Adding wood to your fire is the only way to get the true smoke flavor in your smoker. Whether you have an electric, gas, or charcoal smoker, you can add wood for the authentic barbecue flavor. Fortunately, wood chips and wood chunks come prepackaged for your convenience, but which should you use?
Chips are very small pieces of wood that are great for short, quick bursts of smoke. Chips, even soaked in water, will burn up pretty fast, create smoke, and then disappear. If you are not smoking for a very long period, or if you only want a small amount of smoke flavor, then go with chips.
Make sure to read the instructions for your smoker. Some electric and gas smokers are designed for wood chips only. You won't want to use chunks with these units.
Chunks are large pieces of hardwood. Usually less than 2 inches, these pieces are best for creating smoke for extended periods. You’ll get more smoke throughout your cooking time without having to run out and add more every 30 minutes. Be sure to check whether your smoker can use wood chunks.
When buying wood for smoking, aside from getting a hardwood with a pleasant smoke, look for good quality wood. Large amounts of bark, resins, and impurities will produce noxious smoke that will be counterproductive, regardless of the type of wood you are using. Good quality wood for smoke is as essential as selecting the right kind of wood for the food you are smoking.
Whether you are using chips or chunks, you don't want it to burn away too quickly. Fast burning wood creates intense bursts of smoke that can make your food taste bitter. By soaking wood in water, you slow down the combustion and lengthen the time the wood smokes.
Soak wood chips for about 15 minutes, and chunks for at least 30 minutes. Make sure to let the wood drip dry for a few minutes before adding it to the fire. You want the wood to be moist, not dripping wet.
When to Add Wood
When using a charcoal grill, add the wood directly to the coals once the fire has died down and you're ready to grill. Don't add it before you're prepared to cook, or you will be wasting the smoke.
A vertical gas smoker has a tray or pan above the burner to hold the wood. Add the wood after the unit is up to temperature and allow the smoke to develop before you add the food.
If you are adding wood chips or chunks to a gas grill, you need to keep the wood isolated from the fire. Look for a device, such as a cast iron box, to hold the smoking wood chips so ash doesn't collect in your gas grill. Or, you can use a sheet of foil. Place the soaked wood on the foil, wrap it, and punch a couple of holes in the foil for the smoke to escape. Place this packet on the grill with your food.