Wondering how to dry wood for smoking? Whether you call it wood drying, wood seasoning or seasoning lumber, the point is you need to prep your wood before chucking it into the smoker.
To dry your wood for smoking there are two proven methods; the kiln drying and air drying method. Air drying is more of the traditional method used for drying wood. As the term suggests, wood is dried naturally by placing it out in the sun to air dry. Kiln drying is more of a controlled process and requires you to place the wood inside a heated chamber.
Each of these two methods have pros and cons.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Dry Wood Using Air Drying Method
- 2 How to Dry Wood Using the Kiln Method
- 3 Advantages and Disadvantages of Air Drying & Kiln Drying
- 4 How Do You Tell If Your Wood Has Dried?
- 5 Why Should You Dry Wood for Smoking?
- 6 Final Words
How to Dry Wood Using Air Drying Method
Air drying is the conventional method of drying wood which has been used since time immemorial. With this process, you allow your wood to sit passively at any given temperature and let it dry naturally. To air dry your wood you must follow these simple steps.
1. Start Drying Process in Summer
The ambient conditions affect the drying process. For faster results, I suggest you start the drying process in summer when the sun is out. Air drying your wood during colder months when there’s plenty of humidity in the air seldom yields fast results.
2. Cut up the Wood into Portions
It’s advisable to cut up the wood into smaller chunks first before drying. The smaller the portions, the faster air can penetrate wood surface areas and the quicker the drying process. Just make sure you wear the correct safety equipment for the task. Or, you can save yourself the hassle and purchase pre-cut wood.
3. Set up a Raised Platform
Now you’ve split up your wood, you must set up a raised structure where you’ll place your wood. Placing it directly on the ground prevents air from circulating effectively on the wood surface next to the ground. Also, a raised platform prevents moisture build-up underneath your wood.
When picking a spot to erect your structure, make sure there’s adequate sunlight and airflow. If the weather doesn’t look favorable, you can set up a tarp to cover your wood in case it rains.
4. Stack the Wood in Piles
Next, you must place the wood onto the raised structure—preferably by stacking it in piles. Here you place the wood in rows on top of each other. Just make sure the pile isn’t too high or unstable to avoid toppling over. And keep the wood in single stacks to allow for even ventilation. Try and leave at least a 20cm gap between each piece so your wood dries evenly.
5. Leave it to Dry
The next step is to leave your wood to dry. Generally, the process can take anywhere between three and six months. But how quickly it dries using this method depends on a number of factors such as:
- Type of wood
- Initial moisture level
- Wood thickness
- Wood density
Avoid moving the wood around unless of course you realize it’s getting wet because of the rain.
6. Measure Moisture Content
To monitor the drying process, you can buy yourself a wood moisture meter. The General Tools Moisture Meter is a good option and you can get it conveniently on Amazon via this link. Stick the meter’s prongs into the wood to ascertain moisture content as outlined in this video.
Fresh wood will give you a reading of 30%. When your wood reaches between 9 and 14%, it’s ready for smoking. Whatever you do, avoid over-drying your wood otherwise it’ll burn up too quickly and won’t produce enough smoke during the smoking process.
How to Dry Wood Using the Kiln Method
Kiln drying is a controlled method of drying wood. And it’s usually done on a commercial level.
You start by chopping out the wood as mentioned in the first method and follow these steps. Be sure to read the operating instructions before using the kiln.
1. Place Wood Inside the Kiln
Place your wood inside the drying chamber (kiln). Depending on the type of kiln you have, you can either place your wood on the allocated spaces or stack it along the walls.
2. Set the Temperature
Next, you set the desired temperature. Again, check the manual for recommended temperatures depending on the type of wood you’re drying. Overall, the drying process can take approximately 11 days. The higher the temperature, the faster the wood dries out and the quicker it burns.
If you’re planning to slow smoke your food, rather set your kiln at low temperatures so your wood dries slowly for longer. This gives you a wood that burns longer without a high heat if managed properly. As you know, foods cooked at high temperatures come with health risks.
3. Turn on the Ventilation
Don’t forget to turn on the machine’s ventilation system. If the fan is off, your wood won’t dry evenly.
4. Keep Fuel Supply Constant
Remember to keep the fuel supply constant. Depending on the kiln you have, you can either add firewood, oil or coal using the slot provided. Check the manual for the correct fuel loading procedure.
5. Turn the Kiln Off
When the recommended drying time has passed, you must switch off the kiln and open the air vents to let the hot air escape. This process should take between four and six hours.
Whatever you do, don’t open the kiln before your wood has cooled down because it’s a huge safety risk. You’ll be hit with hot air if you open it prematurely. Refer to your kiln’s cooling instructions to handle the procedure correctly.
6. Transfer to Storage
Once your wood is cooled down, you can safely transport it to your storage location. Open sheds are ideal storage locations. If the weather isn’t favorable, you can cover the area with a tarp. And now, you’re ready to start smoking!
Advantages and Disadvantages of Air Drying & Kiln Drying
Both methods have their own pros and cons. The air drying process is simple, inexpensive and requires minimal supervision. However, it can take a long time.
Kiln drying is faster but it requires close supervision and it can be costly to invest in a kiln. Also, exposure to high temperatures can make wood extra dry. Some people substitute the kiln for an oven. But chances are your wood will dry out quicker affecting the taste of your meat. Rather use the specialized equipment for optimum results. But ultimately, it’s your call.
How Do You Tell If Your Wood Has Dried?
To establish if your wood has dried properly, you must check the following:
- Color: Fresh wood has a shiny tan color. Dry wood tends to lose both its color and shine over time. Light colored wood which is slightly gray is an indication water has evaporated.
- Weight: The lighter the wood is, the less the moisture content. It follows that if your wood is still slightly heavy then it’s still wet.
- Bark: If the bark on the wood starts falling off or you notice some cracks, it means your wood is drying out.
- Sound: Another way to check if your wood is dry is by thumping it with your thumb. Dry wood will give you a deep sound while wet wood gives off a dull sound.
Why Should You Dry Wood for Smoking?
Many people might not know this, but wood can’t go straight from the tree to a smoker. You need to dry it out or season it first. Why? Freshly cut wood contains plenty of water and sap. Such wood is what’s commonly referred to as green wood in the smoking circles.
Smoking with green wood negatively affects not only the smoking process but the quality and taste of food. How?
Freshly cut wood with high moisture content burns unevenly. This is because most of the fire is used to drive out moisture from the wood. As a result, undesirable flavors are produced during the burning process and consequently imparted on to your food. That’s why you’re likely to experience an unpleasant taste from your smoked meat.
In short, using dry wood for smoking is the key to achieving that distinct smoky flavor meat lovers crave!
Both methods are equally effective at drying wood. The main difference is kiln drying is much faster than air drying. The method you pick is entirely a matter of preference. However, it can also depend on how much time you have before the smoking process.
If you want to smoke your food sooner rather than later, invest in a kiln and dry your wood faster. If on the other hand you have time to kill, there’s no harm in air drying your wood and waiting for nature to take its course.