Hardwood smoking chips bring a flavor to backyard barbecue that makes grilling an art. The slow, smoky process of indirect grilling and smoking on charcoal or gas grills also creates a tenderness in meat unmatched by most other cooking techniques. Knowing when and how often to add wood chips is key to this grilling technique. Always soak the smoking chips in a large bowl of water for at least an hour prior to smoking time to produce optimum smoke levels for flavoring meat.
Charcoal Grills and Smokers
Charcoal grills, smokers and combinations provide the best medium for hardwood smoking of meat and poultry, particularly when using natural lump charcoal (made from real wood chunks, not petroleum fillers like briquettes). Whether using smokers or grill-smoker combinations with offset fireboxes, wet wood chips should be tossed directly atop hot coals every 30 minutes to maintain regular flow of smoke. This regular addition of wood chips to the fire ensures rich, smoky hardwood flavoring—such as mesquite, hickory, apple, or cherry woods—and seasons the meat over the long, low-heat smoking process. The 30-minute interval of adding chips works best when slow-smoking at temperatures of between 200 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. See Resources below for information on setting up charcoal grills for smoking or indirect grilling.
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Smoking in gas grills requires the extra step of fashioning a heavy-duty aluminum foil pouch for the wet smoking chips. A fresh pouch should be placed atop one of the lit burners every time the previous pouch ceases smoke emission. This tends to be between 30 minutes and an hour for each pouch, depending on the heat at which the meat or poultry is smoked. The pouches—about three feet of foil wrapped in a square package around two or three handfuls of wet wood chips—should be ventilated on all sides by poking holes in the foil with a fork. See Resources below for setting up gas grills for indirect grilling and smoking.
Controlling Temperature and Flames
The second key to successful smoking is to maintain low heat for several hours for most roasts, ribs and whole chickens. Wet wood chips can help maintain more regular, sustained heating in charcoal grills because wet wood produces more smoke, which limits oxygen to the heat source and controls heat flareups and temperature spikes. If unwelcome high flames develop in smoking chambers or offset fireboxes, toss a couple of handfuls of wet chips onto the fire to douse the hottest parts and return the grilling chamber to a lower cooking temperature.