Get Grilling Faster With Canned Wood




Barbecue should not be rushed, but there are lots of times when I've just gotten out of work, I've got guests coming, and I want to get started cooking as soon as possible. I love the fine flavor of wood smoke, but it takes at least two hours of soaking to get good, long burning smoke from wood chips - far too much time for a regular evening's grilling.

The solution? Canned Wood.

Water bath canning gives us a chance to kill two birds with one stone - our wood chips will soak for days or weeks, submerged in perfectly-proportioned batches, and the canning process will sterilize the wood and water to keep the chips fresh.

Now, whenever we want to add a bit of hickory, alder, or any other kind of smoke to our fire, it's as simple as pulling out a can, emptying the excess water, and adding the pre-soaked chips to the flame.

In an afternoon, we can make enough canned wood chips for the whole season, and be guaranteed easier outdoor cooking every time we fire up the grill.

I've entered this Instructable in the "Outdoor Cooking" and "Unusual Uses" contests. If you like it, please vote for it!

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Step 1: Why Can Wood?

We could simply throw our wood chips in a jar and cover them with water, but bacteria, spores, and other microfauna will quickly turn the water moldy and make the chips unappetizing, if not unusable. Water bath canning involves only a few simple tools and is a great way to preserve foods without refrigeration. The canning process does two things simultaneously:

  1. The jars are filled with boiling water, which itself is sterile and also sterilizes the wood chips.
  2. The canning process creates a vacuum seal, which prevents any foreign bacteria from messing up our fine work.

But wait, won't the wood disintegrate in the water?

Not for a long time. Water is actually a great preservative of wood, provided that the wood is kept submerged. In fact, trees that have been submerged under water are often prized for their quality. As long as our wood chips get saturated and sink to the bottom of our jars, they should be fine.

Step 2: Gather Supplies

This is a relatively inexpensive project, especially if you have a sawmill or a woodshop nearby that generates a steady supply of wood chips. I picked up a couple bags of Hickory and Alder chips from my local Home Depot for canning, and I added in a few cedar chips I had left over from another project.

Note: As several comments point out, cedar chips shouldn't be used for cooking because they produce a resinous smoke (like other conifers). Additionally, eastern red cedar (actually a type of juniper) produces a toxic smoke. The cedar I canned in this Instructable will be used in small batches to add a nice scent to a campfire. More info about safe woods to use is here:

At the grocery store nearby I got a set of wide-mouth quart canning jars. Wide-mouth jars are best for this project because it makes it much easier to fill the jars with bulky wood chips. You could probably use pint jars instead of quarts, but you'd likely end up using two pint jars whenever you're cooking.

Besides the chips and the jars, you need a large pot with a lid, a bucket, a marker, canning tongs, a ladle, and a source of heat. A few comments point out that a canning rack is also very useful, both to make raising and lowering the jars easier and to elevate the jars from the bottom of the pot, keeping them from breaking. As sabra1845 notes below, you can make your own rack by knitting together extra jar bands with twist ties.

I did the whole process outdoors using the turkey fryer in my Backyard Kitchen (see this Instructable), but you could just as easily do this inside at you kitchen stove.

Step 3: Pre-soak

Wood chips absorb a lot of water in the soaking process - pre-soaking saturates the wood in advance of the final canning, helping keep too much headspace (the air above the water) from forming in the jars.

You can soak the chips in a bucket or in the jars themselves, whichever's easiest. I used the jars because I wanted to be sure as much of the chips as possible were completely submerged.

Soak for 2-3 hours before continuing on to the canning process.

Step 4: Canning Step 1 - Sterilize the Jars, Bands, and Lids

After your chips have pre-soaked, drain the water, empty the chips into a bucket, and clean out the jars in preparation for sterilization. Place the jars in your pot, then cover with water by 1-3 inches (the water will flood the insides of the jars as well). Bring your water to a bare simmer, and let the jars, lids, and bands simmer for about 10 minutes to sterilize. Exercise caution during this step and all following steps, as it's very easy to scald yourself in the canning process.

Be careful not to boil the lids, as it may cause the rubber sealant to fail.

Step 5: Canning Step 2 - Fill Jars

Using a set of tongs, retrieve the lids and bands, then use a set of canning tongs (or jar lifters) to lift the jars out of the bath and empty the hot water.

Once the jars are emptied, fill them with ~2 cups of the pre-soaked wood chips. Most recipes I find call for about this amount, and it fits with plenty of room for water in the quart mason jars.

Bring the water in the pot up to a rolling boil; using a long-handled ladle, transfer boiling water from the pot into each jar, filling it to within ~1/2 of the top. Use a cloth to wipe the lips of the jars clean, then set the lids on and screw the bands down until just tight - you want to allow the pressure that will be created the ability to force air out of the jar.

Step 6: Canning Step 3 - Process

Using the canning tongs, slowly lower each jar into the water bath. Once all the jars are in, allow the water to boil for about 15 minutes (more or less, depending on your altitude).

When time is up, use the tongs to carefully remove the jars and set them aside to cool. After a few minutes of cooling, the lids should seal around the edges of the jar, forming a tight vacuum seal.

If you have any jars that didn't seal (or exploded in the pot, as was the case for me), you can still salvage the chips - read on.

Step 7: Dealing With Extra Chips, Sealing Failures, and Broken Jars.

You might end up with some extra wood chips, or have a couple of your jars fail to seal or break. Here's how to salvage those chips:

If you have a seal failure, first try to get a new lid and give the jar a second pass at processing. If it still doesn't work, bag'em and tag'em - take your pre-soaked wood chips and drain them well, then seal them in small plastic bags, label the bags with the type of wood, and throw them in the freezer. The chips should stay well-preserved, and when you need to use them it's as simple as pulling out the bag and tossing the frozen chips on the fire.

Step 8: Label, Store, and Enjoy

Once the jars are cool, label each one with the type of wood (and the amount, if you like), then store them wherever it's convenient. I'd feel like you should keep them out of direct sunlight, though I don't know why....

Congratulations, you've just solved one of the biggest headaches for an amateur BBQ chef! Now's the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor - here are some tips on which woods go best with which meats.

One last thing - if you liked this Instructable, please consider voting for it in the "Outdoor Cooking" and "Unusual Uses" contests, and thanks!

UPDATE - After about 3-4 weeks in storage, I tested a batch of canned Hickory, and Canned Wood worked exactly as I had hoped! I was able to start grilling immediately using the canned wood chips, without having to wait for any soaking. The test batch, and the remaining cans of chips, are all at this moment mold-free.

There's been some discussion in the comments about whether it's actually better, or even necessary, to soak your wood chips prior to grilling. I personally think it's better to soak ("scientific" experiments to the contrary notwithstanding), and if you do too, Canned Wood is a great way to have ready-to-use chips available whenever you get the urge to grill.

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    49 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I think I would just remember to start soaking the night before if I was gonna smoke something after work. A box of those jars costs from 12-15.00. I can a lot of stuff so not sure I'd waste my jars on something not edible. In canning there are lots of things you aren't allowed to home can because their density is such that the heat of canning may not penetrate enough to sterilize what's in the jar. I don't know if using boiling water and WB canning this for 15 minutes would penetrate the wood chips enough to sterilize them. Guess it depends how thick they are. Interesting experiment though.


    4 years ago

    What is the cedar for


    4 years ago

    Worth reading..

    5 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    From what little I know about smoking.....if you are smoking as a means of preserving the meat, a low, slow heat is best....and dry chips.

    If you are 'grill smoking', then the wet chips are better with the shorter, hotter cooking times.

    When I was a kid, my father smoked haddock fillets. Very low heat (you don't really want to 'cook' the fish, you want to dry it out), and dry wood shavings...just a little at a time.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    It doesn't matter if you are "grill smoking" or how hot your grill is - if the wood is wet, it cannot get much above 212°F (water boiling point). All it does is steam, not smoke. Once all of the water has evaporated, the wood will resume heating to roughly 572° (wood combustion point), at which point it begins smoking. You can use wet wood as a kind of "smoke time bomb" if you want smoke later in the cooking stage, but otherwise its pretty much pointless.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I've heard this too. My experience using dry wood chips on a charcoal grill is that they burn too quickly, resulting in more darker smoke over a shorter duration. I'll be interested to see how prolonged soaking in the jars affects the water absorption and smoking of the chips - I'll post observations here when I have a chance to try it out.

    spark masterDraconei

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you so very much, that site confirms just about everything I observed on my own but were afraid to say lest I be branded a dolt.

    I grow lotsa herb, specically thyme, typically I do small cuts on gas grill, but pork/beef roasts and whole oven stuffer bird is done as well and is awesome. Even with just gas, no smoke.


    I heavily herb my dead animal lof choice, AND I make a righteous aluminum "spliff" of thyme stalks (twigs), when I run out of twigs I use whole thyme, I grow a lot. To make it I take a handful of twigs then place in a sheet of aluminum foil (I have also used recycledable aluminum pie plates that were cleaned), tie up tight at one end and leave a vent at the other end. It might be better to roll it tight at both ends and make a few punctures along 1 edge and lay on grill aimed at the corpse. You put it on a hot grill and close the lid (with dead animal of choice, naturally). Walla just a slight coating of smoke over marinated pig/chick/moo. MMMMM I drool on my keyboard as I consider dinner tonight.

    Another variant, if you are doing all hot, not a cool side (burger thin stiff) consider just laying the deceased on a bed of thyme/rosemary and put that baby on high. The greenery stops burning and at the end even after it starts to burn a tad, just knock off the chard twigs.

    I thought maybe I was inventing something with the herbs trimmings, until one day I needed a part and went into a fireplace shop....they sold mixtures of smoker woods....they used all my herbs in the mixtures.... FOILED, but, heck this is smoke, not rocket science.

    Again I thought I invented this until I saw Mary Anne Esposito do a show with some travel in Italy where a back yard cook shows how to take a small bird for bricked chicken (flattened with a brick on the grill) , marinated in simple oil/garlic, operhaps lemon, layed right on a huge head of thyme. My personal triumph was dashed as my secret was put on National TV. I had been doing it for years.

    As far as wet wood vs dry wood. I tried soaking wood and it did not matter one way or the other. And for burgers, soaked wood simply doesn't work well, chipped dry wood works better. Burgers and thin bits o'cow are not there long enough to get any smokieness.

    Now I know the smoke brigade is going to say , no no no you must smoke all day, but reality sucks here. You come home, you get the veggies ready you start the grill you drop the corpese on the grill you drop the veggies to their death in the kitchen. (steam/hot water etc.)

    Thin slivers of wood, or thyme stems give a small hint of taste w/o having to eat at midnight.(low and slow).

    As far as "bottling wood chips"..... can't see it. I would freeze a few batches if it mattered. But I am just a lacky when it comes to BBQ and smoke others (like the author), simple do it more/better then I do. BUT it is an interesting concept.

    I loved the web link I will visit it often.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    You can take the rings or bands of the jars and use twist ties to connect them and make a quick rack for the bottom of your canning pot. I thought I had canned everything possible to can but I have never done wood. Sounds interesting. Good luck

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago

    That's an awesome idea. As another user pointed out, one of my jars broke likely because it was sitting directly on the bottom of the pot. I'll make sure to do this next time I'm canning chips. Thanks!

    canning racks are sold, that keep the jars off the bottom, and make it easy to lift all the jars up out of the water at once.

    The other thing to be careful of is how tight you tighten the lids, they should be just fingertip tight, turn the band just until you reach resistance. you still want to allow the air in the top of the jar to escape, along with some water vapor. Nearly all of the air is driven out, leaving mostly just vapor, and when the jars cool, the vapor contracts, pulling the lid down for a tight seal.

    Too tight, and the air can't escape, so the jar pressurizes, and can break, or fail to seal properly, because there is still pressure pushing up on the lid when cooling, and oxygen can remain inside, leading to oxidation and decay.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Conifers, should not be used for smoking

    Resinous woods such as conifers create smoke thick with unburned carbon and pitch.

    Cedar is a conifer, Conifers should not be used for smoking. However Cedar planks are safe to smoke or grill on.

    Planks for grilling, untreated cedar, Hickory, alder, or maple.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family of plants... nightshade plants are extremely toxic, therefore you shouldn't eat tomatoes..... oops...

    Thanks neo71665 and jessbarber for pointing out the issue with using cedar chips - I've added a note to the Insturctable pointing out that these chips shouldn't be used in a cooking fire.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Smoking with cedar is difficult because it's a soft wood. The chips I canned probably wouldn't be useful for cooking, but I might try adding them to a campfire to produce a nice scent.