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How Often to Add Wood Chips to an Electric Smoker?

Most electric smokers have a small wood chip capacity, so you need to top them up regularly. But how often? Should you even smoke through the whole cook?

Emma Braby

Last Updated: May 29, 2020 | 7 min read

Wood chips being added into an electric smoker via a side opening

Have you ever found yourself wondering how often to add wood chips to an electric smoker?

Because it’s far from immediately obvious, many electric smoker owners have asked this question at some point in their smoking journey.

Well, you’ve come to the right place to get an answer to this question once and for and all.

After reading this short guide, you’ll know exactly how often to add them, but as with most things in life, the honest answer is that it depends!

It depends on what, I hear you ask? Well, let’s find out!

Important: The Wood Chips Are For Smoke Only, Not Heat!

First things first, it’s essential to understand that the wood chips do not aid the heating or cooking process in any way.

In fact, you can cook meat in a smoker without the use of wood chips at all. Think of the electric smoker like an oven; there is a heating element, and it is this element that heats up and cooks the food, not the wood chips.

The wood chips do not ignite or burn, they only smolder, and it is the smoldering that produces the smoke.

It is the smoke that, well, smokes the meat and adds that incredible smoke flavor! So, a little goes a long way.

What Are You Cooking?

The next factor to think about is what you’re smoking.

If you’re smoking fish or small bits of chicken, then you would add a small number of wood chips at the start, then won’t have to add any more wood chips to the smoker simply because the meat cuts are so small, they cook quickly (before the initial wood chips have stopped smoking) and don’t require as much smoke.

Other meats, such as Lamb, take on smoke much easier than others and can be easily over smoked. So in this case, while you may cook a Lamb joint for 6 to 8 hours, you should only smoke it for the first hour so that it soaks up the most delicate of flavors and doesn’t end up overpowered and tasting like an old ashtray.

Too much smoke can cause the meat to taste bitter, and sometimes it makes it impalatable. Sometimes, a little restraint is in order.

How Smokey Do You Like Your Food?

This is another factor to consider.

Some people, me included, love an intense smokey flavor, whereas others prefer their meat to be gently kissed with only a hint of a delicate smokey aroma.

People whose taste buds like a powerful punch like to smoke their meat all the way through a cook, re-adding chips when needed.

But if you prefer a slight smokey hint, then we would suggest to only smoke for the first 30 to 45 minutes of a cook, then remove the tray and do not refill with anymore.

Everyone has different tastes and palettes, and because you don’t need a lot of wood chips to smoke, it’s easy and cheap enough to experiment with various meats and smoking intensities.

Experimenting is all part of the smoking experience, and that includes what wood chip flavors pairs with particular meats, and it’s great fun, especially when you find that winning combo and nail it!

A Lot Will Depend On The Model Of Your Smoker

There are many different models of electric smokers, from a handful of well known brands, that come in different sizes and capacities. For a brief look at the dizzying array that is available, you can check out our buying guide to the best electric smokers.

Some models, such as the Masterbuilt electric smoker 30″ only have a small chip tray and can hold chips for just 45 minutes or so of smoking.

Whereas something like the Char-Broil Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker has a large chip box and can produce smoke for up to 8 hours without needing more chips added.

So, it really depends on how big your chip tray is and how many wood chips it can hold. Your smoker’s manual will be able to give you more of an idea about how long it will smoke for before you need to add any more chips.

If you do have a smoker that needs constant refilling every 45 minutes, you will be adding wood chips every 45 minutes. But fear not, we have a solution later in the article!

Know that We Rarely Smoke Past 4 to 6 Hours Anyway

No matter how smokey you like your food, or what you’re smoking, there is little point smoking over 6 hours, which is why we only recommend smoking your food between 4 and 6 hours as a maximum.

The reason for this is that after the first few hours, when the temperature of the food rises past 145 F, smoke tends not to stick to the meat, at least not noticeably.

Even when smoking a large brisket which may take 16 hours or more, you’ll notice little to no difference in smokiness, if smoked for 6 or 16 hours.

So, smoking past this point adds very little extra flavor, and as such, it seems pointless to waste your wood chips (and money) smoking beyond this point.

How Often to Add Wood Chips – Our Advice

Considering all of the above factors, let’s finally talk about how often to add wood chips to your electric smoker.

Firstly, consult your manual as to roughly know how long your particular model will smoke for with a full chip tray of wood, as this gives you a rough idea of how often to add them.

Fire up your smoker, and do a ‘dry run’ as it were to find out. If it’s new, season your electric smoker without adding any food, and after 2 hours, add the chips to the tray and time how long it generates smoke for.

This then gives you the time that you know when to fill it up again.

If it produces 2 hours of smoke, but you want to smoke your food for 4 hours, then you simply fill it up again halfway through.

Or, if you want to smoke something for 6 hours, but it only generates 1 hours’ worth, you need to add more wood chips every hour for 6 hours. It really is as simple as that!

Remember, as we suggest, you shouldn’t smoke past 6 hours, even if your smoker can hold 8 hours’ worth. Simply remove the tray after 6 hours, and any unburned chips can be saved for the nest smoking sesh!

Keep Notes and Tweak Things to Your Taste

As mentioned before, different people enjoy different levels of smokiness. What you prefer is easy to find out if you make adjustments over a number of cooks.

I would suggest when you first use your smoker, whatever you are cooking, use only a small amount of wood chips and add smoke for the first hour only.

How was the flavor? Was it too much? If so, try smoking only for 45 minutes the next time. Was it not smoky enough? Try smoking for 90 minutes.

Every time you do a cook, make notes in a little diary. Record what meat you smoked, at what temperature, with how much weight in wood chips you added, and how long it generated smoke for.

When the food is cooked, not whether you found it too smoky, or not enough.

Next time you come to cook this same meat, you can refer to your notes, make an adjustment of smoke either up or down, and make new notes.

Eventually, you will dial in exactly how much smoke you like on all the different meats.

Some Notes on Topping up With Wood Chips

There are a few things to remember when adding wood chips during a cook.

Firstly, you need to make sure that all of the wood chips already in the smoker are burned out before you add any more. Never add fresh wood chips to ones that are still smoldering.

Secondly, when adding new chips, you need to act fast!

Opening the door will release heat, and therefore the temperature will drop, which means you’ll have to wait longer for that delicious food!

When you’re sure that all the chips have burned, you can add fresh chips on top of the old chips. Don’t get distracted, get in and out quick!

Thirdly, make sure you only add the amount of chips that the tray can hold. Any overspill is not only a waste, but it will probably fall onto the element and catch fire.

Finally, after every smoking session, or before, make sure that you empty the wood chip tray. Not only will the old ash hamper the smoke generation, but it will also take up much-needed room in the tray, meaning fewer chips can be added this time around.

Upgrade Your Chip Tray For Longer Smoking and Less Filling

A-MAZE-N AMNPS Maze Pellet Smoker, Hot or...

Nowadays, as the art of smoking has become more popular and hardcore, people tend to do away with their smokers original chip tray and invest in a 3rd party smoke box.

This chip tray from A-MAZE-N will allow you to get around 8 to 12 hours worth of smoke using their AMAZE-n pellets, and it is one of our favorites.

This box is designed for both hot smoking and cold smoking, and can be used to smoke anything from salt, cheese, poultry, pork, steaks, and fish.

Basically, if you need an extended period of smoke, this box has got you covered!

With its convenient size, you can take it anywhere, and being 5 inches by 8 inches it can fit in most smokers and grills.

It’s made with stainless steel, which is durable and remains rust-free no matter how often you use it.

It’s highly rated online, and the only real adverse comment was that it can take a little longer to get going compared to other smoke boxes, but once you get it going, the mouthwatering results are definitely worth it!

You don’t have to use their pellets, and it is designed so that you can use pellets or sawdust, but just bear in mind this might affect smoke time.

 

Check Price on Amazon

 

For the record, the following video will show you exactly how to get it going with a torch, and give you an idea of how this product works:

Conclusion

So, to wrap it up, how often to add wood chips to your electric smoker depends on a whole host of factors.

From what you’re smoking, how smokey you like your food, your particular model to how much smoke your chip tray will give you.

It’s important to give your smoker that first dry run, to work out exactly how much smoking time it gives you. You’ll soon get the hang of what you like and what you don’t!

But, whatever you do, be sure to experiment with your smoker and have fun with it!

Have you got any secret smoking tips? Or maybe you’ve discovered an amazingly obscure wood chip flavor and meat combo that your electric smoker takes perfectly too? Hit us up in the comments below!

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