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I've been using wood chips in my BBQ (adding them to the coal) and I enjoy the flavor they add but I have a tough time cooking with them because:

  • They cause flare ups
  • I have to close the lid to smoke the meat
  • Opening the lid would let out the smoke yet handling flare ups isn't possible without access to the food

Of course, I've tried soaking the wood chips in water hours before using them and the only thing that buys me is a slight delay before the flare ups begin. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes, tops. Then, as soon as the wood ignites, I get fires burning the food.

What are some ways to handle flare ups when BBQing with wood chips?

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What kind of temperatures are you tying to cook at with the wood chips? I've never had this issue, but I'm not trying to cook steaks when I do it. I find that properly controlling airflow can stop flare ups, but that has an effect on the temperature. –  yossarian Sep 13 '10 at 12:44
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Don't bother soaking them. Dried hardwood doesn't readily soak up water, so for this to work you'll have to either soak for a rather long time or start with green wood... but if you're using green wood then you don't need to soak it.

For good, consistent smoke, you want to control heat and airflow: as hobodave notes, you can control heat by simply moving the chips away from the coals. If the design of your BBQ allows, you can do as he suggests (horizontal separation); otherwise, try placing the chips in a pan above the coals.

For airflow, you can adjust the vents on your BBQ - if you're getting flair-ups with the lid on, chances are you're letting too much air through. You can also limit airflow to the chips themselves by wrapping them in a packet fashioned from sturdy aluminum foil with holes punched in it (but you'll still want to separate them from the coals, or you'll just burn through the foil and be back where you started).

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I find hardwood dies absorb water, but needs 24 hours of soaking. –  yossarian Sep 13 '10 at 12:03
    
@yossarian: yeah, if you can remember a day or so ahead of time, you can make it work. I prefer a foil packet anyway though. –  Shog9 Sep 13 '10 at 16:19
    
How can you forget? What's more important than smoking?!? –  yossarian Sep 13 '10 at 17:00
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@yossarian: smoking now... ;-) –  Shog9 Sep 13 '10 at 20:27
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I keep a coffee can of soaked chips in the deep freezer. They're always available at a moment's notice. –  Dennis Williamson Sep 13 '10 at 22:46
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Once your grill is heated up move the coals, and the wood chips to one half of your grill leaving the other side without any direct heat. When a flareup is encountered while grilling, simply move the food out of the flames to the "cold" side of the grill until it is under control.

If you desire not having to deal with the flareups at all, simply add the wood chips to only one half of the grill, and cook on the other half (over coals). You'll get the wood smoke you desire, without the flareups.

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I've seen suggestions to do something similar, but with the added protection of putting the chips in an aluminum pan. –  justkt Sep 13 '10 at 12:05
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