While I spend a lot of my time writing about the latest and greatest dedicated pellet grills and smokers, there are those that want to smoke on their existing gas grill. Therefore that’s what I want to discuss in this article. We’ll look at the various methods in which wood pellets can be used to smoke on a gas grill from the most basic/cheapest method to solutions that will provide smoke for longer. One of the first things I think we should discuss is why using pellets for smoking on a gas grill is a better solution than wood chips.
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Why Smoke With Wood Pellets Instead Of Wood Chips?
For many years before wood pellets for BBQs became as common as they are today, you would typically purchase a bag of wood chips for smoking on a gas grill. You would often hear ‘BBQ experts’ stating you should soak wood chips prior to smoking with them to make the chips smoke for longer etc.
Well, with pellets you definitely don’t have to soak them before you use them, in fact doing that would ruin them. So there is a time saving right there with using wood pellets over wood chips. The second benefit is wider availability.
As dedicated pellet grills/smokers are now very popular, its much easier to get hold of pellets whether online or through a local Walmart, Lowes or Home Depot etc. In fact, as wood pellets are sold in large 20 lbs bags when you actually do the math they can work out much cheaper than buying bags of wood chips.
So take the example above of a bag of Weber applewood chips selling for around $5 per 1.67lb bag, so that’s just under $3 per lb. Well, you can get 100% applewood pellets, the ASMOKE pellets above being an example at $35 per 20lb bag, so that’s $1.75 per lb, nearly half the cost of the applewood chips.
Wood Pellets Will Produce Smoke For Longer
Remember, wood pellets are just simply a compressed form of natural wood residues. As shown above, purely on a cost basis it makes more sense to use wood pellets for smoking on a gas grill as they are the cheaper option to wood chips. However, there is another benefit with wood pellets, they will smoke for much longer than wood chips.
Wood pellets are typically four times more energy-dense than wood chips. Hence, the same volume of wood pellets can produce the same amount of smoke for up to four times longer than that of wood chips. When cooking/smoking larger cuts of meat say a brisket or pork shoulder that makes a big difference.
Therefore a typical foil smoke bomb of around 6 inches by 6 inches of wood chips will produce smoke for around 30 minutes. Remember, larger cuts of meat will be cooking for 5 to 6 hours. Hence with wood chip foil smoke bombs, you’ll have to make multiple smoke bombs and keep going back gas grill with them.
With a wood pellet foil smoke bomb of the same size, you could get smoke for around 2 hours hence much more convenient than wood chip smoke bombs. However, as we’ll discuss below if you upgrade to a pellet smoking tube or tray your gas grill could be smoking for much longer than that unattended.
Method 1: Foil Pellet Smoke Bomb
Ok, now let’s discuss the various methods you can use to smoke with wood pellets on a gas grill. The first method is the cheapest and can be done with kitchen foil you already own, its a ‘smoke bomb’.
First, you tear off a piece of foil around a foot across and fold it over in half twice, fold over two open edges and you’ll be left with a packet you can load with pellets.
I’ve included the video below of how to make a smoke bomb. Granted in that video wood chips are used but as discussed above with the same volume of pellets the smoke bomb would last about four times longer.
Now, in the video above its stated to only make one small hole, you may see some other videos that state to make multiple holes. Don’t be tempted to add too many holes though as it could create a thorough draft and the wood pellets may start to burn as opposed to smoulder and produce smoke.
Method 2 – Pellet Smoking Tubes
The next step up above making a foil pellet smoke bomb is to get a pellet smoking tube. Its exactly as it sounds, they are stainless steel metal tubes with holes/grooves along their length. There are various different brands and sizes out there. The longer the pellet smoking tube, the more pellets it can hold the longer it will smoke for.
The most popular branded pellet smoking tube currently on the market is by a company called A-MAZE-N. A 12″ A-MAZE-N pellet smoking tube is typically priced around $20, and can hold enough pellets to produce smoke for around 4 hours, hence about twice as long as a typically sized foil smoke bomb discussed above.
So why pay $20 for a pellet smoking tube when you can make a cheap foil smoke bomb? Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, as stated above, a typically sized foil smoke bomb will run for half the amount of time as a 12″ smoking tube.
You could obviously make a larger foil smoke bomb, however, the question then becomes do you have the space on the grill, either directly on the burners or on the racks to fit it in? A dedicated pellet smoking tube makes much better use of your gas grills cooking space than a foil smoke bomb.
Method 3 – Pellet Smoking Tray/Maze
The next step up over a pellet smoking tube is a smoking tray. Again, I’m going to reference the product made by A-MAZE-N as it is one of the best examples on the market currently.
While a smoking tube is a step up over a foil smoke bomb it is still limited to around a 4 hour run time. If you are smoking a really large piece of meat and you don’t want to keep opening the lid on the gas grill to let out the heat/smoke then smoking trays are actually a better solution, though a bit more expensive.
The pellet smoker maze due to the design can potentially produce smoke for up to 12 hours when lit from one end. As shown in the video above, it can be lit from both ends to produce more smoke but the duration will obviously be cut in half to around 6 hours.
Cost wise the A-MAZE-N pellet smoking maze costs around $30, hence $10 more than the 12″ smoking tube above. However, it will produce smoke for longer. Furthermore, the smoking maze would be easier to refill mid-cook if needs be and it will sit better over the burner on the gas grill.
Choose Your Smoking Pellets Carefully
Unlike a dedicated pellet grill/smoker where the pellets are used to produce the heat and smoke, in this instance on a gas grill, we are talking about a relatively small volume of pellets for smoking to purely add flavour.
As such, we need to talk about BBQ pellets and the different types. Now, you are probably aware that BBQ pellets are made from a wide range of wood species, each producing a different flavour profile:
- Alder – Great for cooking poultry and salmon
- Apple – Works well with pork, seafood and lamb
- Cherry – A good allrounder
- Charcoal – For a stronger smokey flavour
- Hickory – Works well with pork and BBQ ribs
- Maple – Nice for cooking vegetables and cheese
- Mesquite – Particularly suited to red meats
- Oak – The ‘foundation’ of BBQ wood pellets
- Pecan – Best suited for cooking poultry
- Walnut – Especially nice for game and red meats
- Whiskey/Liquor Blends – Red meat and fish
Let’s take applewood pellets for example, you have various brands selling ‘applewood’ pellets. However, you need to be aware that some brands are selling 100% single species pellets (the ASMOKE pellets above being an example).
However, other brands (Traeger and Pit Boss pellets being examples) are blended pellets. Hence, they are a mixture, typically around 60% oak pellets and 40% being the specified wood species flavour.
Now, its important to note, blended pellets are not just a method for the manufacturer to get a better profit margin. Oak produces more heat than many other wood species, hence blended pellets can produce a more consistent heat output over a range of flavours.
Though as we’ve established above, in this instance your gas grill is producing the heat, you are purely using the pellets for flavour. Therefore, for smoking on a gas grill stick to 100% single species pellets. You’re using the pellets to add flavour, so use pellets that will give you the most flavour possible.
I have an article on what I believe to be the best cooking pellets currently available with over 20 brands now available. I would encourage you to check out that article to learn more about single species and blended wood pellet brands.
Conclusions On Pellet Smoking On A Gas Grill
While gas grills are typically thought of as direct heat BBQs and that is where their key strengths lie, gas grills can also be used for smoking as well. With the help of either a foil smoke bomb, pellet smoking tube or a pellet smoking tray/maze a gas grill can create great flavour.
As I’ve discussed above, while wood chips have commonly been the recommended solution to smoking on a gas grill, its actually pellets which are not only the cheaper solution but also the superior option. With pellets, you will get smoke for typically four times longer than with wood chips.
While hot smoking using the heat from the gas burners to cook brisket and ribs etc is many peoples first thoughts for smoking on their gas grill, don’t let that be your only experiment. Try cold smoking with the pellets for fish and cheese etc, I believe many people are missing out on the joy of cold-smoked foods.
That’s it! I hope you found the above useful on the benefits of using pellets over wood chips for smoking on a gas grill and the various methods for smoking with pellets. If you do want to consider a dedicated pellet grill/smoker please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂
Back in 2007 when I first become aware of pellet grills and smokers the only brand I was really aware of was Traeger. Traeger is really where this whole concept of cooking with pellets started in the 1980s. It was a ‘slow burner’ (pardon the pun) but since the 2010s is really when pellet grills and smokers started to get mainstream awareness, discussed alongside gas and charcoal grills. There are now over 30 pellet grill/smoker brands that I’m aware of, and the link above goes to my A to Z list of brands article.
Now, you may already be aware of a few of the other brands such as Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Z Grills and I’m sure you are aware of Weber, though you may not have known they have entered the pellet grill game. However, they are now many, many more brands to look into. Some may be what are commonly referred to as ‘Traeger clones’, but many others are offering their own unique designs and features.
A pellet grill/smoker is only as good as the BBQ pellets you put into it. The type/quality of the BBQ wood pellets you use will impact temperature performance and smoke flavour. There are many pellet flavours including Apple, Hickory, Mapel, Oak and Walnut to name but a few. However, some brands are hardwood blended pellets whereas others are 100% single wood species.
In this article, I provide details on over 20 brands of BBQ wood pellets, their range of flavours, whether they are 100% single wood species or hardwood blended pellets, their typical price and where they are available. I also provide tips on how to get the best deal when buying BBQ wood pellets and how to test pellet quality. Finally, I discuss the new kid on the block, charcoal pellets and their special attributes compared to all other hardwood BBQ pellets.