When it comes to smoking, you can mix and match woodchips based on the type of meat you’re smoking, to enhance the flavor. When paired with a good gas smoker, you can turn out beautifully smoked meat that’s fall off the bone tender. But the big question many people who are new to smoking have, is do you need to soak your woodchips? This is a question that’s been debated in the smoking and grilling community for years. Some claim doing so lengthens the burning time, while other smoking enthusiasts argue that soaking the woodchips only puts off the smoking time, waiting for the chips to steam and dry out in the smoker before they finally start to burn. So, which answer is the right one? Let’s find out.
Why Do You Need to Smoke Woodchips: Busting the Myth
Even if you own the best electric outdoor grill, you can add some woodchips to the grill and enjoy meat that is packed with a subtle smoky flavor. Many people enjoy using different types of woodchips as they grill or smoke, to give their meat a nice kick of flavor. Woodchips are used to enhance flavor. They’re not used as a source of fuel.
Do you know how to use woodchips correctly in order to get a rich smoky flavor? Have you tried using woodchips before and felt that they left an overpowering smoky flavor? Then you may not have used the wood correctly.
If you’re new to smoking meats and veggies, then you may find it odd that many soaking recipes will instruct you to use the best woodchips, soaking them for half an hour before adding them to the smoker. Does this have an impact on flavor? No. So, what’s the point?
Soaking woodchips has become popular because many people believe that it helps to regulate temperatures. While smoking involves low temperatures that are maintained over a long period of time, soaking woodchips to lengthen their smoke time isn’t really necessary since many models of smokers come equipped with built-in temperature controls.
With a traditional charcoal smoker, people claim that woodchips must be soaked because it helps to lengthen the smoking time and prevents the woodchips from immediately catching fire and burning right away. Some people believe that it helps the woodchips to generate more smoke, however, they’re simply confusing steam for smoke. The water content in the woodchips will evaporate, resulting in a high level of steam that billows from a smoker. Even if soaking the woodchips did increase the volume of smoke, it also presents the problem of allowing water to drip down onto the hot coals in the smoker, causing them to go out, negatively impacting the temperature.
Should I Use Woodchips?
If you enjoy meat that has a rich smoky flavor, then by all means, go wild.
You’ll find woodchips available in hardwoods and fruit woods. This includes hickory, oak, cherry, maple, peach, and more. But many people believe they have to use woodchips whenever they smoke.
While some types of smokers don’t need woodchips, most are designed to accommodate them. Woodchips aren’t a fuel source, they’re used to enhance the flavor of the food and the aroma of the smoke. This results in improved flavor.
If your smoker doesn’t come with a smoke box, you can make a foil packet, or you can place them in a metal can and put one at the bottom of the chamber in the smoker. You can also purchase a small smoker box, which is designed with durability and smoke ventilation in mind.
Why Do You Need to Soak Woodchips?
When it comes to woodchips, soaking isn’t always necessary. Many people love adding woodchips to their smoker, to enhance the flavor of the meat. Regardless of the type of smoker you have, whether it’s gas, electric, or charcoal, you will need to replace the woodchips every two to three hours, if you’re cooking a thicker cut of meat, whether the wood has been soaked or not. So, if the reason you’re considering soaking the woodchips prior to smoking is because you think you won’t need to add more wood to the smoker, the truth is, it really doesn’t make a huge difference. If you’re cooking a thicker cut of meat and you don’t want to deal with replacing the woodchips every two hours, then use wood chunks instead. These wood chunks also come infused with flavor and can make cooking thick cuts of meat, such as a brisket, much easier. To learn more about wood chunks, how to use them, and when they’re a better alternative to woodchip use, click here to read my article on the difference between woodchips and chunks.
However, if you’re doing so to infuse the wood with a richer smoky flavor, then doing so will definitely pay off. Woodchips usually come flavored right out of the bag, in flavors such as mesquite, hickory, or oak. Soaking these woodchips will make the flavor even stronger, if you soak them in a certain type of liquid such as wine, apple juice, or beer. However, this can be a balancing act. If you’re using flavored woodchips, then you must ensure that the liquid you’re soaking the wood in doesn’t overpower the flavor of the wood. You’ll also want to make sure the combination goes well together.
Should I Avoid Soaking the Woodchips?
Before you soak the wood, consider what type of smoke quality do you want to generate? There are different types of smoke and not all of them will be good for smoking meat. White smoke is basically steam, which will be ineffective for smoking most types of meat. Black and gray smoke are often rich in carcinogens and very dirty.
The goal should be to achieve pale blue, thin smoke. To achieve this, you’ll need to use dry woodchips, not wet or damp wood.
When it comes to smoking, allows follow the less is more approach. It’s all about being nuanced and stripped back. If too much smoke is generated, it can easily overpower the flavor of the meat and make it inedible. Any added flavors from woodchips that are flavored, brines, or rubs will be lost entirely, if you allow smoke to run unchecked in the smoker’s chamber.
Using the Right Amount
Using the right amount of woodchips for your meat will be crucial, since, if you don’t use enough, then your meat will barely have a smoky flavor, yet, if you use too much wood, then the flavor of the wood will easily overpower the flavor of your meat. Obviously, the goal is to find the right balance. If you’re making chicken breasts, use one to two cups of woodchips, and don’t replace the wood if they burn out. For thicker cuts, such as brisket, which can take several hours to smoke, it can be a little trickier and may require a little experimentation on your part, depending on the level of smokiness you’re looking for. You don’t have to use woodchips the entire time you smoke your meat. Limiting the amount of time you use the woodchips as your food smokes will have the biggest impact on how smoky your meat tastes. Some smoking enthusiasts prefer to use woodchips only the first two to three hours, while others will use wood the entire time.
So, do you need to soak woodchips? In most cases, no. If you’re soaking the wood because you think it will allow them to smoke for longer, then you’re wasting your time. If you want to soak the woodchips to infuse your food properly, then you will need to soak them in a liquid other than water. Basically, to achieve the perfect type of smoke, soaking the woodchips should be avoided at all costs. In the end, soaking woodchips will be a matter of personal preference. While there are many smoking enthusiasts that swear by this technique, others claim that you’ll enjoy better results, a richer flavor, and perfectly smoked meat, if you avoid soaking your woodchips.