How to Use Wood Chips for Grilling and Smoking

Jeremy Bivens
Jeremy Bivens
Research Writer
Jeremy Bivens is a passionate writer and grilling enthusiast. He's been working as a freelance journalist for over 15 years now and has a particular interest in food writing read more
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Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams
Expert Consultant
Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous read more
Last updated: August 10, 2023
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As summer approaches, many people start to think about backyard barbecues. Whether you grill with charcoal or gas, if you want to try something new, you may want to consider using wood chips. This can add a distinct flavor to liven up your tried and tested grilling to surprise and impress your family and friends. So, here we’ll explore how to use wood chips for smoking and how you can incorporate them into your grilling.

What are Wood Chips and Why Use Them?

Wood chips are small bits of seasoned hardwood that can be used to add a smoky flavor on most types of grill.

Just like adding herbs and spices to your meat marinades, adding wood chips to your grill can subtly change the flavor of your meat. You can experiment with different wood chips, combining woods to complement the flavors to provide a sweet note that won’t overpower your dish.

Just remember that the longer the wood chips smoke, the more coloring and taste will be added to your food. A burger that cooks in 10 minutes will not have the same smoky taste that a pork shoulder has after being cooked for hours.

Types of wood chips

As we touched on above, different wood chips will add different flavors to your meal. You can pick flavors that are complementary to the food you’re grilling. Generally, pork and beef are suited to intense savory flavors, while poultry is better paired with a sweet, fruity flavor.
How to Use Wood Chips for Grilling and Smoking

How to use wood chips on a charcoal grill

If you want to use wood chips on a charcoal grill, you don’t need a smoker box or even a foil bag. However, there are some important steps to get the best flavor in your meats.

You will still need to use charcoal as your fire source, but you can add wood chips to intensify the cook and create new flavor tones.

Use a layer of charcoal and allow it to burn until the fuel becomes white. You can then add your wood chips. Allow the wood chips to develop a little smoldering smoke before you add your meat.

If you’re cooking indirectly, you should add a cup of chips roughly every forty-five minutes to ensure continued smoky flavor. One advantage of using wood chips in a charcoal grill is that you can also add chunks of wood to keep the fire burning for longer. You can place chunks of wood directly on lit coals, one or two pieces at a time. Avoid using more wood, which can create a strong smoky taste that may make your food unpalatable.

It is crucial to ensure that the grill air vents allow proper airflow. If the airflow is compromised, the wood will burn too quickly, creating an acrid taste. Look out for thick, white smoke, which is a sure sign that the wood is burning too quickly. Although it may be tempting to try and cook more quickly, for great flavor, low and slow is vital.

How to use wood chips on a gas grill

If you have a gas grill, you may already be set up for smoking with wood chips. Some models feature a smoker box with its own burner, so you can just add your wood chips and get grilling. If your grill doesn’t have a box, you will need to purchase a stainless steel smoker box, or you can use a foil pan and aluminum foil. However, you won’t be able to add more chips as you would with a built-in box or smoker box.

How to Use Wood Chips for Grilling and Smoking

Place the wood chips in the box or in the foil tray. If you’re using a foil tray, you’ll need to cover it with foil and punch a few holes to allow the smoke to escape. This can be placed above a burner on the grill grate. Allow the wood chips 10 to 15 minutes to start smoking; then you can add the food and grill as normal. If the wood chips are starting to smell a little too smoky, remove them halfway through cooking.

How to use wood chips on an electric grill

Electric grills are one of the most convenient and easy to maintain ways to barbecue. However, they do lack the flavor provided with a gas or charcoal grill. Fortunately, you can inject flavor by using wood chips. This will allow you to add a smoky flavor to any of your grilled meats.

The steps of how to use wood chips on an electric grill are fairly simple. Preheat your grill and place the wood chips in a smoker box. When the grill reaches high heat, put the box on the grill at the rear and allow the chips to start smoking before you start grilling. Put your grill on high, and once you start seeing a little smoke, you can put your food on the grill. This may take up to half an hour, so just check every 10 or 15 minutes to avoid continually lifting up the lid.

Once you start grilling, you can adjust the heat as necessary. If you want the smokiest flavor, you should try to avoid removing the lid unless it is necessary to turn the food or check your meal.

How to use wood chips on a pellet grill

The pellet grill is one of the hottest grilling trends at the moment, providing the convenience of gas grilling but with a smoky wood flavor. Pellet grills quickly pre heat, and you can regulate the temperature with greater accuracy. This provides a versatile way to barbecue, smoke, and grill. Pellets are available in a variety of hardwoods, so you can get the flavor of wood chips without needing to do anything special as you grill. Simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your pellet grill and experiment with different pellets to get your ideal flavor.

To soak or not to soak?

How to Use Wood Chips for Grilling and Smoking

This is a highly debated topic among smoking and grilling veterans. Soaking your wood chips allows the wood to smolder rather than just burning up. This allows a lasting smoke that creates a richer flavor.

Many experts believe that you should soak your wood chips roughly the same amount of time that you’ll be cooking your meat. So, if your cooking steaks, a 30-minute soak should be sufficient, but if you’re grilling a pork butt, you’ll need to soak your wood chips overnight.

The other query is whether you can soak your chips in any liquid. For example, you may wonder how to use Jack Daniels wood chips and whether you should soak your wood chips in your favorite bourbon. However, this can be a waste of good J.D, so it is a better idea to use Jack Daniels chips. These are made from J.D barrels, so you can enjoy that rich, flavor without raiding your liquor cabinet.

In Conclusion

As you can see using wood chips is a great way to infuse your foods with new flavors, and regardless of the type of grill, you can easily use this versatile material. You can experiment with different woods to achieve the flavor to compliment your dish and impress your guests.

So, if you’re looking to add flavor to your grilling, wood chips provide a simple option for you. Learning how to use wood chips is easy; choose a flavor or two, and you can transform your grill to create a pro level style of cooking.

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