How to Use Wood Chips in an Electric Smoker? 3 Ways to Keep It Smokin’

April 28, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

You can try one of three ways depending on the supplies you have on hand. You can use wood chips in the wood chip tray, make a foil pouch, or use a smoker box.

Having worked as a prep cook at a popular steakhouse, I know how much people enjoy a smoky flavor in their meat. It’s just not the same without it! They yield a delicious, flavor-packed cut of meat with a crust that is to die for.

Since we used a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, introducing wood chips was as straightforward as utilizing the wood chips tray. That said if your electric smoker does not come with a tray, there are two other alternatives you could consider.

This article outlines 3 ways to use wood chips in your electric smoker and what you will need.

how to use wood chips in an electric smoker

How to Use Wood Chips With Electric Smokers?

How exactly do I go about using the wood chips in my electric smoker? Here is your step-by-step guide:

The Wood Chip Tray Method

Most electric smokers like the Masterbuilt electric smoker come with a wood tray for smoking meat. If this is the case with your smoker.

  1. Begin by cleaning the smoker thoroughly, and paying close attention to the cooking grates.
  2. Next, set your desired cooking temperature and give the smoker time to come up to temp. Most recipes call for an internal temperature of 250°F. This should take around 30 minutes.
  3. Fill up the water tray halfway. Especially if you are gearing up for a long cooking session. This introduces moisture into the cooking chamber, keeping your meat from drying out as it cooks.
  4. Lastly, remove your wood chip tray and lay your wood chips. Try not to space them out too much. Keeping them close together helps produce a thick smoke as they smolder and allows you space to lay out more wood chips.
  5. Once you are done, place your meat on the cooking grates and get smoking.
  6. Remember to monitor and add more chips when necessary. At this point, almost three-quarters of the chips have burnt to ash. Any earlier than this may produce too much smoke in your electric smoker thus smothering your meat.

The Foil Pouch Method

If your smoker model is not fitted with a wood tray, try using a foil pouch. Here’s how to use wood chips in an electric smoker using the foil pouch method:

  1. Ensure your smoker is clean, plug it in, and set your desired temperature. Let it preheat.
  2. Tear off a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and lay it flat on your working surface. Grab a handful or two of your favorite wood chips and place them right at the center of the aluminum foil.
  3. Cup the wood chips into the foil by cramping the edges. This serves to secure the wood chips within the foil pouch throughout the smoking session.
  4. Using a fork, poke holes into the foil pouch to allow smoke to escape into the cooking chamber. One foil pouch should last approximately 2-3 hours. For long smoking sessions that last around 8 hours, I recommend using 3 foil pouches consecutively which should last a total of 9 hours.
  5. Place the pouch directly above the electric heating element and watch your pouch do you proud.

The Smoker Box Method

If the foil pouch does not tickle your fancy, try using a smoker box. It is a perforated stainless steel tin can that holds your chips or pellets.

It gives great results and is very easy to use. If you don’t own one, I recommend Trendbox Smoker Box. It is effective and comparatively cheaper.

You could also consider a DIY smoker box. It is as easy as punching a few holes into a tin can using a nail and a hammer. Be sure to drill enough holes. The aim is to distribute enough smoke throughout the cooking chamber not trapping it in a box.

Using a smoker box is as easy as:

  1. Placing your smoker wood chips in the box. The number of wood chips you need will depend on how long your meat will take to smoke. A filled box should be sufficient for shorter cooks like poultry and fish.
  2. Next, place the box right above the heating element. As the heating rod heats the box, the dry wood chips will begin to smolder releasing that aromatic smoke into the cooking chamber.
  3. Remember to monitor the level of chips and add more when necessary.

Why Should I Use Wood Chips in an Electric Smoker?

There are several reasons why pitmasters use wood chips in an electric smoker. They are:

Wood Chips in Electric Smoker

To Impart a Smoky Wood Flavor

An electric smoker cooks your meat using electricity as opposed to combusting wood chips or pellets like in pellet or charcoal smokers.

This makes it very difficult to achieve a smoky flavor on your bbq. To fix this, we place wood chips in an electric smoker to impart the smokey flavor to your meat.

Using wood chips in an electric smoker also gives you the option of choosing among a variety of wood flavors.

The choice of wood flavor largely depends on the type of meat you are preparing.

Beef marries well with bold flavors whereas pork, poultry, and fish blend better with milder wood flavors.

To Enhance the Bark

The bark refers to the dark outermost layer of smoked meats made possible by the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between sugars found in your meat rub and amino acids in the meat.

Smoke fixes a dark color on the bark. The longer the meat is exposed to smoke, the darker it will be.

Extra: Some types of cooking wood impart a signature color. If you want to go for the coveted red bark, cherry is what you are looking for. Hickory on the other hand is renowned for the deep brown color it fixes on smoked cuts.

Supplies You Will Need to Use Wood Chips in Your Electric Smoker

The last thing you need when you are cooking is to go back and forth to fetch the items you need.

Other than a clean smoker, your bbq tools, and the meat, settle on the flavor of wood chips you will use. I am partial to Oklahoma Joe's Apple Wood Chips. It works great for fish and poultry not to mention it is reasonably priced.

As for my beef cuts, my go-to is Traeger Grills Signature Wood Pellets because it perfectly balances bold and mild wood flavors.

How Do I Prevent Wood Chips From Catching Fire In An Electric Smoker?

Since electric smokers rely on electricity to cook your meat instead of combusting wood, there is no flame to speak of. This means that it is highly unlikely that the chips can catch fire.

However, if you prefer to err on the side of caution, I recommend using the foil pouch method or the smoker box method since both techniques involve enclosing the wood.

Some grillers recommend soaking wood chips in water before cooking to keep them from catching fire. This is not convincing since you can expect the wood to dry out within the first few minutes of cooking.

Soaking is effective if you intend to delay the smoldering of the chips. This could be necessary when cold smoking or if you want to impart just a hint of wood flavor to your meat.

What Types of Wood Should You Use in an Electric Smoker?

So how do you choose the size and flavor of your wood?

Wood Chips with Different Flavors

Size of Smoking Wood

There are several types of wood fuel variations including chips, chunks, logs, and pellets. They all burn differently, making them suitable for different types of smokers.

Manufacturers recommend using wood chips in your electric smoker because they take a shorter time to start smoldering compared to wood chunks and logs.

Wood chips produce a steady, white smoke that will not overwhelm the meat.

Additionally, chips are the perfect size for your electric smoker because they do not take up a lot of space as opposed to logs and chunks.

Wood pellets are much denser than chips which means they will smolder at a higher temperature. This presents a problem given that most electric smokers get to a maximum temp of 275ºF.

To counter this, use the wood chip tray method since it will not conceal the pellets. Put a few pellets at a time and be sure to spread them out on the tray so that they are not so tightly packed.

Flavor of Smoking Wood

The wood you should use should be dictated by the type of meat. Beef stands up well to strong wood flavors like mesquite and hickory. It also pairs well with oak.

Fish, pork, chicken, and seafood are better suited to milder flavors like pecan, maple, apple, and cherry.

If you are not sold on any of those, try a blend of mild and bold flavors. For example, beef brisket responds well to a mix of pecan and hickory. Similarly, oak and cherry married in a shrimp taste divine.

That said, avoid using soft wood when smoking meat because they tend to have a lot of resin which may be poisonous when inhaled or consumed.

What is an Electric Smoker?

An electric smoker is an appliance that smokes your meat using electricity. They are usually vertically oriented, looking a lot like a mini fridge.

Electric smokers have 5 major components that are essential to their functionality. They include:

A Heating Element

The heating element is probably the most essential component in an electric smoker. Depending on the brand and model of your smoker, it will be fitted with one or more heating rods at the very bottom.

As the name suggests, the electric smoker heating rod serves to heat the cooking chamber when plugged into an electric outlet.

The Control Panel

The control panel allows the user to input and adjust the cooking temperature. It gives you control over the temperature maintaining it within a range of 100°F-275°F. Newer models even come with an advanced timer and an automatic shutoff function.

A Wood Chip Tray

Some electric smokers are fitted with a wood chip tray close to the electric heating element to get your wood smoldering as soon as the chip tray heats up.

A Water Pan

In an electric smoker, the water pan is a stainless steel pan fitted right between the wood tray and the cooking compartment. The water tray is essential when smoking meat in an electric smoker because it introduces moisture into the cooking section, keeping your meat juicy.

Cooking Racks

An electric smoker has at least four cooking racks stacked vertically. This arrangement makes it heat efficient since hot air moves upwards through the cooking section.

The orientation of electric smokers also makes it possible to fit in several food racks compared to any other type of smoker where the cooking space is limited to at most two racks.

Similarly, as you smolder wood chips, the thick white smoke travels upwards, bypassing the meat and giving it that delicious smoky flavor before being expelled through the exhaust vent.

Person Smoking Meat in the Electric Smoker

How Much Wood Chips Do You Put in an Electric Smoker?

This depends on a couple of factors, starting with how long you will smoke meat and the flavor intensity you are aiming for. Long cooking sessions will require more chips than shorter ones.

The size of your smoker will also affect how many chips you need. Larger electric smokers are wood chip guzzlers so expect to use more of them.

Parting Shot

You can introduce wood chips to an electric smoker by using a foil pouch, a smoker box, or utilizing a wood chip tray.

All these methods are fairly hands-off and forgiving so go ahead and try any of them. No more smokeless smoked meat for you!

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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