How Often to Add Wood Chips to Electric Smoker? 4 Things to Consider

September 27, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

Most seasoned pitmasters recommend adding wood chips every 30 minutes to 1 hour, but this will depend on several factors. It depends on your smoker model, whether you want a mild or strong smokey flavor, the type of meat, and the cooking duration.

As a professional pitmaster, I’ve spent my life honing barbecue tips and techniques I use. Over the years, I have used plenty of smokers. In my experience, using wood chips in an electric smoker is a forgiving, hands-off technique that gives excellent results.

In this article, I will cover what to consider when adding wood chips to your electric smoker, and the best way to use wood chips in your smoker. I will also explain how your electric smoker uses chips.

How often to add wood chips to electric smoker

What to Consider When Adding Wood Chips to Your Electric Smoker?

Several factors greatly impact how often to add wood chips. They include:

Your Smoker Model

Smokers are not designed the same way. They come in different sizes to suit diverse needs. 

This Masterbuilt 30-inch smoker, for example, will hold ½ cup of wood chips at a time. You’ll need to refill the chips when they burn out. Chips on this model are fed into the side of the smoker. It’s a great piece of equipment but it has a rather small chip tray.

Some smokers have such huge wood chip boxes that produce a steady continuous smoke for up to 7 hours without needing to be refilled. A great example is the No products found. electric smoker.

Some smokers are designed to produce more smoke than others. 

How Smokey Do You Like Your Meat?

Just as smoker models are different, so are our flavor palettes. So how much smoke flavor do you want on your meat? Some people like a smoky kick on their smoked meat, while others prefer a more subtle smoke flavor. 

Some pit bosses think electric smokers produce inferior smoke compared to charcoal, pellet, or kamado grills. There is no live fire - just a heating coil. You won’t get the same smoky flavor that other grills crank out.

How Big is the Meat You’re Cooking?

Large foods and small foods will require different amounts of wood chips because they take different amounts of time to cook.

Adding wood chips to your smoker regularly ensures that the meat smokes evenly and that the flavor of the smoke penetrates the meat.

Large foods like brisket will take longer to cook. This will require more wood chips for the flavor to penetrate the meat fibers. Small foods, like fish, will require fewer wood chips.

Bunch of wood chips

The Smoking Time

The amount of time your meat will stay on the smoker is another determining factor. It goes hand-in-hand with adding more chips. The longer you smoke something, the more wood chips you’ll need. 

If you expect to spend 6 hours smoking your meat, you will obviously use more wood chips than a 2-hour-long barbecue.

How Much Wood Does My Smoker Use?

For an accurate answer, perform a dry run and keep notes. If it is brand new, start by seasoning your smoker.

Season your smoker by running it for 3 hours or so. Add some wood chips for the last 45 minutes. Turn off the heat. Congrats, you have seasoned your smoker!

For the dry run, add wood chips to the chip tray and record how long it produces smoke. When the smoke stops, check the chip tray. Is it empty? If so, that’s how often you’ll need to refill your smoker.

For example, if your smoker produces an hour of smoke per batch of wood chips, you'll need to refill it once when smoking for 2 hours.

Why Use Wood Chips in An Electric Smoker?

Use wood chips to infuse your food with a kiss of wood smoke. If you’re trying to make authentic barbeque, you’ll want to add wood chips.

You can cook meat in your electric smoker without any wood chips. It is fitted with a heating element that cooks the food.

That said, there are two main reasons why barbecue warriors use wood chips in an electric smoker. They are:

For the Smokey Flavor

First, wood chips will produce smoke. This smoke flavors the meat. (It doesn’t have to be meat. All kinds of foods can benefit from a kick of smoke flavor.) 

Wood chips create a thick white smoke in the smoking chamber that penetrates the meat fibers, giving it a unique taste.

Versatility

Using wood chips adds versatility to dishes since there are many smoking wood chips to choose from. They include mesquite, hickory, pecan, maple, apple, peach, and oak, among others.

More than that, you can experiment by mixing different flavors of woods like apple and oak or peach and pecan until you find the perfect blend that tickles your fancy.

Adding Woodchips to a Smoker

Which is the Best Way to Use Wood Chips in An Electric Smoker?

Depending on your model, there are 3 ways to add wood chips: using the wood chip tray, a foil pouch, or a smoker box.

You can employ any of these 3 methods of adding wood chips depending on your smoker design. 

Using a Wood Chip Tray

Most electric grill models come with an in-built wood chip tray. It is the easiest way to introduce wood flavor into your barbecue because it is straightforward.

To use your chip tray, follow these simple steps:

  • Make sure the smoker is clean.
  • Preheat your smoker to the temperature indicated in your recipe.
  • Fill up the water tray. The water tray helps preserve moisture and also helps to regulate the temperature within the cooking chamber. You can get creative here and add your favorite spices to the water. 

Some pit bosses add flavorful liquid, like beer, apple cider, or melted butter, to their water pans. I think it’s a waste of good beer - I don’t the liquid ultimately impacts the flavor of the smoked meat, but feel free to play around with liquids.

  • Remove the chip tray and add the wood chips to the bottom of the tray.

If you want just a hint of smoke on your meat, use the chips during the first half of your cook, then remove the wood.

For a richer smokey flavor, continue adding wood chips during the entire cooking process.

Close up of a Woodchip Tray

Using a Foil Pouch

If your smoker doesn't have a tray, why not try using a foil pouch? It's as easy as this:

  • Grab aluminum foil and place it on a flat surface.
  • Place oak wood chips in the middle of the foil and cover them with the ends of your foil to form a pouch. Cover all the edges.
  • Using a fork or a toothpick, poke multiple holes into the pouch for the smoke to escape through.
  • Place this pouch inside your smoker close to the heating rod. It will heat the pouch and get your smoke going.
  • For a strong flavor, use more wood chips and poke more holes. This will release more smoke. If your smoker is a wood guzzler, you can prepare several pouches to use throughout the cooking process.
  • For a lighter flavor, 4 tiny holes and a few wood chips will flavor your food.
  • As always, experiment with quantities of wood chips and the number of holes you poke. Hone in your process so the food tastes perfectly smoky to you. You’re the one eating it.

Using a Smoker Box

Another alternative is the smoker box method. You can make your own smoker box by using a hammer and a nail to poke holes into a stainless steel or aluminum can. 

If DIY is not your thing, consider the Charbroil Smoker Box.

  • To use it, start by preheating your smoker to the temperature required in your recipe.
  • Pour your wood chips into the smoker box and close it. Place the smoker box above the heating rod to smolder the wood chips.
  • Whether you make your smoker box or buy one, ensure that it has plenty of holes.
  • That’s it! You’re smoking.

What is an Electric Smoker?

An electric smoker is unique in the smoker world. They use electricity instead of charcoal, and they don’t cook through combustion. They’re well-insulated, so you can use them during all four seasons. Like pellet grills, you can set the temp and forget it (unless you need to add wood chips periodically). 

I like them because there’s no fussing with vents or charcoal like some other smokers.

Electric smokers are normally equipped with a smoking chamber, a wood chip tray, a heating element, and a water tray.

Meat Smoking on the Outdoor Electric Smoker

An electric smoker is a hardy piece of equipment that is exposed to harsh high temperatures regularly. Most manufacturers use either stainless steel or cast iron for durability. These smokers are powered by an electrical outlet. A heating rod provides heat.

The heating rod is most often found at the center of the smoker. It is powered by an electric outlet and is responsible for heating the cooking chamber.

The cooking chamber traps the heat, cooking the meat inside. You’ll need access to electricity to operate one (duh!) so they’re not tailgate or camping-friendly.

How Do I Keep Woodchips From Catching Fire in My Electric Smoker? 

If your wood chips are catching fire in your smoker, you are probably running your smoker too hot. There’s a good chance the thermometer is reading incorrectly. Chips are supposed to smolder in the chip tray, not burn.

You can also consider employing either the smoker box method or the foil pouch method. Either method will get the job done!

If you think your smoker is malfunctioning, contact the manufacturer.

What Else Should I Consider When Topping Up on Wood Chips?

The amount of wood chips you put in directly affects the taste of the smoked meat. The more the wood chips, the more intense the flavor.

Be careful when using bold flavors like mesquite that can easily overpower your meal. Too much smoke will leave a bitter taste on the meat. 

Mild flavors like maple wood chips and cherry wood chips produce mild smoke.

Consider the meat you’re smoking and pair it with the appropriate wood chip. Meats with robust flavors, like pork and beef, are great when paired with hickory or oak. More delicate meats, such as chicken, taste great with maple or pecan. (Although I wouldn’t say no to chicken smoked over hickory or oak.)

Smoking an apple pie? (You should try it. It’s amazing.) Use apple chips.

FAQs

1. When Should I Replace Wood Chips in My Smoker?

Wood chips only serve to produce smoke to flavor your meat. Add wood chips to your smoker as soon as the smoldering stops to maximize smoky flavors.

Bottom Line

The more you practice, the more you'll become aware of how often the wood chips in your electric smoker need to be replaced.

Get experimental with different smoking times and different wood chunks and chips until you nail a perfect technique. Happy smoking!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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