Can you reuse wood chips in a smoker? Generally, no

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  December 21, 2021

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So, you’ve bought a large bag of wood chips to smoke some tasty meat for your next BBQ.

You’re probably wondering if you can reuse the same wood chips for several smoking sessions. But, unfortunately, you’ll have to keep buying new wood chips once your stockpile runs out.

Can you reuse wood chips in a smoker? Generally, no

You can’t reuse wood chips in a smoker because they burn to ash while smoking. These small pieces of wood are too small in size to survive the burning and smoking process inside the smoker.

However, you can sometimes reuse wood chunks because some of them may be intact after smoking depending on their size and where they are placed in the smoker.

Therefore, you can put them away in a safe storage area for next time.

It’s worth thinking about using wood chunks vs wood chips but it depends on your smoker too.

Wood chips are the only feasible option for electric smokers but you might be able to fit wood chunks in charcoal or gas smokers.

Here are some tips for using wood chips:

How long do wood chips burn in a smoker?

When you cook over direct heat, wood chips burn quite fast. So, if you’re grilling, 2 or 3 handfuls can burn and give up all their good smoke in about 30 minutes or so.

When you’re smoking, your wood chips burn for about 45 minutes or so. Once they start producing thin smoke, it’s not really adding smoky flavors to the food anymore.

Most wood chips, even really high-quality ones can burn rather quickly since they are small pieces of wood.

To make the wood chips burn at a slower rate, you can soak wood chips in water for 30-60 minutes before you put them in the smoker. This delay doesn’t add more smoke, it only makes them start to smoke and burn slower.

You don’t need dripping wet wood chips, just well-soaked so you can squeeze out some of the water.

To maintain that delicious smoky flavor, you need to keep adding new wood chips.

How often do I replace the wood chips in my smoker?

Since you keep adding wood chips every 45 mins to an hour, you only need to replace the wood in the smoker if you’re doing long smokes of beef, briskets, game meat, and so on.

There is no “one right answer” to this question but generally, you’ll run out of wood chips in the smoker after 30 minutes if they are burning too fast. They usually last for about 45 minutes though.

You can also add more wood chips once the meat in the smoker reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F.

If you’re using an electric smoker, you must keep adding wood chips to the smoker box when the smoking meats reach that 140 F target temp.

But here’s the important thing to keep in mind: when you’re smoking larger pieces of meat, you don’t need to smoke using wood chips during the entire cooking process.

It’s okay to take a break with the wood chips and add smoke occasionally.

For foods with a long smoking time, you can change the wood chips every 5-6 hours or so. Wood chips burn to ash completely in 5 hours or so. So, for slow cooking, you need to produce smoke more than once.

So, it’s recommended that you add more chips every 45 minutes for a while, then after about 5 or so hours when you want more smoke for the meat.

Check out our guide and learn how to use wood chips for smoking.

Do you keep adding wood chips when smoking?

Yes, you keep adding about 2 or 3 handfuls of smaller wood chips to the smoker every 45 – 60 minutes.

Your wood chips will burn to ash completely unless you replenish them. Once the smoke thins out, it’s no longer good enough.

That’s when you need to add more wood chips to the smoker.

You should add one or two cups of fresh wood chips on top of old burnt chips to replenish the flavored wood chips.

If you don’t add fresh wood chips on top of the old ones, your food won’t be as smoky. After all, the point of adding wood chips is to give the meat that delicious wood smoke flavor.

Of course, the taste depends on the type of wood you use when smoking.

If you’re doing a short smoke and plan to smoke some fish or poultry, you might not need to add chips more than a couple of times. Different meats take longer to cook than others so it just depends.

Check out my complete wood for smoking chart to learn more.

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.