Are Pellets or Wood Chips Better for Smoking?

NOTE: You CANNOT use wood chips in a pellet grill. Do not put wood chips in your pellet grill!

If you’ve just made the leap from a traditional grill to smoker, you’ve got a whole new world of fuel to explore. Unlike standard grills, smokers create heat and flavor with the help of wood rather than charcoal or gas. Other fuel types simply don’t do as good of a job at flavoring, and that’s the stuff we love when we’re aiming for that deep, rich, smoky flavor that makes barbecue barbecue. In other words: good wood is essential for good smoking.

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But there are many ways to create that wood-smoked flavor in your pellet smoker grill. You should never put wood chips in your pellet smoker, as it will cause it to break. However, if you’re weighing what type of chips to use for your electric smoker, this guide can help. Hint: pellets are almost always the best choice.

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What Are Wood Pellets?

Wood pellets are made from finely ground hardwood. Our competition-grade pellet grill pellets are made from flavor-enhancing hardwoods like mesquite, hickory, apple, cherry and pecan. Wood pellets are the only recommended fuel source for pellet grills. They are also ideal for use in an electric smoker. Because they burn slower, enhance flavor and keep the pitmaster in charge better than wood chips do, they almost always produce a superior result in an electric smoker. 

What Are Wood Chips?

Wood chips are pieces of hardwood that have been processed through a woodchipper. Unlike wood pellets, wood chips are not compressed. They tend to vary widely in shape and size compared to wood pellets and often have sharp, jagged edges. In our opinion, wood chips should mostly be reserved for the garden and not the grill.

The only time you’d want to use wood chips in a smoker is when you’re using a kamado grill, kettle grill, or electric smoker. However, lump charcoal is generally the preferred fuel for kamado grills because it burns slower and produces better quality smoke.

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In almost all smoking scenarios, wood pellets are superior to wood chips because they burn drier and slower, which means better temperature control and greater efficiency. They also produce enhanced flavor. 

The Advantages of Wood Pellets Over Wood Chips

As you can tell, we’re not shy about our love for hardwood pellets for grills. And there are some key reasons why. Hardwood pellets have some distinct advantages over wood chips, including the following. Again, remember that you cannot use wood chips in your pellet grill. But if you are weighing the advantages for your electric smoker, consider the following.

  • Wood Pellets Bring Better Flavor — Because they are made of compressed hardwoods, pellets can pack in a lot more flavor in a smaller size. Plus, the way they are made allows manufacturers to mix and customize flavor blends. For example, we offer a Competition Blend made with hickory, oak and cherry for superior flavor. Because wood pellets burn more evenly, they also tend to infuse food with a more evenly dispersed flavor profile.
  • Wood Pellets Are More Versatile — Wood pellets are more versatile because they can be used in many kinds of grills, not just pellet grills. Many people use them in kamado grills, pellet grills and even in some charcoal grills. Wood chips, on the other hand, should only be used in kamado grills or electric smokers (and that’s not generally the best choice because charcoal works better). 
  • Wood Pellets Burn Slower — One of the biggest benefits of pellets over chips is that they create a slow, steady and continuous smoke output. Why is this a good thing, you ask? Well, slow and steady smoke output means a more evenly cooked result. Long, slow cooks are what produces that ultra-tender texture and perfectly even smoke flavoring in traditional barbecue meats.
  • Wood Pellets Give You More Control — You’re the pitmaster, and you should be in charge, not your fuel. Fewer flare-ups in terms of heat and smoke output provide you with more control over temperature. Making small adjustments as needed can mean the difference between an award-winner and a flop. Wood pellets burn more evenly and predictably than chips, making this possible.

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Pellets Are the Way to Go When Smoking

The bottom line? We don’t recommend wood chips for any kind of smoking or grilling. Wood pellets and charcoal are superior smoke-producers, and they’re all you need for smoking meats, veggies and more that knock your guests’ socks off.  Be sure to try our top-rated wood pellets to taste the difference for yourself.

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