How to Use Wood Chunks for Smoking and Grilling

How to Use Wood Chunks for Smoking and Grilling

We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again: Smoke is the soul of barbecue. And wood is prized by master grillers from Berkeley to Barcelona.   Whether you’re a barbecuer or a griller; whether you cook on a grill or smoker, over charcoal or propane, hardwood chunks will make your food taste better.

There are many ways to use wood chunks to generate flavorful smoke when barbecuing or grilling.   You can even use the chunks themselves as a fuel for direct grilling.

Unlike wood chips, you don’t need to soak chunks in water before using. (They just don’t absorb much water, which explains how wooden ships can stay afloat.) And wood chunks continue delivering smoke long after chips have burned to ash, a major advantage during long cooks.

We know this will sound elementary to many of you, but it never hurts to have a refresher course on how to use wood chunks to take your live fire cooking to the next level.


How to Use Wood Chunks with a Charcoal Grill

When Indirect Grilling

Add 2 to 3 chunks (4 to 6 in all) to each mound of lit charcoal.   Replenish as needed (when the smoke ceases to flow). 

When Direct Grilling

Place 2 to 3 chunks directly on the bed of coals and direct grill the food over them.

How to Direct Grill Over a Wood Fire

A really cool technique — Fill your chimney starter with wood chunks and light them as you would charcoal.  When the embers glow orange, pour them over the bottom of the grill.   Insert the grate and you’re direct grilling over wood.

Note: wood burns more quickly than charcoal, so you may want to light a second chimney of wood chunks.  When direct grilling over wood, always leave your grill open (uncovered)—otherwise, your food will become unbearably smoky.


How to Use Wood Chunks on a Gas Grill

For a Grill with a Smoker Box and a Dedicated Burner

Place 2 to 3 wood chunks in the box with the burner under it set on high.  Replenish as needed.

Over Burner Method

Set up your grill for direct grilling or indirect grilling, following the manufacturer’s instructions.  Lift the grate and place 1 to 2 wood chunks directly over each lit burner.   Return the grate and add the food: directly over the wood chunks for direct grilling; next to or between the wood chunks for indirect grilling.


How to Use Wood Chunks in a Water Smoker or Offset Smoker

Build a charcoal fire in the fire box. Add 3 to 4 wood chunks to start with, and replenish as needed it (when the smoke ceases to flow).


How to Use Wood Chunks in an Electric or Gas Smoker

Preheat the smoker, following the manufacturer’s instructions.   Place 1 to 2 wood chunks in the fuel pan over the heating element.

Hack for a Bradley-style smoker: Place a wood chunk directly on the heating element.   You’ll get even more smoke than with the sawdust disks.


Have you ever grilled or smoked with wood chunks? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or the Barbecue Board!