Can You Use Too Much Wood When Smoking Meat?

One of the most common questions I get from new smokers, grillers, and barbecuers is how much wood should they use to smoke their meat? After all, this can make a huge difference in the overall flavor of your meat and for a newbie, it’s a legitimate question. Well, it’s natural to assume that when smoking meat, more is better than less.

But, can you end up using too much wood when smoking meat?

It is possible too use too much wood when smoking meat. The general rule of thumb when using a smoker is to not add more than 2-3 handfuls of wood chips every 45-60 minutes for a normal smoke and no more than 5 handfuls of wood chips every hour for long smokes of 6+ hours.

While a good smoky flavor can really make your meat come to life, too much wood and too much smoke can ruin the flavor. Smokiness is like spice: a little can go a long way, and you don’t want to overdo it lest you take a wonderful meal and end up with a fine piece of meat that tastes like dirty campfire.

Let’s dive into how to avoid this catastrophic cooking mistake so you can make sure you don’t use too much wood and your smoked meat tastes amazing!

Yeah, that’s probably…definitely…way too much smoke.

Don’t Use Too Much Wood To Smoke Your Meats

As a general rule, you shouldn’t add more than 2-3 handfuls of wood chips in your smoker because more than this at once will create excess smoke. This can overwhelm the flavor of the mat, not to mention lead to the formation of creosote. Too much wood also means the temperatures go higher, which is rarely necessary, needed, or even wanted when it comes to smoking meat.

Meat turns out its best with moisture, and there’s a reason why low heat over a long period of time is always preferred to searing heat for a short amount of time. After all, smoked shoe leather is still shoe leather.

The right amount of smoke leads to some incredible barbecue but you don’t want to overdo it.

Wood Chips: Quality Over Quantity

We are not saying that you should not explore the numerous varieties of meat smoker woods that are out there. Far from it! Smoking meat is a can be a much more complex and nuanced process than most people imagine, and every tiny detail from the weather conditions to the types of meat will ultimately affect the final outcome.

However, when it comes to the types of wood you’re using, we always recommend going for quality over quantity any day. Using too much wood can result in a charred and bitter meal that no one really wants to eat, let alone look at.

You may be tempted to increase the smoke by adding more wood to the fire, but you have to remember that the higher the temperature, the greater the chances that you’ll make a mistake. Too much heat and too much smoke is a definite recipe for failure.

We recommend that you use about 2 ounces of your preferred wood to smoke meat and only add wood to the fire when necessary. If you are still new at this, you should always remember that following instructions is the key to perfecting the art of barbecuing.

If you do it right, you should see small wisps of smoke as opposed to massive clouds of smoke. If something is not right, there’s a high likelihood that you’ve either:

  • Used too much wood, or
  • Used low quality wood

Bad smoke + bad wood = bad results. It’s that simple!

Best Wood Chips To Avoid Too Much Smoke

If you didn’t already know that not all wood chips are created equal; then now you know! If they were, everyone would be using whatever they can get their hands on, either cheaply or conveniently. Many newbies who are just starting their long and promising journey of smoking meat prefer to use white or red oak wood chips because they’re simple and easy to start with.

Once you have the absolute basics down of smoking using a covered grill or, ideally, a new smoker, then you can experiment around with hardwoods that are known for extra flavor

It’s important that you have a general understanding of the basics of storing and seasoning wood, regardless of the type of wood you choose to smoke your meat. Well dried wood will produce less smoke, which will make things slightly easier for you.

There’s a tendency that many people have of using too many wood chips to smoke their meats. This is a huge error that will only result in a ruined meal. In fact, it’s not just a huge error to use too many wood chips, it’s also a potential fire risk and safety hazard.

So how do you know which wood chips to use?

Generally speaking, any bagged wood chips designed for smoking are going to work as long as they are used properly. This can also be a great way to get flavor profiles from trees that aren’t naturally available in the area you live or are grilling in. It’s hard to mess this up.

However, if you want the absolute best then most barbecue experts go with either Weber Stephen wood chips or Western brand wood chips. Either one of these is an outstanding option and they each offer a wide array of different hardwoods.

I really like Western because those are the ones I started using, and they worked great so I haven’t really looked around for other options.

flavored wood chips for smoking

Tips On The Amount of Wood To Use

Understanding the right amount of wood to use is both art and science as the type of meat being cooked, the temperature, the smoker, and personal taste can all play into just how much wood to use and the best times to apply it.

That said, here are some general tips to help make sure you get great flavor from smoking meat even as a beginner so you can get great results even as you teach yourself the ins and outs of how to get the most out of your smoker!

  • If in doubt, go light on the amount of wood chips. If you don’t get the full smoky flavor you want, you can guesstimate how much to use in the future based on how much flavor you had.
  • Never soak the wood chips. I don’t know how this rumor got started, but wood chips are tried out to burn/smoke effectively and soaking them changes the smoking time and can dilute the flavor if done improperly.
  • First-timers should start with more neutral hardwoods before moving to options known for more exotic flavors
  • White smoke is a good sign – dark smoke is not.
  • Have a spray bottle to mist up the meat if you went a bit too hot with your first smoke.

How Much Wood Should I Use When Smoking Meat?

The quantity of wood you use for smoking should be informed by the type of wood you are using as well as the size of your smoker. For conventional medium-sized smokers, two to four handfuls of wood are sufficient to produce the right amount of smoke.

It’s important to strictly follow the instructions regarding your wood chips and smokers because they are there for a reason. Putting in too much wood early is more of a sin than not putting in enough. Although not ideal, more wood and pellets can be added but if you get it smoking too hot there may not be too much you can do.

How Often Should I Add More Wood To My Smoker?

Don’t be in a rush or be too excited when adding wood to your smoker. It’s important that you stay calm and composed so that you can track the progress of both the fire and the meat.

Using wood chips it should take 2-3 handfuls approximately every hour for no more than five hours. If you have a large professional level wood smoker like for barbecue competitions then this takes a lot more time to zero in, especially since many of those used previously may have been customized in some way.

Should I Soak My Wood Before Smoking?

Soaked wooden has been proven to burn longer, but it rarely offers a clean burn. This is due to a reduced combustion rate that is caused by impurities in the wood that have condensed in the steam.

Using soaked wood chips will most definitely make your work a lot more difficult. There’s no good reason or benefit from it while problems with the consistency of the flavor and smoking can occur from this practice so there’s no reason to recommend it.

Do You Have A Top Notch Smoker?

The quality of the smoker can make a big difference in how the smoked meat turns out. Properly using any well designed smoker will get the results you want but there’s no denying some are more popular than others.

If you are big on using wood chips then you want to go with a gas smoker or electric smoker. You don’t want to use wood chips with a pellet grill.

If you’re used to wood chips, or don’t have any experience with wood pellets then I strongly recommend the Cuisinart Propane Smoker. It’s one of the best premium models out there and is surprisingly affordable (and much cheaper than a Trager).

You don’t use wood chips with a pellet grill (you want pellets) but if you have to go gas or electric for a smoker, I’d go with Cuisinart Gas Smokers.

Smoke with Confidence…Using Small Handfuls of Wood Chips

As mentioned earlier, there are endless types of woods that you can use to smoke your meat. Trying out different woods doesn’t hurt, and you may end up finding something that suits your taste buds.

But, it’s also important that you control the amount of wood you put into your smoker because more wood equals more smoke and excess smoke will only ruin your meat and ultimately spoil your day.

All the best and may your smoked meats be delicious and flavorful!

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