Great Backyard Barbecue and Grilling

To Soak Or Not To Soak Wood Chips/Chunks

Soak Wood Chips

It seems that the conventional wisdom these days is that you should soak your wood chips or chunks before using them in a charcoal or gas grill or smoker. Just about half of everything I have read over the past couple of years says that wood chips and/or chunks should be soaked. The reason being is that "wet" wood will smoke and not burn until it dries out.

However, there are just as many backyard chef's who will tell you that in order for wood to burn cleanly, it has to first be dry and seasoned. And if that is in fact the case, why go through all the bother if you're just going to allow the wood cells to soak up water? The non-soakers offer up that soaking the wood helps the temperature be kept below the point of full combustion, that the burn is incomplete and the smoke and steam carry with it unburnt components such as creosote, that you really don't want on your food. Keep in mind that creosote is a gummy, tarry compound which often accumulates in a chimney or in your pit. Besides, they would say, if you soak, you just have to cook off all the steam before the wood can start smoking.

For me personally, I prefer not to soak my wood when I am smoking chicken or brisket or ribs. I have found that when I am cooking over charcoal, I get a pretty decent amount of smoke when I use dry wood chunks and for most smoking, I prefer to use a combination of oak and either hickory or mesquite woods. I find that the oak gives me the heat I want, but not the heavy "smoke" flavor that I get from hickory or mesquite.

Now, when I am using my electric smoker - and I pretty much use it exclusively for smoking salmon these days (read my review here to find out why) - and when I do smoke salmon I prefer to soak my wood chips for about half and hour or so before putting it to work in the smoker. Not that I get the heating element hot enough to actually light the wood on fire, but it does take longer before I have to even think about adding more wood chips.

So basically, when it comes to whether you should soak your wood before smoking, it boils down to your own personal preference. Half of you prefer to soak your wood first and the other half prefer not to soak. So in the full scheme of things - half of you are right and half of you are wrong. You just have to decide which half of the discussion is right and which half is wrong.

Regardless of whether you decide to soak or not soak, load up your cooker, get your favorite cut of meat and get busy smoking!