Perhaps you are new to using a smoker, or maybe you just want to switch up the style and flavor of what you are smoking. No matter what it is, I know we are all in search of new, deep flavor in what we smoke. Using pellets can add that amazing, wood flavor while being cost effective and easy to clean.
You may be wondering, am I able to use pellets in a gas smoker? The simple answer is yes. As long as the pellets were made for cooking or smoking, and are not treated with unnatural substances you can use them for smoking. It is best to place them in a small metal box with holes in the top or create a pouch out of aluminum foil and punch a hole in the top. This will increase smoking time and flavor.
Although it is possible to use wooden pellets in a smoker, you should be weary multiple factors. Style of smoker, types and amounts of pellets, differences in pellets and chips – there are a log of things to know before smoking with your wood pellets. Below I will outline the major tips and techniques to help with smoking pellets in your gas smoker and to help avoid any messed up food or equipment.
Tips for Using Pellets in a Gas Smoker
As mentioned above, the process is fairly simple for using pellets in a gas smoker. While it is a simple process, it is also easy to mess up this (or any smoking of food for that matter).
Select the Right Pellet Type
The most important step is to acquire the correct pellets. Make sure when looking for pellets to smoke you find some that are labeled “food grade” or say “safe for food” somewhere on the package. Many pellets are for heating and could have added chemicals or additives that can be harmful but also take away from the natural wood flavor.
Decide Between a Smoking Box and Aluminum Foil
While there is not a clear winner here, you should weigh the options. A smoking box (commonly referred to as a CIB – cast iron box) will last you much longer, but can shorten the amount of time that the pellets are smoking for. The heat from a CIB can also cause the pellets to have flare ups (fi too close to the heat source) so be aware of how close your box would be to the flame.
Aluminum foil should work great for smoking pellets in a gas smoker, and it will take a long time for it to become more expensive than the one-time cost of a cast iron box. Aluminum also makes cleanup a lot easier, as you can just toss it out after it is finished. Depending on if you need to get started or you have time, aluminium (being much thinner) will help the pellets smoke sooner. Make sure any aluminum foil you use is heavy duty – you do not want it falling apart inside your gas smoker causing a burn-up and mess.
Learn Your Pellet Amounts
When using pellets in your gas smoker, it is important to not use too many. When you use a lot of pellets, there is a good chance that you can have a creosote buildup. Similar to a chimney, there will be a black, sticky residue that forms on the walls and top of you smoker.
An easy way to gauge this is to test out different amounts of pellets. Start with just a few – 10 or so. Look for a small amount of thin, bluish smoke. Seeing large amounts of white smoke is a good indicator that you added too many pellets to your gas smoker.
Be Certain of Your Style of Smoker
If you are using a gas smoker, chances are it is a vertical smoker. This is good news for pellet users, as they are best smoked in this environment. If your smoker is an offset smoker, it can still be doable to use pellets in a pouch, but only on a small-medium sized offset smoker.
Large offset smokers use full wood chunks and sticks, so the pellets can be overrun by the amount and density of the smoke. It is best, at least for a beginner, to use a small vertical-style gas smoker when learning to use pellets with it.
Avoid Putting Pellets in the Heating Tray
Pellets are highly flammable. Even just being in a cast iron box on the heat source can cause them to ignite. When you are adding pellets to your gas smoker, avoid letting them too close to the heating tray. Always keep them a few inches away from the source and have them in aluminum foil or a designated box to prevent any large fires from starting. This could ruin your food, or worse, your smoker.
Some Pros of Using Pellets in Your Gas Smoker
No Soaking Wood Pellets Ahead of Time
Pellets are created by taking sawdust and putting it under enormous amounts of pressure. This pressure causes heat which also helps remove contaminants. Because they are not bound together or solid materials, you will not want to soak pellets before smoking with them. This can cause them to swell up, or even fall apart.
Variety of Wood and Flavors
Since pellets are compressed sawdust, they are able to be made out of multiple materials. This means you can purchase them to have multiple types of wood in them. This means you can get a mix of a lighter wood (70%-80%) and allow the rest of it to be a stronger flavor. No need to try and change out wood at various times to reach a desired flavor.
Easy to Control Smoke Output
Wooden pellets are small and consistent in size. This means that you can test out particular numbers (or weights) of pellets. Once you find the amount of smoke that you like from each packet, you can replicate it as often as you want. Start small, and add some in as time goes on so you can find the perfect balance.
Using a Gas Grill for Smoking Pellets
If you do not have a gas smoker, you can always use a gas grill to get a similar effect. A lot of modern gas grills come with a smoker box on the side, this you can add the pellets to as you use it. If your grill does not have a smoker box, you can always make one. The easiest way to get box for smoking pellets on a gas grill is with a box specifically designed for smoking pellets – like the MAZE-N pellet smoker. If you do not have or can not afford this, you can always use an aluminum foil pan.
Can You Use Charcoal in a Gas Smoker?
While adding charcoal to a gas smoker is not a standard practice, you are able to do so. Adding a couple lumps of charcoal can give a great flavor and smell to your gas smoker. During winter months, it can even help to maintain heat in the smoker and can help your propane tank to last longer. Just add charcoal to the heat source or tray. For improved circulation, you can put a small grate under the charcoal to allow for more air flow.