At What Temperature do Wood Chips Smoke? Guide to Getting it Right

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  January 19, 2021
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Are you planning on smoking some steaks, poultry, or even fish?

I’m sure you have your favorite wood chip flavor ready to go but are these chips creating enough smoke?

When you’re using wood chips to smoke your favorite meaty cuts, you know that the secret lies in smoking at the perfect temperature.

When do woods chips start smoking

Not all wood chips will give that fantastic consistent smoke, and many may even start to burn too fast.

Therefore, you’ve got to get your wood chips to the right temperature until they smolder.

So, you’re wondering, at what temperature do wood chips smoke?

Wood chips smoke at a temperature between 570-750 degrees Fahrenheit, or 300-400 degrees Celsius. All wood chips smoke when they reach these temperatures, but some woods burn and smolder at a faster rate than others. As a general rule, fruitwoods (apple, peach) burn faster than nut woods like pecan and hardwoods like hickory and mesquite.

If your wood chips have a temperature lower than 570 degrees F, they won’t smolder and infuse the food with a smokey flavor.

As you know, smoke is extremely important for your foods because it gives meat that aroma and flavor you can only achieve by smoking.

In this guide, I will discuss the different aspects related to heat when smoking with wood chips.

Information about Smoke & Wood Chips

First, what is smoke?

Well, it’s a complex combination of compounds that create flavor from the wood.

Each wood has a different flavor; thus, you’ll get a much stronger aroma from hickory than from a light fruitwood like apple, for example.

There is a difference between the burning wood temperature vs. the smoker’s temperature and the smoking environment.

When I talk about the ideal temp for wood chips to smoke, I refer to the actual wood chips’ temperature, not the heat inside the smoker or grill.

So, if you use a meat thermometer to measure the food’s temperature, don’t rely on that reading to determine the actual temperature of the wood chips – that’s a different thing.

Be sure to check the chips themselves and not the air inside the smoker if you’re noticing issues with the smoke.

At temperatures between 570 and 750 degrees F, the wood chips smolder.

In fact, the ideal conditions for smoke flavor are these lower temps because the wood doesn’t merely combust into charcoal and instead smolders for a longer time.

As you can tell, it’s important to keep in mind this distinction between the temperature of the wood chips and the ideal temperature to smoke your food.

When you smoke most meats, the smoker’s temperature should be somewhere between 225 to 250 F (107 – 121 C).

Also read: How Does a BBQ Smoker Work? 7 types of smokers explained.

How to Control the Temperature of the Wood Chips

Since you want to get to that temperature where the chips start to smoke, you need to control the heat.

Thus, the goal is to reduce the oxygen levels to ensure that the chips smoke instead of combusting and burning too quickly.

The theory behind this is that as wood burns, it produces heat mostly and very little smoke.

When you cook and smoke meat, you’re looking for the smoke to add flavor to the food. So, you must reduce the flames to encourage smoldering.

When your wood chips just aren’t giving you enough smoke, lower the oxygen level.

The best option is to place the chips in a special smoker box. It’s a great addition to your smoker.

Be sure to check: How to use a bbq smoker box: get the placement, temp & wood right.

How Long Does it Take for Wood Chips to Smoke?

It takes about 20 minutes for wood chips to start to smoke in your smoker or the smoker accessory.

Actually, only after 20 minutes does the wood start to develop a delicious smoke flavoring.

Should You Soak Wood Chips?

There’s a common notion that wood chips should be soaked in water before using them in the smoker. Apparently, this prevents the chips from catching fire.

So, is it really necessary to soak them?

While the theory that moisture slows down, the combustion process makes sense, it’s not entirely correct.

In fact, if you soak the chips for an hour or so, they will actually release more steam, not more flavorful smoke.

The soaked chips may lower the smoker’s temperature, which may not be what your meat really needs.

The wood chips must eliminate all that moisture first before they begin to smolder and smoke.

Only when the wood chips reach the boiling point of water (a temperature of 212 F or 100 degrees C) will they stop steaming.

Therefore, you have to wait a bit longer to get your smoke.

Help, the Wood Chips Don’t Smoke!

Many smokers complain about some types of wood chips not creating enough smoke for a whole smoking session.

The most common problem is that the wood is not moist enough and is too dry. This could be the result of over-seasoning.

The second most common issue is that the chips are not at the ideal temperature. Either they are below the 575 F minimum required for smoking.

Or, they are way too hot and over 750 F, and in that case, they simply burn rapidly before your meat can gain the delicious flavors.

What’s happening is that you’re cooking the meat as opposed to smoking it.

The bottom line is to ensure your wood chips are at a temperature of 570-750 F (300-400 C) in order to gain the most flavor from the smoke.

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