How To Prepare Wood Chips For Grilling – Quick Guide

wood chips for grilling
Picture of wood chips for grilling and smoking

Adding wood chips to the grill enhances the flavor and adds a sophisticated undertone to the grilled food. After learning how to grill with wood chips, you will never grill again without them. Knowing how long to soak the wood chips is a crucial step in the process of soaking wood chips.

Before setting the wood chips on fire, they should be soaked in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Doing so will prevent them from igniting at first and make them produce the kind of smoky aroma we all love. There are many different kinds of wood chips available. Read on for more information.

Do you need to soak wood chips?

Without soaking the wood chips in a liquid would cause them to ignite as soon as they come in contact with the flame. This may be okay if you want to add heat to the grill, contrary to adding wood chips, which is, for the smoke.

Soaking the chips will make them burn slowly without flame and produce a robust smokey fragrance, which is what is needed for that perfect grilled food!

Should I use wood chips or wood chunks?

Sometimes, we may be faced with choosing between wood chips and chunks, but we may not know the difference between them.

Wood chips can be used for shorter grilling times because they can burn quickly, even when they are soaked wet. This property makes them deliciously perfect for grilled chicken, fish, or burgers. Wood chips can be placed in the coal or on the grill, practically on any place where there is sufficient heat.

However, Wood chunks are used for longer grilling times, such as ribs and whole chicken. Wood chunks are often used as part of the fuel on a charcoal grill. They burn much more extended periods and hotter than wood chips.

If you are using electric or gas smokers, make sure to read the instructions for the device as some smokers can only use wood chips.

Why should I use wood chips?

Our ancestors used to cook with open flames using firewoods and blocks, and this gives the food a natural smoky flavor.
The use of different woods produces different flavors. The wood used in the fire is as essential as the food itself.

Nowadays, when most people carry out grilling with either charcoal or gas, we have lost those delicious, smokey, woody flavors, and the pleasing complexity they add to food. This being one of the tradeoffs of modern-day conveniences.

Adding wood chips to the grill is a way for us to get a taste of how our ancestors lived, without actually cooking the food over an open bonfire.

Choosing the best wood chips for grilling

It would be best if you chose the wood chips that are complementary to the food you are grilling or plan to roast.

Use light wood such as cherry, alder, or pecan wood chips to make delicate meats like fish or chicken. The light-colored wood adds sweet aroma to the meat.

Other uncommon chips work well with poultry and fish but are harder to find, for example, pear and peach wood chips. They leave a slightly fruity flavor that goes well with those delicate meats.

Use medium wood, such as whiskey, hickory, or oak, for denser meats such as ribs or pork shoulder. Medium wood has a more robust smoky flavor.

It is also always possible to combine various woods to come up with really interesting. Play around with a few chips and see what combinations and taste you like. Wood chips are not expensive, so that some experiments can be performed even on a tight budget.

Another attempt is to soak the wood chips in apple juice. The wood chips dipped in apple juice are perfect for chicken or fish.

How to grill with wood chips

Immerse wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before preparing barbecue food. A large glass bowl is perfect for this. You can also use apple juice, beer, or whiskey if you like.

After soaking the chip for at least 30 minutes, drain the water, but do not rinse it. You don’t want them to be so wet that they drip onto your stove or gas burner, or so dry they catch fire.

When using wood chips for a maximum smoky flavor, close the lid as much as possible.
Don’t let the chips burn too fast, or it will make your food bitter.
Additionally, ff the wood chips burn too fast, they may ignite into flames, and for this reason, it is advised to have a spray bottle filled with water whenever you’re roasting with wood chips, this will be used to put out the fires once they come up.

Tips for using wood chips on a gas grill

If you are using a gas grill, you need to do so using a smoker box.

Using wood chips on a gas grill is relatively 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. There 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 steam). Finally, some 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 more extended 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)

  1. Soak many handfuls of the 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.
  2. Put one or more handfuls of chips in a smoker-chip box then place the box on the grill grate.
  3. Wait for the wood chips to begin visibly smoking.
  4. Cook using either the direct or indirect grilling methods. If you are using the indirect cooking method, then you need to add another handful or two of chips once every 45 minutes.

If you’re new to smoking and aren’t ready to invest in a 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 is 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.)

If you are using a gas grill, you need to do so using a smoker box.

Your grill oven may already include this. In case you do not know what a smoker box is, look for a soda can-sized metal compartment on your device. You can place the chips there, and they will heat up together with the burner.

If your gas grill does not include a smoke box, you can purchase one via here. They are just a perforated metal box that allows smoke to escape into the grill.

How to make a smoker box or pouch

A smoker box is a metal box with multiple holes that allow smoke to escape.
This is a bulky aluminum box that prevents smoke warping due to heat when grilling. The lid can be easily opened and closed, and the bottom has no holes at all, making it difficult to catch fire.

As for the size, it can hold about 2.5 cups of wood chips, which is enough for a barbecue.

If you need a quick solution now, you can make your smoker box from aluminum foil. Make a cup or beer can shape from aluminum foil and put moist chips into it. You need to use 3 to 4 chips.

Squeeze the top and make sure there is some room for the smoke to escape. If necessary, use a fork or chopsticks to make more holes. Place the pouch directly on the grill on the grill. Discard the bag after every use; this method is super easy to clean.

Tips for using wood chips on a charcoal grill

If you use a charcoal grill, you can place the wet wood chips directly on the charcoal. In about a minute, you should start experiencing an aromatic scent coming from the chips.

You can also use a smoker box or an aluminum foil bag.

You can place the box directly on the fire or on the grill if you have enough space. When cleaning, make sure the box cools down before trying to pick it up.

To use foil, fold the foil into a cup shape. Add about 3-4 slices of wood chips and squeeze the top tightly, then place the pouch on the charcoal.

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, 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 most robust 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.

Where can I buy wood chips?

These days wood chips can be purchased in many places; at supermarkets, Amazon, you may even find them in large grocery stores where charcoal is sold too.

You’ll find wood chips at large hardware stores where grills and outdoor appliances are sold.

Wood chips come in several sizes and flavors, and it is even possible to buy a combination package containing 3 or 4 types of wood. They have a long shelf life, so you don’t have to worry about them going bad.

How to store wood chips

If you buy wood chips in a bag, you can store them in the container until use. You’ll notice on many brands that there are small holes in their bags to allow air in and prevent mold from growing.

If you open the bag without properly closing afterward, you may risk rodents and termites invasion. So what do you do? Use a chip clip (like you might use in a kitchen to close a snack) to seal the top of the bag.

If you want to combine wood chip bags, another option is to transfer them to a 5-gallon bucket with a lid. Just make sure the buckets are clean (preferably new) and make a few small holes in the top on the cover to get air in. This will prevent mold, termites, and rodents from getting in.


We learned a lot in this article about how to use wood chips, which wood chips are used, and even the best way to store them.

Adding wood chips to the grilling process will add a new dimension to the flavor produced during grilling.

What are your thoughts on “how to prepare and use wood chips for grilling?” let us know via the comment, thanks!

Happy grilling

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