There are very few things in life as good as smoked food. When infused with a hint of smoke, just about everything tastes better. Although most people associate smoke with traditional BBQ, it can add another layer of flavor to everything from seafood and vegetables to poultry and pizza, and even dessert (imagine indulgent chocolate brownies with a dose of luscious pecan smoke!) However, you don't need a smoker to enjoy delicious smoked food. Wood chips make it easy to add rich smoky flavor to whatever you're cooking&em;even on a gas or charcoal grill! Inexpensive and easy-to-use, wood chips are a simple way to impress guests and look like a pro.
Using Wood Chips on a Gas Grill
Using wood chips on a gas grill is fairly easy. First and foremost, you'll want wood chips. It's also wise to get a wood chip smoker box, which not only holds the chips, but maximizes airflow for a better burn and better distribution of the smoke.
One of the most common questions we get is whether to soak wood chips. Their are opposing opinions on the matter. Some believe that soaking wood chips prevents them from burning up too quickly. Others say that when you soak chips, you're just delaying the process—they won't start smoldering until they dry out (the initial "smoke" you see is actually steam). Finally, there are those who believe you should use a combination of dry and soaked wood chips—the dry ones will smolder immediately and the soaked ones will begin smoking later, after they dry out, providing continuous smoke for a longer period of time. (If you choose to soak, this is a convenient Wood Chip Soaker Set.) Our recommendation? Experiment and see what works for you. You know what you like. If it tastes good, go with it.
Once you've decided on how to prep your chips, here's how to use them on the grill (with optional soaking instructions)
- Soak several handfuls of chips in cold water for at least 30 minutes. If you're doing a long cook like ribs, make sure you have enough soaked wood chips for the entire cook.
- Put one or two handfuls of chips in a smoker-chip box and place the box on the grill.
- Wait for the chips to begin visibly smoking.
- Cook using either the direct or indirect grilling methods. If you are using the indirect method, add another handful or two of chips once every 45 minutes.
If you're new to smoking and aren't ready to invest in smoker box, you can use aluminum foil. Follow the same directions as above, but fold the chips in an aluminum packet and poke several holes in the foil to create airflow. Another great option are wood pellets, which can be used with a pellet box or pellet tube. (Interested in more tips? Check out our article Turn Your Gas Grill Into a Smoker.)
Using Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill
If you have a charcoal grill, using wood chips is even easier. Simply soak (or don't) your chips for 30-60 minutes then place one or two handfuls on the coals. For longer low-and-slow cooks, add more chips every 45 minutes or so. Charcoal grills also give you the ability to add small wood chunks, which will smoke longer and more intensely. Just place a chunk or two right on the lit coals. (Note: whether you're using chips or chunks, you want the wood to smolder and emit a light smoke, not catch fire and billow thick white smoke, which will taste acrid. If this happens, there's too much air flow. Shut the lid and make sure your vents are at the right settings)
Pairing Wood Chips with Different Foods
Not all smoke is the same. Depending on the type of wood, the smoke can be sweet or nutty, strong or mild. For that reason, the some woods complement the natural flavor of particular foods better than others. Here are our suggestions for pairing wood and food. Feel free to mix-and-match flavors together and experiment:
- Apple Wood - A lighter wood with fruity flavor. Uses: Poultry or pork.
- Hickory Wood - A full smoky flavor, the classic smoking wood. Uses: Everything, especially meats.
- Pecan Wood - Mild and nutty, very versatile. Uses: Beef, pork, poultry, also baked goods.
- Mesquite Wood - The strongest smoke flavor, very popular in Texas. Uses: Red meat.
- Maple Wood - Maybe the sweetest smoke flavor. Uses: Poultry or pork.
- Cherry Wood - Distinct mild-sweet flavor. Uses: Poultry or pork.