How to Grill Like a Pro

Smoke, from wood chips or chunks, is used by skilled grillers to impart even more flavor. “I tell beginners to think of smoke as a seasoning or dry rub,” Lilly says. “You want it to lend flavor but not to overwhelm what you’re cooking.”

Package instructions often call for soaking the wood chips or chunks before using them, but both of our experts agree that there’s no need for this step—the chips barely absorb any of the water, and they quickly dry in a fire anyway. If you’re cooking with charcoal, simply throw the wood onto lit coals.

If you’re cooking with a gas grill, Goldwyn suggests using wood chips in a smoker box. You can also put whole chunks of wood right on top of the shields that cover the grill’s burners, he says.

Lilly adds that the quantity and age of the wood typically influence flavor more than the wood variety (apple, cherry, or hickory, for instance), and that you need to experiment to get smoke just right, starting with small quantities and working your way up. “I encourage people to try using wood local to their area, dried or seasoned [meaning aged] for at least four months after cutting,” Lilly says. You can also buy bags of pre-seasoned wood.

Chunks burn longer and hotter, but Lilly says he uses chips when smoking in a small grill because a chunk of wood that flares can raise the temperature too high.