Susie, I started out using wood chips because I didn't know about wood pellet smokers like the A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker. I didn't put wood chunks in my MES 30 because my understanding was that the wood chip loader and tray were designed for just that; wood chips. I found loading wood chips every 20-30 minutes too much of a hassle which is why I changed to using wood pellets. I think for a propane or charcoal grill or a charcoal bullet smoker, wood chunks would be fine. For the MES, I'd go with wood pellets.
Actually, wood is wood. Any good quality wood used for BBQ will impart great flavor. Red Dog is right; Todd Johnson sells top quality pellets. Wood pellets are essentially sawdust compressed under heat and pressure with a binding being applied to keep the pellet together. A number of manufacturers will add resins and other stuff as binders so that the cheaper pellets aren't 100% wood.
Todd also sells pellets in every "flavor" you'd ever need. I have Oak. Hickory, Mesquite, Pecan, Apple, and his own Pittmaster's Choice, which includes cherry wood in the mix. For my purposes and the flavor profiles I'm after, those are sufficient. In addition to using one wood pellet type, you can also mix oak and pecan or pecan and apple for smoking pork ribs or pulled pork, or any combo you want. That's part of the fun of home smoking.
In another thread I copy/pasted an article on how a company made their wood pellets because after editing out the company proprietary stuff, it told you how they're made and why among many smokers they're preferable. I took a BBQ class last summer and the instructor said he used wood pellets in his home smoker.
Here's that partial article below. Note that it says wood pellets are clean burning and don't leave much creosote behind, which is not the case with wood chunks.
"WHY WOOD PELLETS:
- FLAVOR = Wood pellets provide more flavor and offer a variety of flavors
- SMOKE = Wood Pellets provide more smoke with more consistency
- HEAT = Heat source is 100% natural wood pellets, no fuel or hot coals etc.
- CLEAN BURNING = Wood pellets product very little ash with very little creosote build up
- SAFE = Danger of fire from removing hot ash and embers is eliminated, unlike log burning units
Pellets are easily obtainable through the U.S. [The best are made from] 100% wood, food grade barbecue pellets specifically produced for use with food. Barbecue pellet[s] are made from hardwoods that contain fewer resins and are produced in a controlled process to ensure a food grade product. (Heating pellets, on the other hand, are produced specifically for heat stoves and do not meet food grade requirements.) Barbecue pellets are made by pulverizing hardwood sawdust and extruding to a uniform density through a rotating die under enormous heat and pressure (400 degrees F @ 10,000 PSI). Naturally occurring lignin in the wood binds the pellets into their shape. Pellets are then cooled and placed in...bags."
Sounds like that was pasted from a company trying to sell pellets.
Someboby has to tell me why pellets have more "flavor" and "produce more smoke" than a comparable amount of wood in another form (like chunks). Especially when we know they use an additive to bind the dust together. Don't get me wrong, I love my pellet cooker, but there is no more creosote formed from natural wood than with pellets. Creosote forms when the smoke and associated gases are mixed with moisture and is allowed to condense on surfaces, which in a cooker is not a lot as the interior tends to be around the same temp, unlike a long house chimney. And considering the statement was made that "wood is wood", why would pellets be better and make a difference over chunks? However, creosote forms much more easily when the temp is around 250 degrees or less, and the smoke is allowed to hang around the chamber instead of having good flow. If you are allowing the smoke to flow freely you will have very little creosote build up inside a smoker like the MES and virtually none on your food. If you do have a liquid forming on your food or walls its operator error, but you will get the same build up from chips, chunks, pellets, etc. I have a stick burner, pellet cooker, electric, and smokehouse and there is no way that you get "better" flavor from a bound up dried sawdust pellet with a glue added, and the dried up flavorless chips most companies sell; compared to natural wood splits, logs, or chunks. Maybe close and to some, the same..... but not better. The efficiency of the burn, and the operation of the cooker is the key. BTW daRicksta, regardless of how you think the design of MES was geared for (we all know how some of their designs were flawed in the gen 2 MES) try using some 4 or 5 inch long X 1 or so inch chunks in that loader and drop them into the tray. Nice long gentle flavorful smoke. Sure beats the hell out of dried up, flash burning chips. All the best to everyone...and happy holidays. I'm heading for the caribbean where I'll be smoking in 80 degree sunshine instead of this dark, cold, New England winter. And I have to use natural wood down there as there are no pellets where I'm going (those savages) !!