The use of wood chips to add an extra dimension of flavour to your food is easy to achieve in any charcoal or gas barbecue. If you own a pellet barbecue, the fuel wood pellets come in a variety of wood types so adding extra wood chips for smoke isn’t necessary.
The flavour that pairs well with a food or a dish is a totally personal choice, in the same was pairing wine is down to your personal palette. The simple guide below offers a straight-forward approach to using wood chips. Remember, if you don’t like a particular pairing, there are plenty of other flavour and food combinations out there to try next time!
I order the chip flavours from Delicate & Fruity to Dark & Intense. If I cook something with smoke and find there isn’t enough smokiness in the final dish, I can either add more of the same chips next time I cook the dish, or, I can choose a stronger wood further down the scale.
Similarly, if something is too strong with smoke, the next time I cook that dish I can either use less of the same wood or chose a lighter wood from further up the scale.
Delicate & Fruity Dark & Intense
Apple – Pear – Cherry – Pecan – Beech – Whisky – Oak – Hickory – Mesquite
It is possible to over smoke your food so if you start to hot smoke with wood chips, start out easy and ration the amount of chips you use for a cook. Lightly smoked food is always more enjoyable that food that is heavily layered with smokiness!
As a starting point I think of lighter meats like chicken and pork pairing well with lighter fruitier woods, and darker meats such as lamb and beef pairing well with darker woods.
When to Smoke
Food takes on smoke best when it is raw. Once food has begun to cook the outer surface seals and smoke struggles to penetrate the exterior surface. This means that even if you cook something for an hour and a half, e.g. a medium chicken, it’s only necessary to have smoke in the cook-box for the first 15-20 minutes. The rest of the cook will be done without smoke, but by then the food will have been seasoned with a beautiful rich smoky note.
To Soak or Not To Soak, That is the Question!
An eternal debate that rages; my personal preference is to soak my chips in water for 20 minutes then drain. I find they smoulder and give off smoke for longer before turning to cinders.
DO NOT try soaking chips in Whiskey or other alcohols to recreate a Whiskey wood chips. Whiskey flavoured wood chips are old casks used to mature spirits in. They have done their job and been chipped so we can use them on our barbecues.
Smoking on a Charcoal Kettle
With the BBQ lit, drain the wood chips and scatter straight onto the hot coals. They will produce smoke within seconds, which means you can put food and wood chips on a charcoal barbecue at the same time. Close the lid to surround the food with a cloud of smoke. Maintain the vents in an open position.
Smoking on a Gas Barbecue
Drain the soaked chips and place them in a purpose made perforated smoking box or make a double thickness square tinfoil parcel. Seal the edges and poke some holes with a skewer to allow the smoke to escape.
Lift a section of cooking grate, before the barbecue is lit and position the box or parcel on one of the heat deflector plates and replace the cooking grate. It’s important to place the smoking parcel on a heat deflector plate that is in an area of direct heat when you do this, or the wood chips simply won’t get hot enough to smoke.
Light the barbecue and preheat for 15 minutes with the lid closed. After this time the chips should begin to smoke and depending on how many have been used they will last 15-20 minutes. Put your food in the barbecue, once you see smoke coming from the BBQ and close the lid to cook.