How to Use Wood Chips on a Grill

How to use wood chips on a grill

How to Use Wood Chips on any Grill

The smoky, earthy flavors that are achieved on a charcoal grill are second to none. The coals from your grill possess magical cooking powers that add so much nuance to your grilled food. Charcoal grills are widely regarded as the best type of grill to use due to the flavor it contributes, and also its very high cooking temperatures.

But what happens if you prefer the ease of use from a gas grill? What if you live in an apartment building that will only allow you to have a tiny gas grill on your patio? You can actually turn your gas grill into a smoker easily! Using a gas grill as a smoker is foolproof; simply using a smoker box and wood chips will create indirect heat with smoke, right inside your gas grill! Using wood chips on a charcoal grill is possible as well; the smoke from the chips turns your charcoal grill into a makeshift smoker in the same way.

There is no need to buy a charcoal grill in addition to your gas grill. In fact, more flavor may be achieved using wood chips when grilling, due to the number of different flavors of wood chips on the market. You can even mix and match different flavors! Choose from applewood, peach wood, maple wood, hickory, mesquite, among many others.

Prior to grilling, you can soak the wood chips in water to prevent them from flaring up on the grill. You can also leave the wood chips dry and keep a spray bottle nearby, just to extinguish any potential flare ups. You can then put your chips in a smoker box.

If you do not have a smoker box, you can make one with tin foil. Simply wrap foil tightly around the wood chips, leaving an opening at the top to allow the smoke to escape. Once you have your wood chips sorted out, your next steps will depend on the type of grill you have.

How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill

Using wood chips for smokiness on a charcoal grill is much easier than on a gas grill. Because the heat source is hot coals, you can lay your wood chips directly onto the coals.  You will want to begin the process by heating your charcoal. You will light your charcoal the way you usually heat it; either with a charcoal chimney or right inside the grill.

Next, sort out your wood chips. You can soak the chips in water prior to grilling to prevent flare ups, however I prefer to use them dry and keep a spray bottle filled with water handy. When a flare up happens, I simply spray the chips to extinguish the flame. Doing this is easier on a charcoal grill than a gas grill.

Now, figure out the vessel you will put the wood chips in. If you have a smoker box, simply add the wood chips to the box and place it directly onto the hot coals. The box will heat quickly and you will see smoke almost immediately. Close the lid to your grill and you have an instant charcoal grill smoker!

If you do not have a smoker box, you can use tin foil. Take 2-3 large handfuls of wood chips and wrap them tightly with tin foil, leaving a large opening at the top of the foil for smoke to escape. I like to specifically use dry wood chips for this method because the tin foil is not as leak-proof as a smoker box. Again, lay the foil-wrapped wood chips directly onto the hot coals and begin smoking. Close the lid to the grill to keep in that smoky, delicious flavor.

How to Use Wood Chips on a Gas Grill

A gas grill will never lend a smoky, charcoal taste to food unless there is some outside assistance. Once you perfect your wood chip usage, you will be craving that smoky flavor all summer, right from your gas grill. Using wood chips on a gas grill is different than on a charcoal grill, so be sure you know the distinctions for your own grill before starting.

For smoking on a gas grill, you will want to soak your wood chips. Soaking wood chips is a highly debated topic; however, I like to if I am specifically using a gas grill. This is not as imperative for charcoal users, but is absolutely essential with a gas grill. Adding non-soaked chips will burn up immediately on your gas grill. You want a long smoke time to ensure all of your grilled foods take on the smoky flavor from the chips.

After soaking, place the chips into a smoker basket or aluminum foil. Either leave the top of the foil open as before, or close tightly with foil and poke holes into the top to allow smoke to escape. Place your basket or foil directly onto the grill grates, right over the burner.

You do not want to add the chips directly onto the heat source as you would with charcoal. Add your meats to the other side of the grill and close the lid to allow the smoke to penetrate. You can turn the burner up to the highest setting to char your food in addition to adding the smoky flavor.

Some gas grills have built-in smoker boxes. If this is the case, simply add your soaked, drained chips to the basket and continue with the grilling process.

BBQ Smoking Guide

This guide will be your best friend when it comes to using a gas grill as a smoker. It will teach you what types of wood chips to use and how they will flavor the final dish. Keep in mind that different meats have different cooking times, so you may need to add more or less wood chips, depending on cook time.

Type of MeatSmoking TemperatureInternal TemperatureNotes
Pork Shoulder225°F-275°F (107°C-135°C)195°F-205°F (90°C-96°C)Pork shoulder should be fall-off-the-bone tender, it will be tender when probed.
Pork Tenderloin225°F-325°F (107°C-163°C)145°F-150°F (63°C-66°C)Tenderloin can be very slightly pink inside when done, contrary to popular belief.
Pork Ribs225°F-275°F (107°C-135°C)195°F-205°F (90°C-96°C)Be sure to remove the sliver skin before cooking ribs.
Chicken250°F-300°F (121°C-149°C)165°F (74°C)Chicken will be firm to the touch when cooked through.
Turkey250°F-300°F (121°C-149°C)165°F (74°C)Smoke the whole turkey for a holiday treat! Be sure to use a salt brine the night before cooking.
Beef Brisket225°F-275°F (107°C-135°C)195°F-210°F (90°C-99°C)Brisket will take 1.5 hours per pound of meat.
Fish225°F-250°F (107°C-121°C)145°F (63°C)Use a fish basket to ensure your fish will stay together on the grill, especially if using a very flaky fish.
Wood TypeFlavor StrengthFlavor ProfileBest Meat for Wood Type
HickoryStrongSweet, bacon-like flavorRibs, pork, beef
ApplewoodMildFruityChicken, pork, ribs
Cherry WoodMildFruityChicken, pork, ribs
Peach WoodMediumWoodsyChicken, pork ribs
MapleMildSweet, subtleAny meat
AlmondMediumSweet, nuttyAny meat
ChestnutMildNutty, smokyAny meat
PecanMildMild, hickory-likePork, ribs, chicken, turkey, beef
OakMediumTraditional smokeBeef, pork fish
WalnutStrongBitter, rarely used on its ownRibs, pork, beef
Lemon WoodMediumCitrusy, fruityAny meat
Jack Daniel’sStrongMade from real Jack Daniel’s barrelsPork

Caution: Do not smoke meat with any types of wood not on this list. Some types of wood are not meant to be smoked.


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