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Can You Cook in a Smoker Without Wood Chips?

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So you just got yourself a smoker and are excited to start cooking some amazing meals.

But then you realize that the only thing it came with was a small bag of wood chips. What do you do?

Can you cook in a smoker without wood chips? The answer is yes, but there are a few things you need to know to make sure your food comes out tasting great.

In this article, we will discuss alternatives to using wood chips and give you some tips for getting the best results when cooking without them.

How Smokers Work

Any good barbecue starts with a smoky flavor. The best way to get that flavor is with a smoker.

But how do these cookers work? Most smokers use wood as their fuel source, and there are two main ways that this wood can be used to create smoke. 

The first is by direct contact with the food. This method involves placing food directly on a grate over smoldering wood.

As the wood burns, it emits smoke that seasons the food. The second method is called indirect cooking, and it’s the most popular method for smoking meat. 

With indirect cooking, the wood is placed in a firebox, and the heat from the burning wood is used to indirectly cook the food.

Both methods require wood in some form, but are wood chips necessary? 

Can You Cook in a Smoker Without Wood Chips?

Many people think that you need wood chips to cook with a smoker, but that’s not actually the case.

There are several alternatives to using wood chips in a standard smoker, which can produce delicious results. 

Temperature regulation plays a key role in successfully smoking your food, and the size and shape of wood chips make that easier, but they’re not required.

You will need to be more attentive when cooking without wood chips, as you’ll need to monitor the food more closely to prevent it from drying out or burning. 

However, if you’re willing to put in the extra effort, it is possible to cook great food in a smoker without using any wood chips. 

Alternatives to Using Wood Chips

If you’re like most people, you probably use wood chips when smoking your food.

After all, that’s what most smokers come with—a little tray or box to hold wood chips that smolder and flavor your food. 

But what if we told you there were other options?

That’s right, whether you’re looking for a different flavor or just want to try something new, there are alternatives to using wood chips in your smoker. 

Charcoal, wood chunks, and even wood pellets can all be used to smoke your food. Each has its own unique flavor profile, so it’s worth trying out a few to see which one you like best.

Who knows, you might just find that one of these alternatives is your new favorite way to smoke your food. 


Any good barbecue starts with a hot, smoky fire, and there’s no better way to get that fire going than with some charcoal.

But not just any charcoal will do—you’ll want to use lump charcoal, which is made from hardwood and has a low density, so it burns hot and fast.

Briquettes, on the other hand, are made from sawdust and other wood products, and they tend to burn slower and produce more ash.

Once you’ve got your lump charcoal, there are a few different ways to get it started. If you’re using a chimney starter, fill it up with coals and place it on the grate of your smoker.

Then light a piece of newspaper and place it under the starter. The newspaper will catch fire and light the charcoal, which should start to smoke after about 15 minutes.

If you don’t have a chimney starter, you can use a charcoal basket or an electric starter. 

Wood Chunks

Another great way to add smoke to your food is by using wood chunks. Wood chunks are pieces of hardwood that have been cut into chunks.

They’re usually about the size of your fist and can be found at most hardware stores or online.

When choosing wood chunks, you’ll want to make sure they’re dry and free of any chemicals or other contaminants. 

Once you’ve got your wood chunks, light them using the same method as you would for charcoal.

As you cook, make sure to keep the temperature low so that the wood chunks smoke and don’t catch fire. That’s a recipe for burned food. 

Wood Pellets

If you want to add a little more flavor to your food, wood pellets are a great option.

Wood pellets are made from compressed sawdust and come in a variety of flavors, including hickory, mesquite, and even apple.

Make sure that you purchase food-grade wood pellets, and not just standard stove wood pellets, as the latter will come with chemicals you don’t want in your food. 

Overall, wood pellets are a popular choice for pellet grills, but they can also be used in a standard or electric smoker.

They’re designed with smoking food in mind, so you will likely get the best results from using wood pellets—especially if this is your first time around the block. 

What Wood Should You Not Smoke with?

For those with plenty of trees in their backyards, finding wood to use for smoking meats might seem like an easy task.

However, there are some woods you should never use for smoking

Trees with lots of sap and oils pose serious fire and health risks when used for cooking, so it’s best to avoid them at all costs.

Some examples include pine, cypress, spruce, sycamore, redwood, and more. Make sure to do some research to determine if the wood is safe to use for smoking food before doing so. 


So, can you cook in a smoker without wood chips? The answer is yes! There are plenty of alternatives to using wood chips that will still give you the flavor and results you’re looking for.

So get out there and experiment with different woods, pellets, and charcoal to find your perfect combination.

Make sure to do your research so that you stay safe and healthy, and you can enjoy many barbecues to come.


Lover of the outdoors and great food. If I'm not in my backyard cooking up a feast, I'm deep in the backcountry camping....and cooking up a feast! Follow along and let's create something great.