Smoking Wood: Chips, Chunks, Pellets & Sawdust

Smoking Wood: Chips, Chunks, Pellets & Sawdust

Using wood in your smoker is great way to add flavor to your hunk of meat and other barbecued foods.  It is a big part of barbecuing and it just isnt the same without it!  Even if the recipe doesnt suggest using wood for smoke, you can still use it to get that extra boost of flavor youre looking for.

There are several options when it comes to smoking wood.  There really isnt a right or wrong choice, but some options certainly work better than others and each is works a bit differently.  

Lets break it down.

Wood Chips

Wood chips are pieces of wood that have been gone through the shredder.  Each small piece is about the same size and burns quite quickly. They are perfect for a quick burst of smoke or a short cook time.  Keep in mind, you may need to add a couple handfuls more during the smoking period if the chips burn too quickly. Some pit masters swear by soaking the chips for about 30 minutes prior to smoking; others dont. It is believed that soaking helps generate steam which is good in the smoking process.  Soaking also extends the amount of time the chips will burn, thus using fewer chips. An important thing to note, burnt chips will give a bitter tasting smoke, so its important to let the chips smolder and smoke rather than catch flame.

Wood Chunks

Wood chunks, as it sounds, are bigger and heavier than chips or anything else discussed here today.  Chunks are typically as big as your fist and are the perfect choice when smoking something for a long time.  When using the low and slowmethod, chunks are the popular option.  Depending on the size of your chunks, the size of your meat, and your cook time, you may only need a few pieces to get just the right amount of smoke.  Some suggest soaking the chunks for a better smoke; others do not.

Wood Pellets

Pellets seem to be the least popular option.  Pellets are made from compressed sawdust. Theyre made into thin rods then cut into pellets.  It is very important to make sure youre using human-grade pellets that do not contain any sort of glue or binders.  You dont want the flavor tainted in anyway nor do you want to ingest chemicals!  Pellets burn much slower than chips and sawdust. Do not soak your pellets; they must be dry to smoke.


Sawdust is a cost effective way to get a good, even, flavorful smoke.  Sawdust burns faster than pellets, but slower than chips. It produces less heat than chips and pellets and may need to be replenished often.  Sawdust, like pellets, will not burn if soaked, so keep it dry!

Keep in mind that more smoke is not necessarily better.  The smoke should enhance the flavors, not overpower anything.  Start with a small amount of wood and work your way up if you need more smoke.  It will take practice to master, so be patient and keep trying till you get it just right.


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