How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill (4 Easy Steps)

Do you have a charcoal grill but want to add a more robust smoky flavor profile? Surprisingly enough, you can do this by simply adding wood chips to the grilling process.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to do this, because we have all the information you need here!

In this guide, you will discover:

  • How to use wood chips on a charcoal grill
  • What type of wood chips to use
  • And much more!

What You Need to Know About Using Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill

Are you looking for that authentic smoky taste that only wood chips provide but are not sure how to do it on a charcoal grill? Well, hang on, because the great news is that you can do just that if you do it correctly.

Whether you have a smoker box or not, you can still add wood chips to your charcoal grill to bring in that smoky flavor you are looking for. Keep in mind that you do not have to go out and purchase a smoker box since you can make one yourself or you do not have to use one at all.

It is important to note that if you do have a charcoal grill, then you are in great shape since most grill enthusiasts prefer this type of grill if you are adding in wood chips. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about adding wood chips to your charcoal grill.

Related >> The Best Charcoal Grills

Supplies Needed to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill

Before you are ready to grill using wood chips on your charcoal grill, you will need to collect a few supplies to make the experience go more smoothly. Keep in mind that gathering your supplies ahead of time will keep you from going back and forth throughout the process.

Here are some of the supplies you will need when you are using wood chips on your grill:

  • Charcoal (lump or briquettes)
  • Wood chips (in your chosen flavor)
  • Aluminum foil (optional depending on the method used)
  • Smoker box (optional depending on the method used)
  • Charcoal chimney (if you have one already)

Keep in mind that you may not need all of the above supplies for the method you choose for your grilling experience. If you are new to using wood chips with your charcoal grill, you may want to experiment with the different methods to see which you prefer.

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How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill

Once you have your supplies ready to go, you should be ready to fire up your charcoal grill and use your chosen method. It is important to note that whatever method you use, you should be sure you are using proper precautions to prevent accidents.

Not sure which method to use? Keep reading for the steps to using wood chips on a charcoal grill:

Step 1: Light Your Fire

The first step in using wood chips on your charcoal grill is to light it up so your charcoal will be ready for the cooking process. Depending on whether you use a chimney starter or lighter fluid, this first step is a must to make the entire process work correctly.

If you choose to use a chimney starter, you should first create newspaper rings to line the bottom of your chimney. Once this is done, add in your lump charcoal or briquettes and light them using a stick lighter and wait for them to be ashed over before adding them to your grill.

For those who prefer not to use a chimney starter, you can add your charcoal directly to the bottom of your grill and use lighter fluid to start the fire. Again, you will need to wait until they ash over before you are ready to grill.

Step 2: Prepare Foil Packets or Your Smoker Box

For this step, you will either need to create foil packets for the wood chips or prepare your smoker box. Keep in mind that smoker boxes do not come standard with a charcoal grill since they are most often used for gas grills.

If you have a smoker box, then you can make the process go much easier than creating your packets with aluminum foil. All you have to do is pour your chosen wood chips in and you are ready to go.

If you do not have a smoker box, don’t worry, because you can certainly create your own with some aluminum foil. All you have to do is take a double layer of aluminum foil and place your wood chips inside. Once you seal it completely, you can then use something to poke several holes in the foil so the smoke has a place to go.

Step 3: Add Charcoal and Wood Chips to Grill

You should now be ready to add your charcoal to the grill to begin the cooking process. Additionally, if you chose not to use a smoker box or aluminum foil packets, you can add your wood chips directly to the grill on top of your charcoal.

Keep in mind that adding the wood chips directly to the grill can be done, you just need to be aware that they will likely combust before they are ready to use. You should also know that using this method may cause you to have to replace the wood chips throughout the cooking process since they burn up faster.

If you choose to add your wood chips directly to the top of your charcoal, you may want to give it a little time for the wood to begin smoldering before adding your food. This is because your food will cook much faster if the wood is on fire.

Step 4: Ready to Grill!

After these steps are completed, you should be ready to add your favorite meats and other foods onto your grill. Keep in mind, however, that you should keep the lid of the grill closed as much as possible to ensure that the smoke does not escape.

wood chips in a smoke box

How to Choose Your Wood Chips

When it comes to grilling using wood chips, there is a wide variety of types of wood you should consider. Depending on the flavor profile you are looking for, different types of wood can provide you with what you need.

The best advice when it comes to choosing the right wood for grilling is to experiment with the different types until you find the right combination for you. For the most part, what type of wood to use is a personal preference, and can be fun to try different ones first.

Keep reading to learn more about how to choose the right type of wood chips for your grilling needs.

Mildly Sweet Flavor Profile

For some people, creating the perfect flavor profile for your favorite meats means combining smoke with a little bit of sweetness. You can get this combo by using some of the lighter woods.

If you are looking for a smoky flavor that has a bit of a fruity, nutty, or even sweet flavor, here are some of the best choices for you:

  • Apple
  • Pecan
  • Maple Cherry

Medium Smoky Flavor Profile

For grillers who want less sweetness and more smoke, you may want to consider a wood that is a bit stronger. Keep in mind that choosing one of these types of wood chips will provide you with a great smoky flavor without overpowering the flavor of the meat itself.

Here are some wood chips that fit the bill:

  • Hickory
  • Oak

Strong Smoky Flavor Profile

If you are planning to cook beef or pork and want an extremely strong smoky flavor, then you may want to go with mesquite wood chips. This is will provide you with the strongest smoky flavor profile of any other type of wood.

It is important to note that using mesquite wood chips can overpower your meat flavor, so you may want to use it sparingly. You can even mix other types of wood chips with mesquite to give it a different flavor and to keep it from overpowering your food.

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Tips for Smoking Meat on a Charcoal Grill

As with anything you are learning to use, a charcoal grill takes some time to learn the proper techniques that work for you. Doing your research and talking with other grillers can help you to learn valuable information about grilling on a charcoal grill.

Check out these tips that will make your charcoal grilling experience worthwhile:

  • Stay away from precoated charcoal briquettes
  • Use a chimney starter
  • Make sure your charcoal is ready before grilling
  • Use wood chips to add additional flavor
  • Experiment with different zones such as the two-zone grilling method

Related >> The Best Charcoal Smokers

Can You Put Wood Chips Directly on the Grate of a Charcoal Grill?

Many people who are debating whether or not to experiment with wood chips on their charcoal grill often wonder if they can just put the wood chips on the grates. You should know that you can do this if you choose, you should just be aware what will happen.

First of all, they may fall through the grate depending on their size. Secondly, they will burn much faster than if they are in a foil packet or smoker box, meaning you will have to replenish often and may not get the full smoky slavor you desire. But, if you are in a rush, it is an option.

Final Thoughts on How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill

The bottom line when it comes to using wood chips on a charcoal grill is that it can be a great way to add a more robust smoky flavor to your favorite meats. Keep in mind that there are several ways to do this and that the best method will depend on the supplies you have on hand. 

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Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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