Barbecuing is the process of slowly cooking foods using indirect heat, taking as much as a day or more to completely cook the meat. Grilling, while often referred to as barbecuing, uses direct heat and is a much quicker process. A grilled steak is done in about 15 minutes. Wood chips added to the fire give a distinctive smoky flavor to barbecue, but grilled foods don’t have time to absorb the smoke. Different kinds of wood produce different flavors. Apple wood, for instance, adds a sweet tang to the smoke. Barbecue chips of apple wood can be purchased, or are easily made.
Gather apple tree branches. Orchard owners are usually happy to give away these when they prune their trees.
Strip the leaves from the branches. An easy way to do this is to let the branches dry out for a day or two, then slide gloved hands over the branches. Most of the leaves will come off easily. Pick off any that are left.
Set the wood chipper to produce the size chips you want. Many wood chippers have settings that allow them to make anything from sawdust to small chunks of wood, though not all chippers are adjustable. Experiment with the different piece sizes to see what works best for you. Check the owner’s manual to see how to adjust your chipper.
Check the chips for signs of insects. If the wood is infested, you may not want to use it for your barbecue. If you do want to use wood containing insects, don’t store any of it where it could contaminate other wood.
Store any unused chips in sealed plastic bags. Apple wood chips should be moistened or green in order to make smoke for the barbecue. An easy way to keep chips ready for the next cookout is to fill a zipper-top plastic bag with chips, seal it and store it in the freezer. They will come out of the freezer ready to use, with no soaking required.
Dry any chips that cannot be frozen. This helps to prevent problems with mold, mildew and rot. Chips can be spread out in the sun or placed on cookie sheets in an oven set at 200 degrees F in order to remove all moisture. How they take to dry depends on factors such as how wet they were to start with, how much moisture is in the air, and drying temperature.
You can make wood chips with or without the bark left on. Both burn equally well and create a rich, flavorful smoke. If you want your chips with the bark off, peel the wood before chipping. If you don’t have access to a chipper, you can use a chainsaw or an axe to cut up bits of wood to use for smoking.
Wood chippers and chainsaws are extremely hazardous. Wear protective eye wear and gloves when using such equipment. Follow all manufacturer’s instructions.