How Often Should You Add Wood Chips to an Electric Smoker?

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
June 30, 2022

When I first got started with smoking on an electric smoker, one of the biggest issues I had was knowing when to add more wood chips.

The short of it: At most, you should be adding 5 wood chips every 45 - 60 minutes.

Don't Be Like Younger Dylan

The first smoker I ever bought was an electric smoker. I saved money from mowing lawns and Birthdays and I had a fascination with Beef Jerky and Beef sticks.

With that said, the first time I went to smoke beef jerky, I completely ruined it; The jerky consistency itself was fine but it tasted like bitter creosote flavored teriyaki.

I choked it down and learned my lesson.

The lesson being - you don't need to add tons of wood chips and you don't need to add them often.

What Masterbuilt Says About Adding More Wood Chips

Like most folks (especially being a naïve kid), I opted to not read the directions.

Masterbuilt's instruction manual states:

"Additional chips should not be added until any previously added chips have ceased generating smoke."

Masterbuilt

However, this also doesn't tell you how often to add more wood chips - simply that you should add more when they stop "generating smoke" or cease smoldering.

I can tell you from personal experience that it takes roughly 45 - 60 minutes for wood chips to ash out.

Testing How Long Wood Chips Last

Rather than simply taking my word for it - I figured I'd run tests to prove my theory.

Just to have some independent variables:

  • I'll be using my Masterbuilt 40 inch electric smoker
  • I'll be using 5 hickory wood chips from Weber (all 4 tests were weighed to be 10 grams)
  • My smoker's temperature will be set to 250F
weighing wood chips

In order to minimize temperature swings I'll be running four tests independently and taking pictures at four different timed intervals.

For example: Test 1 ends at 15 minutes. A photo is taken and observations are written down. Wood chip tray is then dumped and the door is closed. Temperature is allowed to come back up to 250F and 5 more wood chips are added. This process is then repeated at 30, 45, and 60 minute intervals.

Wood Chips at 15 Minutes

Visible smoke via the exhaust damper.

wood chips after 15 minutes

Wood chips have visible embers, have started to carbonize/ash, and are still smoking.

Wood Chips at 30 Minutes

Visible thin blue smoke via the exhaust damper.

wood chips after 30 minutes

Some visible embers on wood chips; Visibly more ashed over than 15 minutes.

Wood Chips at 45 Minutes

Thin blue smoke via exhaust damper.

woo chips after 45 minutes

Less visible embers on wood chips. Visibly more ashed than 30 minutes.

Wood Chips at 60 Minutes

No smoke via the exhaust damper.

wood chips after 60 minutes

Wood chips entirely ashed over. There is almost no smoke inside the smoke chamber.

Can You Add More Wood Chips for a Longer Run Time?

The above stands to reason - adding more chips must result in a longer run time.

While that could certainly be the case, you could also experience too much white smoke as the wood chips are all added at the same time. Pushing too much white smoke results in acrid/bitter flavors.

The above also results in the build up of a lot of combustion byproducts. This could lead to a "blowback" or backdraft where-in oxygen enters the system and causes a sudden exfiltration of smoke via the exhaust.

Some folks have even reported their doors blowing off and their wood chip loaders blowing out.

This is another reason brands like Masterbuilt advise against wood pellets in their electric smokers.

Final Thoughts

While I already knew the outcome of the above test, it reinforces what I've come to know over the course of 15 years of using an electric smoker.

Remember, your goal isn't to have white clouds of billowing smoke - especially in an electric smoker that creates an ultra-tight seal.

The goal is clean, thin blue smoke.

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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  1. Hey Dylan,

    When I add more chips in my Masterbuilt smoker, I usually fill the tray all the way up and it seems the smoke just lasts about an hour. When I refill, I notice that it doesn't produce smoke. Am I adding too much? I think your method of letting 10g of chips sounds pretty good.

    1. Hey Andy,

      So in my opinion, you shouldn't be entirely filling the wood chip tray or the loader; When I first got started this almost always pushed too much white smoke (the smoke you don't want) and can even lead to issues like blowbacks. From my tests in this article (and my experience) 5 wood chips produces enough thin blue smoke (the smoke you want) and lasts for 45-60 minutes on average.

      When you're refilling with wood chips, are you clearing the ash pan? It sounds like there could be a complete buildup of ash that's preventing the combustion of subsequent wood chips.

      To note: the 10 g measurement was simply because I wanted to have a few control variables to make this test worthwhile and repeatable. When I use my electric smoker, I don't weigh out 10 g of wood chips every time I smoke. I simply grab 5-7 wood chips and put them into the loader and let them smolder for 45-60 minutes or until I don't see anymore thin blue smoke.

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