If your 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. While you can always conduct your own experiments by testing both types of smoking chunks, you’ll probably discover little or no benefit when using pre-soaked smoking chunks. In fact, it could result in other problems that interfere with your outdoor culinary activities.
What Are Smoking Chunks?
As pictured below, smoking chunks are small rectangular-shaped pieces of wood — usually about 1 to 2 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 only real difference is that smoking chips are smaller and thinner, resulting in a shorter burn time. You can use either type in your smoker or grill, but smoking chunks offer the longest burn time. And with a longer burn time, they’ll release more flavorful smoke to help you cook delicious food.
Why Some Pitmasters Soak Their Smoking Chunks Before Using Them
Before adding them to their smoker or grill, some pitmasters soak their smoking chunks in water in an effort to make them last longer. Smoking chunks are typically dry because of the way in which they are processed. The smoking chunks sold here at Cutting Edge Firewood are processed in a kiln — a process known as kiln drying — for 48 hours. That’s 12 times longer than the standard required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Therefore, the general belief is that soaking smoking chunks increases their moisture content and, in turn, promotes a longer burn time.
Some pitmasters 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.
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 isn’t necessarily 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.
Using pre-soaked smoking chunks can even cause several problems, including the following:
- Increases the risk of your smoker or grill rusting.
- It may extinguish your fire.
- It temporarily creates “cold spots.”
How to Make Your Soaking 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. When used properly, smoking chunks shouldn’t catch fire. Instead, they should smolder, during which they’ll slowly release smoke. If you place your smoking chunks directly on a bed of hot charcoal, you can expect them to catch fire and burn to ash. If you place them next to your charcoal, on the other hand, they should smolder.
Don’t expose your smoking chunks to direct heat. To make them burn more slowly, you need to use indirect heat. If you have a large mound of charcoal in the center of your smoker or grill, try placing your smoking chunks off to the side. Alternatively, you can place your smoking chunks in a foil pan and then place them on top of the charcoal. Whether you place your smoking chunks next to your charcoal or place them in a foil pan, you must use indirect heat so that they’ll burn slower and for longer.
You can also make your soaking 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.
It’s important to use high-quality smoking chunks derived from a hardwood tree. 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, and by placing them next to your charcoal rather than on top of your charcoal, you’ll achieve a longer burn time.
The Bottom Line on Soaking Smoking Chunks
It’s not uncommon for pitmasters 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 don’t burn any slower than unsoaked smoking chunks, nor do they produce more smoke. They both burn at roughly the same rate while producing a similar amount of smoke in the process.
Find the best quality smoking chunks by visiting our online store today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan and whiskey, all of which will allow you to smoke delicious meat. We offer complimentary shipping for our smoking chunk products across the United States.