Can You Use Wood in a Charcoal Smoker?


wood in charcoal smoker

Smokers of any kind are a fantastic option for cooking food that goes beyond the capabilities of typical grills and ovens. Charcoal smokers in particular really bring on the flavor in that they seamlessly utilize the robust infusions of charcoal to incorporate into any dish. 

Can you use wood in a charcoal smoker? Yes, you absolutely can. Many times, this method is even encouraged. Adding different varieties of wood to a charcoal smoker can enhance the flavors of your dish even more and create a more robust flavor for you and your guests. Due to the nature of charcoal smokers though, be sure to add wood in addition to your charcoal rather than wood alone. 

Charcoal smokers offer all the bells and whistles that pellet smokers bring to the table, while also beating out the flavor infusion that electric smokers produce. Even more, because you can add wood in addition to the charcoal within your smoker, dishes cooked within them have the potential for deeper flavor with notes of various tastes as the charcoal and wood fuse together. Continue reading to see how to turn up the flavor in your own charcoal smoker.

How to Use a Charcoal Smoker 

Before we talk about adding wood in a charcoal smoker, you need to know how to use it in the first place. The basic steps for using a charcoal smoker include:

  1. Consult your owner’s manual to learn how to operate your machine.
  2. Select a high-quality charcoal.
  3. Ignite the charcoal with a smokestack.
  4. Disperse the charcoal.
  5. Fill the water pan.
  6. Place food on the grill and secure the lid.

First and foremost, you need to know how a charcoal smoker works. The goal behind a charcoal smoker is to use high heats over a long period of time in order to smoke whatever delicious treat you have chosen to set within its smolder. 

By combining heat and extended times, food is able to cook at a slower rate which allows moisture to retain as well as flavor, resulting in a dish that is sure to get countless compliments from guests and leave others begging to be the ones sitting at your dinner table. With charcoal smoking, you have the power to create dishes that leave bland sitting on the porch and welcome dynamite flavors to the party. 

Understanding the purpose of a charcoal smoker, you then must venture into operating the machine itself. Of course, be sure to consult your own individual owner’s manuals, but most charcoal smokers follow the same patterns of operation. 

First, you need to grab a good bag of charcoal. Make sure that the quality is rather nice, as the bricks will be able to retain heat better and break down at a slower rate if you choose a brand that is not bargain level. 

Once you have your charcoal, you will use a smokestack in order to ignite and heat your charcoal bricks. By using a smokestack, it is easier for you to ensure that you have an even burn throughout your charcoal, thus leading to a more sustained heat to cook your dish with.

Second, you will disperse your charcoal onto the smoker. Make sure that you set up your charcoal stack on one side of the smoker rather than spread it out evenly. This allows your dishes to cook with indirect heat helping to extend the cooking time through slower methods. You can also set the charcoal up on either side of the smoker and place your item between the stacks. 

Third, you will fill the water pan with water and place it in its designated area depending on the model of the smoker you own. Many times the pan is either between the charcoal and the grate or next to the grate of your smoker. The water pan helps to create vapor which cooks your items more evenly. 

Last, pop whatever you have prepared onto the grill itself and place the lid on top. Once you have the lid secured, be sure to open all the vents on your smoker to allow proper ventilation and avoid scalding. If the vents remain closed, your food will essentially be smoked out and overheated due to a lack of airflow within the smoker – an essential aspect to a properly smoked item. 

Also, continue to check the temperature of your smoker to be sure that it is remaining relatively stable. If the temperature is fluctuating dramatically, you may need to add more or restart your charcoal stack. Otherwise, your work is done and something fantastic should be gracing your dinner table within a few hours! 

How to Add Wood to Your Charcoal Smoker 

You know how to work your smoker like the smoking boss that you are now, but let’s say you want to add a bit more flair to your smoking ventures. Charcoal has always been your right- hand man, yet there must be a little something more that can take your dish from great to heavenly, right? Wood can be charcoal’s new best friend. 

Wood chunks and chips are capable of adding a little more pizazz to your smoking ventures in that there are various flavors from cherry, to oak, to hickory, to apple woods that work to infuse your dishes with the most complimentary smokes. 

How exactly do you add such a thing to your charcoal smoker you ask? The answer is simple and the results are astounding. Once you have gotten your charcoal to the proper heat and have added it to your smoker all that is left to do is add the wood of your choice on top or surrounding the charcoal. 

You want to make sure that the wood is rested on hot spots of the coal rather placed to the side on its own so that it can heat properly and reach a smoking point that will allow the wood to produce its own vapors. 

Because you are adding wood to already high heats, it would be wise to consider using wood chunks rather than wood chips. Wood chips on their own for smoking are fine because you are able to constantly add them without taking apart your smoker. 

However, for charcoal smokers, you want to add your items and be done so that you do not have to interrupt the cooking process. Wood chunks have a longer life span and are better equipped to endure high heats for long periods of time, therefore, your dish will be exposed longer to the vapors of the wood ensuring a more flavorful finish. 

How to Pair Smoking Wood with Different Meats 

What is so wonderful about charcoal smokers, and smokers in general is their versatility. You can cook slews of vegetables, seas of fish, and countless creative desserts, but the big-ticket item for most smokers is meat. 

Now that you are entertaining the idea of enhancing your food with wood, how exactly can you navigate the world of wood flavors in order to complement your dishes, from veggie to steak, best? Just like various wines and beers complement different dishes through their own flavors, wood is able to bring out the best taste in your dishes if the flavors are paired properly. 

For things like vegetables, seafood, and poultry, fruitwood is going to be your best bet. What is so great about this category of wood is the variety that exists within it. Varieties like pecan, cherry, apple, and maple all can add a fantastic flavor layer to your dish. 

When it comes to your red meats that are denser, you should go for woods that produce a heavier smoke and are thus more capable of permeating the meat and smoking for the longer amounts of time needed for these items. Wood to pair with your red meats would be options like hickory, walnut, mesquite, and oak. If you are feeling even more audacious, you can even pull local woods or woods from your own backyard to see how they infuse your recipes. The possibilities with smoking are endless, so give it as many goes as your taste buds desire. 

Personal taste varies from person to person, so it is important to take note of recommendations, but to also remember that your own preferences are valid! If a flavor combination does not suit you, experiment until you find something you like. The possibilities are endless. 

Even more, if you find a combination that absolutely blows you out of the water, be sure to share your new discovery with the rest of the world. So many are open to new inspirations and you could be the reason to fuel their own experiments. 

Charcoal goes a long way when it comes to the flavor train, but if you are feeling the need for a bit more depth in your recipes try adding a bit of wood to your coals. The versatility that comes with smoking is something desired in so many different areas of cooking. 

By smoking different recipes, you are able to take part in a tradition that began centuries ago. To add to smoking’s historical roots in the twenty-first century, pave a new path of flavor by adding wood to your fantastic charcoal burn. Your ancestors will smile on you endlessly! 

Ann Driskill

Ann Driskill is a freelance writer with a passion for anything involving the outdoors, has an undying dedication to good food, and loves to spend any free time chatting with good friends over a great glass of wine.

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