How to Use Wood Chips


There is indeed nothing better than smoked foods, particularly when you infuse them with a bit of smoke from your preferred wood chips. Simply put, wood chips just make every kind of food taste considerably better.

Most individuals relate smoke with utilizing a conventional smoker. However, leveraging the best available wood chips for smoking is what adds that smoky and rich flavor to whatever you are cooking.

Regardless of whether you are working with a gas or charcoal grill, wood chips are exactly what the doctor ordered. These wood chips are easy to use, inexpensive, and a simple way to add an additional layer of flavor to the food that you like.

You have come to the right place if you are wondering how to use wood chips or have any other questions about using wood chips for smoking. However, before I dive into any of that, let us look into what are wood chips.

What are Wood Chips

Wood chips are basically small wood pieces that are ideal for quick and short bursts of smoke that you can infuse into your meat or chicken. Even when you soak these wood chips in water, they tend to burn up rather quickly, create smoke, and then vanish after that.

Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, they recommend going with wood chips if you want to infuse a rich, smoky flavor to your grilling.

Ensure that you carefully read all the instructions for the smoker that you have. Some manufacturers only design gas and electric smokers for wood chips. It is in your best interest to avoid using large wood chunks with these particular units. 

Common Types of Wood Chips for Smoking

You will be surprised to know that when it comes to wood chips, there are several types of wood chips available! The following are the most common types of wood chips people use for smoking different food products.

Wood chipsFlavorIdeal for
OakMild, smokyPoultry, pork
HickorySweet, savoryRibs, read meat
AppleMild, smoky, sweetPork, ribs
MesquiteIntense aromaBrisket, lamb
CherryFruityChicken, turkey
GrapevineFruity, tartBirds, poultry
AlderSweet, subtlePork, fish

Oak Wood Chips

Oak wood chips are perfect for novices who have not used any kind of smoker before. Oak wood chips provide a slightly mild smoky flavor, which is not very powerful.

Therefore, it will not affect the genuine flavors of your meat and veggies. These wood chips are best suited for smoking food items such as poultry and pork.

Hickory Wood Chips

People often use hickory wood chips for the assortment of meats such as ribs and red meat. These chips provide a distinct and very rich flavor. Due to this rich flavor, you may cause your veggies and meats to have a sour flavor if you overuse hickory wood chips.

Hickory wood is actually a hearty wood that can leave behind a very sweet, savory, and pleasant flavor when you use it properly in the right amounts.

Apple Wood Chips

Apple wood chips are popular for providing a mild smoky flavor and a sweet and mellow taste. The wood might be sweet, but keep in mind that its smoke can take quite a long time to penetrate your meats.

That said, apple wood chips are ideal for beginners who want to learn how to smoke pork and ribs.

Just ensure that when you are using apple wood chips, give it some additional smoking time. These chips are ideal for smoking chicken and pork.

Mesquite Wood Chips

Utilizing mesquite wood chips are one of the best ways to smoke your meats efficiently. Mesquite is a very dense wood. It boasts an intense aroma and a unique flavor that most folks often relate to with edibles common in the southwest.

Owing to its powerful aroma and flavor, smoking experts highly recommend that you use these wood chips combined with charcoal. Mesquite goes well with brisket, lamb, and duck. See our reviews of the best wood for smoking brisket to learn about other woods that complement smoking with briskets.

Cherry Wood Chips

Cherry wood chips offer a fruity kind of flavor. Such chips are an excellent option if you would like to smoke poultry, like chicken or turkey. Cherry wood chips’ sweet, smoky, and fruity flavor can bring about a tropical panache to any kind of meat.

Grapevine Wood Chips

Grapevine wood chips have a distinct fruity, tart flavor that will work splendidly for you if you would like to smoke small game birds, poultry, sausage or lamb, or pork. However, be sure not to use too much of it, or the tart flavor might be very powerful.

Alder Wood Chips

Alder wood chips happen to be a very delicate kind of wood that carries a sweet and subtle flavor. People commonly use alder wood chips to smoke salmon. However, alder chips go exceedingly well with other kinds of foods as well, such as pork, fish, game birds, and poultry.

When to Add Wood Chips to Smoker

If you are using a charcoal grill, directly add the wood chips to the coals as soon as the fire is extinguished. And you are all set to grill. Do not make the mistake of adding the wood chips before you are ready to cook. That is because you will just squander the smoke.

A vertical-shaped gas smoker has a pan or tray positioned above the burner to hold your wood. Add your wood chips after the smoker has reached a certain temperature and let the smoke develop before adding in your food items.

If you want to add wood chips to a gas grill, it is important to isolate them from the fire.

Get a device similar to an iron box to accommodate your smoking wood chips so that ash does not gather in your gas grill.

Alternatively, you can utilize a foil sheet. Put the soaked wood chips on this foil and then wrap it. Poke some holes in this foil, allowing the smoke to escape. Put this particular packet on your smoker or grill along with your food items that you want to smoke.

How to Use Wood Chips in an Electric Smoker or Gas Smoker

There is no doubt that wood chip boxes or pouches are ideal ways to add smoke in a gas grill that you like to put smoke in or in a dedicated gas smoker. You can follow these straightforward steps to accomplish this: 

  1. Select the flavor of the wood chips that will perfectly flatter your food. These flavors can include hickory, cherry, mesquite, etc.
  2. Put in wood chips inside the smoker box. Alternately, you can create a foil pouch. Often, you also get a smoker box when you buy a gas grill. If not, you can purchase a smoker box or get a disposable box that has the wood chips already inside. 
  3. The next step is to light the fire and position the smoker box over your grill.
  4. Wait until the time wood chips start to smoke.
  5. Put your meat on the grill and then cover it.
  6. You are now ready to cook your meat item with either indirect or direct grilling methods. 

If you are interested in getting a visual representation of how to put wood chips into your gas smoker, you can watch this video.

How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill

You can follow these easy steps if you would like to use wood chips on a charcoal grill. 

  1. Select the flavor of the wood chips that will perfectly flatter your food. These flavors can include hickory, cherry, Mesquite, etc.
  2. Get a bag of your preferred briquettes or charcoal.
  3. Add a bit of charcoal to the chimney. After you have added the charcoal, light the chimney.
  4. Make a pouch with numerous aluminum foil layers. Fill the pouch with wood chips and then seal it. Next, make some holes in it to allow in air and the smoke to escape out.
  5. Discharge charcoal from the chimney and then begin the fire. If you want to slow cook meat like roasts and ribs, utilize indirect heat by putting the pouch of wood chips on top and the charcoal on one side. If you want to fast cook food like steaks, burgers, pork chops, or chicken breast, position the wood chips below the meat directly. 
  6. Position your cooking grate on top of the fire. Then place the meat. 
  7. Finally, cover your grill. If you do not have dampers and are grilling, leave a small gap when covering the lid. The gap would allow the air to come in. However, be sure not to lift the lid as you require the smoke. 

If you are interested in getting a visual representation of how to use wood chips on a charcoal grill, you can watch this video.

How Often Should You Change Wood Chips in Electric Smoker

There exists no established and fixed rule regarding how often it is best to switch the wood chips in your smoker. That said, most smoking experts recommend changing the wood chips every 5-6 hours approximately

Some folks add 1-2 cups of wood chips every time over the chips they previously used. One of the most critical things is to see the smoke quality you are able to get every time you are smoking. 

Many people who have experience in smoking recommend using a cooking log every time you are smoking.

This will help you find what assortment of wood chips, what kind of flavor, and how often you should add these chips.

Once you are aware of the ideal combination, you can make a mental note of it and utilize it in the future when you smoke. Ensure to check those wood chips for mold that you have used previously 4 or more times in a row. If you see thinner smoke, that is also a sign that you need to get rid of your existing wood chips. 

Apart from that, feel free to change your wood chips as often as you desire.

Now let us look into whether it is a wise practice to soak your wood chips.

Should You Soak Your Wood Chips Before Smoking

Most beginners who are new to smoking wonder whether keeping your wood chips dry and not soaking them is necessary. The truth is that this is usually a matter of personal choice. 

Some folks hold the opinion that when you smoke the wood chips, it will slow down the process of burning. Others think that soaking these wood chips will just serve to delay the whole process leading to the chips drying out eventually.

Some people also utilize a combination of dry and soaked chips. The dry wood chips will start to smoke immediately, while the soaked ones will begin smoking later after they become dry. This can offer constant smoke during the entire grilling time. 

If you would like to opt for the soaking wood chips method, make sure to soak these chips for half an hour. If you are cooking meat ribs that take a long time to smoke and cook, ensure that you have adequate soaked wood chips available that can easily last for the entire time of smoking.

Final Thoughts

It is true that charcoal enhances the flavor of your food. However, if you are looking for a game-changer, adding in wood chips is the way to go forward. Maybe you would like some more spice and smoke in your ribs, or maybe you crave some extra sweetness in your fish sticks.

Either way, wood chips are a great all-natural means to boost the flavor of any edible you smoke or grill.

There is no denying that adding wood chips to your smoker or grill can completely change how your food tastes. You can rest assured this change will be for the better!

The best kind of wood chips for smoking provide a rich to mild smoky flavor and will slowly burn. That enables your veggies, meat, or fruit to be infused with a certain smoky flavor.

Regardless of whether you use a charcoal grill, electric smoker, or gas smoker, just be sure to read all the aforementioned steps carefully before trying anything. In addition, if you are a beginner and not familiar with the practice of smoking using wood chips, it is best to do any kind of smoking under the supervision of an experienced smoker. 

Bobby Johnson

When he's not writing about barbecue, you can find Bobby smoking meat for friends and family. He's been a backyard pitmaster for roughly half his life, and has worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands-on guide to teach them BBQ, but that's what Bobby hopes to do with Electric Smoker HQ. He wants to help people create amazing food that they can be proud of.