Soaking and Smoking Guide for Wood Chips and Pellets

You can get great smokey flavor on your gas grill by using a smoker box and your favorite wood chips or pellets. Use our guide to smoking on a gas grill to make sure you get a good, clean and consistent smoke.

How do I get thin blue smoke on a gas grill?

Getting a thin, blue smoke is key to achieving a great smoke flavor. The color of your smoke is an indicator of what’s happening inside your grill. As wood creeps closer to combustion, the smoke will change in intensity: a fine blue-white smoke, a billowy white smoke, a brown billowy smoke, then flame and finally, thin smoke again. For the best results, feather the heat output so you’re seeing either fine blue-white or billowy, white smoke. You may even need to cut the power at times to damper the intensity.

The cleaner the smoke the better the flavor and the longer it will deliver that smoke. If your smoker box comes with a damper like the Broil King Imperial Smoker Box, close it at least 3/4 of the way to allow as little air flow as possible.

Why should I soak wood chips before putting them on the grill?

Thanks to dedicated grilling researchers like the team at AmazingRibs.com we know that soaking kiln-dried hardwood chips for a reasonable amount of time only lets them take on 3% water. So when you put your soaked chips on the grill, the surface will quickly dry up, taking what little water was absorbed with it. Once dry, the wood gradually gets hotter and drier and runs the risk of catching fire.

Here are the key temperatures to remember:

Water boils at 212F (100C). Before that water evaporates and the wood won’t get hotter than 212F (100C). According to AmazingRibs.com the average combustion temperature is around 575F (301C); it can happen anywhere above 450F(232C) given enough time. In essence, wet wood doesn’t smoke until it dries.

Should I soak wood chips?

Soaking wood chips is a good idea as long as you’re soaking them to delay smoking. The next time you fire up your Broil King grill to smoke some ribs, use these soaking guidelines.

And a nifty trick … the Broil King Imperial Smoker Box has two chambers which allows you to create some smoke now and some later. Terminology wise, avoid saying soaking your chips gives you more or better smoke; your wood just starts smoking later.

Soaking Test Guidelines

Constant temperature: 500F (260C) – this is hot but it illustrates the point in a hurry
Control knob setting: Broil King Regal S520 Commercial – Low / Low / Low / Med / Med
Pellet Flavor: 100% Hickory
Wood Chip Flavor: Hickory
*For this test, drenched pellets and chips had 1/2 cup of water added to their chamber

If you feather the burner output these times can be greatly extended. Think about this test as a worst-case scenario with the least amount of smoke. A quick note about combustion, once the chips or pellets ignite your internal grill temperature can jump a lot.

The grill fairly quickly shot up to 600F (315C) from 500F (260C) with the chips burning. The pre-heat below is the time that it takes for the chips or pellets to start smoking. Lastly, since there are two chambers to the smoker box we’re going to call them side A and side B since some of the tests mix one chamber of wet wood with one chamber of dry wood to create a longer overall smoke.

Wood style Pre-heat Smoke Fire
Side A Dry Pellets 12 Minutes 11 Minutes 13 Minutes
Side B Drenched Pellets 27 Minutes 21 Minutes 7 Minutes
Total smoke time 32 minutes
Side A Dry Chips 7 Minutes 7 Minutes 12 Minutes
Side B Drenched Chips 14 Minutes 5 Minutes 7 Minutes
Total smoke time 12 minutes
Side A & B Soaked for 1 hr Chips 17 Minutes 8 Minutes 10 Minutes
Side A & B Dry Pellets 7 Minutes 6 Minutes 13 Minutes
Side A & B Dry Chips 6 Minutes 4 Minutes 12 Minutes

Wood pellets obviously burn longer and produce smoke for longer because of their size and density. By weight you can get twice as many dry pellets into a smoker box as chips ~8.85oz (250g) vs. 4.4oz (125g). But a combination of wet pellets and dry pellets produced smoke for much longer. The same applies to the wood chips. Soaked wood chips only produced 8 minutes of smoke while a combination of one side drenched and one side dry produced 12 minutes of total smoke. Water can put off smoking by roughly 10 minutes even at high temperatures.

Ben – Culinary Director
Broil King

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