Pellets vs. Chunks

Should I Use Wood Pellets or Smoking Chunks to Smoke Meat?

Grilling and smoking is a popular and delicious way to cook food. Whether you're cooking meat or vegetables, even pizza or chili, you can make great flavors come to life in your own backyard. One of the keys to successful barbecue is to use the right fuel source.

To smoke flavorful meat that's tender enough to pull apart with a fork, you need a fuel source that is predictable and maintains a steady temperature. By itself, charcoal is generally a great choice of fuel, but it is not known for its unique flavor. Instead, the flavor comes from the type of wood you cook with. Hickory, cherry, oak, and pecan all have different and unique flavors that can enhance the flavor of any meal.

There are several popular cuts and types of cooking wood, including wood logs, wood chunks for smoking, wood splits, wood chips, or wood pellets. You can learn more about the differences between wood chips and wood chunks in this post, or you can read on to learn the differences between wood pellets and wood chunks.

Both wood pellets and smoking chunks will release flavorful smoke when burned, but wood chunks will release more flavor. Whether you're smoking a beef brisket, pork shoulder, ribs or any other food item, what you're cooking will absorb some of this flavorful smoke. You'll be able to cook mouthwatering dishes from the comfort of your patio or backyard. Although they both consist of wood, however, wood pellets aren't the same as smoking chunks.

What Are Wood Pellets?

Wood pellets are small pellet-sized and -shaped pieces of ground-up wood and organic matter. They originated during the early 1980s as an alternative to oil. During this time, the United States faced a severe oil shortage, which prompted entrepreneurs to explore alternative fuel sources for stoves. Soon thereafter, the world's first pellet stove was released. Pellet stoves use electricity to ignite pellets and produce heat. While the United States no longer suffers from an oil shortage, many households continue to use pellet stoves during the cool fall and winter months.

In addition to being used in stoves, wood pellets are also used in smokers and grills. When lit, they create a hot fire that produces lots of smoke. However, the wood pellets used in smokers and grills isn't the same as those used in stoves. Stove wood pellets often contain a combination of both hardwood and softwood, whereas grill and smoker wood pellets typically consist entirely of hardwood.

Wood pellets are popular in certain types of grills, such as the Traeger. Since the pellets are so small, you will use a lot of them. Fortunately, grills that use wood pellets control the speed of the wood pellets burning, which helps ensure a consistent cook.

Grilling with Cutting Edge Firewood

What Are Smoking/Cooking Chunks?

Not to be confused with wood chips, cooking chunks are medium-sized pieces, or "chunks," of hardwood. They typically measure about 2-4 inches long and are harvested from hardwood trees like oak, hickory and cherry. After a hardwood tree is cut down, the wood is cut into smoking chunks. The best cooking chunks are kiln dried, which kills off the bugs and mold and ensures the wood will light easily and provide the best flavor.

Chunks Sampler

Cooking chunks are often used together with hard lump charcoal. The charcoal acts as the primary heat source, and then the chunks add the flavor of your choice. Avid wood cooking enthusiasts, however, will use nothing but cooking wood to create their perfect meal.

You place the chunks into your grill or smoker, and when heated, they'll produce flavorful smoke while cooking your meat at the temperature you set in the grill. If you're combining with charcoal, it is best to add the wood chunks right before you add your food to the grill. That way, as the smoking chunks ignite, they will release smoke that's absorbed by your meat while it cooks.

Pros and Cons of Using Wood Pellets

What are the benefits of smoking meat with wood pellets? Well, some smokers are designed specifically for wood pellets. Known as pellet smokers, they feature a hopper in which wood pellets are poured. The hopper guides the wood pellets to an oven compartment where they are exposed to direct heat. If you own one of these pellet smokers, you should probably stick with wood pellets.

The biggest advantage of these smokers is how easy they are to use. You set the temperature and cook time electronically, and the smoker ensures the right amount of wood pellets are fed through the system. If you're looking for the easiest way to get smoke flavor into your food, then pellet smokers are a great choice.

Wood pellets are also inexpensive and readily available. You can purchase them locally as well as online. After purchasing a bag of wood pellets, you can toss them in your grill or smoker to smoke delicious meat. That being said, unless you have a grill specifically designed for wood pellets, they really don't work well.

The main disadvantages are that they provide less flavor and have a lack of flexibility and high temperature cooking. When it comes to flavor, these pellets contain sawdust and wood scraps that are bound together with a filler ingredient like cornstarch. It's just not the same as all-natural wood chunks.

If you're cooking on a kamado style grill (like the Primo or Big Green Egg), then you can cook something at 245 degrees for several hours, and then crank up the heat to 600 degrees to give it an incredible reverse sear. With pellet style grills, they cannot cook at high temperatures, nor can they quickly change. Some would also argue that cooking with wood pellets takes some of the fun out of outdoor cooking - setting your cook temperature electronically can feel a lot like cooking in the kitchen.

Grilling with Cutting Edge Firewood

Pros and Cons of Using Cooking/Smoking Chunks

For many backyard barbecue masters, nothing but actual wood will do. The flames are bigger, the smoke is more pure, and the experience is unrivaled.

If you're cooking on a grill or smoker that typically uses charcoal, then cooking chunks are the perfect way to take your food to the next level. There is really no reason to use wood pellets in a charcoal grill. The wood pellets burn to ash shortly after being lit. And once the wood pellets have turned to ash, they stop providing flavor and become useless. It's never a good idea to open your grill over and over again to keep adding wood pellets - if you're looking, then you aren't cooking!

Cooking chunks work better in a traditional grill or smoker for several reasons. Since they are larger -- and not made of ground-up wood -- smoking chunks burn more slowly than their wood pellet counterparts. Of course, this is important because it means you won't have to open your grill's or smoker's lid as frequently as you would when using wood pellets, allowing for more stable cooking temperatures as well as preserving the flavorful smoke inside your grill or smoker.

Smoking Chunks

When using smoking chunks, you can rest assured knowing that you aren't exposing your meat to potentially harmful substances. Food-grade wood pellets generally consist entirely of ground-up and compressed hardwood. Stove wood pellets, on the other hand, often contain hardwood and softwood as well as a binding agent. Stove wood pellets are safe to use in a stove, but you shouldn't use them in a grill or smoker. If you happen to use stove wood pellets in your grill or smoker, you may inadvertently expose your food to harsh chemicals. By sticking with smoking chunks, your food will only be exposed to natural, flavorful wood smoke.

It's important that you use quality Cooking chunks that have been dried to a low moisture content. The best smoking chunks, including those sold here at Cutting Edge Firewood, go through a rigorous kiln drying process. Kiln dried firewood spends time in a large oven-like kiln for an extended period of time. As the smoking chunks sit in the kiln, heat is used to extract moisture from the wood and kill any bugs, mold, or fungus.

Cooking chunks offer you flexibility and maximum flavor - bigger chunks equals bigger flavor. The smoke is clear blue and smells great, just the way you want it. They can be used to cook steaks or pizza at 700 degrees, or to cook a pork butt at 225 for 15 hours.

Best of all, if you still want the ease of setting a temperature (like on a pellet smoker), you can achieve that with the Flame Boss 500! This handy piece of technology hooks into your kamado/ceramic style grill and monitors and maintains the temperature for you. No more guessing, no more fiddling with the adjustments - just set it and forget it! See how it works in the following video:

What About Wood Chips?

Another type of fuel that's used to smoke meat is wood chips. Like smoking chunks, wood chips consist of hardwood that's used to smoke and grill food. The difference is that wood chips are smaller and thinner. Wood chips are still available in many of the same varieties of smoking chunks, so they can create a flavorful environment in which to smoke meat. But because of their smaller size and thinner shape, wood chips burn more quickly than smoking chunks.

Because wood chips will quickly burn to ash and become useless, we highly recommend choosing chunks over chips.

In Conclusion

You can smoke delicious meat using wood pellets or smoking chunks. If you already own a pellet smoker, want convenience and consistently decent results, then wood pellets are a good option. If you're cooking inside a more traditional smoker and want the best flavor and the most authentic smoking experience, however, it is recommended that you stick with smoking chunks. Consisting entirely of medium-sized blocks of hardwood, they offer the perfect smoking experience. High-quality smoking chunks will enhance the flavor of your food, all while cooking it at the right temperature.

If you really want a great cooking experience, then you need to use the best quality smoking chunks by visiting wood chunks for smoking today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, and pecan. All of them have great qualities and will enhance the flavor of your food. We offer complimentary shipping for our cooking chunk products across the United States, making it easy for you to get the best cooking chunks available!

About The Author

Leroy Hite

Leroy Hite is the founder and CEO of Cutting Edge Firewood, an ultra-premium firewood and cooking wood company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Leroy's mission is to give people the experience of the perfect fire because some of life’s best memories are made in the warmth of a fire’s glow. He founded Cutting Edge Firewood in 2013 with a goal to provide unmatched quality wood and unparalleled customer service nationwide. The company offers premium kiln-dried firewood, cooking wood, and pizza wood in a wide variety of species and cuts to customers around the country.