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The Complete Guide to Smoking Woods for BBQ

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In your search for answers, you’ll come across a lot of contradictory information, ranging from which woods should be used with which meats to how to build a fire for successful smoking, and everything in between. We’ll cover almost everything you need to know about smoking wood in this guide to smoking wood.

Back in the day, wood logs were the primary source of heat and smoke for all barbecue. We have a tendency to overcomplicate things these days.

You’ll be overwhelmed by choice if you go to your local barbecue store. You’ll have to choose between wood chunks, chips, pellets, discs, and whole logs, and that’s before deciding which of the dozens of wood varieties to use.

We’ll even debunk a few common myths that even veteran barbecue competitors fall for.

Smoking Wood Overview

While you can smoke your food with just about anything (in Iceland, they use dried sheep dung), wood is the most common material.

When it comes to grilling, there are two main ways to use the best wood for smoking brisket.

  1. As the main fuel source – The combustion of the wood produces heat, while also imparting a smokey flavor to your meat. Building a fire with logs in an offset smoker is an example of using wood as the fuel source. Pellet smokers are another example of using wood as both the fuel and the source of smoky flavor.
  2. As the source of smoke flavor – while using another fuel source such as gas or charcoal. Examples of this include placing a wood chips in an electric smoker, or adding some chunks of wood to your lit coals.

Chips, chunks, pellets, and sawdust are some of the different types of wood you can use to add smoke flavor to your meat. Depending on your situation, the best way to use these various types of wood will vary.

Many barbecue connoisseurs go to great lengths to match the flavor of the wood they use to the food they’re preparing. Knowing how and when to use wood in its various forms, on the other hand, is a far more worthwhile time investment. Understanding when and how to use chips instead of chunks, for example, will pay off far more than memorizing a list of meats that “go well with mesquite.”

How to Add Wood to Your Smoker

Generally speaking, the best smoke comes from a small, hot fire that burns steadily. Avoid the temptation to create a bonfire-like atmosphere in your smoker. It’s not a good idea to light all of your fuel at once.

The amount of wood you should add to the fire and when you should do so will also be determined by the type of smoker you’re using and whether or not wood is your primary heat source.

The primary heat source on a Weber Smoker Mountain, for example, is not wood. In this case, 2-4 fist-sized chunks of wood should suffice to produce sufficient smoke.

When using an offset smoker, wood is the primary source of heat. Later in this guide, we’ll go over what kind of wood to use in an offset smoker.

Another day, we’ll talk about how to start a fire in an offset. T-Roy Cooks provides an excellent overview in this video. Many pitmasters find that adding wood chunks to the coals once they are hot, and the meat and thermometers are all set up, is the easiest way to start producing smoking wood is not the primary heat source.

Make sure the smoking wood is touching the hot coals to ensure that you get good smoke right away. Some pitmasters bury the wood chunks in the unlit coals, whereas others layer coals and wood chips and then light the coals using the minion method.


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