I was reading through a forum the other day, and the topic discussed in that forum was whether it is necessary to soak wood chips for smoking food. The discussion was lively, and some argued that soaking wood chips is essential, while others thought it isn’t. Some also contended that soaking wood chips would make the chips last longer and deliver more smoke. Nevertheless, I noticed that some arguments for or against the soaking of wood chips bordered on myths.
However, all the traditional books about smoking food say that you need to soak the wood chips several hours before using them. Yet are the classic traditional smoking books right or scientific? In this post, we shall try to figure out if there are scientific and more cogent explanations about why you should soak wood chips before smoking.
Reasons You Should Avoid Soaking Wood Chips for Smoking
The so-called authorities in smoking and barbecuing seem to favor soaking wood chips before using them for smoking food. In fact, some wood chip manufacturers will advise you to soak wood chips before using them in your smoker. Yet, it seems that scientific explanations do not jive well with the traditional beliefs.
However, those scientifically inclined smoking and BBQ enthusiasts believe that soaking wood chips will actually prevent your smoker from having a consistent temperature. The thing with a smoker is that you should achieve a constant temperature in the smoking chamber to achieve excellent results.
Yet, if you soak wood chips, the highest temperature you can achieve in your smoker is 212°F, when water starts to become steam. The smoking chamber will never reach higher than this temperature until the moisture in the woodchips has steamed off. Besides, it will take around thirty minutes or more to get the wet wood dry to begin smoking.
Well, I am sure you don’t want to steam your meat that long. Furthermore, this steaming action will only remove some moisture from your meat, and you may run the risk of overcooking your food.
Suppose you would monitor the temperature assiduously inside the smoker while the wood chips steam; you will notice that the smoker’s temperature fluctuates. This fluctuation is due to the heat being carried away by steam, which eventually reduces the smoker’s temperature less hot.
If you are after consistent temperature, it defeats your purpose if you soak your wood chips because it will cause the smoking chamber’s temperature to fluctuate erratically.
Reasons You Should Soak Wood Chips Before Smoking
The only convincing reason you should soak wood chips is to impart another flavor to the meat besides the wood’s flavor. For example, if you wish to add a whiskey flavor to your beef, you can soak the wood chips in whiskey. You can likewise use other liquids like beer, wine, brandy, or juice to infuse your meat with another distinct taste.
The liquid you choose should complement the food that you are cooking. Beef, for example, pairs well with brat or sausage, while brandy complements cheese or deserts. You can also use apple juice when smoking pork.
Another instance when it is advisable to soak wood chips is when smoking brisket or prime rib roast. Smoking these types of meat may take a day or two. As such, you can mix a tray of dry wood chips and soaked wood chips to cook these meats slowly. Moreover, soaking wood chips will let them smoke for a longer time.
What Will Happen When You Put Wet Wood on a Grill?
If you toss wet wood onto smoldering coals, the moisture in the wood chips will decrease the temperature of coals. Yet, it is essential to take control of the smoker’s temperature and keep it consistently at your target temperature. The trick is to keep that desired temperature throughout the cooking process.
The surface temperature of the smoldering coals might be at around 600°F. If the wood chips surface is wet, it will fail to heat up to 212°F, which is the boiling point of water. Unless all the moisture evaporates, the wood surface temperature will never even breach the 212°F temperature.
However, once all the moisture has steamed off, only then would the wood starts to heat up to more than 212°F. Once it hits 575°F, it can emit gases and produce smoke.
Such is the heat dynamism inside the smoking chamber and the firebox. So, it will help to be mindful of this fact before you even soak your wood chips.
When you smoke meat, you want to achieve that thin and almost invisible pale blue smoke which is the ideal smoke for smoking meat. This type of smoke is better than black, white, or gray smoke. If you soak your wood chips, you will notice white smoke emitting from the wet wood chips. You may mistake this emission as smoke, yet it is only steam. As mentioned above, you don’t want to steam the meat, but you want to smoke it.
Furthermore, after reading through this post, you can now decide whether you should soak your wood chips or not. Be mindful of why you should soak your wood chips and why you should refrain from doing it. In this way, you will go a long way in your food smoking adventures.