So, you’ve bought a smoker, and you’re ready for your first smoking session. You go on the internet and learn the smoking time of the meat you’re smoking, it’s internal temperature, the smoking temperature, maybe even the best combination of wood chips and so on.
But how often should you add the wood chips. As there aren’t really any rules for this, it’s something you’re pretty much left on your own to find out. If you’re a beginner it can leave you a bit unsure. First of all don’t worry. It’s a lot easier to do than you might think, and you also can’t really mess up too badly.
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How do You Know When you Need to add Wood Chips?
As said there aren’t really any “rules” to follow on this, but I will still give you some general guidelines that you can at least keep in mind when smoking.
First of all, you should add wood chips when the smoke has thinned out or it’s about to stop smoking. Not enough smoke means not a lot of wood chips. For most types of wood chips, you should usually add around 2-3 handfuls of new wood chips every 2-4 hours at medium to high temperatures (225° and above) and every 4-6 hours at a low temperatures. This will also depend on the smoking-method. Some like to add in a lot of wood chips the first 30-45 minutes, and then let them burn out for the remainder of the time without adding anymore smoke to the meat.
Usually though, checking the wood tray every 2-4 hour or so will pretty much guarantee that the wood chips doesn’t run out too early, and that there is constantly smoke.
When saying all this, I’m assuming you’re not using wood chips as the main heat source. Using wood chips as the heat source is very rare and not advisable.
All you really need to do is make sure that there are constantly wood chips and that there is constantly smoke. The worst thing that can happen is that you add to many wood chips at once, since it will cause “over-smoking” and worsen the taste of the meat.
Adding the Wood Chips
When the smoker is at 225-275°F it takes around 20 minutes for wood chips to smoke at their fullest. This way you know that when the smoke is thinning out, you can add in some new wood chips without over-smoking, as the new wood chips won’t smoke immediately. It’s okay to add new wood chips on top of old ones.
Since, the wood chips need a bit of time to begin smoking don’t wait until the smoke has completely stopped. As the old ones burn out the new ones will gradually smoke more and more, which keeps the amount of smoke constant.
If you have a smoker with a built in with a wood tray or tube, or you’re using a smoker box, simply take it out out and fill in some new wood chips. If you have packed the wood chips in an aluminum foil package you can either prepare a new one or simply refill the old one.
How Often to Check
Check the smoker every 2 hours at low-medium temperatures. At most I would only check every 45-60 minutes or so. Anything more is unnecessary and constantly opening the smoker cause mess with the temperature.
As long as you add the right amount of wood chips, you can definitely get away with only checking every 2 hours or so. Between 2 and 4 handfuls of wood chips will last long enough for there to still be smoke after 2 hours, even at high temperature smoking.
How Much Wood do You Put in a Smoker?
This will depend on a few things such as the temperature, type of meat, wood chip size and brand, and the amount of flavor you want.
In reality, just winging it without overthinking it too much is the best way to go. But as a general rule, add in 2-3 handfuls of wood chips every time. If you do high temperature smoking, or you want a lot of flavor then 4 handfuls will also work.
The main thing you need to think about is; how strong do I want the smoke-flavor to be, and what am I cooking?
If you’re smoking a chicken for example, you would usually not re-add much more than 1 or 2 handfuls every time. As long as the equivalent of 1-2 handfuls of woodchips in the smoker it won’t over-smoke the chicken. If you’re cooking denser meat, like a brisket, you probably need around 3-4 handfuls each time you re-add wood chips.
Hopefully you have a better idea on how to refill wood chips now. There are not hard and fast rules and you can basically do as you like. But if you’re still in doubt, adding 2-4 handfuls of wood chips every time the old ones are about to run out (which is usually 2-3 hours) will work.
The thing with smoking is that it’s always a matter of opinion. Someone will always say that their method is the best. The best advice I can give you is to just give it a go. You’ll probably also be surprised at how good you instinctively are at judging things when you first try it out.