food an authentic smoky quality that’s hard to resist. Larger logs are great if you need to smoke a larger quantity, but for a small scale, at-home use, you should opt for either wood pellets or wood chips.

There is a considerable difference between wood pellets and wood chips and not just because they are used in a different type of grill. Here we look at the breakdown of the two, look at their qualities and see which one is right for you. Let’s have a look!

Wood pellets overview

Wood Chips vs. Pellets

How are they made?

Wood pellets are hardwood that has been milled down to sawdust and compressed into capsule-like small pieces. Often they are made from repurposed or recycled wood. For example, furniture shops might have scrap wood that they can’t use anymore, so they send it to the pellet manufacturer.

They can be made of various types of wood such as apple, maple, or hickory. For this reason, wood pellets can provide different flavor profiles for your smoked or grilled food. You just have to learn which wood harmonizes best with the meal you are making.

What are wood pellets best for?

Wood pellets are specifically made to be used in pellet grills. Pellet grills work by filling these wood pellets from a hopper and into a firepot which ignites the pellets. A fan distributes the heat and smoke from the wood pellets around the food in the cooking chamber. If you are looking for a new pellet grill, consider the Camp Chef Pursuit PPG20, which is able to deliver incredible taste time and time again.

Besides hot smoking, they are also great for cold smoking. If you are cold smoking your meat, wood pellets are always the best option as they burn slower. This makes them a cost-effective and easy method to control the temperature of your grill or smoker. This isn’t a problem if you are using an automatic pellet grill, but if you add them to gas or charcoal grills, you will need to control the cooking temperature.

Additionally, wood pellets can be used in a pellet tube smoker. Here you load a tube with the pellets, then ignite them, and they will burn slowly through the tube, creating smoke for 3 to 5 hours. This is ideal for cold smoking because you can move the pellets away from the cooking chamber to keep the temperature down. Or, if you are smoking BBQ in your gas grill, you can place the tube closer. You will have a smoky flavor without having to buy an actual smoker.

Because of their dense nature, wood pellets burn very hot but create little ash buildup, particularly compared to wood chips. This is great if you don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning up.

Pros

Wood pellets are one of the cheapest fuel options for grills, which means you will get a lot of flavor for your money. Plus, you are using repurposed natural material, which is a positive contribution to a healthier environment. Not to mention leaving less waste behind.

Wood pellets burn slow and hot, making them ideal for cold smoking or hot smoking, whether you use them in a pellet grill or any other grill. Because of the slow smoking, you will never have to worry about over-smoked, bitter-tasting food. And you can even choose a flavor, as the pellets are widely available in many different options.

Cons

During the process of pressing, many types of additives are also added to the wood pellets. And these additives can affect the flavor of your food. This means that you need to be careful when choosing wood pellets and opt for one with the fewest additives.

Wood pellets are designed to be used in a pellet grill, and they might be hard to use in other types. They also smoke less than wood chips or charcoal, so they are not the best option if you want lots of flavors.

Wood chips overview

Wood Chips vs. Pellets

How are they made?

Wood chips come from wood that has been dried out to have ideal dryness for cooking, smoking, or grilling. They are small pieces of hardwood that have gone through the wood chipper and cut into chips of various sizes with rough and jagged edges. Before they’re added to the grill, wood chips are usually wrapped in a foil, which has holes to allow the smoke to escape.

Similar to wood pellets, you can choose from different wood types when using wood chips, and you will get more natural favor from them as they are subjected to much less processing.

What are wood chips best for?

Wood chips are ideal for short bursts of smoke if you want to infuse food with a lot of flavor in a short period. They can be kept at a smolder if you need extended periods of smoke to come off of them to get a less bitter flavor. Although they do ignite and burn quickly, they don’t burn too hot. And won’t have much of an effect on cooking temperature either.

If you want to control the intensity of the smoky taste your food gets, you can opt for wood chips with a milder flavor. With wood chips, the flavor of the smoke will depend on the type of wood you are using. For this reason, you will have to learn which wood goes well with which food.

If you wanted to experiment with flavors, then the Western Premium BBQ Products BBQ Smoking Chips would be perfect as you get a 4-pack with flavors of cherry, maple, apple, and peach. It’s important to know how to use wood chips so you can get the best out of them.

You can soak your wood chips in water to make them burn slower and release flavor more slowly. Doing so will also ensure that your wood chips don’t burn to a crisp as soon as you light them up, making them last longer.

The best way to use wood chips is to combine them with another type of fuel, so you can use the chips sparingly. Wood chips can make extra flavoring in charcoal or any other grill, such as an electric smoker.

In this smoker, the temperature is controlled internally to let the wood chips burn at the perfect temperature. This will help to give the ideal amount of smoke to your food while it cooks. Do not use them on any other type of smoker, as they produce bitter-tasting smoke, which can ruin your food if it’s not controlled.

Pros

If you want to achieve a strong smoky flavor in a shorter grilling session, wood chips could be ideal for that purpose, and there are many brilliant types of wood chips there. They can be a great addition to charcoal briquettes in smokers too. You just need to be careful with them.

They are also available in many wood favors, so you can choose which works best for you. Because they are less processed, they won’t have additives, so all the flavors will be natural.

Wood chips or pellets for an electric smoker? Well, wood chips are particularly great for electric or propane smokers designed to use them as fuel. These smokers can also control the burning temperature.

Cons

Unlike with pellets, it’s possible to overly flavor your food with wood chip smoke. Because they burn much faster, if you don’t watch your chips, your food could turn out bitter. Also, wood chips don’t provide continuous smoke, which makes them unsuitable for slower smoking sessions.

Wood chips can’t be used in a gas grill or pellet tube, unlike pellets. Although they cost less than other grill fuels, you will have to use more of them. This means you will ultimately get less for your money, not to mention they are a lot harder to store.

Should I soak them?

Wood Chips vs. Pellets

Soaking wood chips essentially has two purposes. One of them is that soaked wood chips burn slower. This will make your wood chips last longer. They might be cheaper to buy in bulk than wood pellets, but if they burn a lot quicker, you will also run out of them much faster.

If they are soaked in water, the fire won’t engulf them entirely at once but will idle longer. Also, if the wood chips burn slower, they will release their flavor at a much slower rate. Considering some wood have a rather bold and sharp flavor, soaking them could be a great way to avoid bitter food.

The other purpose for soaking wood chips is for them to generate steam when you ignite them. The vapor can make a difference between moist food or dried out and tough meat. So if you want juicier meat, soaking the wood chips in water before you put them on the grill can be a great option. The optimum amount of time to leave them in water is at least 24 hours, so it can penetrate the chips.

So should you soak your wood chips? As you can see, the answer to that will depend on your preference for food taste and moisture level. Some say wood chips are already dried out to ideal moisture levels during the manufacturing process. However, this is the only ideal for a quick burning process where a lot of intense flavors are released.

If you want your food to have a powerful smoky taste, you won’t need to soak the chips. You can also add moisture to your food by spritzing it with water or apple cider if you want it to be juicier and don’t want to waste time soaking your wood chips.

What about sawdust?

Sawdust in its raw form could also be used in both cold and hot smoking. It’s commonly used to smoke sausages and fish. Always use them in a dry form, as soaked sawdust is hard to even ignite, much less burn. Sawdust is compatible to use in portable smokers, electric or gas smokers, and smoke boxes.

When it comes to its burning pace, sawdust somewhere in the middle between wood pellets and wood chips, it’s also a lot cheaper than other fuels, but it offers less heat too. This means that you will need to constantly monitor and replenish sawdust on your grill otherwise you won’t have enough heat even for cold smoking.

Sawdust can be a great addition to other types of fuel to get a rich smoked flavor. For example, if you use wood pellets, you can sprinkle sawdust over the fire as your other wood smokes until you reach the desired flavor.

If you use an electric or gas grill, you can place aluminum foil over the grill and under the cooking surface. Spread an even layer of sawdust over the foil and poke holes in another sheet of foil and place it on top. These holes will allow the smoke to escape and penetrate your meat, similarly to the wood chip method.

While it’s not entirely advised to buy a large amount of sawdust for smoking or grilling, if you happen to cut wood and have a lot of it, there is no reason not to use it. It may take some time and practice to get the right flavor, as sawdust diminishes fast and smoke is hard to control.

Final thoughts

If you were using the traditional wood chips method until now and wondering whether you can use wood pellets instead of wood chips, now you know that you can. Of course, you will need to have the right equipment, but considering that wood pellets are incredibly versatile, this shouldn’t be a problem.

The choice between pellets and chips will also depend on your taste buds. For example, if you like a more natural, mild smoke taste, getting a pellet grill could be a good investment. You can always enhance the flavors you get from the wood pellets with sawdust. Whichever method you choose, you will be able to boost the taste of your grilled meats or veggies in a very natural way.

Now you have all the knowledge you need when to come to choosing a winner in wood chips vs. pellets. All that’s left to do now is choose your favorite and enjoy the tasty results.

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