Can you put wood chips directly on charcoal? Yes for the best flavor

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 13, 2022

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If you’re a BBQ enthusiast, you’ve probably wondered at some point whether you can put wood chips directly on the charcoal.

But is it really safe to put them directly on the hot coals?

We all know that adding wood chips to your charcoal is a great way to add flavor, but how do you actually go about doing it?

Can you put wood chips directly on charcoal? Yes for the best flavor

People always wonder where it’s best to place them, in the smoker box attachment or right on top of the charcoal. Of course, this is only an option if you are using a charcoal smoker.

Smoking wood chips can be placed directly on top of the charcoal if you are smoking with a charcoal smoker. Alternatively, wood chips can be placed in the smoker box if your smoker has one or you can add steel smoker boxes full of wood chips directly on the charcoal.

So, next time you are firing up the grill, remember to add some wood chips right onto the hot charcoal for extra flavor!

Can you put wood chips directly on charcoal for smoking?

When using your charcoal smoker, yes, you can put wood chips directly on top of the charcoal.

How to buy a bbq smoker video
How to buy a bbq smoker video

The great thing about charcoal smokers is that they are relatively easy to use.

Once your charcoal is lit and smoldering, you can add a handful or two of your preferred wood chips right on top of the charcoal.

Many pitmasters also prefer to add the wood chips separately in the smoker box. This is not necessarily any better than the classic method of putting them on charcoal directly.

However, having them in the smoker box makes it easier to see when they run out.

If your smoker does not have a built-in smoker box attachment, you can buy a separate one, like the Char-Broil Stainless Steel Smoker Box.

This can be placed on the smoker grates near the food or directly on the charcoal.

Here’s the thing to know: you can put wood chips into the smoker box and then place the box onto the charcoal directly.

Some people like to do this, some prefer to put it on the grates inside the cooking chamber. Both work and the wood chips will smoke without catching fire.

I know, you’re likely wondering if you need to soak the wood chips before placing them onto the hot charcoal – I’ll explain everything next.

Want a really easy smoking experience? Then an electric smoker might be the better option

Can you put wet wood chips on charcoal?

Yes, you can put wet wood chips on charcoal. Soaking the wood chips in water will help them to produce more smoke, and the added moisture will help to keep the coals from going out.

While some pitmasters like to soak the wood chips before smoking, some also say it’s unnecessary because it lowers the smoker’s temperature and slows down the cooking process.

Still, people like the steaming smoky flavor you get from soaked wood chips.

Many people like to soak the wood chips in water for about 30 minutes before adding them to the grill or smoker. This will help to produce thick, flavorful smoke.

Do wood chips catch fire if placed directly on charcoal?

Generally, wood chips don’t catch fire when they’re placed on top of charcoal directly without a smoker box. However, you need to control the amount of wood chips you place.

Adding too many wood chips at once (think 2 handfuls or more) can cause a fire or it can lead to very dense, bitter smoke and the production of creosote.

Ideally, place a single layer of chips on the charcoal and let them smolder.

Adding too few wood chips won’t give enough flavor and may lengthen the total smoking time. It’s all about balance so use wood chips moderately.

Add about a handful every 30-45 minutes depending on how long you’re smoking.

Why put wood chips on charcoal in the smoker?

There are several reasons why the wood chips are placed on top of charcoal in the smoker. The most obvious reason is that the hot charcoals heat up the wood chips which then start to smoke.

However, the wood chips don’t burn up all at once – instead, the charcoal and wood chips burn together and the flavored wood chips create that tasty strong smoky flavor.

It depends on the types of wood chips but some burn faster than others. For example, mesquite wood is a fast burner so you get a thicker, stronger smoke.

If you like a mild flavor, using apple wood or other fruit woods makes the smoky goodness subtler and makes smoked meat have a sweet flavor.

Check my full smoking woods chart for all the characteristics of each smoke wood

Advantages of putting wood chips directly on charcoal

Wood chips produce a lot of smoke quicker when they are placed on the charcoal.

If you put them in the smoker box dry, the wood produces a lot of smoke as well. However, if you use soaked wood chips in the smoker box, it takes longer for them to begin smoking.

Adding soaked wood chips will make them more effective at producing moisture and preventing your food from drying out too quickly.

You can use any kind of wood chips you want, depending on the flavor you’re looking for. Even if you use a mild wood like peach, you still get plenty of smoky flavors.

Burning wood on the charcoal won’t make an additional mess in your smoker.

The ash stays in the fire pit so you can clean it out when the hot coals stop burning. Therefore, it’s easy to remove the mess.

If you use a metal smoker box, the burnt ash can seep out through the holes and cause a mess inside your smoker. These ashes can even stick to the smoking meat.

Putting wood chips in a foil pouch before using them on charcoal grill

If you’re not putting wood chips directly onto the burning charcoal, you can place them in an aluminum pouch.

Using a foil packet is going to keep the chips in one place and ensure even combustion.

A good way to do this is to fill an extra empty drip pan and fill it with your wood chips.

Then, cover them with the aluminum foil and punch some small holes on the top of the foil to allow the smoke to escape and infuse the food with smoky flavors.

If the wood chips smoke too little, poke holes that are slightly larger.

Place this wood chip tray on your cooking grates near the meat. Wait until the wood chips start smoking.

Alternatively, you can place the wood chips or wood chunks in the smoker box directly on those hot coals.

Smoldering and smoking happen after a few minutes but can take up to 20 minutes or even half-hour, depending on your smoker.

Once you notice smoke coming out of the foil, you can start cooking those hot dogs.

Takeaway

When you’re low and slow cooking, add wood chips straight on top of the charcoal in your smoker.

This is how to best use the charcoal smoker and you don’t even need to spend money on separate smoker boxes.

By soaking wood chips, you can add smoky flavor and extra moisture. Also, wet wood chips burn slowly so you don’t end up with too much smoke.

But you can even add dry wood chips and it will result in delicious food.

So the bottom line is that yes, you can put wood chips directly on top of the charcoal when using your charcoal smoker and this is the best way to use smoking wood chips or chunks.

Next, learn all about How to Use Wood Pellets on a Charcoal Grill

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.