Should you use wood chips or chunks?
Depending on the flavour or intensity of smoke you are aiming for, you can use chips or chunks when smoking on a charcoal BBQ. Both are placed directly onto the coals. Wood chips should be soaked for about 20-30 minutes before adding them to the coals. They are smaller in size and if you don’t soak them, they will burn quickly giving you very little smoke. When the wood chips are wet, they should give around 10-15 minutes of smoke so if you are aiming for a mild smoky flavour they are perfect. They are also perfect for shorter cooks or if you are cooking direct.
Chunks are larger and will therefore burn for a longer time. One or two chunks added to the coals can provide around 1 hour of smoke. Some people may choose to soak the chunks before adding them to the coals but in my opinion this isn’t necessary. Dry wood will produce a cleaner smoke and if they burn a little quicker, you can always add another chunk.
Tips for smoking on a Charcoal BBQ
When I talk to anyone who is interested in learning how to smoke, I always recommend they start smoking on a charcoal BBQ they already have. You can do almost any form of smoking on a Kettle BBQ and whilst they may not be as easy to manage as a dedicated smoker, you can get very similar results.
Aim to be subtle with your smoke and treat it like any other flavour you add to your food. By all means you can add a little extra if you like the flavour but too much will result in your food tasting and looking like it was in a house fire!
I like to think of it this way.
Let’s say you add a rub to a whole chicken before putting in onto the BBQ to roast. You would never dream of going back and adding more rub every 15 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked. The flavour of the chicken would be overpowered by the layers of rub and result in a rather unpleasant meal! The same rules apply to smoke. 15 minutes of smoke at the very beginning of the cook is enough to give you a great flavour but you will still be able to taste your seasoning and more importantly the meat.
The smoke will only penetrate into the meat whilst the outer surface isn’t sealed. After 20-30 minutes at normal roasting temperatures, the smoke will struggle to get into the meat so there is little point in adding more. Food that is cooking low and slow will take longer to seal so can therefore take on more smoke but remember not to be too heavy handed.
Another important factor to remember is airflow. If you are cooking indirect and want to add smoke, the position of your lid vent is crucial. The same can be said for any indirect cooking. Your lid vent should always be placed directly over your food to ensure the air is drawn in through the bottom vent, through the coals and wood then it passes over your food before exiting the BBQ through the lid vent. If the vent is placed over the coals, the airflow will be through the coals then straight up and out through the vent.The caveat to this setup is that the hood thermometer may now be placed directly over the coals giving you a false reading as to the actual temperature at grill level where your food is placed. I would recommend you have a grill level thermometer to get accurate temperature readings.
A great place to start!
A kettle BBQ is the ideal beginners BBQ as you can do almost any form of cooking on it including smoking. Something like the Weber 57cm Mastertouch has all the features you need to learn all aspects of BBQ. When smoking on a charcoal BBQ, a lid is essential and hinged cooking grates make it very easy to add more coals or wood chips without having to remove your cooking grate from the BBQ.You can easily learn the basics of smoking on a kettle before moving up to a dedicated smoker. Start with adding a few wood chips or chunks to your current cooks and experimenting with different flavours before moving on to some of the bigger cooks like ribs or brisket.
By adding a little bit of smoke at the start, then building from there, you will slowly learn what wood flavours you like and how strong you like them. To help you match the different wood flavours with your meat, we have put together a chart with some of the most common smoking woods showing their strength and what meats they go well with.
Click here to download your FREE smoking wood chart in pdf format
There are many other varieties of smoking wood but this is a great selection to get you started and help you learn the different levels of flavour.