An Expert's Tip For Adding Wood Chips When Smoking Meat

The sweet scent of aromatic wood smoke emanating from the backyard is the meat lover's equivalent of stopping to smell the roses, but the proper use of wood chips is a poorly understood component of good grilling. Here to help us understand the right way to add wood chips when smoking meat is Adam Truhler from The Grilling Dad.

"Adding wood chips implies that you are likely using a vertical smoker (propane or electric) or a gas grill (using something like a smoke box)," Truhler clarified. "If you are using a charcoal grill, I would recommend wood chunks over wood chips." This goes back to knowing your equipment and playing to its strengths. Because wood chunks are quite a bit larger than wood chips, they are better suited for a charcoal grill. Wood chips are useful because they fit into smaller areas, like a smoke box, which lets you achieve smoky barbecue flavors on a gas grill.

"In any case, start with a couple of handfuls of your preferred wood chips," said Truhler. "If you are new to smoking I would err on the side of using fewer wood chips overall. Under-smoked meat is still delicious, whereas over-smoked meat can be inedible. Start with less smoke and adjust to your preference over a series of smoking sessions." It would be nice if there was a simple rule that worked every time for everyone, but cooking isn't always so straightforward. By starting small and slowly building up over time, you can find your sweet spot.

The perfect smoke

"When the wood chips have burned up," Truhler continued. "Add another handful or two and repeat this process as required (typically every 45-60 minutes). You really only need smoke in the first few hours of a cook (say, up to 4)." One major downside of wood chips is that they burn up relatively quickly, which means you need to be paying attention if you want to see the benefit. If you only put wood chips down at the start, you likely won't notice a significant difference in flavor.

"As the cook progresses and the bark starts to form on the outside of the meat, you start to see diminishing returns on how much smoke flavor is imparted to the meat," Truhler explained. The bark is the crisp exterior of the meat that resembles the bark of a tree. It looks great, provides an absolutely fantastic crunch to the mouthfeel, and is a real bragging point for any grill master who's perfected their bark. But, as Truhler points out, it blocks the wood chip flavors from seeping in, which is why continually adding wood chips afterward is more wasteful than anything.

If you feel like you aren't getting as much smoke flavor as you'd like before the bark starts to form, you could try soaking the wood chips beforehand, but soaking wood chips isn't always a great idea. If you decide to try soaking anyway, try soaking the wood chips in bourbon instead of water for a flavorful twist.