How to use a Vertical Smoker with Wood Chips

How to use a Vertical Smoker with Wood Chips

Smoking meat is a years-old practice still liked for its flavorful, succulent results. Grilling meat, cheese, or vegetables for friends and family is a fun activity many individuals enjoy during holidays and special occasions. BBQ enthusiasts would agree that wood is an integral part of barbecue. Getting the authentic smoky flavor in your food is impossible without wood.

The smoking method and heat source affect how the food will taste. You are all set if you have an offset smoker utilizing wood logs. But if you have a gas, charcoal, or electric vertical smoker, you might be missing out on that genuine smoky flavor you had in mind when you purchased a smoker.

You are in the right place if you feel your smoked meat is missing something. You can add wood chips and infuse that smoky flavor into your food with your own smoker.

Wooden chips release an excellent smoky flavor and aroma when you burn them, and you can even use a blend of different wood chip types to elevate the flavor. We will explain how to use a vertical smoker with wood chips and achieve the intense smokiness you are looking for!

Why use Wood Chips for Smoking?

The fragrance and taste of wood-smoked meat is second to none. Wood chips produce a thick white smoke inside the smoker, perfect for grilling, roasting, and barbecuing food.

Wood chips and water inside the smoker are excellent as they give the food a delicious smoky taste without drying it out. Various wood chips are available for smoking food, each with its distinct flavor and aroma. Trying out different wood chips and their combination can give your food a unique, smoky flavor.

How to use Wood Chips with a Vertical Smoker?      

There are four different methods of adding wood chips to a vertical smoker. These methods are all pretty easy! But, you should be able to have precise temperature control and monitor the cooking process in intervals for optimal results.

Let’s learn how to use wood chips in a vertical smoker! These methods work for all different types of smokers. However, the technique of adding wood chips to the smoker differs depending on whether you use an electrical or charcoal smoker. Some smokers have built-in mechanisms to add wood chips; for those that do not, you can use any of these solutions at your convenience.

Making a Foil Pouch    

This technique is particularly suitable for charcoal smokers as they do not have a dedicated wood chip tray or smoke box. Charcoal-grilled food has its own excellent flavor, but adding a few wood chips elevates it to the next level.

Creating a pouch with aluminum foil is the simplest and cheapest method- it doesn’t require purchasing additional supplies and utilizes foil sheets readily available in every household. Here’s a breakdown of the process:

  • Take two sheets of aluminum foil and place them on a flat surface. A double layer of foil guarantees the pouch won’t tear, and your wood chips won’t escape over the grill.
  • Cut the sheets to size if needed, then put a handful of your favorite wood chips in the middle of the foil sheets. 
  • Wrap the foil around the wood chips tightly to make a pouch. Keep the folds tight to make sure the wood chips don’t fall. Poke holes in the pouch with a knife or toothpicks.
  • Place the foil pouch above the charcoal fire. Keeping them over the fire will cause them to produce smoke without burning quickly. You can also put your wood chip foils on the coals if your cooking grates are distant from the charcoal. 

Wood Chip Tray

how to use a vertical smoker with wood chips-woodchips tray

Some smoker types and models have built-in dedicated woodchip trays in them. It makes using wood chips in a vertical smoker a whole lot easier. This technique works best with electrical smokers. Here’s how you go about adding wood chips in the smoker with a wood chip tray:

  • Prepare your smoker by cleaning it thoroughly and preheating it to 250F. Let it burn for thirty-five to forty minutes. Using wireless meat thermometer is advisable to monitor and control the smoker’s internal temperature.
  • Fill your water tray and add herbs or spices to the water if you like. It creates dampness in the cooking environment and enhances the food’s flavor.
  • Remove the wood chip tray from the smoker and add your choice of wood chips. The amount of wood chips varies depending on how long you cook and what you cook. Keep a few additional wood chips ready to go into the tray if need be. Keep checking hourly and add more wood chips if the previous ones have finished.
  • Put your meat on the cooking racks and start smoking. You can assess the smoke output while checking and adding wood chips periodically.

Wood Chips in the Smokebox

Hands down, electrical smokers are the most convenient type of vertical smokers. They work like an oven with electric heating elements and allow you to regulate the machine with WIFI or Bluetooth connections.

Some electrical smokers offer wood chip trays, while others have a smoke box for adding wood chips to the smoker. This method can be tricky because some electrical smoker models have a single door, and opening it repeatedly to add wood chips may allow the heat and smoke to escape.

Other models have a second door to access the water pan and smoke box/wood chip tray or have a slide-out tray for adding wood chips conveniently. You can make a DIY smokebox with a stainless steel box or get a store-bought smokebox if your smoker does not have one. Here’s a quick look at the technique:

  • Preheat your smoker to your desired temperature.
  • Fill the smoke box if your smoker has one. Or, create a smoke box by poking holes in a cast iron or stainless steel box or pan with a hammer and nail.
  • Place some wood pellets in the smoke box and put it in the smoker. Put it above the heating element. Make sure you add sufficient wood chips for the smoking session.
  • Keep the smokebox covered with a lid. Check the box periodically and refill wood chips a few times during cooking. Avoid opening the door unless you have to check whether or not you need more wood chips. 

A smokebox is excellent for both electrical and charcoal smokers. These can withstand high heat, and the holes drilled in them allow even airflow. You can also use wood chips in a propane or gas smoker. Some models even have a second burner for wood chips. If not, you can add them using one of these techniques. The foil packet strategy also works well with charcoal smokers. 

Making a Wood Chip Container

This method is simple and easy and requires readily available materials. This method is simple and allows recycling trash. We create a container for keeping wood chips with a tin can for this process. It can be complex if you can’t bend the lid to close the can.

Leaving the can open will allow excessive air inside and cause flames to burst. It will raise the temperature of the smoker and ruin your food. Therefore, using a tin can partially cut at the top is crucial. You can fill the can with wood chips and secure and seal them inside it conveniently. The process goes as follows:

  • Grab an empty tin can and use a sharp object to drill holes in the base. You can use a hammer and nail, a hacksaw, or any other cutting tool. 
  • Fill the can with wood chips and place it between the electric element coils using a pair of tongs. Remember to close the lid to prevent the wood from smoldering.
  • Keeping the can close the coils is sufficient- it does not have to touch them. It will receive enough heat to slow-burn the wood chips. 
  • The wood chips can go really fast when they start burning. Remove the can from the smoker in an hour or so to check whether or not you need to refill it. 

Final Words

Wood chips offer incredible versatility in various cooking methods. Each type serves a specific purpose that enhances your culinary experience, from chips to chunks, pellets to discs. Moreover, the wide range of flavors available allows for endless experimentation and the creation of unique taste combinations by blending different wood chip varieties. 

Adding wood chips to the smoking or barbecue process improves flavor profile and aroma of your food. Luckily, we have figured out ways of adding wood chips to smokers that do not use wood as a primary fuel source. Once you familiarize yourself with these techniques, you will easily smoke food with an excellent smoky flavor.

Whether you prefer charcoal, electric, or gas smokers, mastering the art of using wood chips for smoking is a game-changer, even if it does not have a dedicated compartment. With dedication and practice, you can elevate your smoking skills.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why should I use a digital thermometer?

A wireless meat thermometer helps maintain the internal temperature of the meat while grilling. Different meats and cuts require different temperatures to cook. Therefore, having a meat probe is essential to know whether or not it has reached the desired internal temperature.

Q: How to prevent the meat from sticking to the grates?

Brushing the grates with oil and keeping a water pan inside the smoker will restrict the food from sticking to the grill. Since lower racks are closer to the heating element, brush more oil on them.

Q: Can wood chips catch fire in the smoker?

No. All the methods mentioned above are safe. Wrapping wood chips in a pouch or putting them in a box, tray, or container restricts their direct contact with the heat.

 Q: Can I use wood chips in a pellet smoker?

No. The primary source of heat in a pellet smoker is wood pellets. However, you can add wood chips in a foil or smoke box alongside wood pellets for more wood smoke.

Q: How many times do I have to refill the wood chips?

Add the wood chips at least twice during the smoking process. Smoky flavor you desire is not achievable unless you cook the food with wood chips for a few hours.

Q: Which wood chips flavor is the best?     

Different types of meats, like pork, chicken, or beef, go well with diverse wood chips. Oak, hickory, and mesquite have a strong smoky flavor and are perfect for beef and pork ribs. Try maple, cherry, or hickory for poultry and seafood. It depends on your preference and what kind of flavors you like.

You can even use a blend of different wood chips to experiment with flavors. Woods with a mild flavor, like almond, apricots, pecan, etc., are more suitable for grilling cheese, vegetables, and nuts.

Q: How many wood chips should I use?

It is not hard and fast- you can experiment with different quantities and identify how many wood chips you need to achieve your desired smoky flavor. It also depends on the meat and cut you are cooking.

Delicate meat does not need as much smoke as pork and beef. You may not need to refill the wood chips while cooking chicken or fish, and thirty to sixty minutes of smoke would be sufficient to give them a smoky flavor. Over smoking delicate food can give it a bitter taste. For beef, lamb, and pork, you need to add woof chips in intervals for two to three hours.

Q: Should I soak the wood chips or not?

Many people swear by soaking wood chips prior to smoking. However, we find it unnecessary and a waste of time. Soaking the wood chips before smoking has no benefit, and dried wood chips burn better and produce smoke quicker than soaked wood chips. It also lowers the smoker’s temperature and delays the smoking process altogether. 

lizz barret foster

I’m responsible for managing and coordinating content creation, distribution, and optimization. I’m the former editor-in-chief of PMQ Pizza Magazine and have written for several B2B food publications over the years, including Restaurant Hospitality, Flavor & The Menu, Restaurant Business, National Culinary Review, FSR, Restaurant Startup & Growth, and more.

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