One of the most hotly debated subjects in the world of food smoking is whether or not you need to soak your wood chips before you can use them in a smoker.
Some smoke-enthusiasts would never dream of smoking something without having thoroughly soaked their wood chips beforehand. For others, it’s not a step that they see as being necessary to the process.
But who’s correct? There are actually pretty good arguments on each side, which can make it even more difficult to determine a winner. So, we decided to get to the bottom of it once and for all.
So, should you smoke wood chips? Keep reading to find out!
Smoking with Dry Wood Chips
Let’s begin by taking a look at why some people choose not to soak their wood chips before adding them to a smoker.
The first reason is pretty simple – soaking takes too much time! Whether you’re smoking chicken, fish, beef, pork, or vegetables, you want to be able to get on with it without having to spend time waiting for your wood chips to get ready.
Soaking might only take half an hour, but that’s half an hour that could be spent infusing your ingredients with a delicious smoky flavor.
Impatience aside, there is also another good reason why some people skip the wood chip soaking stage, too.
If you’ve ever soaked your wood chips before, you’ll have noticed that the water they are in changes color. The reason for this is that some of the minerals contained within the wood are leaching out into the water.
These are the very minerals that add flavor and aroma to your food. With this in mind, when you soak wood chips you’re basically reducing the amount of flavor they’ll infuse your food with.
Smoking with Soaked Wood Chips
If soaking wood chips draws out some of the flavors of the wood and, ultimately, means it gets thrown down the drain, why do some people insist on doing it? There are actually a couple of really good reasons.
First of all, it can help to better regulate the temperature inside your smoker. Although most smokers come with built-in temperature gauges that let you keep a track of what’s going on inside, it can be easy to forget to keep an eye on it.
If the wood chips have been soaked beforehand, they won’t burn as quickly and, as a result, the temperature is better regulated.
The fact they don’t burn as quickly leads us to our second reason as to why some people prefer to soak their wood chips. If they are wet, they will smoke for longer instead of quickly catching fire and burning away.
This makes it a much more economical way to smoke as you’ll need to use fewer wood chips.
Steam VS. Smoke
There are clear differences between why some people choose to soak their wood chips and some don’t. But, whether you do or not, there’s one very important difference that undeniably swings in the favor of not soaking them.
When you add soaked wood chips to your smoker, it will seem as though loads of smoke is billowing out. But this isn’t the case.
As the wet wood chips come into contact with the heat inside your smoker, the water they’ve absorbed will evaporate and steam will be produced. In turn, you’re missing out on smoking time and simply steaming your food instead.
Once the steam has evaporated, the smoke the soaked wood chips eventually produce might also be grey or black in color and coming out in thick clouds. This might seem like a good thing, but this is actually poor-quality smoke.
The perfect smoke for smoking food should be thin and have a blue color that is almost transparent. And, the only way to get this kind of smoke is by using wood chips that are as dry as a bone.
Soaking Wood Chips In Alcohol
We know that soaking your wood chips in water will draw out some of the natural flavors of the wood. But, is there a way you can replace this lost flavor with something else? Surprisingly, yes, there is!
If you’re very much pro-wood chip soaking but still want a powerful punch of flavor, try soaking your wood chips in wine or beer instead of water.
While these will still draw out some of the wood’s flavor, they’ll also infuse the wood with their own flavors. And, once in the smoker, the flavors of the wine or the beer will infuse your meat in the same way the wood does.
If you’re thinking about doing this, it’s a good idea to make sure that the flavors match what you’re smoking. For instance, don’t soak your wood chips in red wine if you’re smoking fish.
Think about the sort of wines and beers you’d see paired with certain foods on a restaurant menu.
You can also use bourbon or whiskey if you’d like to soak your wood chips without sacrificing flavor. Bear in mind, however, that both bourbon and whisky are aged in wooden barrels.
So, if you’re looking for a whisky flavor and also want the best smoked food possible, simply choose wood chips that have been made from old whiskey barrels instead of soaking them.
Conclusion – Should You Soak Wood Chips?
As you can see, there are reasons for and against soaking your wood chips. But should you do it? Well, it’s really a case of personal preference. While there’s no harm in doing it, there’s no real need to soak them either. In fact, doing so may alter the flavor that the wood chips give your food. However, if you’d like your wood chips to last a little longer soaking them could be a good option.
It’s also quite useful if you have a busy lifestyle and know that you’re unable to keep a keen, regular eye on your smoker’s temperature gauge. Instead, the soaked chips will do the job for you.