The Smoker Wood Chips BBQ Primer

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If you want meat cooked on your grill to have a smoky flavor, you will have to decide on the source of that smoke. Smoker wood chips are a great option for faster-cooking meats. They are easy to find and usually affordable. They are not ideal for slow-smoked dishes that will spend hours on the grill since they burn up quickly, even when soaked.

What are smoker wood chips?

Smoker wood chips are usually made from aromatic hardwoods. Compared to softwoods, hardwoods have denser cell structures and little sap. This results in a cleaner burn. Wood chips are hardwood fragments that vary in size, but that are typically an inch or two across. They are usually only a 1/4 inch or less thick.

What are the different types of wood chips for smoking?

Popular wood chip options include:

  • Apple: Apple wood’s light flavors work well with milder-flavored meats like fish and poultry.
  • Cherry: This wood has a sweet, mild flavor that allows it to be used with everything but it is especially popular for use with pork.
  • Hickory: Hickory is one of the stronger flavored popular woods. It can be used on any type of meat, but is best known for its use with pork. While it is a favorite among barbecue aficionados, it must be used carefully as it can make the meat bitter when used in excess.
  • Mesquite: Arguably the wood with the strongest flavor, mesquite flavors meats quickly. Its ability to transfer its flavor in less time makes it perfect for grilling, as opposed to smoking.
  • Pecan: Pecan wood’s flavor is similar to that of hickory but is not as pungent, which means that it is ideal for milder flavored meats like poultry and fish.

How do wood chips flavor food?

Wood chips flavor food via the smoke they produce. The small particles that make up smoke adhere to the surface of meat in your grill. From the surface, they will dissolve and soak into the meat to flavor it.

It is important to note that the temperature of the meat, how dry it is and its surface texture each have a lot to do with how much of that smoke and its flavor actually sticks to the meat. Colder, wet meat absorbs more smoke as will meat with an irregular surface; warm dry meat with a regular surface will not absorb as much smoke. Mops, marinades, and rubs all add moisture and create irregularities on the surface of the meat that allows smoke to stick and thus flavor the meat.

What are the best ways to use wood chips on a grill?

On a charcoal grill, you can simply toss them onto the coals and let them burn to create smoke; however, these will burn away pretty quickly. Another option is to wrap them in aluminum foil, poke some holes in the foil and place them on the coals for longer-lasting, controlled smoking. You can also do the same thing using a smoker box. A smoker box is a small metal box with holes in it. It serves the same purpose as the foil, but is reusable.

You can use the foil method or a smoker box on a gas grill. Place the foil or the smoker box on the grill’s burner beneath the grates.

What are you NOT to do with wood chips on the grill?

There are a few don’ts to consider:

  • Don’t soak wood chips before using them. This will lower your grill’s temperature. Good barbecue is all about consistent heat.
  • Don’t add more wood chips to get your grill smoking heavily. The smoke that flavors meat is light and pale blue in color.
  • Don’t get fixated on matching wood types to specific meats. Almost all woods work well with almost all meats.
  • Don’t use blackened wood chips for flavor; they are essentially charcoal and should only be used for fuel.