Woodsmoke is one of the best “ingredients” you can add to your outdoor cooking recipes.
Nothing enhances the flavors of meat or vegetables like a touch of flame and a blanket of clean, sweet smoke.
Whether you’re cooking with wood only or using it to enhance your charcoal cooking (charcoal itself adds no flavor), the natural compounds that are released when burning wood adds an unmistakable deliciousness to anything cooked over it.
Two common ways to cook with wood are to use either wood chunks or wood chips.
Though, at first light, you may think, “What’s the difference? They’re both wood!”, the truth is that each performs very differently, and offers distinctly different results, and one is clearly superior in most cooking situations.
The only way to get a true wood-grilled, or slow-smoked barbeque flavor is to use wood, so let’s take a look at this “chips vs. chunks” debate and determine which is best for you.
Wood chips, sometimes referred to as smoking chips, are thin slices of hardwood, usually no more than ¼ inch thick, used in cooking to add a light smokey flavor for cooking.
These chips are produced from real hardwood trees. Some of the more popular are cherry, oak, and hickory, but there are many other flavors available for cooking.
Wood chips are most commonly used by adding them, as needed, directly onto pre-lit coals to burn, or by placing them in a perforated container that is set over heat (or directly in coals) to smolder and release smoke into the cooking chamber.
The popular idea that soaking wood chips in water will extend the time that they smoke is actually a myth. Wet wood chips don’t smoke, they simply release steam until enough of the moisture content has cooked away that they can ignite. At that point, they burn up just as quickly as unsoaked chips, releasing the same amount of smoke either way.
Heating sodden wood chips can add a bitter flavor and aroma to your food and will reduce the overall temperature of your fire, as well. (Water puts out fire, right?)
By comparison, wood chunks are substantially larger than wood chips (Cutting Edge Firewood cooking chunks can measure up to 4 inches thick) and are the preferred cut of wood for creating even smoke over an extended cooking time.
Due to their greater size and density, clean, kiln-dried wood chunks will burn much longer, and produce more flavorful smoke than wood chips. Wood chunks come from the same hardwood trees as chips and are simply pieces that have not been processed down as small. These chunks also produce a hotter and more even fire for direct grilling, and are, much the same as chips, added to lit charcoal to begin smoking just before the food to be cooked is added to the grill.
Unlike wood chips, however, wood chunks have enough mass, and enough burn time, that you can use them instead of charcoal, and not just in addition to it, for an all-wood cooking experience.
When cooking with wood chunks, plan to add fresh pieces every 30 minutes or so to maintain an even heat and volume of smoke. The number of chunks you need will vary, depending on what you’re cooking and the size of the cooking chamber.
Which is Better?
Due to their far superior flavor (they make your food taste better), longer burn time and more even smoking, wood chunks are almost universally considered to be the better cooking option over wood chips, with the only exception being in cooking devices that cannot accommodate the larger pieces of wood (The smoking chunks can fit in any charcoal grill).
Among pitmasters, chefs, and the outdoor cooking community as a whole, the preference is strongly in favor of wood chunks (wood splits and kiln-dried cooking logs are also popular options when the cooking equipment allows for their size.)
Another advantage of cooking with chunks is, due to the longer burn time and less need to replenish them, the cooker doesn’t need to be opened as often and less of the contained heat and smoke are lost.
This “no peeking” rule of keeping the lid to the cooker closed as much as possible is a key principle in successful outdoor cooking, especially for slow-cooked barbeque.
It’s this combination of maintaining an even, ideal temperature and a consistent flow of pure smoke that creates the chemical reaction in the cooking meat that is uniquely and undeniably “low and slow” BBQ.
For most barbeque situations, when pared with charcoal, 2-3 well-placed wood chunks are all that’s necessary to achieve the desired flavor and smokiness in the finished food.
The fact is that wood chunks, when used for live fire or slow-smoke cooking are far superior to wood chips, both in smoke quality, volume, and cooking time.
High-quality wood chunks provide a better flavor, as well.
To find the highest quality wood chunks available for smoking, wood chunks for smoking.
Cutting Edge Firewood offers a wide variety of clean, kiln-dried smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan, and whiskey.
With complimentary shipping of our smoking chunk products across the United States, Cutting Edge Firewood makes it easy for you to give your best food the best flavor!