Can You Use Wood Pellets With an Electric Smoker?

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
June 28, 2022

Electric smokers typically make use of wood chips that are placed above a heating element via a wood chip tray. However, it's not uncommon to either be out of wood chips or to have pellets on hand.

With that said, it is entirely possible to use wood pellets in an electric smoker; I personally do so regularly.

How Does an Electric Smoker Work?

To start with, it's important to understand how an electric smoker works.

An electric smoker features a cooking chamber with cooking racks that are vertically oriented. They also feature a heating element that's enclosed as well as a wood chip tray, and loader. There is also typically a spot for a water pan/drip pan as well as dampers/vents.

The heating elements in electric smokers work through a process called Joule heating.

electric smoker heat source

Electric current passes through a conductor and is met with resistance. As a result of this resistance, the conductor produces thermal energy (hence heating).

A wood chip tray is affixed above the heating element. The wood chip tray heats up as the heating element heats up which causes the wood to smolder. Wood is added via a wood chip loader that conveniently allows you to dump more wood chips into the tray without opening the smoke chamber.

What Material Do Electric Smokers Normally Use?

Smokers like the Masterbuilt electric smoker typically make use of wood chips - hence the parts being listed as a "Wood Chip Tray" or "Wood Chip Loader."

These days, smoking pellets are quite cheap and are typically more cost effective than wood chips.

pellets and wood chips for electric smoker
Electric Smokers use wood chips, pictured left

To illustrate, I typically buy wood chips, chunks, and pellets from my Local Runnings.

  • A 180 cu. in. bag of wood chips (roughly 2 lbs depending on species) is $3.99
  • A 20 lb bag of Lumberjack pellets is $9.99

Meaning, wood chips cost $1.50/lb more.

If you own a pellet smoker, it's also way more convenient to simply go over to your pellet smoker and grab some pellets from the hopper.

Are Wood Pellets Okay to Use in a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker

To make this abundantly clear - Masterbuilt does not approve of using wood pellets in their smokers.

I own their older 40 inch model and to quote their manual from Amazon:

  • "Do not use wood pellets"
  • "Fuels such as charcoal briquettes or heat pellets, are not to be used in electric smoker."

With that said, I've owned electric smokers for a long time. This one I bought in November 2018 and it still runs like the day I bought it.

Meaning, yes, you can use wood pellets in the Masterbuilt Electric smoker but Masterbuilt does not approve of their use; Across all of their manuals they make that completely clear.

pellets smoldered in an electric smoker
Smoldered wood pellets in an electric smoker

Your electric smoker might be different and I'd suggest consulting the manual.

I've used wood pellets in my Masterbuilt Electric smoker several times with no issues. However, I also know a few factors that you likely don't; Namely, the amount of pellets to use (outlined below).

How Many Pellets Do I Use?

So this is where most folks will have issues and likely a reason for why Masterbuilt doesn't approve of using pellets.

Masterbuilt has clear instructions for use:

"Never add more than 1/2 cup (1 filled chip loader) at a time. Additional chips should not be added until any previously added chips have ceased generating smoke."

Obviously, pellets are way more uniform, meaning you can add a lot more pellets at a time.

However, you shouldn't do this. '

Even Masterbuilt's own instructions for 1/2 cup of wood chips at a time I wouldn't advise following; You do not need this many wood chips inside an electric smoker.

What can happen in both scenarios is a blowback.

Blowback or "backdraft" occurs due to the build up of too much smoke and combustion by-products inside the smoker - electric smokers create an ultra-tight seal, unlike other types of smokers.

Oxygen then enters the system and the result is a sudden exfiltration of smoke - or a sudden "puff" of smoke via the exhaust damper.

I've even heard of instances where doors and wood chip loaders were blown off/out.

My recommendation is at most 5-10 pellets. I would recommend starting at 5 first and seeing what sort of smoke that nets you as all pellet brands are different (composition of their pellets).

pellets in electric smoker
The Above is 10 Pellets

Even with an electric smoker, your goal is thin blue smoke - not tons of white smoke/dirty smoke.

electric smoker thin blue smoke
Thin blue smoke from pellets

With wood chips, I also only recommend using 5 wood chips at a time.

Another issue with adding too many pellets is that they could catch on fire. The reason for this is pellets have more energy density than wood chips.

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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