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Soaking wood chips for smokers


saltedgreens
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I know this will seem unnessary, but we've been having a minor debate in my workplace about soaking wood chips for use in smokers.

Our thoughts:

Cold water takes longer to penetrate to the center while hot water is faster? This is difficult to test due to varying wood densities. Also, would hot penetrate faster on the outside while cold would prevent expansion and penetrate better towards the interior or what?

Hot water leaches "smoke flavors" from the wood like tea thus rendering hot water a flavor killer?

What temperature water do you soak your chips in and why?

I use cold water but some cooks have been challenging my reasoning. I tend to fall back on the idea that it works and that it conserves energy.

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This probably isn't the answer you were looking for, but after many years of trying various approaches I gave up on soaked wood chips altogther. I now use 3-6 (unsoaked) fist-sized chunks nestled strategically among the charcoal in my BBQ cooker (a WSM), which produce ample amounts of tasty smoke and superior flavor with less hassle. If I want to add wood smoke while grilling, tossing a small wood chunk on the hot grates and closing the grill's lid works fine as well.

Edited by John Rosevear (log)

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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I've always used room temperature water to soak chips - I can't imagine the temperature of the water makes that much difference. More likely, the wood you are using will have a greater impact on the final product.

I recently got to use a friend's Weber, and smoked a couple of racks of pork ribs (St. Louis) along with some beef short ribs (flanken style) and chicken.

There was no rib rack, so I basically piled everything on like this:

IMG_2423.JPG

When it was all fired up, the Weber looks like this:

IMG_2430.JPG

And when all was said and done, about 4 hours later, here's what the ribs looked like:

2009_09+ribs.jpg

Note the beautiful, pink smoke ring.

For the full story, and a few more pix, check out Tasty Travails when you get a chance.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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This probably isn't the answer you were looking for, but after many years of trying various approaches I gave up on soaked wood chips altogther. I now use 3-6 (unsoaked) fist-sized chunks nestled strategically among the charcoal in my BBQ cooker (a WSM), which produce ample amounts of tasty smoke and superior flavor with less hassle. If I want to add wood smoke while grilling, tossing a small wood chunk on the hot grates and closing the grill's lid works fine as well.

Like John, I don't bother with soaking, or (very often) with chips (I'm smoking/grilling on a Big Green Egg). Chunks are less fussy and produce more smoke over a longer period of time. I will use unsoaked chips from time to time for a little smoke flavor on a quick cook (like grilled burgers). See these ribs cooked for 5 hrs at 225, with three or four pool-ball sized hickory chunks.ribs.jpg

Edited by HungryC (log)
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Unlike some others who never soak wood chips, I take the scientific approach and know that vaporizing the considerable water in soaked chips greatly spreads out the time required to bring them to ignition temperature. Thus, the exterior layers smoke for a much longer time, which I have confirmed many times when I am cooking a brisket or pork butt in my outdoor smoker (by occasionally throwing in some dry chips "just to see"). I soak long enough to cause the wood chunks to sink in the water (become waterlogged), and I find that hot water accelerates the sinking. So both science and observation support hot water soaking.

Ray

P.S. Porous woods like red oak and hickory take less time to waterlog than closed-grain ones like cherry and maple.

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With any smoker that control the amount of air reaching the coals, there is no need to soak... especially if you use chunks. So the usefulness of soaking depends also on your type of smoker.

One thing you might want to consider however is how a higher humidity level affects the food you are cooking. Some people argue that a higher amount of humidity helps creating a nice smoke ring... not sure about taste.

I have also read about people using juice, vinegar, wine and other liquids to soak the wood they wanted to use for smoking. They were arguing that it did improve the flavour of their dish... I am very skeptical of these kinds of assertions.

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I think the humidity in a bbq cooker is impacted much more by factors like the quantity of meat you've stuffed in there and your water pan(s) if any than by whether you've soaked some wood chips.

For what it's worth, I think every hobbyist bbq'er who uses a charcoal-fired cooker -- particularly those of a "scientific" bent -- should try cooking without any wood whatsoever (soaked or otherwise) once or twice. It's quite educational.

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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For what it's worth, I think every hobbyist bbq'er who uses a charcoal-fired cooker -- particularly those of a "scientific" bent -- should try cooking without any wood whatsoever (soaked or otherwise) once or twice. It's quite educational.

Ok I'll bite, so what's there to learn.

On the soaking front, I always figured wet wood would smoke more, like green wood does in a camp fire, as opposed to just shooting up in flames like dry kindling. Ever try to enjoy a camp fire after a few days of rain? I am thinking anything that retards combustion should be a good thing. On a really small fire though, I can see there not being much difference. Interesting question though. ch

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Ok I'll bite, so what's there to learn.

What the wood is and isn't doing -- long story short, most people can get pretty good smoke flavor (and a respectable smoke ring) with just ordinary lump charcoal.

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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With any smoker that control the amount of air reaching the coals, there is no need to soak... especially if you use chunks. So the usefulness of soaking depends also on your type of smoker.

MT makes an important point about the type of smoker. I'm not soaking wood to go into my Big Green Egg because I have extremely precise airflow control, and a round firebox that burns down, then out. I can distribute chunks in the hardwood lump so that I get smoke when I want it: lots or little at the beginning, or evenly throughout the cook, etc. Wet chips or chunks, intermixed with lump charcoal in a BGE, don't do much other than interfere with the even burning of the lump.

If you're using briquettes & compressed wood pucks, well, you're on your own ;)

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  • 6 years later...

Great topic

 I just found a site for wood. I was actually searching for chips for my smoking gun. Being an enthusiast with limited experience but a science person I looked to the quality of my ingredients. Smokinlicious.com was my eureka find. They have an all natural wood product that is not kiln dried like 99 percent of the wood being offered out there. I'm having my order shipped today. I will be happy to report back.

ChrisM

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2 hours ago, rotuts said:

Ive never understood why wood chips-or-not is soaked for Smoke.

 

you get the smoke by limiting the oxygen the wood gets after its ignited.

 

wet wood is sort of a crutch for not understanding this.

Just so. And many companies market smokers that need wet wood to work.

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According to Myhrvold,

 

Food scientists have found that the smoke produced by hardwoods smoldering at temperatures around 400 "C I 750 "F yields the most flavorful foods. That temperature seems ideal not only because of what then goes into the smoke—the phenols and other aromatic compounds—but also because of what doesn't: namely, excessive amounts of vaporizing acids that taste terrible.

 

Regarding soaking the wood:

 

Most of these liquids react when heated to form vapors with an entirely different composition than the liquid. By dousing your wood with them, all you're really doing is lowering the smoldering temperature of the wood - and likely damaging the quality of the smoke.

Notes from the underbelly

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