Learn how to use wood chips in an electric smoker the correct way to create to some truly delicious easy-to-make foods at home.
Electric smokers may be a more recent addition to the cooking world, but the practice of smoking food has been used for thousands of years.
Originally stumbled upon as a way to preserve fish and meat for longer periods, smoking methods can also add an incredible amount of depth and flavor to food and are still commonly used today.
Smokers large and small are used everyday from suburban backyards to the busiest BBQ restaurants in Texas.
As they are heated using electricity instead of burning charcoal, the smoke in an electric smoker is produced by placing wood chips inside a smoking tray within the chamber.
This article will help you make the most of this method by providing step-by-step instructions on how to use wood chips in your electric smoker to create food with an authentic, intense smoky flavor.
What is an Electric Smoker?
Electric smokers, similar to pellet smokers, use electricity and an automatic system to both smoke and heat food to produce authentic smoky flavors with "set it and forget it" easy of use.
Many digital smokers offer touchpad controls to assist with the temperature settings and automate longer smoking processes, whereas more basic models feature control dials to manually set the temperature.
Electric smokers are also one of the most energy and time efficient options for smoking food, with heat and smoke being contained in the well-insulated smoke chamber for maximum flavor, reduced fuel consumption, and sometimes reduced cooking times.
Electric Smokers vs. Charcoal Smokers
We've previously covered at length the differences between electric and propane smokers, but you may be wondering how they differ from a charcoal smoker as well.
Some food enthusiasts would argue that the more traditional charcoal smoker, such as the Weber Smokey Mountain, is the only way to get a truly authentic, smoky seasoning.
However, using wood chips in an electric smoker creates food that is often just as flavorful without the fuss the constant manual temperature adjustment.
Electric smokers ensure a more consistent temperature as, like a conventional electric oven, they’re heated by metal rods that run on electricity.
On the other hand, traditional charcoal smokers can be complicated due to the variables that accompany burning charcoal.
These types of smokers require closer monitoring and ventilation adjustments to ensure the temperature doesn’t vary too much, and you’ll spend more time and effort cleaning them due to the ash that is produced.
In terms of price, the ease and convenience of an electric smoker are reflected in the slightly higher cost, but this varies depending on the size of the model and bells and whistles you require.
New to elecric smokers?
Check out this step-by-step video we made on how to start a new electric smoker including how to add the wood chips!
Fill the Water Pan
If your smoker comes with a water pan, use hot water to fill the metal container provided and carefully place it at the bottom of the smoke chamber.
Do NOT mix up your wood chip tray and your water pan.
Some models will have a designated space for the water, but if there isn’t one, you can also choose to use an aluminum pie pan and place it on the bottom shelf of the smoker below where your food will cook to create the same effect.
This will create a more moist environment which will not only prevent your meat from drying out while it cooks, but the moisture also helps facilitate smoke penetration into the meat.
Preheat the Smoker
Next, preheat your smoker by either adjusting the dial control to the required temperature or, on digital smokers, by using the up and down arrow buttons to select your heat setting.
Note that it can take up to 25 minutes for your electric smoker to reach the intended temperature.
Add the Wood Chips
Depending on the model of smoker, you either have a tray that must be removed from inside the chamber and filled, or a side loading door that allows you add wood without opening the cooking chamber and disrupting the temperature.
All else being equal the second option is preferable.
Check your smoker's instructions as some smokers recommend adding the chips before you preheat, and other removed adding them only AFTER the smoker has come up to temperature.
As we've discussed time and time again, there is no need to soak your wood chips in water before using them.
Smoke is created from smoldering the wood chips in a low oxygen environment, NOT from soaking them in water.
Then close the loading tray door, let the smoke begin to start, and then add your food to the cooking chamber and close the door.
With an electric smoker, it’s as simple as that!
As tempting as it is to check your food, try to limit how often you open the door during the smoking process as this will allow some of the smoke to escape.
Refill the Wood Chips
Now, as we mentioned, you will need to refill the wood chips every 30-40 minutes as they smolder fairly quickly compared to wood chunks and wood pellets.
If you are using a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, check out their Slow Smoker Accessory Attachment.
It allows you to preload the wood chips, much like a pellet hopper on a pellet grill and smokes them more slowly so that you don't need to constantly refill.
Type and Quantity of Wood Chips
As we've previously discussed here, it is better to use wood CHIPS in an electric smoker rather than PELLETS if you can hep it.
Seafood, cheese, and poultry may only need 20-30 minutes of smoke during the cook to absorb a pleasant smoky flavor, while lamb, pork and beef may tolerate up to 2-3 hours to get the same smoky taste.
Too much smoke exposure on the delicate foods can create a bitter, acrid taste that is impossible to ever get rid of.
Remember, it's always better to have UNDERSMOKED your food than OVERSMOKED it!
As a reference point, 2 cups of wood chips will burn for approximately 1.5-3 hours in most smokers, so you can adjust this accordingly.
The nice thing about the side loaders is that if the smoke dissipates too soon you can always add more.
Hardwood chips are best to use in an electric smoker and you’ll find that different types such as apple, cherry, hickory, or mesquite produce different notes of flavor.
We don’t recommend using softwood chips, as they burn quickly and don’t produce as much smoke, making them less effective and producing an unappealing flavor.
Stronger flavored woods like oak and hickory stand up well to ribs, pork and beef.
Mesquite has its own VERY distinct flavor profile and a little goes A LONG way. We recommend using mesquite only in very small quantities until you've had a chance to experiment with it, and try it only hardier foods like beef brisket and pork.
How to Use Wood Chips in an Electric Smoker
- Electric Smoker
- 1 Cup Dry Smoking Wood chips
- Fill the water pan if your smoker has one.
- Turn on and preheat your electric smoker to the desired temperature.
- DO NOT soak your wood chips ahead of time. They should be dry.
- Add the wood chips to the wood chip try via the side loader if your smoker has one, or open the door and add. Make sure to close the door or lid to the tray itself to limit oxygen consumption and create the smoke.
- After 2-3 minutes smoke should begin to develop
- Put your food into the smoker.
- Add more wood chips as needed throughout the cook.