7.8 Using chips and chunks for smoke
[Can you tell me the best way to use chips and chunks of smoking wood in
my charcoal smoker?]
If you are using charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal to fuel your
smoker, you must use chips or chunks of a suitable hardwood to give your meat the smoky
flavor necessary for barbecue. Some List members like to soak the chips and chunks in
water before adding to the smoker, some use them dry. Some members like to use an aluminum
bag/log to hold the chips, some just toss them on the coals. You will need to experiment
and find the best way to add the smoking wood for your situation. You can use chips and
chunks from all the smoking woods: hickory, oak, pecan, mesquite, fruit woods, grapevines,
etc. Chips and chunks of these woods are available in barbecue stores, supermarkets, and
places like WalMart, HQ, and Home Depot, as well as through mail-order houses. Don't buy
too many chips or chunks at one time, as they tend to dry out and lose their flavor
components. Buy what you need for one barbecue season.
Chips can be used by tossing onto a charcoal fire or onto the heated
plate in a gas-fueled smoker. Most List members recommend soaking the chips in water for
30 minutes before using. Chunks of hardwood burn slower and last longer and are best in
off-set firebox smokers using lump charcoal for fuel. Chunks are also good in electric
pits where lava rocks are not used.
I have had pretty good experience with chips this way: Build a very
well-sealed aluminum foil bag/log about 1" x 2" x 3" and fill it with
chips. Punch a very tiny hole with a needle on top and one on bottom. Place the aluminum
'log' right on the coals or in an electric smoker, next to but not touching the element.
In a gas-fueled smoker, place the aluminum log on the lava rocks or the heated plate.
Plenty of smoke will start in about 10 minutes and then will keep going for close to an
hour. After that, I stick the aluminum bag with a knife to make a bigger opening. Plenty
more smoke will come out for at least another hour. I used to just throw the bag away
after the first hour and wasted a lot of wood chips.
Soaking the chips in water will extend the smoking life. If you throw
dry chips onto the hot coals, they will usually flame up and last only 20-30 minutes.
Soaked chips will last an hour or so.