If you're smoking chunks burn to ash after just a few minutes of sitting inside your smoker or grill, you may assume that soaking them in water will help. After all, wet wood burns more slowly than dry wood, so conventional wisdom may lead you to believe that pre-soaked smoking chunks will burn more slowly than traditional, unsoaked smoking chunks.
In this article, we'll explore smoking chunks and explain why some people soak them before using them. Then we'll explain why soaking them is actually a waste of time and has no benefit. Get to cooking faster by using quality smoking chunks that are dry and have a long burn time because of their size and density.
What Are Smoking Chunks?
As pictured below, smoking chunks are small hand cut pieces of wood -- usually about 1 to 4 inches long -- that are designed specifically for smoking and grilling.
You add them to your grill or smoker, and once lit, they'll release flavorful smoke compounds that are absorbed by your food. Different varieties of smoking chunks have different flavors. Hickory smoking chunks, for example, have a strong bacon-like flavor, whereas cherry smoking chunks have a mildly sweet and fruity flavor. You can even mix two or more varieties of smoking chunks to create a combination of flavors.
Smoking chunks are similar to smoking chips. The primary difference is that smoking chips are smaller and thinner, resulting in a much shorter burn time. You can use either type in your smoker or grill, but smoking chunks offer a superior experience to smoking chips. And with a longer burn time, they'll release more flavorful smoke to help you cook delicious food.
Why Some People Soak Their Smoking Chunks Before Using Them
Before adding them to their smoker or grill, some people soak their smoking chunks in water in an effort to make them last longer. When cooking something like a pork butt for 8-12 hours, you want wood that will burn for an extended period of time in your smoker.
If you're using small chunks or chips, or if you have low quality chunks that have started rotting they will not last for very long. They will provide a little flavor and then turn to ash before really making a difference.
The idea, then, is that if you soak your chips or chunks it will make them last longer and provide flavor for a longer amount of time.
Some people also believe that soaking smoking chunks in water will make them produce more smoke. If you've ever used pre-soaked smoking chunks, you may recall seeing a large plume of smoke shooting out your smoker's or grill's dampers. As a result, you may assume that soaking your smoking chunks will lead to more flavorful food.
Soaking smoking chunks is a relatively simple process that consists of the following steps:
- Place smoking chunks in a medium-sized bowl or pan.
- Fill a bowl or pan with water (or fruit juice).
- Allow smoking chunks to soak for 24 to 48 hours.
- After soaking, the smoking chunks are added to a smoker or grill.
As you can see, soaking your chunks requires extensive planning. Many people we know just decide not to use smoking chunks because they do not have 48 hours to let them soak. If you have ever avoided using smoking chunks because you didn't want to waste time soaking them, then we have good news for you!
The Truth About Soaking Smoking Chunks
You should think twice before soaking your smoking chunks before adding them to your smoker or grill. Although it sounds like a simple and effective way to extend their burn time, as well as create more flavorful smoke, this is not the case.
Even when submerged in water for 48 hours, smoking chunks will absorb very little water. They'll absorb and retain some water on the surface, but the interior of your smoking chunks will remain dry.
After lighting your smoking chunks, the water on the surface will quickly burn off. Neither smoking chunks nor any other type of hardwood will absorb any significant amount of water from soaking. If hardwood was highly absorbent, boats featuring wood hulls would likely sink rather than float. This same principle applies to smoking chunks. Water struggles to penetrate past the smoking chunk's exterior, resulting in a dry core.
Contrary to what some pitmasters believe, soaking smoking chunks in water doesn't make them produce them more smoke when burned. The smoke you see pillowing out your smoker's or grill's dampers isn't actually smoke. It's moisture that's being evaporated off your smoking chunks as they burn. As your smoking chunks heat up, water evaporates in the form of steam. Therefore, pre-soaked smoking chunks don't produce more smoke; they only produce steam that looks similar to smoke.
This means that you're not actually extending the amount of time wood is adding flavor to your meat. Instead, you're simply delaying it. The water in the wood must burn off first before the wood itself can start burning and producing smoke. Those first few minutes are vital for adding flavor, so you don't want to miss it!
Using pre-soaked smoking chunks can even cause several problems, including the following:
- It temporarily creates "cold spots," reducing the heat of your coals.
- Increases the risk of your smoker or grill rusting.
- It may extinguish your fire.
- It takes more of your precious time.
How to Make Your Smoking Chunks Last Longer (Without Soaking Them)
Soaking your smoking chunks won't make them last longer, nor will it make them produce more smoke. The good news, however, is that there are other ways to make your smoking chunks last longer. The bottom line is, it all comes down to the size and quality of your cooking wood.
Size is obvious - the larger the piece of wood the longer it will burn for. This is why chunks consistently provide better results than chips.
The species of wood is important as well. You will get a better experience when you use high-quality smoking chunks derived from a hardwood tree like pecan or oak. Softwood smoking chunks are less dense than their hardwood counterparts. With a lower density, there's less wood matter in softwood smoking chunks than in hardwood smoking chunks. By using high-quality hardwood smoking chunks, you'll achieve a longer burn time.
Choosing cooking wood that has been kiln dried can also make a big difference over seasoned cooking wood. Seasoned wood dries by sitting outside for long periods of time (a year or more). The level of moisture can vary depending on the way the wood was stacked and the location, and the wood has actually started to decay. Decaying wood is less dense, plus it might have mold, fungus, or bugs, which we don't like cooking with! When firewood is freshly cut and put into a kiln, it maintains its density and will therefore burn for a longer amount of time.
You can also help extend burn time by spreading your chunks out around the coals. Place one chunk right over the fire so it starts smoldering instantly, but then place the others a little further away and off to the side. As the flame slowly spreads throughout your smoker, the chunks will ignite in turn over time, providing you with flavor for hours at a time.
You can also make your smoking chunks burn more slowly by adjusting the dampers on your smoker or grill. When all the dampers are fully open, the internal temperature of your smoker or grill will rise, resulting in a shorter burn time for your smoking chunks. Partially closing the dampers, on the other, will limit the amount of oxygen the fire receives, resulting in a longer burn time for your smoking chunks.
The Bottom Line on Soaking Smoking Chunks
It's not uncommon for backyard chefs to soak their smoking chunks in water before adding them to their smoker or grill. The general idea is that soaking smoking chunks makes them burn more slowly and produce more smoke. As revealed in this blog post, though, pre-soaked smoking chunks do not produce a better experience. If anything, the experience is worse!
When we deliver smoking chunks, they arrive extremely dry. We send all of our firewood and cooking wood through a rigorous kiln drying process. It spends 48 hours in the kiln at 250 degrees - That's 12 times longer than the standard required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). We spend a lot of time and effort delivering you ultra dry cooking wood because it provides a better experience, so don't attempt to reverse the process by soaking them!
You can enjoy longer cook times by choosing the best quality wood chunks for smoking, available on our online store today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of ultra-premium smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan and whiskey, all of which will allow you to smoke delicious meat. We even offer complimentary shipping for our smoking chunk products across the United States.