Using Wood Chips On A Charcoal Grill – The Right Way

By using indirect heating you are able to convert your charcoal grill into a wood chip smoker that produces real smokey results. From arranging your charcoal to suit the length of the cook, to adding your favourite type of wood chips to compliment your meat, we’re breaking down everything you’ll need to know about using wood chips on a charcoal grill. 

How To Add Wood Chips To Your Charcoal Grill

Step 1: Prepare Your Grill

Before getting started it’s always best to make sure you’ve cleaned your grill thoroughly, removing any old charcoal or dust. Keeping it clean helps with a purer and richer flavor, without unwanted scents or tastes.

Step 2: Arrange Your Charcoal

When smoking using wood chips on your charcoal grill, the way you arrange your charcoal will determine how long and fast the charcoal will burn. By using indirect heating you are able to allow the smoke and heat to circulate around the meat and cook it at a lower temperature over a longer period of time.

There are a few ways you can arrange your charcoal to create heat zones (above the charcoal) and indirect heat zones (not above the charcoal), and effectively turn your charcoal grill into a smoker.

Two Zone Method

By using the two-zone method the charcoal will burn more quickly and will provide much more heat. This is more suitable for shorter smokes, such as when smoking chicken wings or ribs for example

The Snake Method

If you’re looking to smoke for 6+ hours, smoking larger meats like turkey, full chicken, or a pork butt then the snake method is more often used, as it slowly burns the charcoal and you can place wood chips along the charcoal to periodically burn and release smoke.

Lump Charcoal vs. Charcoal Briquettes

charcoal in sacks
Lump Charcoal
Charcoal Briquettes

You’re able to use whichever charcoal type you prefer, whether it’s lump or briquettes. Lump charcoal is an all natural option, made by starving wood of oxygen as it slowly combusts, leaving 100% pure charcoal. The best lump charcoal for smoking burns longer and leaves much less ash.

Charcoal briquettes are primarily made with sawdust, compressed and bound into evenly shaped nuggets with binding ingredients and sometimes additives. The best charcoal briquettes for smoking should be made from 100% hardwood and light easily and quickly. Briquettes do burn more quickly than lump charcoal, but they burn very consistently and reliably.

Step 3: Add Your Favourite Wood Chips

Although it mostly comes down to personal preference, the slight variation in smoky flavors that different woods produce can make an impact to the flavor of the end result. 

Hickory

Arguably the most popular and commonly used wood, always providing a traditional and distinctly savoury smokiness. It doesn’t have any stand-out sweet or fruity flavors, but is incredibly versatile in its use.

A clear favourite. One of the best woods for smoking ribs as well as the best woods for smoking brats.

Mesquite

Famously potent, delivering a true smack of smokiness. Popularized and cherished for the flavors of Texas brisket barbecue. You’ll never fail to find a bag of mesquite at a Texan smokers home.

Due to its strength, you are more easily able to over smoke the meat, but provides that classic traditional strong smokiness if controlled well, definitely a fan favourite as one of the best woods for smoking brisket.

Apple

A classic and versatile, sweet and fruity wood which works wonders for more delicately flavored meats such as turkey or chicken. It burns hot and releases a good amount of smoke. Apple can work splendidly by itself or can be blended with stronger smoking woods.

Maple

Maple is a much more mild smoking wood. This makes it excellent when you want to go for a subtle smoke. It compliments delicate meats, and so makes for one of the best wood chips for smoking turkey. Blends well with stronger smoking woods too.

Cherry

Cherry blends incredibly well to mellow out hickory, mesquite, or oak, but its sweet smoke can also be used on its own. Cherry is our top wood for smoking pork butt.

Oak

Oak is a stock standard smoking wood. Burns hot, clean, and with a decent smokiness. It’s easily sourced which makes it reasonably priced and quite readily available. Oak is a favourite for pairing with poultry, and is a top wood for smoking chicken wings, either by itself or blended with fruity or sweeter woods.

Other Tips On Using Wood Chips On A Charcoal Grill

Should You Soak Wood Chips?

Kept simply, you do not need to soak wood chips before use. This is because when soaking wood chips in any liquid before use causes the wood to take on too much moisture, even if you dry them afterward.

When you then use soaked wood chips for smoking, it delays the wood from combusting until the moisture has been drawn out of the wood, which just makes the process harder than it needs to be.

Can You Use A Smoking Box?

A smoking box is a steel box with ventilation holes throughout that holds wood chips to disperse the smoke throughout the cook. Although smoking boxes are usually designed for gas grills you can place a smoking box in a charcoal grill to take care of smoke distribution if you prefer.

Keep It Closed

A general rule of thumb for smoking on any unit is to only lift the hood if it’s necessary. As your smoking on your charcoal grill, always keep the hood down, and open or close the vents to control the temperature and smoke.

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