Can You Use Wood Chips on Charcoal Grill? [And How to Use Them]

  • By: Brendan

I’ve been exploring several ways to add flavor to my grilled items apart from the traditional marination. In that quest, I’ve picked up a couple of bags of wood chips to use with my good ol’ charcoal grill.

Many people wonder if it’s possible to use wood chips with a charcoal grill. And the answer is definitely yes and if you haven’t done so already, you’re missing out on tantalizing flavor.

Can You Use Wood Chips on Charcoal Grill

Can You Use Wood Chips on Charcoal Grill?

Wood chips can be used on a charcoal grill or even an electric grill to add smoky flavor to your food, as long as you have some aluminum foil or a wood chip box (recommended).

Using aluminum foil is a bit time-consuming, which is why I switched to the Cave Tools grill smoker box.

It measures a compact 9 x 3 x 1.5 inches, making it a great choice for small and large size grills and cookouts.

Further, the Cave Tools wood chip box can be used with both charcoal and gas grills and comes with a free copy of the Grill Master’s Essential Barbecue Recipe Book.

What are Wood Chips?

One of the biggest questions faced by any avid griller is what type of fuel source to use. There’s nothing wrong with using a gas grill (my preferred choice owing to ease and convenience), but charcoal grilling is hard to beat if you like chargrill flavor.

Wood Chips

But when it comes to grilling with charcoal, things can get a bit confusing because there are two different types of charcoal to choose from—lump and briquette.

To explain briefly, lump charcoal, just as the name suggests is chunks of charred wood.

These irregular pieces of charcoal are available in various types of hardwood including mesquite, hickory, oak, maple, and beech, and start out very hot and burn cleanly.

Lump charcoal can often be labeled as generic hardwood and is an ideal choice for quick grilling things like sausages, fish. Burgers, chicken, and most vegetables.

Briquettes are made from a combination of coal dust, wood scraps, and various chemical additives, and are great for long cook times owing to their ability to maintain a consistent temperature for longer.

So where do wood chips come in? Lump charcoal and briquettes are two different types of charcoal you can use to fuel your charcoal grill, and regardless of which type you use, wood chips can be added to the mix to give your food a more intense, smoky flavor when grilling.

Why Use Wood Chips?

The biggest reason to use wood chips with your charcoal grill is to impart that fantastic smoky flavor to your food.

Even though you can use wood chips in a gas grill, you won’t be able to achieve the same level of smoke as a charcoal grill. Plus it’s easier to use wood chips in a charcoal grill because you can either put them directly over the charcoal or in a smoker box.

Types of Wood Chips

When it comes to buying wood chips, you’ll be spoilt for choice given the myriad options available.

1. Oak Wood Chips


Oakwood chips are commonly used with charcoal grills, and provide a slightly woodsy, muddy flavor. Oakwood chips also burn evenly for a long period of time, and can also be combined with other types of wood for flavor like apple or cherry.

2. Maple Wood Chips

Maple Wood Chips

Maple wood chips offer twofold benefits—sweet flavor to the meat you’re grilling, and a nice, steady source of the smoke. However, maple wood chips are on the milder side, so probably not a great choice if you’re looking for strong-flavored food.

3. Hickory Wood Chips

Hickory Wood Chips

Hickory wood chips have a very distinct smell and are another popular option in the segment. They offer a stronger flavor than oak, and can even give the meat a nice rosy color.

Other wood chips flavors to choose from are mesquite, pecan, walnut, beech, birch, and alder.

Difference Between Wood Chips and Wood Chunks

Wood Chips and Wood Chunks

The words wood chips and wood chunks are often used interchangeably, but they are two different types of wood. Wood chips are basically thinner pieces of wood, whereas wood chunks are a few inches thick.

So, which one should you use with your charcoal grill? Wood chips are an ideal choice for charcoal, gas, and electric smokers due to their smaller size and ability to easily fit into smoker boxes.

Due to their large size, wood chunks do not ignite as quickly as wood chips, but on a brighter note produce a lot of smoke for long and slow smoking.

Do You have to Soak Wood Chips for Charcoal Grill?

Many grillers claim that soaking wood chips produce more smoke and flavor, but after trying this technique, don’t think it’s necessary. You can however soak wood chips if you want to delay the smoking.

How to Use Wood Chips on Charcoal Grill?

Using wood chips on a charcoal grill is easy by either making a smoker pouch with aluminum foil or using a smoker box.

If you’re using aluminum foil, place the wood chips in the center of the aluminum foil, wrap the foil tight, and poke holes in the foil to allow air in and smoke out.

With a smoker box, you don’t have to poke holes because they’re already present. Just load the box with the wood chips, secure the lid, and place the foil or the smoker box directly below your food.

Is Grilling with Wood Chips Healthy?

Wood chips are safe for use, and create the same chemical reaction in food as charcoal or gas would. You should avoid charring the food, as doing so introduces carcinogens that make the food less healthy.

Can You Grill with Just Wood Chips?

Wood chips only provide flavored smoke and aren’t a fuel source for your grill, so you will have to use charcoal, gas, or electricity to power up your grill.

Final Thoughts

You can and it’s a good idea to add wood chips to your charcoal grill. Some charcoal grills even come with a smoker box to add wood chips so you don’t have to use aluminum foil or a smoker box.

You can experiment with different combinations of wood such as cherry with maple or oak. You can’t use the wood chips that have dropped in your yard but should buy wood chips that are specially designed for smoking and cooking.

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