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How important is it to soak wood prior to smoking? and why?

Discussion in 'Beef' started by jstanford, Sep 17, 2010.

  1. jstanford

    jstanford Fire Starter

    I have smoked many items and never soaked the wood prior to putting in the smoker... Am I missing the boat?
  2. subzero

    subzero Newbie

    I occasionally soak wood chips, mostly just because. Not sure if it really helps anything. When using chunks, I never soak.
  3. chefrob

    chefrob Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    i think it depends on yer smoker and what works for you. i soak chunks on one of mine but not on the other..........
  4. ak1

    ak1 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I'm not sure it makes much of a difference. Consider that the typical soaking time is measured in hours, I don't feel that there will be much moisture absorbed into the wood, at least not enough to make a worthwhile difference. What I've found is that the times I''ve soaked wood, the moisture has burned off fairly quickly, and then it was just the dry wood smoking.

    My opinion is that unless one soaks the wood for weeks or months, it doesn't make enough difference to worry about.
  5. TulsaJeff

    TulsaJeff Smoke Whisperer Staff Member Administrator OTBS Member

    I'm not convinced that wet wood even smokes that much if at all.. logic tells me that it would have to steam first until the water is gone then start creating smoke.

    I, for one, do not soak wood and I don't see much of a benefit from it. It may even be a negative aspect in some regards.

    Just my opinion of course.. you have to do what seems to work best for you.
  6. mythmaster

    mythmaster Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I soak the chips for just over 1/2 hour before putting them in my MES, and here's why:  soaked chips = 4-5 hours TBS and dry chips = 30 minutes white smoke.  That's just what works best for me in my particular smoker (30"' MES).
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2010
  7. jstanford

    jstanford Fire Starter

    Thanks everyone! I will stick with good ole' dry wood chunks, I am always looking for something new or proven to try but it sounds like it's all my preference on the "to soak or not to soak" thing.... Thanks again everyone
  8. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I think the real issue is that wood isn't intended to be wet...smoke wood included. Any commercially built smoker manufacturer who instructs the user to soak the smoke wood chips prior to using them hasn't put their theory to test in the real world, and should cease from printing such things in their instruction booklets. The only thing that is accomplished by using wet wood is you will slowly add a bit higher humidity to the smoke chamber until the wood stops steaming out the water it was soaked in. Those who don't know better will likely do as the manufacturer's booklet instructs them to, wanting to get the best results they can from their new investment. Knowledge from practical experience will never be shadowed by someone sitting at a desk writing a rule-book.

    I stopped using soaked chips more than 2 years ago. If you're having trouble with excessive smoke or the chunks/ships burning up, then you need to control the amount of heat and/or air getting to them so they slow down a bit.

    Keep on smokin'!!!!!!!

  9. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Considering I have been smoking foods for 32+ years and that I was told back then to soak the wood and that I have produced some wonderful smoked dinners, which my family and neighbors loved, I will continue to soak my wood chunks. And yes, it does produce smoke. JMHO
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2010
  10. TulsaJeff

    TulsaJeff Smoke Whisperer Staff Member Administrator OTBS Member

    My theory is to do what works.. I don't soak my wood and I get tremendous results therefore why change? If you soak the wood and get wonderful results then you also have no reason to change.

    If you are new to the art then I recommend that you try it both ways and see what works best for you.

    Logic tells me that wet wood just doesn't seem right for the smoker in most cases however I cannot argue with the countless number of folks who DO soak the wood and swear by it.

    Maybe those who soak should try it dry and those who smoke with dry wood should try it soaked... just to see what happens. Could be interesting results[​IMG]
  11. mythmaster

    mythmaster Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member


    I argued extensively about this with RonP (God rest his soul).  We also argued about whether to leave the vent open on the MES (the instructions and I both say to close it).

    I'll tell you the exact same thing that I told him:

    Until you come over to my house and prove me wrong, I will (a) soak my chips and (b) close the vent just exactly like the instructions say.  I've tried it every way: dry chips, open vent; dry chips, closed vent; soaked chips, open vent; soaked chips, closed vent.  And, guess what?  Soaked chips / closed vent works perfectly every time just like the instructions say that it should.

    I was quite clear in my post above that this was specific to my particular setup, as well.

    Please don't generalize.
  12. meateater

    meateater Legendary Pitmaster SMF Premier Member

    For a big smoke on my UDS I will soak chunks for up to three days and change the water once. I like how the smoke just whisps with TBS and stay's that way. This is just how it works for me. On my new daily smoker I just soak on a need to basis, I just get them wet when I start the coals and that works out pretty good.

  13. pignit

    pignit Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I'm all for everyone doing what works for them. That's the enjoyment and satisfaction that comes with this way of life. (more than a hobby I think). I don't soak my wood. I've never found benifit in it for my style of smoking. I have done some extensive reading on smoke house design from digging a hole in the ground and tunneling smoke into a shed to commercial built units and all my reading has referred to the exhaust on a smoker as a way to control humidity and except under extreme dry conditions, should be left open to keep moisture from building up in the smoke house and thus souring the meat. I've never run across any documentation that referred to adjusting temp or smoke by adjusting the exhaust damper.  This isn't to say it doesn't work and that everyone should immediatly stop using the exhaust except to control humidity... that's just to say that I always keep my exhaust vent open because it keeps a nice fresh flow of air (smoke) constantly passing by the meat and keeps the humidity level in the smoker just right for my area.. my smoker... and my method of smoking. Lots of methods just simply are what they are because that's the way we do it. If you are wondering which method works for you... try them all and decide for yourself. That's the only definitive answer. And it's a good excuse to smoke up way more ribs than any one man should eat in a week.
  14. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Kind of funny how this is an issue that will raise the hackles of my fellow smokers.  Just my two cents.  If I am using wood splits as the primary fuel in my small offset I do not soak.  If I am throwing chips or chunks onto an ongoing fire I will soak to slow down their burn a bit and to help prevent a temperature spike.  Nothing like a couple of handfuls of small chips to jump the cooking chamber temperature a good 100 degrees.  I find by wetting the chips they catch fire slower, burn slower and dampen the fuel they are thrown on.  The temperature spike is controllable.   As far as taste and adding humidity that's for others to decide.  My reason is that I don't get the temp spike.
  15. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    I like alblancher's idea the best, because the water on the outside could reduce a spike, before the water on the outside dries up.

    My MES book tells me to soak my chips. I tried it, I didn't think it worth the effort. 

    I worked with wood all my life, and the only place it will actually absorb water in a short time (24 hours or less) would be a little bit through the end grain. That's it--Nothing absorbed on any of the other 4 sides.

    Throw a board into the yard for a 24 hour rain. Then after the sun comes out for a little while, pretty soon the only part of the top surface of the board that's wet is about 1/8" on the very end. I'm talking about a hardwood (smoking wood). Pine will maybe be wet a whole 1/4" or more on the ends, but we don't use Pine for smoking.

    Here is a 2 minute video entitled "Should Smoke Wood Be Soaked In Water Before Use?"

    It shows you how much water gets absorbed.

    It's from Weber:


    Here again, this is just my opinion (and Weber's). If it makes anybody happy to soak their chips, that would be the right thing for them to do.

  16. john-z

    john-z Fire Starter

    I am yet new to this. When i bought my MES 40"er i first tried soaking the chips. It just seemed to me that i had better smoke when later on i added dry chips to the smoker. So thats how i do it now - for the time being. I agree that you would need to soak wood for an awful long time in order for it to absorb any amount of water. I think in my smoker, the smoke really started after the wood dried out.