Can You Use Charcoal on a Pellet Grill? (Explained)

Can You Use Charcoal on a Pellet Grill?

The sun is shining and it’s time to get that pellet grill out for some BBQ and outdoor parties.

At the last minute, you notice that you ran out of wood pellets but have some extra charcoal in the garage. 

So can you use charcoal on a pellet grill?

After all, food tastes even better when cooked with charcoal.

Charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal cannot be used in a pellet grill. Pellet grills require pellet-shaped wood or charcoal in order to work correctly. So charcoal-flavored wood pellets and charcoal pellets can be used in a pellet grill.

DO NOT place charcoal briquettes inside a pellet grill’s drum and start a fire directly in the grill. Pellet grills are not designed to withstand the direct heat charcoal fires create. A charcoal fire can cause serious damage to a pellet grill.

There are two options when it comes to creating that unique charcoal flavor on food.

  1. Buy charcoal-flavored wood pellets designed for pellet grills instead of damaging your $500 to $2,000 pellet grill by using lump charcoal.
  2. Use a charcoal or gas/charcoal combo grill.

First, let’s cover why lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes cannot be used with a pellet grill.

Pellet Grills Require Pellet-Shaped Fuel

The main reason why lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes cannot be used on a pellet grill is from the shape of the charcoal.

Typically charcoal will come in a variety of shapes and sizes which will jam the auger. Pellet grills rely on pellet shaped fuel in order to smoothly feed in fuel to the fire.

If the auger is jammed then the pellet grill will not work since the fire will die down.

Using Charcoal-Flavored Pellets on Pellet Grill

Charcoal-flavored wood pellets are the only option when it comes to achieving that charcoal flavor on a pellet grill. Here are 6 reasons to use charcoal flavored pellets on a pellet grill:

  1. Charcoal-flavored pellets are made from natural hardwood and produce a wood and charcoal aroma when heated.
  2. They work as efficiently as lump charcoal when used as a fuel source. The pellets produce similarly strong flavors as lump charcoal on an open fire.
  3. The meat absorbs the charcoal flavor without the acrid smokiness of lump charcoal. This makes the pellets a better option for grilling steaks, spare ribs, sausages, pork butt, and chicken wings.
  4. The pellets will enhance your grilling experience. It is great for those who want to experiment with different fuel sources and flavors.
  5. You do not have to reconfigure your pellet grill to accommodate the charcoal. The charcoal-flavored wood pellets will fit just fine in the hopper and burn like wood pellets.
  6. Charcoal-flavored wood pellets produce less ash than lump coal.  You don’t have to keep emptying the ash pan during slow cooking.

Try Pit Boss’ Charcoal Blend Pellets made from 100% oak hardwood for a smoky charcoal aroma. A 20-pound bag is available at Target and Walmart.

Reasons For A Combo Grill

No pellet grill allows for charcoal use for a number of reasons.

  1. Pellet grill needs electricity to run the auger and fan in order to feed in pellets and maintain heat and smoke. Charcoal grills just need a place to hold charcoal with airflow. So a pellet grill is overengineered for most charcoal cooking methods.
  2. Most pellet grills have a temperature limit of 500 degrees. Pellet grills cannot exceed this temperature otherwise some elements (such as the motor or wires) will burn. Burning coal can exceed 500 degrees.
  3. Pellet grills require pellet-shaped fuel in order to smoothly feed in the pellets while smoking. Most charcoal is irregular in shape and size.

A combo charcoal/gas grill is made of heavy-duty steel to withstand extremely high temperatures of burning coal. Its heat-resistant ceramic coating keeps the grill cool despite the high temperature.

  •  The ventilation or air flow system for pellet grill would not facilitate effective charcoal burning. Without any modifications, the combustion fan would blow ash into your food.  You need a separate compartment with side vents for charcoal cooking.  The Oklahoma Joe’s Charcoal/LP Gas/Smoker Combo has a side burner for the chimney starter. Or the Pit Boss Memphis Ultimate with front air intake and a chimney exhaust in the rear.
  • You need a pellet grill with a compartment or removable pan for ash collection. A combo grill with charcoal grill features would be just right. In such grills, the ash falls from the hopper into the pan via the fire grate. Some have side vents that allow you to draw out the pan and dump the ash without interfering with the cooking.

Can I Use Lump Charcoal On A Pellet Grill?

You’ll encounter a number of problems. Specifically, you’ll have issues with temperature control, combustion, and ash collection. Here are more challenges with using charcoal on a pellet grill:

Temperature Control

Temperature control is very difficult when using charcoal. It lights up fast, can reach very high temperatures (even above 500 degrees), and burns unevenly depending on airflow. Pellet grills do not have an in-built mechanism for regulating the combustion rate and temperature of burning coal.

Charcoal is great for searing meat because it burns hot and fast, but it is very tricky for slow cooking. You’d have to keep checking on the charcoal fire to see if it gets too hot or too cool. If too hot, you have to close the air vents or remove the charcoal to lower the heat. If too cool, you have to add more charcoal to sustain the fire or lower the cooking grates.

Charcoal Sizes

Secondly, most briquettes are very large for the average pellet grill. They will not fit into the pellet grill’s hopper or combustion chamber. Your only option is charcoal pellets that mimic the size of wood pellets. You could try Traeger’s charcoal-flavored wood pellets that mimic the flavor of charcoal but provide the temperature-regulation benefit of wood pellets.

Ash Collection

Thirdly, you would have to fabricate a tray for collecting ash at the bottom of the grill. The challenge with this is your tray may obstruct the combustion fan and blow ash into your food. If the tray is located away from the combustion fan, you have to keep emptying the ashtray during your slow cooking. This is unlike wood pellets where the firepot only needs to be cleaned from ash every 2 to 3 cooks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can pellet grills use charcoal?

A: Pellet grills cannot use traditional lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes. A pellet grill is not designed to withstand the high temperature of a charcoal fire. Starting a charcoal fire within a pellet grill can cause serious damage to the cooking mechanism and electronics within a pellet grill.

However, charcoal flavored pellets can be used in a pellet grill to provide a charcoal flavor to the food being cooked or smoked on a pellet grill.

Q: Do pellet grills take like charcoal?

A: Pellet grills flavor is influenced by the wood pellet flavor being used to cook or smoke the food. Mesquite wood pellets will leave a heavy mesquite flavor on food whereas cherry wood pellets will leave a lighter sweeter taste on food.

Charcoal wood pellets will leave a light charcoal and smoky flavor on food. However, the unique charcoal flavor that gets created on a real charcoal fire cannot be replicated on a pellet grill. Pellet grills cook food through indirect heat similar to a convection oven whereas a charcoal fire cooks food through direct heat. So pellet grills will create a different flavor on food compared to charcoal grills.

Q: Can you use charcoal in a traeger grill?

A: Lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes cannot be used in a Traeger pellet grill. Charcoal generates too much heat and ash where the internal components of the pellet grill will get damaged from an open charcoal fire. However, charcoal wood pellets can be used in a Traeger pellet grill in order to create charcoal flavor.

Final Thoughts

You can use charcoal on a pellet grill in two ways:

I find it is much safer and cheaper to buy a charcoal grill for charcoal cooking.  A compact-size charcoal grill can cost as low as $20. Compare this to the price of a new combo pellet grill or a new pellet grill if these get damaged.

Charcoal grills work best for short-time cooking because you can keep watch over the charcoal and attend to its needs. Pellet grills are better suited for slow cooking, such as smoking. You get more value for money using wood pellets as the source of fuel and smoke in pellet grills.

Plus, charcoal grills come with smoke chambers, a dedicated firebox, and air vents for charcoal combustion such as the Kamado Joe KJ15040921 Classic III 18” charcoal grill. The combo pellet grill may have the same features but you would have to compromise on the size of the cooking grates. And, you would have to consider how big your yard is to accommodate the large combo grill with some clearance for fire safety.

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I'm learning how to catch, grow, and cook my own natural food and my goal is to help others eat more food from nature. Eating natural food can taste great, be affordable and accessible with a little planning. Don't get me wrong, I still eat taco bell and pizzas every so often, but I'm trying to eat more dank food from nature! So let's eat tasty natural food together.

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