Wood chips vs. Wood chunks and which one should you use

Wood chips vs. Wood chunks

If you are new to Barbecue meat smoking or recently purchased a smoker grill, you likely have come across wood chips and wood chunks. Wood is used in meat smoking to add natural wood flavor to foods. Smoking Wood can be found in many flavors, including mesquite, hickory, cherry apple, and unique flavors like Jack Daniels whiskey flavored wood chips.

The options are many, but cooking wood can most commonly be found in two forms, wood chips and wood chunks. This article will discuss the differences between these two types of wood shapes and which is best for different grills. 

What should I consider when buying flavored wood to smoke meats?

Flavored Woods can add great flavor to meats and generate adequate smoke to create beautiful smoke rings and add a smoky taste to meats. However, it is crucial to use natural wood to ensure only clean smoke is touching your meats. Look for wood vendors that only use real wood to manufacture their chips or chunks. Most brands only use natural woods without chemicals or preservatives, but some might use recycled materials or scrapped wood.

Try to avoid cooking with any wood or charcoal that contains chemicals, as this can create dirty smoke and add unwanted flavors to the meat.

What are wood chips?

Wood chips are smaller than wood chunks. Wood chips are just as the name implies; they are splits from wood and pack natural flavors like apple, mistle, and hickory. Wood chips are small, thinner pieces of wood, whereas wood chunks are bigger chopped woodblocks. Wood chunks can be a few inches thick, but wood chips are thin.

Wood chips are great for propane and electric smokers. The chips fit perfectly in smaller wood boxes and ignite quickly to produce sufficient amounts of smoke.

What are wood chunks?

Wood chunks are preferred and work best in charcoal smokers where the chunks can be placed directly on the coals or fire and get enough heat to ignite and produce smoke. Wood chunks are larger lumps of wood and need more heat and fire to ignite, making them perfect for charcoal grills.

Because wood chunks are large, they will not work well nor ignite in propane smoker wood boxes as the heat might not be powerful enough to ignite the wood lumps. However, when wood chunks are placed right on a direct fire, they will produce a lot of smoke for long and slow smoking.

What’re the differences between wood chips and wood chunks

The most significant difference between wood chips and wood chunks is size and thickness. Wood chunks are small wood lumps, ranging from a few inches to pretty large lumps, where wood hips can be as small as half an inch and only a few millimeters thick. Wood chunks work well in charcoal smokers and grills as their thickness allows them to be placed right on the hot coals and burn over a long period producing lots of smoke. 

Wood chips are thin, and if set on direct heat or fire, they will burn notably fast; this is why wood chips are perfect for smoke boxes. Their size also means you can pack many wood chips in a smoker box for hours of cooking. Since chips are thinner, they ignite well even in cast iron smoke boxes as they don’t require much or direct heat to ignite.

Should I use wood chips or wood chunks?

If you own a charcoal grill or smoker, wood chunks will work best, not to say you can’t use wood chips in your charcoal grill, but chips will burn fast but can be used to add a bit of flavor during short cooking periods. Wood chunks are perfect for low and slow meat smoking and will last longer and produce more smoke.

If you are cooking in a gas grill or smoker, your best option is wood chips. Wood chips are used in propane and gas grill because they ignite faster, requiring less heat. Propane smokers use smoke or wood boxes where chips go in to gradually be ignited. You can use a smoke box or smoke tube in a gas grill or simply throw s few chips on the fire.

How to use wood chips in a Gas or Propane Smoker Grill

Smoker

Using wood chips in a propane smoker is very easy and straightforward. Propane and electric smokers come with what’s known as a wood chip box or smokebox. This box holds all the chips and seats right above the fire burner. Fire from the burner hist the bottom of the box, heating and igniting the chips slowly. The chips will start producing smoke once the box gets hot enough but will not go up in flame as the box acts as a heat shield protecting the chips from direct fire but transferring enough heat for slow ignition. 

Try to get the smoker preheated before inserting the wood chips in the smoker’s wood box. Also, wait for the smoker to be at cooking temperature and producing smoke before placing any foods inside the cooking chamber.

Grill

Yes, you can turn your gas grill into a smoke machine too. In fact, we show how to turn your gas grill into a smoker in this article. Gas and propane grills are easy to use and, to many, the only choice. However, propane grills have one major drawback, propane burns clean, odorless, and doesn’t produce any flavor. Unlike wood, propane does not create any smoke or flavor when ignited through the grill’s burners. All the meats flavor comes solely from seasoning; although this might be ok for certain dishes is not enough for BBQ Food. BBQ food is known for its wood and smoky flavor. 

However, devices like smoke boxes can turn your gas grill into a mean smoking machine without modifications. Smoke boxes are straightforward devices but add to any gas grill the capability to hold wood chips indirectly above the fire. These boxes very closely duplicate the design of propane smokers. Smoke boxes are small boxes that can hold wood chips, and when placed on your grill’s grate or between the grill’s burner, these boxes will heat up the wood and produce smoke. 

Related: How to Turn Your Gas Grill into a Smoker

Related: Best Smoker Boxes for Your Gas Grill

How to use Wood Chunks in a Charcoal Smoker or Grill

Smoker

Smaller charcoal smokers might come from the factory with wood boxes, but large smokers are built to use natural wood and chunks to smoke meat. These smokers are the real deal and can handle large wood lumps and smoke for long periods. The process is straightforward, add wood chunks to the coals once they are at cooking temperature. If you add the wood chunks when the coals are igniting or too hot, the wood chunks can light up, but it is easy to manage the fire by closing the smoker’s lid and reducing the oxygen levels inside the firebox. 

Pro Tip: Place the wood chunks along the charcoal “hotspot” areas to extend the chunks’ lives and produce more smoke.

Grill

Wood chunks can be used in a charcoal grill almost in the same way they are used in charcoal smokers. The only point to consider is temperature. Grills typically operate at higher temperatures, and the wood chunks can ignite prematurely and last less time. However, if you are grilling at a temperature below 300 degrees, the chunks should be ok. If you are grilling at higher temperatures but want to use wood chunks in your charcoal grill, you can warp the chunks in an aluminum foil with a few holes to protect the chunks, direct fire, and extend their life during the cook. The longer the chunks last, the more smoke they’ll produce.

One Last Word.

Wood chunks and chips are a great way of turning your smoker or grill into a commercial-grade smoker and cook unique BBQ dishes. Always choose natural wood to avoid adding chemicals or odd flavors to your meats, and choose the right shape of wood for your grill.

Enjoy life, Get Grilling.

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