One thing that can take your grilling to the next level is making some flavorful smoke. While you might consider wood chunks and wood chips in smoker recipes, there’s no reason that you can’t use them on any type of grill for every meal.
Even the simplest meals can benefit from a little hickory kick!
But it’s not as simple as it seems. Once you start using wood chips, you’ll quickly have some questions.
Do you soak them? If so, you might also wonder how long to soak the wood chips.
Here’s a look at the ins and outs of using wood chips for grilling and smoking, including how long to soak them. We will also talk about what to soak them in, besides water, for getting some extra flavor.
Should You Soak Wood Chips Before Smoking or Grilling?
To Soak or Not to Soak
If you’re confused as to whether or not you should soak your wood chips at all, you’re not alone. The internet is full of advice, but many times it is contradictory.
So before we discuss how long to soak wood chips, let us first answer the more fundamental question, “does it make sense to soak in water?”
The primary purpose of soaking wood chips in water is to delay the beginning of its smoke production. The wood will not smoke until it dries out, so first, the water must boil off.
Since many grills are unable to accept large wood chunks, soaking becomes an important option that allows you to extend the burn time of your smoker box.
What’s more, with this in mind it is possible to stage a constant level of smoke for your entire cooking time.
Some smoker trays have multiple zones, allowing you to put soaked and dry wood in different sections. The dry wood will smolder first, and then the soaked wood will begin smoking after the dry is finished.
The type of smoker you use also makes a difference. If you are using an electric smoker, it’s not necessary to soak the wood chips. Charcoal smokers can more easily end up burning the chips too fast, so it makes sense to soak the chips properly or to use wood chunks.
Wood Chips vs Chunks
The purpose of soaking your wood chips is twofold. For one thing, wood chips have less mass, and therefore they burn out quicker than larger pieces of wood.
So, for a quick grilling recipe, when you are just looking for a hint of smokiness, you can soak the wood chips a bit or not at all. If the wood chips burn too quickly, soaking them can give you a little more time before they start to smoke.
This is one reason why it is seldom recommended to soak larger pieces of wood. If you’re using wood chunks, for example, soaking makes less sense because these big pieces of wood will smoke for longer anyway.
Soaking for Flavor
What if, instead of delaying the burning process, you actually want to change the flavor profile of your smoked foods? Any liquid other than water will add another flavor note to the chorus in your grill.
Whiskey, beer, wine, brandy, or any type of juice can be used to infuse your food with a bit of extra flavor. The evaporation of the liquid causes that addition, and once the wood begins smoldering, smoke is added in as well.
There are some food combinations that make this method a no-brainer. Want to take your beer brats to the next level? How about brandy-smoked cheese? The possibilities are almost endless.
How Long Should You Soak Wood Chips?
The length of time you choose to soak wood chips or pellets depends mainly on their size.
Another factor affecting the soak time is the dryness of the wood, to begin with. Most wood products you buy off the shelf for grilling are kiln-dried hardwoods, so for soaking to be effective, you will have to do it for many hours.
Soak your wood chips for at least one hour. Another option is to add some water directly to the container where the chips are.
Chips soaked for one hour take about twice as long or more to heat up and begin producing smoke. Once smoking, they smolder for slightly longer than a dry chip, but not noticeably so.
Longer Soaking Times
Some sources recommend soaking your wood chips for much longer than an hour.
If the purpose is to saturate the wood, it’s better to leave the wood soaking overnight or even for up to 24 hours. This way, it has plenty of time to absorb the liquid.
The exception to this rule is if you’re using very small wood chips. Chips smaller than about the size of a quarter may be done sooner, in as little as eight to twelve hours.
What to Soak Wood Chips In
You can soak wood chips in almost any liquid. Whatever you choose, its taste will be added to the flavor profile of the wood.
So, you’ll want to spend some extra time thinking about the other ingredients in the recipe and what will go well with them.
Some popular options for soaking wood chips include:
Water: The only liquid that won’t add any flavor is water. If you’re using water, the sole purpose is to delay the smoke from coming out of the wood too soon. This is best used in recipes that require longer to cook.
Whiskey: A great option to add some intense flavor to dishes like ribs or brisket.
Beer: Can be used for almost any recipe. You can start with sausages and chicken.
Brandy: Soak your chips in brandy to add unique flavors to smoked dessert items like cheese.
White Wine: Works well for adding subtle flavors for smoked fish and other kinds of seafood.
Fruit Juice: If you are using mild to medium flavored wood chips it makes sense to soak them in apple juice or other fruit juice. This will add to the sweet and fruity flavor profile of the recipe.
Adding wood to your barbeque adds a level of authenticity. Understanding when to soak and how to soak wood chips is an integral part of getting that beautiful and tasty blue smoke out.
Unsoaked wood can be used for fast recipes, and a mixture of dry and soaked wood can produce the most smoke for a prolonged period of time for long recipes.
To invite more flavor to the party, experiment with your favorite alcohols or other beverages. However, remember to avoid sugary substances like sodas, as these may tend to burn and make a big mess on the grill as they do so.
Rum, whiskey, tequila, wine, apple juice, or beer all make excellent options and can take your grilling to the next level.
With a bit of experimentation and a few of these tricks, you can keep even a small amount of hardwood chips smoking for quite a while.