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What does soaking wood chunks really do?

By cliffcarter, Jun 24, 2013 | |
  1. This article under construction

    The answer to the question in the title depends on how much you can change the moisture content of the wood that is not in direct contact with the water. If you soak the wood for only a few hours the wood in contact with the water will absorb enough H2O to increase the moisture content of the wood in contact with the water and to a depth of approximately 1/8 inch, but the interior part of the wood will see no or very little change in moisture. In order to change the moisture content of the wood in the center of the wood significantly the chunks must be soaked for a minimum of four days, not a few hours.

    After 24 hours

    After 48 hours

    After 72 hours

    After 96 hours

    After 120 hours

    After 144 hours

    Just for the record I have never, up until I did this little test, soaked my chunks in water or anything else.
    I did use a couple of soaked chunks just to see what happened, one on a very hot charcoal grill, the other on lump in the SFB of the CharGriller. The one in the grill started smoking within 5 seconds and kept producing TBS for about 45 minutes, about twice the time of my normal, dry wood. If the intent of soaking wood chunks is to prolong the amount of time the wood smokes when grilling, then it works-as long as you soak the wood long enough. And by long enough I mean a few days not a few hours.
    The one in the SFB took much longer to produce visible smoke at the stack, about 5+/- minutes, although I could detect the distinct sugary maple smell almost from the start. I think it is apparent that the excess water slowed down the smoke production, so I can see no benefit to using soaked wood chunks in an offset fire box. Or in other types of smokers, such as a UDS or Weber Bullet, where the charcoal fire does not burn very hot.

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  1. bigace
    i'm so confused on the whole , dry or soaked wood thing!!
  2. ncyedneck
    I am still not sure.I soak my chips for at least an Hour. Than when I put them in the smoker I set them to the side some of the coals.Not right on the coals.And they seem to smoke great and I can taste it in the meat later.So I still am not sure about what way is better wet or dry.To me its the control of the Heat range kept in the smoker. Am I wrong.
  3. smokewood
    Sorry Cliffcarter, I have to disagree that the changing of the water colour is because of the bark.   I soak my grilling planks and the water always goes a pale brown colour, and the water tastes of the plank that I am soaking, but I agree that I have not noticed a reduction in the smoke flavour.  The plot thickens!
  4. rugged cross
    I found this helpful. I always thought that soaking was risking putting out the fire. I have always found that fresh cut produces nearly the same smoke as soaking but you do not get the excessive moisture on your fire.
  5. bogeybilly
    Interesting and thanks for all of your inputs.
    My question concerns wood chips (hickory, mesquite, apple, etc) that I soak for about 45 minutes. The problem:  Even though I drain the chips, when I put them on the coals, the temps go down because the fire (temporarily) goes out/down due to the semi- wet chips.  It takes several minutes for the heat to get going again.  What am I doing wrong?  Should I stop soaking the chips?
    Thanks, in advance, for your responses.
    Cheers, Bogeybilly
  6. munxcub
    I only soak chips that I use in the cast iron smoke box of my propane cabinet. It keeps them smoking instead of burning. Chunks in my WSM go in dry. I'll be going in dry when I complete my RF smoker too.
  7. cliffcarter
    I do not believe that you are correct, the compounds in the wood that produce smoke flavor will not be diluted by rehydrating the cell structure of the wood. In the limited number of test burnings I have done with soaked wood( I normally use dry wood chunks) I have not noticed a diminished smoke flavor in any of the meat I have cooked.
    The changing color of the water is the leaching of tannins from the bark.
  8. sharpsmoker
    I also noticed that the water seems to pull a lot of the (what appears to be "flavor" ) out of the wood. Notice the change in color of the water. I took a small taste and the water was then holding what I think is most of the flavor of the smoke that is definately not gonna be getting into my food. Not cool what a waste.jm2c