Using a charcoal smoker-Chips wet or dry?

I am using my FIL’s charcoal smoker for the first time.
Should the chips be wet on top of the coals, or dry wrapped in aluminum foil?

I am home alone and unsupervised.

Need answer in a moderate amount of time.


I always do wet and on the coals

What he said.

Thanks again!

Hey, I can see the back of my head!

Wait for some others. IIRC, Fenris, among others, will strongly object to wet. I smoke on a gas grill, so it’s just a pale comparison, but I usually use a mixture of wet and dry, plus on long smokes, some chips in a pie pan filled with water. When I cook with charcoal on my tiny grill (too small to have two-zone cooking), I use hunks of dry wood added when I empty the chimney.

Just got started with wet.
I’ll pay attention to the Dry Side when they post. This is, after all, an experiment.
When Mrs. Plant v.3.0 and her Sprout return Sunday, I hope to feed them some smoked chicken wings.

I always use dry on top of the coals, but I mainly use chunks. When I use chips I’ll wrap them in foil with a couple of vent holes poked in it. Remember, you haven’t elected a Pope, you’re smoking some meat. It should be a thin line of smoke, not a billowing cloud.

Chips wet, so they don’t just flame up, but only damp, not soaked. Chunks, either way, doesn’t really seem to matter except for a short period of heavy smoke. I’m more concerned about smoke during the beginning and end of the process. During the long middle my concern is maintaining the temperature, mopping if needed, and the late rub in some cases.

Wet. Keeps the (excessive) smoke down.

You’re using too much wood.

Dry - always. Wet produces soot, which you absolutely do not want.

I’m a chunk guy and never soak.
I’ve heard that if the wood is properly seasoned and in good condition, it won’t be able to soak up enough water to do anything anyway.

This is a bag of apple wood that looks as though it’s been run through a wood chipper.

Slightly damp–I like putting chips or chunks in a collander under a faucet for a few minutes to wash off dirt/dust/spiders/etc, and then shake them off. They’ll be slightly damp, but Tripolar’s right–if you soak the chips/chunks for long, you’ll get soggy wood which will steam your meat (interfering the crust/bark that forms on the outside of your meat) and you’ll also get soot, which is just yuck.

If you’re getting too much smoke, you’re using too much wood.

I have a bag like that. If you put dry chips directly on the coals, they produce some good smoke, and are then instantly consumed. If you put wet chips on, they produce some sooty crap, and are then instantly consumed. Put some dry chips in a foil pouch and punch a few holes in it with a fork, and set it next to the coals.

I was not impressed.
I had half a rack of beef and a rack of pork.
The beef had a burned crust on it. The pork was pink after six hours.
They were both falling apart. I couldn’t cut them apart with a sushi knife. That would be great for a roast, but I like the meat to stay on ribs until I bite it off.
What did I do wrong?

Where was the meat in the smoker? Vertical smokers can be a lot hotter at the top than the bottom. They’re really meant to be used with some liquid in the drip pan to moderate temperature. Sounds like your fire was too hot, for too long. The vertical smokers are hard to maintain proper conditions in. Also, one of your meats may have been much leaner or dryer than the other. What did you do to prep the meat? Any marinade, was it ice cold when you put it in the smoker?

Or put more simply, tell us in detail what you did.

Ribs with dry rub on the top rack.
Room temperature when it went into the smoker.
Water in the pan on the bottom rack.
Charcoal and soaked apple chips, replaced over time during the six hours.

Either your fire was too hot or you smoked the meat for too long, but I’m not sure you necessarily did anything “wrong.”

From a panel of ten random judges, some of them would have praised the pink smoke ring and “fall-off-the-bone” tenderness of your pork, and some would have raved about the delicious char on the beef. I bet you would have been happier if you took the pork off two hours earlier and the beef maybe earlier than that. Like you, I prefer solid, moist ribs that slice like deli meat and require a little effort to gnaw off the bone, caveman-style.

This type of smoker requires some experimentation to get the results that you like. I would start with enough charcoal briquets to be two layers deep in the pan, and I’ll often fill the water pan with boiling water because I think the immediate steaming lessens the chance of burning or drying out the meat during that first hour when the fire is the hottest. If I plan to walk away for a few hours, I’ll add another layer of charcoal, throw in two or three big handfuls of wood chips or similar volume of chunks, fill the water pan to near capacity, and take my chances. Never fails, and I won’t fret too much about meat that turns out too tender. (Just make sure your lid isn’t on too tight, otherwise you risk dooming your meat in a thick cloud of evil creosote.)

Three to six hours is typical on a warm day, depending on how cool your fire is and how much meat you’ve crammed in there. For a single rack of pork ribs, I’ve even gotten good results with a waterless smoke in less than two hours, sort of like grilling two feet over the fire, bone down, no flipping. With either wet smoke or dry smoke, there’s a long window of success because the fire will stop “cooking” your meat as it burns out and merely keep it warm until mealtime.

For a long, cool smoke, I suppose you could use a thermometer to make sure the temperature stays around 225 degrees or so, but I’ve found that if the built-in gauge points to the low side of “ideal” (“ideal” is a wide range on this thing), I’m bound to get something moist and delicious. If it’s a cold day, however, you’re on your own, and you’ll probably be eating later than you planned.

I suspect that your soaking of the wood chips affected the flavor of the meat only to the extent, and it’s only a suspicion, that wet chips infuse more flavor than would the same volume of dry chips because wet chips release that delicious smoky steam and burn slower. Let the debate rage over wet or dry chips. When I use chips, I’ll soak them simply because I don’t want them to go up in flames all at once. Maybe I’ll try the foil packet method someday. I like chunks better anyway for their longer burn.

I think barbecue elitists would scoff at using charcoal briquets or wood chips wet or dry, and sneer at using such a rinky-dink smoker anyway, but that doesn’t mean you can’t produce absolutely delicious smoked meat with it.

Take your meat off sooner next time. Better yet, build a cooler fire and plan on doting over it all day. Go ahead and lift the lid after a couple of hours and see what the meat is doing. Add another handful of chips, more charcoal or a split log of wood. After a few trials to see how this smoker behaves, you’ll be able to spend the afternoon fishing and come home to dinner ready to eat even if you didn’t catch anything.

I’ll second colder and longer to get started. It should be difficult to keep hot. Stand pork ribs on end in a vertical smoker. The configuration creates hot and cold zones whenever anything covers a lot of the grill surface. Rubs containing sugar can char rapidly if it gets hot enough. But I do like a charred surface on beef ribs. Marinade ribs for more flavor and moist and tender texture. I use apple juice/apple cider vinegar mix for pork, the same and/or beer for beef.

Best way to cook beef ribs is to remove every other bone before cooking. Each rib ends up with plenty of meat, and it cooks to an even degree of tenderness all around.

Good Gad!

Og hungry.
Fire hot.
Og cook meat.
Og want handle on meat!

How do they stand in there are (shudder) no bones?