Do you know that wood chips, an inedible ingredient, are ubiquitous in many recent recipes? If not, here is the ultimate guide to how to use wood chips for gas and charcoal grills!
If you’re a big fan of barbecue, you’ve probably been looking for ways to deepen the woodsy, outdoorsy flavor of your dishes. Good news: You don’t need any fancy, gourmet ingredients since simple wood chips can do the trick. In this article, we provide an exhaustive list of this essential culinary component, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to use wood chips for gas and charcoal grills!
What Are Wood Chips?
Wood chips are hand-sized pieces of wood made by shredding or grounding up larger pieces. Although wood chips serve many purposes, today, we focus on the types that are specifically designated for cooking.
Different Types Of Wood Chips
Before you venture into the world of barbecue, it is crucial that you gain deep insights into a vast array of wood chips. Such knowledge can go a long way towards facilitating your cooking process.
- Cherry: Boasting a mild and fruity flavor, it is best known for its ability to pair with almost any ingredient. That being said, it is often accompanied by pork and poultry.
- Apple: This light-flavored variety offers a hint of sweetness. In terms of versatility, it is on the same par with cherry wood chips, going well with seafood, cheese, poultry, pork, and lamb.
- Alder: Its subtle flavor makes alder the perfect companion with fish, namely salmon. It can also be grilled with pork, poultry as well as veggies, and fruit.
- Peach or Pear: Another type of wood chip with a sweet, delicate flavor and a trace of woodsy aftertaste. It perfectly compliments pork and poultry.
- Maple: Bringing a touch of sweetness and smokiness to the overall flavor profile, this wood chip can exceptionally enhance the taste of poultry, ham, and vegetables.
- Oak: Despite its sharp, smoky taste, oak wood chips don’t overpower the flavor of main ingredients like beef, pork, fish, and poultry.
- Hickory: This savory wood chip bears a remarkable resemblance to bacon. It delivers a beautiful smoky flavor to any dish featuring pork, poultry, beef, and cheese.
- Pecan: It is a milder and sweeter alternative to hickory. It, however, can release a bitter taste to your food if smoked for too long.
Mesquite: Notable for its bold taste, it imparts a smoky flavor to your grilled beef or lamb.
If you are in the mood for creating a signature dish, try adding these wood chips to your one-of-a-kind mixture. The key is to combine those with neutral and intense flavors together. By doing so, your wood chip blend will be intoxicating but not too overwhelming.
Bear in mind that not all types of wood chips lend themselves well to cooking in general and grilling in particular. Some flare up too much when exposed to fire, whereas others, as harmless as they look, may even contain poisonous substances.
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How To Use Wood Chips For Gas Grills
For a long time, gas grills have been a no-no for barbecue gurus. This is because food cooked on such grills lacks the distinctive smoky and outdoorsy flavor that charcoal grills provide, which can be a big dealbreaker for picky eaters. But with the addition of wood chips, this is no longer a problem.
1. Put wood chips into the smoker box
If your gas grill comes with a smoker box, then barbecuing should be as easy as a piece of cake. All you need to do is add one handful of wood chips into the smoker box and place it on top of the coals.
Once the smoke has poured out of your smoker box’s holes, it’s time to start cooking. This is because the smoke can inject a deep, wood-fired taste to any ingredient you use, be it seafood, pork, beef, chicken, or veggies.
The position of your smoker box depends on how long you want to grill. For fast cooking methods, the smoker box should be placed directly beneath the food.
However, the last thing you want to do for slow cooking applications is to let your food come into direct contact with smoke. For this reason, put your smoker box on one side of the grill and your food on the other.
If you don’t have a smoker box at hand, you need to keep an eye on your food. Since there is no barrier between heat and wood chips, the wood is burned more rapidly and needs replacing more frequently.
When there is no built-in smoker box, you might need 2 to 3 packets of wood chips, which will burn for roughly an hour. If you want to cook for more extended periods, don’t forget to add one handful of wood every 30 minutes. Otherwise, the overheated wood will bring a bitter aftertaste to your dish.
2. Make your own smoker box (if needed)
If you find replenishing the grill with wood tedious, try creating your own smoker box. Just find a stainless steel packet and poke small holes across its surface using a long skewer. It’s as simple as that.
Now, just put the cooking grid on top, and seal the grill securely. The idea is that you want the smoke to permeate your grill’s cooking chamber and enrich the flavor of your food instead of escaping and vanishing into thin air.
On average, you should wait 15 minutes for wood chips to smoke. Then, open the grill and place the food on the grate. Once again, close the lid as tightly as possible.
This video serves as a visual guide on how to grill using wood chips:
How To Use Wood Chips For Charcoal Grills
The cooking process on charcoal grills is almost identical to that on gas grills, except that you need to put more effort into the first step: igniting the fire. This can be done in 3 different ways: lighter fluid, a chimney starter, or match light briquettes.
a. Lighter fluid
If lighter fluid is readily available in your local area, opt for refined, high-end varieties capable of producing fast and clean-burning smoke. Low odor is another criterion because you don’t want your lighter fluid to impart an unpleasant taste to your food. And since lighter fluid can spill over your hand, you may consider buying the types that are non-irritating for your skin.
When grilling, add the recommended amount of lighter fluid once the coals have been put in the cooking chamber. Then, torch the coals right away using a stick lighter and wait until they burn down to a greyish-white tone.
b. Match light charcoal
A more “controversial” option is match light briquettes. Some people steer clear of them because they are composed of synthetic chemicals such as sodium nitrate, paraffin, or petroleum, all of which can lend a pungent odor to your food.
However, recent variations contain real wood, which can offset the smell of chemicals. Such natural wood can also infuse your food with authentic, smoky BBQ flavor.
As the name suggests, match light charcoal can be ignited with just a match. Having more edges and surface areas, this type of charcoal can catch the flame more quickly than ordinary ones. In fact, match light charcoal is unsurpassed when it comes to fast-heating and long-burning performance.
c. Chimney starter
If you decide to use a chimney starter, fill it with charcoal. The more food you grill, the more charcoal is called for. Then place a few sheets of crumpled paper under it. Light the papers with a stick lighter, and let them burn for 4 to 5 minutes.
Once your coals have had a glowing red, pour them into the cooking chamber in a careful manner. Many people like to wear heatproof gloves when doing so.
Then, proceed by placing wood chips in the smoker box as usual and have fun grilling!
Whether used in gas or charcoal grills, wood chips have gained a reputation for their irresistible flavor and aroma. Therefore, they have gradually evolved from a garnish to an almost indispensable component in cookouts.
After reading this article, we hope you will soon incorporate this delightful ingredient into your recipes. It will surely spice up your cooking activities and take your barbecue to new heights of flavors!