How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill – the Best Ways of Doing It

wood chips on charcoal grill

If you’re looking to give your charcoal grill a smoky flavor, then using wood chips is the way to go. In this step-by-step guide, we will teach you how to use wood chips in a charcoal grill so that you can create delicious smoked dishes for your friends and family.

Use the Right Kind of Charcoal

When smoking with a charcoal smoker, it is important to choose the right type of charcoal for your needs. Lump charcoal is made from wood that has been burned down to charcoal, and it burns quickly. However, it can be difficult to control the temperature when using lump charcoal. Briquettes are made from wood and other materials that have been compressed and molded into a uniform shape. Because of the additives used in briquettes, they tend to burn at a more consistent temperature and for a longer period of time.

Can you put wood chips directly on charcoal?

When using a charcoal grill, you can add the wood chips directly with the coal, without the aid of a smoker box. Be sure to wait until the coal has cooled down a bit to make sure that the wood chips doesn’t burn away too fast.

Picking the Right Kind of Wood Chips

There are many different types of wood chips to choose from, so finding the right one to suit the flavor you’re trying to get is important. Depending on the wood chips you choose, you can impart a subtle or strong flavor to your food. For example, Applewood chips will give your food a sweet and fruity flavor, while hickory wood chips will impart a smoky flavor.

When choosing wood chips, it’s also important to consider how long you’ll be cooking. If you’re only cooking for a short period of time, you’ll want to use a lighter wood chip so that the flavors don’t become too intense. However, if you’re planning on cooking for a longer period of time, you can use a heavier wood chip to give your food more depth of flavor. Ultimately, the type of wood chip you choose should be based on your personal preferences and the flavors you’re trying to achieve.

Here are a few samples of the different types of wood chips and what kinds of foods they are often used for:

  • Alder – Alder is a mild wood that produces a delicate flavor and is often used for fish, pork, and poultry
  • Maple – Maple will add a mild smoky, sweet flavor and is used when smoking ham, vegetables, and poultry.
  • Mesquite – Mesquite has a bold smoky flavor that borders being bitter and is most commonly used for beef and lamb.

Should Wood Chips Be Soaked?

Many barbecue enthusiasts swear by soaking wood chips before adding them to the charcoal smoker. The thinking is that soaking the chips will help to create more smoke, and thus impart more flavor to the food. However, this I find not to be the case.

Why You Usually Shouldn’t Soak the Wood Chips

Soaking wood chips will actually not give more smoke. What you’ll really get is just steam, not more smoke. Sure, having some steam inside the smoker can help with temperature regulation, but, apart from that, soaking wood chips really add anything to flavor of the meat at all. Personally I find that it even takes away from it, as you’re just adding “steaming” the meat instead of smoking it.

I am not the only one saying this. In fact, most experts agree that soaking wood chips is unnecessary and can even be counterproductive. Most of them also say that when wood chips are soaked in water, they tend to produce less smoke than when they are used dry.

Through experience, we have found that if the best way to get the most flavor out of your wood chips is to just keep them as they are when adding them.

If you really want to smoke your wood chips, I recommend not doing it for that long, that way you will reduce the amount of steam coming out. Lightly soaking wood chips can be useful if you want to slightly delay the when smoke will come out.

Soaking Wood Chips When Adding Directly Charcoal

There’s also another instance where lightly soaking wood chips can work.

If you want to add the wood chips directly into a charcoal grill, without the aid of a smoker box or something, lightly soaking wood chips will decrease the chance of the wood chips burning up.

But even then, I would still say that you should just add the wood chips a when the charcoal has cooled down a little.

The Best Ways to Add the Wood Chips to Your Charcoal Grill

There are a few ways to a charcoal grill; by using a smoker box, making a pouch out of aluminum foil, or sprinkling them directly. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

Smoker Box

Smoker boxes are designed specifically for adding wood chips to grills. They are usually made of metal and have a perforated bottom that allows smoke to escape. This helps to prevent the wood chips from smoldering and creates a more consistent flavor. However, smoker boxes can be expensive, and they can be difficult to clean.

Also Read our detailed guide on how to use a smoker box

Aluminum foil pouch

Making a pouch out of aluminum foil is a cheaper alternative to using a smoker box. It also allows you to custom-tailor the size of the pouch to your grill. However, it can be difficult to control the amount of smoke that escapes from the pouch, and there is a risk of the wood chips smoldering.

Ultimately, the best way to add wood chips to a charcoal grill depends on your personal preferences and budget. If you want an easy-to-use option with consistent results, then a smoker box is probably the best choice. However, if you’re looking for a more affordable option, making a pouch out of aluminum foil is a viable alternative.

Sprinkling them directly into the charcoal

You can simply also just sprinkle a handful of wood chips directly in the smoker. I do this if I just want to give a little extra punch to the flavor, even if I don’t plan to slow cook and smoke the meat for multiple hours.

How Long Should You Let Your Wood Chips Smoke Before Adding Food to the Grill?

When grilling with wood chips, it’s a good idea to give the chips enough time to smoke before adding food to the grill. You want the meat to absorb as much flavor as possible. As the meat cooks it will absorb less and less flavor, so it’s best to not cook the meat before the wood chips have started smoking.

It usually takes around 20 minutes before the wood chips are smoking at their maximum. For best results, wait until the wood chips are producing thin, light smoke, usually after 20 minutes, and then add in the meat. This way, the meat absorbs as much smoke as possible without getting cooked too much beforehand.

Also Read our Guide on How to Use your Charcoal Grill as a Smoker

How Many Chips Should You Use?

When it comes to smoking on a charcoal grill, some seem to think that more is better. I used to do this, and every time the flavor was way too strong.

If you use too many wood chips, the smoke will be overwhelming and can cause the food to taste bitter. Instead, use a few handfuls of wood chips, and then add in new ones later one if needed. I find that having the equivalent of a a few handfuls of wood chips in the smoker produces nice results. It will be enough to infuse the food with enough flavor but without being overpowering.

Also, make sure you use the right flavored wood chips. In general, use a less aggressive flavor for things like chicken, turkey, ribs and less heavy/dense meats like that.

Final Thoughts

Wood chips are an important part of the grilling process and can add a lot of flavor to your food. By using wood chips, you can give your food a smoky taste that you can’t get with other methods.

How many wood chips, how often you need to add them, and how many will add will always be different from smoker to smoker, so be sure to experiment.

These guidelines I’ve given will probably work well for you and your smoker, as they do for me, but you will find the best results for your smoker through trial and error.

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