How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill? 3 Simple Steps

January 25, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

From experience, cooking food over a charcoal grill imparts a unique flavor. But what if I told you that you can make your favorite meat or vegetables taste even better?

The trick is using wood whips in the smoker to add flavor to the smoke. I’ve found that placing hardwood chips over coals can add a wide variety of flavor profiles to your foods because there are numerous types of wood to choose from.

Today, I’ll discuss how to use wood chips on a charcoal grill and the common types of chips for smoking

how to use wood chips on charcoal grill

How to Smoke Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill?

Before learning how to use wood chips on a charcoal grill, you’ll need a few resources, including:

  • Charcoal
  • Wood chips
  • Aluminum foil or a smoker box
  • Charcoal grill

Once you have your materials prepared, you can start using wood chips on the charcoal grill. Here’s how: 

Step 1: Light Up the Grill

Lighting the charcoal grill is the first thing you need to do. Note that you can use a chimney starter or lighter fluid to ignite your grill.  

If you use a chimney starter, I recommend placing sheets of crumpled newspaper underneath the starter to help the coals quickly catch fire. Then, fill it halfway with charcoal and light it with a stick lighter. Wait for the charcoal to completely ignite before transferring them to your grill.

This easy step will ignite your charcoal grill. If you don’t want to use a chimney starter, you can just put the charcoal in the bottom of your charcoal grill and light the fire with lighter fluid. Wait until the coals are covered in ash before you start grilling.

Step 2: Prepare the Wood Chips for Smoking

The next step is to prepare your chosen wood chips for the grill. Here, you’ll need a smoker box, or you can fabricate a foil packet to serve the same purpose.

If you have a smoker box, simply add wood chips and place them in your charcoal grill. Alternatively, you can create a packet with aluminum foil by wrapping the wood chips in it and poking holes, so the smoke can pass through.

The goal of the packet and smoker boxes is to prevent the chips from combusting too quickly. So, you’ll be able to use the chips for a longer cooking period while enjoying the unique aromas added to your meat.

Remember that adding wood chips directly to the charcoal grill is possible. However, be aware that they will probably catch fire before you can use them to grill. This means you might need to refill them at some point when grilling.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of creating foil packets or buying a smoker box, you can add the charcoal and wood chips when you’re ready to grill. Note that wood chips increase the cooking temperature of your grill, so your meat will cook faster than usual.

Step 3: Start Grilling

Once you’ve lit the charcoal grill, the wood chips you placed in the smoker box or foil packet will start smoking. Now you’re ready to grill your favorite cuts of meat and other dishes.

In my experience, you should try to prevent the smoke from escaping by keeping the grill’s lid closed as much as you can. This way, the meat will cook more thoroughly and taste better.

Grilled Meat on Charcoal Grill

Types of Wood Chips

Wood chips are seasoned, smoking wood bits around an inch in length and a quarter of an inch thick. If you enjoy grilling, you may be curious about the different types of wood and how they affect flavor. Let’s discuss the popular types of wood chips.

1. Oak

Oaks are my favorite hardwood chips. I like that this burning wood is compatible with most meats. It has a mild smoky flavor that is lighter than hickory but stronger than cherry or apple. I love using oak to smoke brisket and other common meat cuts.

2. Hickory

Hickory is one of the most common hardwoods in barbeque. This wood chip gives off a flavorful aroma that many BBQers will love on meats like pulled pork. In addition to the smoky flavor profile, pitmasters use hickory to give smoked meat a dark hue.

3. Apple

Applewood is best characterized by its fruity, and mild flavor. Apple wood is frequently combined with other woods, such as hickory or oak, to impart a smokier flavor. It can, however, be used as a standalone wood burner.

4. Maple

Maple’s aroma is more of a mild, sweet scent. These wood chips are typically used to prepare delicate dishes including poultry, cheese, or vegetables.

5. Cherry

The aroma of cherry is best characterized as being sweet, fruity, and delicate. Personally, I like smoking pork and poultry with cherry chips.

From experience, cherry, apple, and peach are excellent chips when smoking food for guests if you’re unsure of how much smokiness they like.

6. Peach

Peach wood has a gentle, sweet, fruity smoke that reminds me of other fruit woods. Peach wood chips are generally difficult to find online at a reasonable price. So, you may need to spend more time searching for this wood.

7. Pecan

Pecan is a soft wood with a sweet flavor that is occasionally described as peppery or nutty. Compared to oak or hickory, it doesn’t typically burn for as long. So, it’s frequently used for foods that cook quickly, such as fish, ribs, chicken, and turkey.

8. Mesquite

Mesquite is typically burned down into charcoal rather than being used as smoking wood. These wood chips produce more smoke than other chips on the list.

The smoke may be too strong for some cookers, and it will quickly dominate your food. However, I found that it complements beef, pig, fish, and fowl when used lightly.

Pro tip: Generally, you shouldn’t smoke with softwoods like spruce, pine, fir, cypress, or redwood because they burn super quickly.

Wood Chips vs. Pellets

Wood pellets are heated, dried, and compressed hardwood that has been compacted into tiny cylinders.

They burn slowly but regularly produce high temperatures, making them a popular choice for grilling.

In comparison, a wood chip is just a tiny piece of hardwood that has been dried out to lower the moisture content. They produce a lot of smoke but burn more quickly than pellets.

Do You Have to Soak Wood Chips for Charcoal Grill?

I know some pitmasters that soak their wood chips to slow down the combustion of the hardwood. If the wood chips are soaked, all the water must first evaporate for the chips to start burning.

I’ve tried wet chips once and found that I prefer using dry wood chips. However, feel free to experiment and find out whether you like wet or dry wood chips. In my opinion, there is no need to soak the wood chips if you get flavorful, smoky meat using dry chips.

Can I Use Wood Chips on Gas Grills?

You can use hardwood chips on a gas grill. However, you’ll need to use a smoker box or foil packet for the best cooking results. Here’s a more detailed explanation:

  • Select your preferred wood chip flavor. 
  • As we’ve already discussed, add wood chips into a smoker box or create foil packets. Your gas smoker may come packaged with a smoker box. 
  • After starting the grill with a stick lighter, put the smoke tube on it.
  • Then, wait until the chips start to smoke.
  • Lastly, add your meat to the grill and close the lid. Then, open and serve once it is ready.
man turning stakes on an outdoor propane gas grill

 Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Long Do Wood Chips Last While Grilling Over Charcoal?

Depending on what you’re cooking, each packet should smoke for about an hour. For extended cooking sessions, add an extra packet roughly every half-hour to maintain a consistent flow of smoke.

2. How Much Wood Do I Need for Smoking?

To preserve the finest flavor when employing a low-and-slow cooking method, add a new handful of chips every 30 minutes or so. A few handfuls should be enough if you’re only cooking poultry, bologna, or sausages.

3. Should I Place Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill’s Grate?

Many people ask if they can put wood chips directly on the cooking grates. While you can do this, you need to consider a few things.

First, depending on their size, the chips might drop through the grate. Second, you will need to replenish them frequently. You might not get the full smokiness you want because they will burn more quickly than if you put the wood chips inside a smoker tube or aluminum foil packet.

4. Which Kind of Wood Chips Produce the Most Smoke?

The wood chips that produce the most smoke come from nut and fruit trees like cherry, apple, pecan, hickory, and oak. Mesquite also emits smoke and imparts an intense smoke flavor.


To summarize, using wood chips on a charcoal grill can be a fantastic way to add a more intense smoke flavor to your favorite foods. Remember, there are several ways to use hardwood chips on your charcoal grill.

So, experiment with these different techniques and enjoy the smoky deliciousness of your meals. 

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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