Do You Need to Soak Wood Chips? The Answer May Surprise You

soak wood chips

To soak or not to soak? It’s an age-old question with various answers that may leave you confused. But, we’re here to clear it up for you once and for all. You may have heard that a pre-soak helps achieve a deeper smoke flavour and slower burning. However, we’ll explore the science behind soaking and reveal some surprising facts that may change your smoking routine.

To Soak or Not to Soak?

Conventional wisdom suggests soaking wood chips for at least an hour before smoking to achieve two things: slower combustion for longer smoke infusion and a more flavorful smoke compared to dry wood. However, the truth is that soaking your wood chips and chunks isn’t entirely necessary. Here’s why:

  • Deep Soak Takes Time: It takes well over 24 hours for a significant amount of moisture to reach the core of even small wood chips. Soaking for a shorter time won’t do much.
  • Steam Before Smoke: Soaked wood produces steam when exposed to heat. This steam can lower the smoker’s overall temperature, potentially delaying the cooking process.
  • Wet Wood, Lower Temps: Soaked wood burns at a lower temperature because its higher water content makes it less dense. This can further bring down the temperature of the smoker.
  • The Evaporation Wait: Wood chips and chunks that have been soaked need to get rid of that moisture before they can actually produce smoke. The water content has to reach boiling point (212°F) and evaporate completely before the wood can begin to smoke efficiently.

When to Soak Wood Chips

While soaking may not be necessary for all smoking applications, it can be advantageous in certain situations. For instance, if you’re smoking on a charcoal or gas grill instead of a dedicated smoker, soaking can be a helpful technique. You can create a time-release smoke effect by using two trays: one with dry wood chips that smoke immediately, and another with soaked chips that dry out and start smoking later in the cooking process.

Plank Grilling

Plank grilling is one situation where the no-soaking rule for wood gets thrown out the window. Here, soaking the plank is crucial for safety and optimal results.

Soaking a plank serves two key purposes:

  1. Fire Prevention: A dry plank placed directly on a hot grill is a fire hazard. Soaking infuses the wood with moisture, creating a protective barrier that prevents combustion. This allows the plank to slowly smolder and add flavour without burning up.
  2. Flavour Infusion: While soaking won’t saturate the wood deeply enough to produce significant steam or smoke, it does create a surface layer of moisture that gently flavours your food as it cooks. 

Other Smoking Tips

  • For optimal smoke infusion and tender results, maintain low cooking temperatures during the smoking process. Avoid exceeding recommended smoking temperatures for your chosen protein.
  • A minimum of 20 minutes is recommended to achieve satisfactory smoke penetration. Consider employing a reverse sear technique for extended smoking periods.
  • Strive for thin, wispy smoke with a light blueish-white hue. This indicates efficient burning and desirable smoke flavour. Avoid thick, grey, or bright white smoke, which can impart an unpleasant bitterness.
  • External conditions such as wind, sunlight, and humidity can influence the internal temperature and charcoal burn rate. Ideally, position your smoker in a sheltered location. 

Wood Chips, Smokers & More…

Now that you’re equipped with the real info about soaking wood chips for smoking and other expert-level tips, you’re ready to fire up that smoker and put them to the test! For all your smokin’ accessories – including top-of-the-line smokers – come check out our new showroom and get stocked up for summer!

Visit our new showroom at 200 Nipissing Ct., Kanata for all your smoking and grilling needs!

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