Home » Do Electric Smokers Use Pellets: Read This Before Trying

Do Electric Smokers Use Pellets: Read This Before Trying

My local sporting goods store has the best selection of wood for smokers I have ever seen.  There are small wood chips, medium wood chips, large wood chunks and countless “flavors” of pellets.  

With the rising popularity of Traeger and Pit Boss pellet smokers, the shelves are packed with endless pellet wood options.  I want to try them all and that got me thinking.  

Is it possible to use pellets in an electric smoker?

The simple answer is no.  Most electric smokers only use wood chips to safely produce smoke.  While most manufacturers of electric smokers only recommend using wood chips, many owners of electric smokers have found safe and effective ways to use pellets.  

However, before you go out and pack your electric smoker with a handful of pellets, there is more you need to know.  If you want to avoid ruining the flavor of your meat or causing a dangerous fire, keep reading and we’ll go over some tips for using pellets in an electric smoker.

Pellets vs. Wood Chips: what’s the difference

Both pellets and wood chips produce flavorful smoke but that’s where the similarities end.  Burn time, heat generation and versatility are all important things to consider for the backyard pit master and each wood type offers different traits that may or may not suit your needs.


Take a close look at a wood pellet and it becomes fairly obvious that it’s a manufactured product.  Pellets are nothing more than fine hardwood dust compressed into dense packets at high temperatures.

These dense little morsels end up packing more heat and smoke into a few pellets than even a full pan of wood chips.  That’s why pellet smokers use them for the main heat source as well as for the wonderful smoky flavors produced as a byproduct of burning.

What does this mean for smoking meats?  Well, you get a slow burning fuel that produces moderate to high amounts of smoke.  With pellets, you get the ultimate control.  Pellets produce predictable amounts of smoke and heat so you can tailor the quantity to fit the job.  They are especially good for cold smoking.

Pellet smokers have boomed in popularity in recent years and the selection of pellets on store shelves confirms it.  Each type of hardwood flavors food in unique ways so make your choice based on the desired flavor profile.  Just make sure you avoid pellet brands that use binders and additives.  Additives often leave behind an unsavory residue on your food.

Wood Chips

Wood chips are exactly as the name implies.  Hardwood is first dried to a specific moisture content then chipped into fine pieces ideal for electric smokers.  

Unlike pellets, wood chips burn fast and release most of their smoke in short duration bursts.  The smoke from chips also has a different taste profile than pellet smoke.  

If you like bold, authentic wood pit flavors then you’ll appreciate using wood chips.  However, some folks dislike the bitter finished product which can happen if you over do it with wood chips.  Pellets, on the other hand, tend to be more mild and the amount of smoke is more easily controlled.  

I often hear that soaking wood chips in water is an effective way to add moisture to your smoker and slow down the smolder so you get a longer smoke from each pan of chips.

There is plenty of debate on this but in the end, I find soaking wood chips does little to improve the smoke versus simply using the dry chips straight from the package.  

Also, rarely do wood chips contain any additives.  Instead, you get pure, natural wood.

Recommendations from the manufacturers

Most electric smokers, like Masterbuilt or Char-Broil, were designed for wood chips.  Therefore, a quick read through the owner’s manual and warranty information will likely show they do not recommend using pellets.

This begs the following question.  Is it the manufacturer’s recommendation because pellets just don’t work or is it due to liability issues?  

While I can’t speak for the manufacturer directly, I believe it’s the latter.  After looking in my own Masterbuilt electric smoker manual, all I can find is a stern warning to “Never use wood pellets.”  No explanation.  

Just like children, give a bunch of eager BBQ lovers a rule and we’ll tweak it just to see if we can.  But that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Clearly, Masterbuilt is concerned about potential damage from irresponsible use of pellets and it is easier to say never do it than to test out every brand of pellets to see if a catastrophic fire or dense cloud of food-ruining smoke results. 

While I am trying to help you decide if using pellets in an electric smoker is something worth doing, I still whole heartedly recommend following the instructions provided with your particular smoker. 

Will pellets cause a fire in an electric smoker

As I alluded to earlier, the biggest concern manufacturers probably have with using pellets in electric smokers designed for wood chips is fire and blowouts.  

Fire requires three ingredients:  fuel, oxygen and an ignition source.  

Electric smokers that can reach 275 degrees or more have very hot heating elements right beneath the wood chip pan.  This is your ignition source.  

Add a pile of pellets and you have enough fuel density to cause a problem.  Not only will a fire ruin the smoker but you could have a more serious issue on your hands if it gets out of control.

If you have the vents closed and the door sealed, there may not be enough oxygen for a fire to start but that leads to a more serious situation.  The build up of heat and gases is primed to blow as soon as oxygen is introduced.  

When that happens you get a blowback.  Reminiscent of the movie “Backdraft”, your smoker may suddenly flame up and blow when you open the door, vent or chip loader.  Even if your smoker survives, your pants may not.  

How to use pellets safely in electric smokers

I’m hoping at this point you have overcome the desire to toss in a handful of pellets in your electric smoker and hope for the best.  There is a smarter and safer way to take advantage of pellets in an electric smoker.  

On several forums and even from personal experimentation, I have had fair success with using 4 to 6 average sized pellets at a time in the wood chip pan.  

The smoke lasts quite a while and there is not enough fuel to cause blowbacks in most situations.  Is it really any better than wood chips though?  In most cases, the advantage is not clear.

For those of you not willing to rebel against the manufacturer’s recommendations, there is a safer way to utilize pellets in an electric smoker without placing them directly in the wood chip pan.

A-MAZE-N Smokin’ Products makes a Smoker Maze designed to produce steady smoke for hours at a time.  It can be placed in an electric smoker and is ideally suited for cold smoking but it works at temperatures of 275° as well. 

When you want to enjoy the benefits of pellets but all you have is an electric smoker, be sure to get a Smoker Maze.  Check it out at Amazon.

Does pellet smoke taste bad in an electric smoker

While safety is important, taste is even more paramount to avid backyard pit masters.  One of the things I hear often is that pellet smoke can taste bad if you use too much.

That is certainly true of any type of wood used for smoking but I find that pellet smoke is more mild than wood chips.  That being said, it’s also easy to get too much smoke for most people’s taste.

The only thing to always avoid is pellets with additives, as these can taint your food leaving it bitter or off-putting.

For the most part, pellet smoke adds a savory, smoky taste on just about any type of meat you can put in a smoker.

Is it cheaper to use pellets

Pellets are very reasonably priced and if you are using them in combination with the A-MAZE-N Smoker Maze, a 20 pound bag will last you about 200 hours of smoke.  The smoker maze uses about 1 pound at a time and last up to 11 hours.  

At $1 per pound, it’s not too pricey for 11 hours of cooking with smoke going the entire time.

With wood chips, you can expect about 4 hours of smoke per cup of chips.  That means each 2 pound bag has about 40 hours of smoke and it costs around $4 a bag.  

Again, that works out to be about $1 for every 10 hours of smoke.  Not bad.  Keep in mind however that only for big briskets or hams would you use 10 hours of solid smoke.  So the price per use is actually lower.

As you can see, the cost difference is negligible.  The biggest advantage of using pellets in an electric smoker is if you already have a pellet smoker as well.  Why buy two separate types of wood fuel when you could use pellets for both.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you now understand the risks of using pellets in electric smokers.  But don’t let that stop you from using proven methods to safely get the benefits of pellets while using the smoker you already have.

Many people safely use smoker mazes for cold and hot smoking delicious food in electric smokers.  And with care, you can even use just a few pellets directly in the pan if you are in a pinch.

Either way, use just a little common sense and you won’t have a problem.