Hardwood used for smoking is available in four different forms: splits, chunks, chips, and pellets.
Splits are reserved for large offset smokers and pellets are usually used with pellet grills. All other types of smokers make use of either wood chips or chunks.
The only difference between wood chips and chunks is in their size and how long they can smoke for. Apart from that, not much really separates wood chips and wood chunks.
Wood chips are small pieces of hardwood that have been "chipped" up. Wood chips are roughly 1" in length and 1/4" thick.
Pictured below are three post-oak wood chips next to a ruler for size reference:
Wood chips are best used in charcoal smokers, electric smokers, gas grills with a smoker tube or smoke box, and vertical gas smokers.
One of the biggest benefits of wood chips is that they're readily available to most people. Where I'm from I can find wood chips at my local Home Depot, Walmart Supercenter, Runnings (farm store), even at my local grocery store.
Wood chunks are pieces of hardwood that have been taken from a split of hardwood.
Chunks are roughly 2-4" in length and 1-4" thick. Pictured below is a cherry wood chunk next to a ruler for size reference:
Chunks won't work in electric smokers. However, they can work in some vertical gas smokers. This is mainly due to how the heat source interacts with the wood chip tray.
To illustrate, here's a picture of the wood chip tray from my 40" Masterbuilt Electric Smoker:
Here's a picture of the wood chip loader:
I hope it's fairly obvious that a whole chunk of wood won't fit in the wood chip loader, let alone the tray.
With that said, you could chip the wood chunk up into chips. However that sort of assumes you have a hatchet, splitting wedge, or something along those lines to make that feasible.
Ideally, when smoking you want to open the lid or door as little as possible - the adage of "If you're lookin' you ain't cookin'" truly applies.
Here's a size comparison of wood chunks and wood chips next to each other:
Chunks of wood can smolder for an several hours where-as wood chips will smolder for 45-60 minutes at most. Meaning, what you're cooking matters:
In a recent article, I tested how often you should add wood chips to an electric smoker - the short of it is, you only need to use 5 wood chips at a time and you should be reloading wood chips ever 45-60 minutes.
I can tell you from experience, wood chunks will last 60+ minutes without a problem. Depending on the size of the wood chunk, I'll add a new piece every hour or so.
This a common myth that's been circulated for a really long time. The idea being that if you soak the wood chips or chunks in water, it will prevent them from combusting or lighting on fire.
This concept doesn't hold water - I mean that literally and metaphorically.
To test this, I took hickory wood chips and wood chunks and submerged them in water for 24 hours. Keep in mind, most products will tell you to soak wood for 30 minutes to 2 hours; Which is a complete waste of time.
Here's the wood chunk split after 24 hours of soaking:
Here's the wood chips after 24 hours of soaking:
Apart from little if any water penetrating, the reason this concept isn't fruitful is because your goal is simply to smolder hardwood.
Putting wood chips or chunks on fire won't cause them to combust instantaneously. When you put the wood on the fire, close the lid or the door and you're good.
If you were to soak the wood, the fire would need to vaporize the water first before it starts to smolder. Meaning, all you're doing is delaying how long it takes to smolder, nothing more.
Keep in mind too: As soon as you open the lid or the door after the water has vaporized, you still have the same potential for combusting the wood chips as you did if you didn't soak them.
I thought it might be useful to give readers a quick overview/list of common smokers and whether they can use wood chips or chunks.
If you want to know more about how most of these smokers function - check out my article that completely breaks them down.
To preface: Pellet grills can only use hardwood smoking pellets. Offset smokers use sticks or splits for heat and smoke flavor.
|Smoker||Wood Chips or Chunks|
|Weber Kettle Grill||Wood chips or chunks|
|Weber Smokey Mountain||Wood chips or chunks|
|Kamado Grills||Wood chips or chunks|
|Charcoal Drum Smokers||Wood chips or chunks|
|Electric Smokers||Wood chips|
|Gas Grills||Wood chips via a smoker tube or smoker box|
|Vertical Gas Smoker||Wood chips (it's possible to use chunks in some of these smokers)|