How to Use Wood Chips for Smoking: Proper Usage on a Charcoal or Gas Grill

Wood chips are an excellent way to add smoky flavor to your food without a smoker. They come in logs, chunks, chips, and dust- how do you know which one is best for what?

This guide focuses on using wood chips for smoking on a charcoal or gas grill. This post will help answer questions about how much wood should be used, how long it can be left in the grill before needing more, how often they need replenishing- all that jazz!

There are three different sizes of smoking wood to choose from:

Wood Chips

Wood chips come in a wide range of sizes. Some people use the same kind for both smoking and grilling, but they are different. Chips are smaller than chunks and easier to burn up.


Chunks are large and heavy, making them suitable for more prolonged cooking. They need to be soaked before use as they don’t burn well if they’re dry.


Logs are for smoking over an extended period. They will last hours or even overnight if they’re not too big, so you must oversee them.

Which is better: Wood Chips, Chunks or Logs?

The duration of your smoking is the key.

For fast cooking times, such as steak, fish, or chicken, wood chips are best since they are small pieces of wood that quickly catch fire but burn out rapidly. It allows you to have a lot of control over the amount of smoke generated.

The chunks are your best bet for longer cooking times because they are larger and burn more evenly. They can be left in the grill for more extended periods.

You will need the logs for overnight cooking or smoking meat that will take hours and hours. They burn slowly and evenly, which is vital for a smoky flavor that lasts over time.

What are some benefits of using wood chips for smoking?

  • Wood is an excellent way to impart flavor to your food. Its delicious smoky flavor is perfect for grilled steak, hamburgers, or vegetables.
  • When you use wood chips to smoke your food, it adds a rich depth of flavor that can’t be replicated with other types of grilling techniques.
  • It’s also an easy way to experiment and try out new flavors on foods without having to get too fancy or complicated.

Is it better to soak wood chips or leave them dry?

Wood chips need to be soaked in water before using them.

Dry wood burns faster and hotter than wet wood and imparts a much more assertive flavor.

Soaking wood chips helps slow the burn rate, decreasing the risk of flare-ups. It gives you more control over the smoke added to your food and helps prevent the charring or burning of delicate meats such as fish.

When should wood chips be added to the grill?

Wood chips are best when added before you start cooking, not right in the middle.

The smoke is produced when the wood heats up, so if you add it while your grill is on high heat, it will burn right away and not give you much smoky flavor.

It’s best to preheat the grill first and add your wood chips after reaching their optimum temperature. You don’t want to add them too early, or they will burn up before your food is done cooking- if you wait until the end, you will spend the wood chips, and your food won’t have much smoky flavor.

How do you know when to add more?

Wood chips need to be added periodically throughout the cooking process, depending on how much you smoke.

When adding fresh wood chips after some time, you’ll notice that they stop smoking after a short while. The smoke particles have left them- adding more chips will cause them to burn up without adding any more smoke.

You’ll need to remove the old chips and replace them with fresh ones when this happens. That is why it’s crucial to have a good supply of wood chips on hand.

Reduce Oxygen to Make Wood Chips Smoke Rather Than Burn

If you’re using wood chips for smoking, one of the most important things to remember is that too much oxygen will cause them to burn up fast instead of giving you the smoky flavor that you’re looking for.

Suppose your chips are just dry and not soaked in water. In that case, they will probably burn up before your food is done cooking if placed directly over high heat- this is why it’s best to preheat first, then add them after when there’s a better balance of oxygen throughout the grill.

You can also reduce the amount of oxygen by placing aluminum foil over your grill- this is good for meats like fish and shrimp that only need to be smoked for a short time.

Remember, you can always stop the smoking process early if your food is cooking before spending chips.

How do you know when the smoking process has ended?

The smoking process ends when the chips are spent, but you can also stop it early by removing your food from the grill.

If you’re smoking a large piece of meat such as brisket or pork shoulder, it’s going to take hours regardless. When your food is done cooking, and you’re at the end of your smoking session, remove it off the grill and let it rest for a little while. It allows all those delicious juices to redistribute so you don’t lose them.

Once the food has rested for about 15-20 minutes, it’s ready to be carved.

7 Steps to Smoking With Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill

Here’s how I smoke with wood chips on a charcoal grill or a charcoal smoker:

  1. Choose a wood chip flavor that complements the dish (cherry, hickory, or mesquite).
  2. Soak the wood chips in water for 30 minutes or so.
  3. Start your charcoal grill and let it get to optimal smoking temperature (medium-low).
  4. Add the soaked wood chips to your grill after it has reached optimal temperature.
  5. Top off with more hot coals as necessary, using the method that you prefer (such as using a chimney starter or adjusting hot coals with tongs).
  6. Keep an eye on the grill to ensure it doesn’t get too hot or burn up all your wood chips.
  7. Remove food when done cooking.

5 Steps to Smoking on a Gas or Electric Smoker with Wood Chips

Wood chip pouches or boxes are one of the very best ways to add smoke into dedicated gas smokers or a gas grill you want to add smoke to. Here’s how:

  1. Choose the wood chips flavor that complements the dish you’re cooking (such as cherry, hickory, or mesquite).
  2. Fill a smoker box with the wood chips or, as previously described, fill a foil pouch. Most gas grills include a smoker box. Otherwise, you may buy one or get a disposable smoker box from the store that already has the wood chips inside.
  3. Place either the smoker box or foil pouch on top of a gas burner. If using an electric grill, place the wood chips in another disposable aluminum tray and place the tray on top of a burner.
  4. Turn on one or two burners to produce smoke from your wood chips. Use as many as needed to produce enough smoke for your food! Set it up before you begin cooking, then close all but one vent if using a gas grill- this lets just the right amount of oxygen get into the grill to produce smoke.
  5. Cook food until done, remembering that you can always stop the smoking process early if your meat is done before the chips are spent.

Avoid Unfamiliar Backyard Wood Chips

Have you ever heard someone say they used a fruit tree branch as their smoking wood? When not done right, this can be very dangerous and even toxic. It’s best to stick with known flavor profiles.

Here are some standard backyard wood chips that you should avoid for smoking:

  • Oak is too strong and can be bitter.
  • Pine needles are great for adding a subtle flavor to your food but should never be used without knowing what type of pine it is. Some varieties are too strong or even poisonous to use as smoking wood!
  • Holly leaves and branches have an incredibly bitter taste that will ruin the dish you’re smoking.
  • Eucalyptus is another great-smelling wood, but you shouldn’t use it in cooking. If you like the idea of adding a subtle hint of eucalyptus to your meat, try a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil instead.
  • Conifer tree branches can be incredibly resinous and produce too much smoke, which can even cause flare-ups.
  • Avoid any wood that looks painted or stained, as these are usually chemical treatments used to preserve the wood.

Before Using Wood Chips for Smoking, Follow These Safety Precautions

  • Never use wood chips for smoking that have been pressure treated with chemicals or any other type of chemical.
  • Even if the label says it’s untreated, always double-check to make sure.
  • Be wary of free wood chips from your neighbors- these may also contain dangerous chemicals.
  • If you live in a city, ask your neighbors what type of wood they use before getting any from them. They may even have safety concerns about the wood they use.
  • Never burn treated woods in a fireplace, as these chemicals can produce toxic fumes and leave ash residue on your mantle.
  • Make sure that you thoroughly clean your grill after using wood chips for smoking- food particles can stick to the grates and become a safety hazard.
  • Never use wood chips for smoking indoors, as the smoke can become toxic and smelly quickly.
  • Avoid any tree branch that you can see or feel any preservatives on.
  • Before using wood chips for smoking, always make sure you’re familiar with the different types of wood and their flavor profiles.
  • Never use any chemical-treated wood for smoking, as the chemicals can produce harmful fumes or residue on the food.
  • Before using wood chips for smoking, always make sure you’re familiar with the different types of trees that produce these flavors, as well as their safety.
  • Never use wood chips for smoking that have been pressure treated with chemicals or other chemicals, even if it says untreated on the packaging.
  • Always thoroughly clean your grill after using wood chips for smoking to avoid any food particles sticking and becoming a safety hazard.

Final Thoughts

Smoke can be added to meals using natural or imitation wood chips. One of the most significant and straightforward ways to add smoke to your food is natural wood chips.

Whether using a gas grill or charcoal, you can quickly adapt wood chips for smoking to your recipe and cooking style.

Z Hashan

Z Hashan

Hi, my name is Z Hashan, and I’m passionate about smoking the best BBQ. There’s nothing more satisfying than cooking a delicious piece of BBQ and seeing the joy on people’s faces while they have a bite of it.

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