So you’re smoking some meat on your smoker and you’re wondering when you should add some wood to the fire?
The good news with smoking is that you can add wood to a smoker at anytime for additional wood smoke.
Whether you’re using a gas, electric, charcoal, or pellet smoker, you should add wood at the following times to create a good smoke flavor on your food.
The best times to add wood to a smoker are at the start and whenever you want additional wood smoke. Wood can be added at any time to create additional smoke. However, wood smoke during the first 2 hours of smoking meat is what creates smoke rings and smoke flavor.
So make sure the smoker is creating wood smoke as soon as you place any meat in the smoker. See this article to learn more about creating the best smoke rings on your meat.
After the meat has been smoking for 2+ hours, the additional wood smoke will help create a bark or exterior crust.
Now let’s dive into the timing of putting wood in the smoker as well as cover the best ways to create wood smoke on different types of smokers.
Best Time To Add Wood Onto Smoker
The goal of smoking meat on a smoker is to create a smoky flavor and an exterior crust called a bark.
If you do not use wood smoke then slowly cooking a brisket in your smoker at 225°F will look and taste similar to cooking a brisket in an oven at 225°F.
So we want to make sure there’s wood smoke so we make the brisket look and taste smoky.
Add Wood At Beginning of Smoke
The most important time to include wood smoke on a smoker is during the first 2 hours.
During the first 2 hours of smoking meat with wood smoke, the meat absorbs the smoke flavor and nitric oxide (NO) from the wood smoke to create a smoke ring.
Smoke rings are a visual sign that the meat has been smoked with wood smoke. Smoke rings are the red ring on the exterior of a slice of smoked meat.
The meat will also taste smoky and there will be a nice exterior crust called a bark.
So make sure to place wood in the smoker as soon as the meat is placed on the smoker.
Methods For Creating Additional Wood Smoke
Here are the most common and effective ways to create additional wood smoke in your smoker.
Even if your smoker has a dedicated spot for adding wood chips or wood pellets, the following methods and tools can help create even more smoke.
1. Wood Chips and Smoker Boxes
One of the most popular ways of creating more wood smoke is by using wood chips and smoker boxes.
Wood chips can be added directly to the fire, however, smoker boxes allow the wood chips to smolder even longer.
Wood chip smoker boxes are simply metal boxes that hold the wood chips.
Once the wood chips heat up in the smoker box and begin to smolder, the smoke will exit through the vent holes in the smoker box.
The benefit of smoker boxes is that they allow the wood chips to smolder and create smoke longer. Not to mention smoker boxes can be moved and refilled with more wood chips.
2. Wood Pellets and Pellet Tubes
Another common method for creating more wood smoke is by using wood pellets in a pellet tube.
Similar to wood chips, wood pellets can be added directly to the fire to create smoke. However, pellet tubes allow the wood pellets to smolder even longer thereby creating more smoke for a longer time.
Pellet tubes are simply metal tubes that hold all the wood pellets together.
Once the wood pellets heat up in the pellet tube and begin to smolder, the smoke will exit through all the vent holes in the pellet tube.
Pellet tubes can be placed anywhere in the grill including right next to the food so you can easily create more smoke where you want it.
Click here to see the best wood pellet smoker tubes on Amazon. Wood pellets can also be purchased on Amazon if you don’t have any on hand.
Generally, people will use wood pellets over wood chips if they are using a pellet grill or happen to have wood pellets on hand.
3. Wood Chunks in Fire
Adding wood chunks directly into the fire is the oldest method for adding wood smoke to any smoker.
Generally, people will add wood chunks to charcoal or stick smokers in order to create both heat and smoke.
The benefit of using chunks of wood is that wood chunks will take longer to completely burn. The longer the wood burns means the longer the food on the smoker is exposed to wood smoke.
The drawback with wood chunks is that wood chunks must be added directly into the fire.
So chunks of wood cannot be added to electric, gas, or pellet smokers. However, wood chunks can be used with charcoal and stick smokers.
Best Wood Flavor Types for Smoking
Different types of wood will create different flavors. For example, applewood will create a sweeter tasting smoke flavor as opposed to hickory or mesquite which creates a heavier smoke flavor.
So the wood flavor is an important consideration when smoking food.
See this article for the best wood flavor pairings with different cuts of meat.
Generally, hardwoods can be used to smoke any type of meat. Hardwoods include woods like mesquite, hickory, and oak.
Hardwoods will create a stronger and heavier tasting smoke flavor that is great for BBQ meat like brisket but can be too strong for fish, vegetables, and desserts.
On the other hand, fruitwoods will create a lighter and sweeter tasting smoke flavor that is better for fish, vegetables, and desserts.
However, some BBQ enthusiasts prefer to use fruitwoods such as apple and cherry when smoking pork and other meats.
So the exact wood type to use when smoking food comes down to personal preference. Make sure to check out this article for the best wood flavor to use with different cuts of meat and veggies.
3. Avoid Softwoods
Regardless of whether you decide to use wood pellets, wood chips, or wood chunks, never use softwoods when smoking food.
Softwoods contain saps and other liquids that will create an unpleasant smoke flavor on food. This is why you never see BBQ restaurants smoke food with softwoods such as pine.
If you have ever burned a Christmas tree, you know why you should never smoke food with softwoods. The smoke is too thick and smells horrible.
How To Prevent Creating Bad Smoke
Here are some tips to prevent creating bad smoke on a smoker.
Bad smoke is where the smoke will create an unpleasant taste on the food.
1. Use A Clean Grill
The most important step when smoking food is to make sure the grill is clean. If the grill is dirty with soot or burnt grease then the food being cooked on the grill will also taste dirty.
Simply use a grill brush to clean the grill grates clean before placing food on the smoker. Make sure to also clean out any drip trays or grease traps in order to prevent any grease fires.
Click here to see the best grill brushes on Amazon.
2. Clean The Cooking Chamber
The next most important step when smoking food is to make sure the cooking chamber is clean.
Similar to using a clean grill grate, the cooking chamber should also be relatively clean otherwise the food may absorb a dirty flavor.
Most grills will have a reasonably clean cooking chamber. However, if the cooking chamber has a lot of soot or creosote then the smoke will taste dirtier on the food.
3. Do Not Use Treated Wood
The goal when smoking food is to create a clean wood smoke that will make the food taste better.
If the wood being burned has chemicals or glues then the smoke from the treated wood will be dirty. In fact, you should never use any treated wood when smoking food.
Similarly, you should not use heating pellets in a pellet smoker since heating pellets may contain treated woods and softwoods.
4. Avoid Using Softwoods
As previously mentioned, softwoods such as pine will contain more sap and liquids that will create a dirty smoke.
The reason why softwoods are never used in BBQ restaurants is because the dirty smoke creates an unpleasant flavor on the food. So never use softwoods when smoking food.
5. Do Not Create Too Much Smoke
Although this may seem counterintuitive at first, you do not want to make as much smoke as possible when smoking food.
So you do not want to overload the fire with a ton of wood that creates thick white smoke since this will not create a good flavor on the food.
In fact, you want to create a light white or blueish color smoke that steadily vents away from the smoker. This way the food is getting the right amount of smoke while it cooks to absorb enough smoke flavor.
So do not create TOO much smoke when smoking food otherwise you will create an unpleasant flavor. Too much smoke is bad smoke when smoking food.
Best Ways to Create Additional Wood Smoke on Smokers
Here are the best ways to create additional smoke on the most common types of smokers.
On charcoal smokers, you can use wood chips, wood pellets, or wood chunks to create more smoke.
So if you have a smoker box then use wood chips and place the smoker box near the coals to create smoke. You can also place wood chips near or below the coals to create smoke if you do not have a smoker box.
Similarly, wood pellets can be placed in a smoker tube and placed near the coals to create smoke. Or the wood pellets can be placed near or below the coals to create smoke if you do not have a smoker tube.
Finally, wood chunks can be throw on or near the coals so that they ignite and create wood smoke.
Most electric smokers will have an electric coil that is used to create heat. Generally, a smoker box or smoker tube can be placed on top of the electric coil in order to create smoke.
Wood chunks should not be used in an electric smoker since the wood chunks would ignite and create an uncontrolled fire that could damage the smoker.
Kamado grills use charcoal in order to heat up a ceramic shell to cook the food. Similar to charcoal smokers, wood chips, wood pellets, or wood chunks can be added to create more smoke.
If you have a smoker box or smoker tube then add that to the coals to create more smoke in the kamado grill. You can also add the wood chips or wood pellets directly to the coals in order to create smoke.
Generally, wood chunks are not commonly used in kamado grills since the wood chunks may create too much additional heat. However, wood chunks will create more smoke and can be placed on the coals to create smoke.
Most gas smokers will have a propane flame that is used to create heat. Generally, a smoker box or smoker tube can be placed on top of the flame in order to create smoke.
Wood chunks should not be used in a gas smoker since the wood chunks would ignite and create an uncontrolled fire that could damage the smoker. Not to mention the burning wood chunks could create hot spots when cooking food in a gas smoker.
So use smoker boxes or smoker tubes when creating additional smoke on a gas smoker.
Pellet smokers will use wood pellets in order to create both heat and smoke. In order to create additional smoke, you can use a smoker box or smoker tube on top of the fire pot or in the grill grate.
Smoker tubes and smoker boxes placed within the cooking area need to be ignited using an external flame. Otherwise the smoker tube or smoker box can be placed on top of the firepot in the pellet smoker in order to heat up the smoker tube or smoker box enough to create more smoke.
Do not use wood chunks in a pellet smoker since this will create an uncontrolled fire within the pellet smoker which can damage the smoker.
Stick burners are one of the oldest forms of smoking food simply by burning wood in order to create both heat and smoke.
Wood chips, wood pellets, or chunks of wood can be added to a stick burner to create more smoke. In fact, stick burners already burn wood chunks in order to create both heat and smoke so by adding more wood may just increase the amount of the heat the smoker produces.
So if you want to just create more smoke on a stick burner then try adding a smoker tube or smoker box near the fire.
Do You Need To Soak Wood
A common misconception with smoking food with wood is soaking wood before placing it in the fire.
In fact, there is a good case study published on amazingribs.com that proves soaking wood chips is just delaying the wood chips from burning and creating the wood smoke you want.
Soaked wood chips will start to burn off all the water first via steam before burning and creating the wood smoke you want.
So effectively, soaking wood chips is not necessary unless you want to delay when the wood smoke is created by the wood chips.
A good use for soaking wood is to either add flavor by soaking the wood in whiskey or bourbon or by soaking some wood so some of the wood delays smoking compared to the dry wood.
For example, you can throw some dry wood onto the fire so it start smoking immediately. Any wood that was soaked will start smoking once all the water evaporates so that the soaked wood will start smoking after the dry wood.
These are the only times when soaking wood is beneficial.
Adding wood to a smoker is important in order to create the wood smoke needed to create the smoky flavor and bark we all have come to love on BBQ food.
Generally, wood smoke is needed within the first 2 hours of smoking meat in order to create a smoke ring and smoke flavor on the meat. Having wood smoke during the entire cook will help create a bark on the exterior of the meat.
So throw some wood into the fire so you get wood smoke while you’re smoking your meat from the start and you’ll be left with a delicious smoky meat.