When you fire up a pellet smoker, you may notice that sometimes the pellet smoker does not produce as much smoke as you’d like.
On a regular charcoal or stick smoker, you can simply add wood chips directly to the fire or with a smoker box.
So can wood chips be added to a pellet smoker to create more smoke?
Wood chips cannot be added into a pellet smoker’s hopper as this will jam the auger. However, wood chips can be added to a smoke box or pellet tube in order to create additional smoke.
So there are ways to create more smoke on a pellet smoker with wood chips, wood pellets, smoker boxes, or pellet tubes.
Now let’s cover why you should not place wood chips in the pellet smoker’s hopper and cover how best to use wood chips in a pellet smoker.
Do Not Place Wood Chips in Hopper
First and foremost, wood chips must never be placed inside of the pellet smoker’s hopper.
Pellet smokers require compressed wood pellets since the auger and firepot are designed for wood pellets. Most wood chips are irregular in size and shape which will jam the auger and prevent the pellet grill from working.
Below is an image of the internal components of a pellet smoker.
Never place irregular items inside of a pellet smoker’s hopper such as wood chips or charcoal or else the auger will get jammed.
How To Use Wood Chips In Pellet Smokers
Wood chips are not designed to replace wood pellets in a pellet smoker. So wood chips cannot be placed in the hopper in order to create more smoke.
However, wood chips can be used in a pellet tube or smoker box in a pellet smoker to create additional smoke.
Using Wood Chips in a Pellet Tube
Wood chips can be placed in a pellet tube in order to create more smoke. Make sure to pack the wood chips tightly in the pellet tube so the wood chips smolder which will create more smoke. The pellet tube will add an extra smoky flavor to the meat without damaging the pellet smoker.
Not to mention the wood chips can be a different wood flavor than the wood pellets in the hopper so that you can get a smoke flavor blend on the meat.
The wood chips in the pellet tube do need to be ignited using a small flame torch. The heat from the pellet smoker will not ignite the wood chips in the pellet tube.
However, once the wood chips are ignited, the wood chips will smolder for 1 to 2 hours depending on how tightly the wood chips are packed.
See this article to learn more about using wood chips in a smoke tube.
Can You Use A Smoker Box in a Pellet Smoker?
Smoker boxes can be used within a pellet smoker, however, the wood chips need to be lit before placing the smoker box in the pellet smoker. Make sure to pack the wood chips tightly in the smoker box so the wood chips will smolder which will create more smoke.
Generally, smoker boxes are placed directly in the fire to ignite the wood chips.
Smoker boxes are designed to be placed directly in charcoal or wood fires so that the heat from the fire will ignite the wood chips.
However, in pellet smokers, the smoker box cannot be placed directly over the firepot since that would block the smoke and air from circulating throughout the pellet smoker.
So similar to pellet tubes, the wood chips in the smoker box must first be ignited before placing the smoker box in the pellet smoker.
Should I Soak Wood Chips Before Smoking?
There is some debate as to whether wood chips need to be soaked or not before placing them in the smoker.
Generally, wood chips do not need to be soaked in order to produce smoke. However, wood chips can be soaked if you want the wood chips to smolder and create smoke at a later time.
Wood chips that are soaked in water will first create steam as the water evaporates before the wood heats up to create smoke.
So initially, soaked wood chips will not produce any wood smoke or wood flavor.
This is why it can be helpful to use some dry wood chips and some soaked wood chips in order to have the soaked wood chips smolder later which extends how long wood smoke is being created.
There is a good case study published on amazingribs.com that proves soaking wood chips is just delaying the wood chips from burning and creating the wood smoke you want.
Wood Chips vs Wood Pellets in a Smoker
Wood chips are the flakes or slices of hardwood that have been broken off larger pieces of wood. Generally, wood chips are made of different sizes and shapes which is why wood chips cannot be used as fuel for pellet smokers. However, wood chips are great for creating additional smoke.
On the other hand, wood pellets are made by compressing wood chips and sawdust into tiny wood pellets. The compression creates heat which melts the natural lignin in the wood. The natural lignin acts as a glue that holds the compressed wood together in the pellet shape and gives the wood pellets their shine.
Both wood chips and wood pellets will create smoke in a smoker. However, wood pellets tend to burn more slowly compared to wood chips which mean the wood pellets will smolder or create smoke longer.
Can You Use Wood Chips with Traeger?
Traeger creates pellet smokers which cannot use wood chips as fuel. Any brand of pellet smokers, such as Traeger or Pit Boss, cannot use wood chips as fuel. However, wood chips can be stuffed into a pellet tube or smoker box and ignited in order to create additional smoke.
The ignited pellet tube or smoker box can be placed within the pellet smoker and even right next to the meat so that the meat has a smokier flavor.
A benefit to using wood chips in a pellet tube or smoker box is that you can use different wood flavors with the wood chips compared to the wood pellets in the pellet smoker. So you can create a smoky blend such as applewood pellets in the pellet smoker and hickory wood chips in the pellet tube.
Can You Use Real Wood in a Pellet Smoker?
Pellet smokers need wood pellets in order to create heat and smoke. Most premium wood pellet brands use real wood when creating their wood pellets. So by using wood pellets from brands such as Traeger and Champ Chef, you are using real wood in the pellet smoker.
Keep in mind that wood chunks cannot be placed in a pellet smoker. Wood chunks cannot be used as a substitute for wood pellet since the wood chunks will jam the auger and stop the pellet smoker from working.
Moreover, do NOT place wood chunks inside the pellet smoker and ignite them. Pellet smokers are not designed to withstand the high heat that a wood chunk fire would create so the pellet smoker could get damaged.
How To Create More Smoke on a Pellet Smoker
Here are the best ways to create more smoke on a pellet grill:
- Use a pellet smoker tube filled with wood chips or wood pellets
- Use a lower temperature setting on the pellet smoker
- Use hardwood pellets instead of fruitwood pellets
Although I haven’t personally tested this myself, but some home smokers report placing wood chips directly onto the heat shield in order to create more smoke.
However, I highly recommend using a smoker tube instead.
1. Using A Smoker Tube for More Smoke
The best way to create more smoke on a pellet smoker is to use a pellet smoker tube. These smoker tubes are metal tubes that can be filled with the exact same wood pellets your pellet grill is using or different wood pellet or wood chip flavors in order to create more smoke.
The pellet tube is ignited using a lighter or a torch and then placed onto the pellet grill’s grate.
The huge benefit of a smoker tube is that one or two of these tubes can be placed next to the food being smoked.
The wood pellets or wood chips burn slowly from one end so a smoker tube will last hours before needing to be refilled.
Another huge benefit of smoker tubes is that they can also be used for cold smoking. Typically cheeses, beef jerky, and even fish can be cold smoked by using smoker tubes.
So smoker tubes are an incredibly helpful smoking accessory that will aid in creating more smoke on a pellet smoker.
2. Lower Temperature Setting Creates More Smoke on Pellet Smokers
Pellet smokers produce more smoke on lower temperature settings. Lower temperatures will allow the wood pellets to smolder longer in the firepot, which generates more smoke.
Whereas a pellet smoker that is set to a high temperature such as 400°F will produce less smoke. Higher burning temperatures produce less smoke as the wood pellets are burning cleaner and not smoldering.
Although pellet smokers do create smoke at all temperature ranges, higher temperatures require the pellets to be burned faster which doesn’t allow the pellets to smolder and smoke.
So set the pellet smoker to a low temperature setting such as 180°F or 225°F to produce more smoke.
Keep in mind that low cooking temperatures such as 150°F to 180°F are too low for raw meat to reach an internal temperature of 140°F within 4 hours to be safe to eat. So only use lower cooking temperatures such as 180°F for the first 2 hours before increasing the cooking temperature.
Cooking temperatures of 225°F or higher are safe to use the entire smoke and will allow the internal temperature of the meat to reach 140°F within 4 hours.
Read this article to learn more about why a low cooking temperature of 180°F cannot be used to smoke meat the entire time.
3. Hardwood Pellets Produce More Smoke Than Fruitwoods
Generally, hardwoods produce more smoke than fruitwoods. So use a hardwood such as mesquite or oak over fruitwoods in order to create more smoke with a pellet grill.
The extra smoke produced by hardwoods will create a more intense smoky flavor on the food as well. So hardwoods are not ideal when smoking cheeses or vegetables.
Fruitwoods such as apple and pecan are great when creating a sweeter smoky flavor on food. However, fruitwoods will not produce as much smoke as hardwood pellets.
See this article for the best wood for smoking with different foods. The article also contains comparison tables to pair woods with the food being smoked.
One Last Word
Wood chips cannot be used as fuel inside of a pellet smoker. Pellet smokers are designed specifically for wood pellets which means any fuel that is irregular in shape or size will cause the smoker to jam.
However, wood chips can be used within a smoker box or pellet tube in order to create additional smoke. Once the pellet tube or smoker box is ignited, they can be placed inside the pellet smoker to make the meat taste even smokier.