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How to Grill Using Wood Chips

Wood Chips for Smoking

By Dale V.  |  Chipper Expert

What makes barbecue taste and smell so great?

You can say itís the spice rub or the marinade. You can argue itís the quality of the meat. But everyone knows itís the smoke.

Wood chips allow you to add that rich, smoky flavor to meats and even veggies even if you donít have an offset smoker attached to the side of your grill.

As long as you have the right types of wood, smoking chips are easy to make (yes, using your own wood chipper!) and easy to use whether youíve bought them from the store or chipped them yourself.

The Right Types of Wood for Smoking

This is important. Some types of wood should never be used for barbecue or smoking:

When it comes to the best wood chips for smoking, itís smart to stick to the tried-and-true classics.

Strength of
Best Foods
to Smoke
Fruit Tree Woods (Apple, Cherry, Peach, Pear) Light/Mild Pork, Poultry Throughout U.S.
Alder Light/Mild Seafood, Pork, Poultry Western U.S.
Hickory Medium Pork, Beef, Poultry Southern U.S., Midwest
Maple Medium Pork, Poultry, Vegetables Throughout U.S.
Oak Medium All Meats Throughout U.S.
Pecan Medium Pork, Beef Southwest U.S.
Mesquite Strong Pork, Beef Southwest U.S., Especially Texas

Smoking Woods with Mild Flavors

These are great to use on their own or mixed with the medium woods.

Smoking Woods with Medium Flavors

Thereís nothing middle-of-the-road about these commonly used smoking woods, which come from trees like the oak tree pictured to the right.

Smoking Wood with Strong Flavor

In a category all its own is mesquite, the smoking wood that some would say has the strongest flavor. With a flavor this big, it should be no surprise that mesquite is popular in Texas barbecue.

Sharp, powerful, and earthy, the taste of mesquite smoke was practically made for beef and pork, especially ribs. Mesquite burns quickly and produces a lot of smoke, so use it carefully!

How to Use Wood Chips for Smoking

Smoking wood chips are small, about one to two inches in length. Theyíre different from other forms of wood you can use with your grill:

But weíre talking about wood chips here, which are perfect to use in your backyard barbecue grill.

Because wood chips are so small, they burn quickly. They donít make a good primary heat source and are no substitute for charcoal or your grillís propane tank.

Instead, itís better to use wood chips in combination with another heat source for your grill:

Thereís a debate about whether grillmasters should soak their wood chips in water for 15 to 30 minutes before putting them on the grill. Some people say this prevents the chips from burning. Others say that it wonít matter because the water will evaporate as soon as the chips come near heat. Donít be afraid to experiment and find out what works best for you.

Whether you soak your wood chips or not, donít smoke your food for the entire cooking time! Too much smoke will overpower the flavor of your food instead of enriching it. Bon Appetit magazine suggests smoking your food for half the cooking time at most.1 When in doubt, check your recipe.

Tips for Making Your Own Smoking Chips

You can make more than mulch if you have your own wood chipper. If you have any of the kinds of wood mentioned above available, why not make your own smoking chips?

Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:

If you donít have the best kinds of smoking wood available on your property, you can always buy smoking chips from a local supplier or store. However you get them, smoking wood chips make it easy for you to give your barbecue that mouth-watering flavor.

NEXT: The Hardest Trees to Chip