Wood chips for smoking: 10 tips to keep in mind when choosing

Trying to choose between the dozens of different brands of wood chips on the grocery store shelf can be daunting. Do you need the largest wood chip, or should you go for a less expensive one? This blog post is intended to help you find the answers to these questions and more. But first, let’s go over some of the most important things to consider when choosing a wood chip.

The key point

First, remember that these are all types of wood chips with different colors and flavors. The best kind will depend on the cooking technique; for example, a cherry flavor wouldn’t be ideal if you desired to smoke meat and chicken as they cook over indirect heat.

Big, dark chips have a lot of surface area and are great for cooking even-heated food.

Longer wood chips can be better for smoking foods over indirect heat.

Medium-sized chunks are excellent for smoking hot and fast food such as sausages, hams, and ribs.

Finally, small bits like shavings are suitable for sealing moisture and creating a more subtle smoke flavor.

Things to consider before buying chips

There are a lot of different varieties of wood, so take some time to figure out what you’re looking for before you do anything else. Here are a few of the most important things to consider:

  1. Darker colors will produce a more intense smoke flavor than lighter colors. For example, Cherry is commonly used for smoking salmon and other fish, whereas more delicate flavors like Sweet Hickory are most widely used for poultry or small game items like turkey breasts and deer sausage.
  2. The smoke flavor of the wood depends on several factors, including its moisture content and the amount of charring (or browning) it’s received during smoking. Because there are many different types of wood, you can get a lot of different flavors to suit any kind of meat.
  3. When purchasing dark-colored chips, avoid the less expensive ones dyed red or blue or smell like fuel or other artificial chemicals.
  4. Chunks will generally be cheaper than chips because you will be buying fewer pieces and because they’re easier for processing machines to handle.
  5. Smaller pieces of wood tend to be more expensive because they can be difficult for machines to process.
  6. Most chippers have a specific type of chip that they prefer, so you might find that it’s not cost-effective to mix such specialized chips.
  7. Different types of wood are best for different types of cooking techniques. For example, chunks are good for indirect heat smoking and turning over the moisture contents, while chips are suitable for direct heat or broiling food.
  8. Big blocks or chunks will be good if you need the smoke flavor without a lot of water intrusion; conversely, small pieces will produce a more subtle smoke flavor with less water intrusion.
  9. Depending on who you ask, smoking wood chips is also known as fire-curing, fire-smoking, hickory, or hardwood.
  10. Long ago, people used giant igloos made of natural materials like pine or juniper to smoke their food. This is more common with briquettes and pellets made from processed wood products in modern times.

The traditional way to smoke

The traditional way to smoke with wood chips involves placing wood chunks into a sizable beehive-like structure where they will absorb most of their heat and moisture during the cooking process. This type of smoker is known as a “cold smoker.”

In the past, fresh wood was used to make these smokers. To prevent the wood from burning up too quickly, people added potassium nitrate (saltpeter) or sodium nitrate. These days, it’s more common to use dried and cracked hardwood charcoal or small briquettes to achieve a similar effect.

Before smoking your food, soak the wood chips for about an hour in cold water and drain them before adding them to your smoker. If you’re using dried hardwood chips or stale briquettes, it’s not necessary to soak them beforehand.

The chemistry

Wood can give off many different smoky compounds, most of which are aldehydes. Examples include:

  • Acetaldehyde (CH3CHO)

Also known as ethyl aldehyde and ethanal, acetaldehyde is one of the simplest types of alcohol. It’s often used as an additive to sodas and other foods. The smell of acetaldehyde is often described as intense, but it’s not as harsh or unpleasant as ketones or sulfur-containing compounds. 

  • Acetone (CH3COCH3)

Acetone is another simple type of alcohol. It’s a solvent in lacquers, varnishes, and nail polish removers. It’s often used as an alternative to ethanol in alcoholic beverages. 

  • Benzaldehyde (C6H5CHO)

Also known as methyl aldehyde, benzaldehyde is found in many fruits and produces a sweet smell. It’s commonly used to preserve foods such as fruits, cheese, and meat. 

  • Camphor (C10H18O)

Camphor is the basis of some standard colognes and perfumes. It’s also found in mothballs, chewing gum, and air fresheners. The smell of camphor has been described as fresh, piney, woodsy, or woodsy-floral.


While it’s unnecessary to use chips to make your smoker, they can provide a creative way to add flavor and nuance. Just remember that different types of wood have different tastes and colors, so you’ll want to choose the style that works best for your favorite foods.

Hardwood wood chips are perfect for adding great-tasting meat or fish to your diet.

You can save money and get perfectly seasoned food every time by using wood chips!​

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