Pellet grills gave us what we’ve always wanted. A consistently delicious way to make barbecue, with a hands-off approach, delivering real smoke flavor.
Things absolute units are usually made with thick cast iron, for maximum heat retention and even temperature dispersion for that superior cook.
So, you would think they would be able to withstand the heat from charcoal too, right? If you’ve ever wondered whether you can use charcoal in a pellet grill as an alternative heat source, you’re not alone.
But, here’s why you should never use charcoal in a pellet grill, what damage is can cause, and what your better options are.
Let’s set the record straight about something first.
A normal charcoal grill’s bowl and hood are made from steel with porcelain enamel, like with the classic weber kettle. This is said to be able to withstand temperatures of up to 1500°F, certainly able to handle burning charcoal.
Most pellet grill brands make their cooking chamber with cast iron, such as Traeger Grills, Pit Boss Pellet Grills, etc. Cast iron is also able to withstand temperatures up to 1500°F.
From this alone it’s easy to think that you would be able to use charcoal in your pellet grill if you needed to.
But, although the pellet grill chamber can withstand the heat, there are internal parts within the pellet grill which will not be able to take it, and you can risk serious damage to your pellet grill.
So, you should never use charcoal in a pellet grill because:
- It will damage the internal parts of the grill.
- No way to control the temperature.
- It can jam the smoker.
- There is no room to catch the ash safely.
- It will void the warranty.
Damages The Grill’s Internal Parts
Although the actual cast iron cooking chamber would withstand the high heat of charcoal, not all of the internal parts are made such intensity.
These being, anything in the pellet hopper, auger, fire pot, and hot rod.
You may think then, instead of adding charcoal to the hopper you could place in in the bottom of the grill. Still, the resonating heat would certainly do damage to the neighboring fire pot, hot rod, and baffles.
The truth is, pellet grills simply require wood pellets to produce heat and smoke, and are not designed to handle any other form of fuel. They therefore lack the in-built structure to hold and regulate the heat produced by other fuels, like charcoal or other wood types.
No Way To Control Temperature
One of the critical functions that allows for low and slow smoking in a charcoal grill is the ability to open and close the top vents and the lower dampers.
This allows you to control the amount of oxygen fed to the charcoal, which in essence, controls the temperature and smoke.
The thing is, if you were to use charcoal in a pellet grill, you would simply not have any means to control the temperature.
The induction fan in the pellet grill is only there to feed oxygen directly into the firepot to produce the desired temperature and smoke, and would not work with charcoal!
So, even if you wanted to use charcoal in a pellet grill, it would be a really rough time.
Jams The Smoker
Now, surely you wouldn’t think you would add charcoal to the pellet hopper, expecting it to go through the auger nicely.
If you were to do that, then you would for sure be met with a jam in the auger, pellet hopper, or everywhere really.
The pellet grills mechanisms and built to move robust, but light wood pellets neatly through the auger to the fire pot.
There’s no way that charcoal would work the same way, I don’t even want to think about it!
However, there are those gravity charcoal smokers which operate in a very similar way to a set-and-forget pellet smoker.
No Room for Ash
Even when you’re using wood pellets, you’ll know you have to vacuum your pellet grill after every few sessions.
Thankfully, the wood debris, wood dust, and ash all capture nicely around the bottom of the chamber, or in the firepot. So it’s no biggy cleaning out the ash.
However, charcoal produces a lot more ash and waste. This would be an absolute nightmare to try to clean up afterward. Plus, as you would be cooking the ash would go everywhere causing temperature and smoke issues.
Even if you tried to place an ash pan somewhere, I just can’t see this working in an efficient way!
Void The Warranty
Of course, if you’ve spent the big bucks to get yourself an amazing pellet grill, like a Traeger, Pit Boss, ZGrills, etc. then you want to hold the warranty for as long as you can. Just in case, right?
Even if your warranty was already expired though, there’s simply too many things that can go wrong using charcoal in your pellet grill, and if done incorrectly would be extremely dangerous!
The Exception, Perhaps: Charcoal Pellets
Perhaps the only exception where you could consider using charcoal in your pellet grill or pellet smoker, is if you’ve got some charcoal pellets.
Charcoal pellets are wood pellet shaped, but 100% charcoal. They claim they burn hotter, and cleaner than wood pellets, but this doesn’t make too much sense in the context of pellet grills.
Pellet grills regulate their temperature based on what your set the temperature on the dial. So, by claiming they burn hotter, would either mean you simply need to use less of them to get to the right temperature, or they burn hotter than you wanted to set the temperature anyway.
Brands such as Royal Oak have released some top-quality charcoal pellets which have been ravaging the barbecue community with mixed results.
Other Options Instead Of Using Charcoal In A Pellet Grill
I’m sure there are more than a few reasons that the thought of using charcoal in your pellet grill entered your mind in the first place.
Here’s some alternative options for you, whether you’ve run out of wood pellets, you’re looking for more smoke flavor, or need more heat in your pellet grill.
Ran Out Of Wood Pellets?
I know the feeling of running out of wood pellets, I really do.
But, instead of looking at your bag of charcoal and wondering if it would work in your pellet grill, your best to look at literally any other option.
Even if you had to do the cook in your oven, in a gas grill, charcoal grill, or dare I say it: an electric smoker.
If you’re just about to run out of pellets and you’ve still got some time, you could quickly zip down to the local and get yourself a refill! You can leave pellet grills unattended for short times, or to be safe get someone to look after it for you!
Want More Smoke Flavor?
One of the common complaints about pellet grills is that they don’t deliver the same oomph of smokiness that you can get from wood chunks in a charcoal grill or an offset smoker.
The thing is, a pellet grill produces thin, blue smoke. This does deliver real flavor, but you’re right, it’s not always the same.
Luckily, you’ve got a few easy options to increase the smoke flavor in your pellet grill:
- Use strong smoking wood pellets: Mesquite and hickory are the strongest smoking woods and will produce a much more pronounced smokiness in a pellet grill too.
- Try using a pellet tube smoker: a simple pellet tube smoker can be an easy way to add extra smoke to your pellet grill. They can go for hours, are easy to set up, and can really make a difference to the overall smokiness!
Need More Heat?
Although you can add charcoal to an offset smoker, you can’t simply add charcoal to your pellet smoker!
If your pellet grill isn’t getting up to your desired temperatures anymore, then you may be seeking a way to get it back up to scratch.
First, check to see any obvious reasons your pellet grill won’t heat up.
Otherwise, you can use some simple strategies to prevent any external forces from messing with the temperature of your pellet grill.
It’s fundamentally quite hard to smoke meat in the rain, wind, or cold. But, grill placement makes a huge difference. Placing it under a cover, and out of contact with the wind will prevent unnecessary temperature swings and can help keep a consistently hot temperature.
So look, i’m not going to beat around the bush here.
You should never use charcoal in a pellet grill.
You can very easily damage the internal parts of your grill or jam the auger. Plus, there’s no way to effectively control the temperature, catch the ash, and you’ll be voiding the warranty too.
Don’t even think about it!
There is a new craze for charcoal pellets, which are shaped like wood pellets, but i’m not convinced they meet the same standard as wood pellets.
Instead, start considering some of your other options, whether you’ve ran out of wood pellets, want more smoke flavor, or are needing more heat.