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How to Use Wood Chips

Wood chips are chippings from larger pieces of wood, such as trees, stumps, branches, roots, and even wood waste. You can use any type of wood for smoking. The choice comes down to preference.

Whether you’re using ordinary or premium-grade chippings, wood chips will provide that signature smoky flavor to grilled goods. There are many techniques for preparing wood chips, and there’s a variety of wood chips to choose from.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at all of the methods for using wood chips, and how to use them best.

How to Use Wood Chips in Smoking

A real backyard cook knows the ins and outs of grilling and smoking. While you may not be able to master how to cook with wood chips on your first try, or even the second and the third, cooking with wood chips is well worth it.

It takes serious time to study smoking with wood chips, but don’t let that intimidate you. With enough patience and practice, you’ll be turning chunks of meat into divine mouth-watering meals. Before you know it, your neighbors will be lining up to have a taste of your barbecue.

How to use wood chips in the smoking and grilling process is simple: heat the wood chips in a grill, and the smoke will start to infuse flavor and aroma to your choice of meat. The taste and smell you want to achieve will depend on what type of wood chip you use.


What Type of Wood Should I Use?

There are many varieties of wood to choose from, though they come in three forms:

  • Wood Chips
  • Chunks
  • Logs

Knowing which one to use depends on a simple question: How long are you planning to smoke your choice of meat?

Because wood chips are smaller pieces of wood compared to chunks and logs, they are ideal for meat products that have a shorter period of cooking time, such as fish, chicken, or rare to medium-rare steaks.

BBQ briskets, pork butt, and ribs will require longer cooking times, so you’ll want to opt for chunks or logs as these types of wood come in larger portions and can withstand heat longer than wood chips do—all without burning up too quickly.


Should You Soak Wood Chips or Leave Them Dry?

If you know how to use wood chips, then you’d know how to answer this question. The traditional method of preparing wood chips is to smoke them, yet cooks remain divided on the subject of whether to soak them first or leave them dry.

The expert opinion is to forget about it [1] and remember to keep your wood fresh instead. Since the smoky aroma of meat primarily comes from oil and the natural moisture in the wood, the wood chips can best be sealed in a bag or container to preserve their freshness.

dry or wet wood chips

Even though it can be tempting to store these in an open space such as the garage, such places can contribute to the evaporation of these useful oils. Think twice before storing your wood chips in your garage.


Smoke, Not Burn

One trick to reduce the heat and produce more smoke for your wood chips is to reduce the oxygen level.  The lowered oxygen levels will make the wood smolder instead of its usual full-on burn.

One tried and tested method to limit oxygen levels is to put the wood chips in a container, usually a metal box, a smoking bag, or a smoker pouch.

These materials will restrict the oxygen content in the wood chips and prevent it from bursting into flames. The most common material to use for these containers is aluminum.


Don’t Lift the Grill Lid

Another pro tip to make sure that your wood chips keep on burning is to avoid lifting the grill lid. It cannot be said enough. While it is tempting to take a peek and check your mouth-watering BBQ, keeping as much smoke within the container will pack more flavor and aroma to your food.

Making a Smoking Pouch for Wood Chips

Knowing how to use wood chips isn’t rocket science, but it does involve some chemistry, particularly when making your smoking pouch.

The main objective of creating a smoking pouch is to restrict the oxygen levels in the wood chips from combusting and produce more smoke instead of heat. Too much heat can quickly burn your wood chips.

foil smoke pouch

The materials needed to make a smoking pouch for wood chips are:

  • foil
  • wood chips
  • a tiny rope to tie the foil
  • a knife or a pair of scissors

Here are the steps:

  1. Take the foil and fold it neatly at the center;
  2. Take a handful of wood chips and place them at the center;
  3. Wrap the foil with the chips in it so that it looks like a pouch. Make sure that you tie the rope tightly (like a birthday present) so that the chips will not fall off;
  4. Take your knife or scissors (whichever works for you best) and poke holes in your smoking pouch to allow air in, and for the smoke to be released;
  5. Put your smoking pouches in your grill, similar to how you would place your wood chips.

Select Your Fuel Grill Type

Knowing how to use wood chips is half of the game. The other half lies in your choice of grill fuel. The type of fuel source will dictate your grilling technique and the time you’ll have to spend cooking. There are many types of grill fuels, but the following are the most commonly used:


Charcoal

Charcoal is the most iconic grill fuel for backyard gourmets. Whether they’re briquettes or hardwood lumps, these pieces of charcoal are sure to pack flavor to your grilled goods.

In terms of use, charcoal gives you the most freedom in grilling, from arranging the lumps of coal to the way you light them up. Since you may find difficulty in controlling the temperature, it’s best to use charcoal for meat cuts that cook at the same or similar temperature.


Propane

What propane compromises in flavor, it makes up for with convenience and ease of use. If you’ve just started dipping your toes in backyard grilling, then propane may be your best option. It’s affordable, easy to set up, and doesn’t make as much of a mess as charcoal does.


Electric

With electric grills, you can take your BBQ indoors. Electricity may be the costlier option among the three grill fuels in this article, and it may not perform the best in the flavor department. However, it’s the fastest choice when you want to whip up a quick meal.

How to Use Wood Chips in a Gas Grill

The easiest way to use wood chips in a gas grill is to use a foil pouch or a smoker box if you own one.

Check if your gas grill already has a smoker box, and smoke away! If not, you can refer to the steps above to create your smoking pouch or checkout this guide for how to smoke on a gas grill.

How to Use Wood Chips in an Electric Smoker

If it’s your first time using your electric smoker, make sure to test it out first by “seasoning” it. “Seasoning” here means turning your electric smoker on while it is empty to eliminate unwanted dust and odors.

Turn your electric smoker on and add your wood chips to the built-in chip tray, which you can find at the lower right side of your smoker. Most chip trays can accommodate up to four cups of chips for every three to five hours of cooking time.

Another essential thing to note is to use hardwood chips such as apple, birch, and pecan as they are best suited for these kinds of smokers. [2]

Next, pre-heat your electric smoker for up to 45 minutes and then place a container of water at the bottom of your smoking chamber so that the evaporated water will make your meat moist. Continue with placing your marinated meat and proceed with the smoking process.

How to Use Wood Chips in a Charcoal Grill

Choose your favorite wood chip variety that will complement your food and grab a bag of charcoal. Put your charcoal in the chimney and put your smoking pouch in your charcoal. Put your grate over the fire and proceed with smoking your meat.


One Last Reminder

There are many uses of wood chips, including a rather complex method of using it in the barbecue process. Remember that whatever type of wood and method you use depend on your personal preference as a cook. Happy grilling!

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