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How to Grill with Wood Chips

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Grilling over charcoal is a popular BBQ technique in itself. But if you want to take it to the next level, you’ll want to try adding wood chips to your cook. 

How to Grill with Wood Chips

The varied, rich flavors add depth to your BBQ. And once you try it, you’ll never go back. Read below for tips on how to grill with wood chips.

Choose Your Wood Flavor

First things first, don’t pick up any branches or logs you might find in your yard. As tempting as it may be, this is a surefire way to land yourself tainted or treated wood, presenting various health risks. It’s always best to purchase your wood chips. 

The type of chips you choose depends on the smoke taste you want. There are many kinds of wood flavors, but they all fall under three distinct categories: mild, medium, and heavy. 

Mild: Your best bet for a soft, sweet smoke. This wood is the kind you’d most likely use with poultry or seafood, but some types (like Grapevine cuttings) offer more versatility. 

Medium: It’s time to kick that smoke intensity up a notch with something like oak. You’re better off using meats that can handle that next level. Beef and pork do better with medium styles, but certain poultry can taste excellent, as well. 

Heavy: Here, we have our heavy hitters like hickory and mesquite. Hickory is popular far and wide, especially with bacon and ham. Mesquite packs quite a punch, with most pitmasters using it at the very end or beginning of their cook. Be careful with heavy chips — you don’t want to end up with a bitter taste.

Adding Wood Chips to Charcoal Grill

Before you throw your wood chips on the grill all willy-nilly, be sure to light your coals. Typically, you can use a chimney starter. Once the coals turn an ashy white, you’re ready to start adding your wood chips. 

The chips can’t go directly on the hot coals — that’ll make them burn up quickly. 

Instead, you’ll want to put them in a smoker box (store-bought or homemade with aluminum foil). The case reduces the oxygen, so the wood smolders instead of catches on fire. 

Other Wood Forms: Pellets and Chunks of Wood

Wood chips are great and give you that perfect smoke, but you need to rotate them out during extended cooks. If you’re seeking out a longer smoke, you may want to try out pellets. 

Pellets come from compressed sawdust, and they have a fantastic slow burn rate. 

On the other hand, you also can use seasoned wood chunks. They’re large and in charge, perfect for the bigger chunks of meat like a whole chicken or pulled pork. 

Do You Soak the Wood Chips?

The short answer is no, but this point remains a pitmaster debate! 

Sometimes, you’ll see recipes that call for soaking your chips, but others will tell you it’s not needed. 

You’re free to follow the recipe you’d like, but there’s no big payoff to soaking. It takes 24 hours for moisture to penetrate the wood significantly. 

Other negatives of soaking include that it lowers the temperature of your coals and gives off steam, not smoke. 

Smoking Steps

  1. Pick the flavor of wood chip to complement your meats and veg.
  2. Put the charcoal in the chimney, and light it.
  3. Make an aluminum vessel to hold your chips. Seal it, but poke holes to let out smoke and bring in air.
  4. After pouring the coals from your chimney, start the fire.
  5. Put the grill grate over the fire and add your meat of choice.
  6. Cover the grill and let it smoke!


So now you know how to grill with wood chips. Remember, half the fun is eating your delicious BBQ, but the other half is experimenting! So don’t be afraid to try out new flavors and food to go with it. Before you know it, you’ll be your family and friends’ favorite pitmaster. 

Have a blast and happy grilling!

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