Going to try using dry oak chips in my secondary fermenter. How do you recommend sanitizing the chips before adding them?
We soak ours in bourbon. Kicks the oak up a notch or two.
Likely late in the game now, but you can also put oak chips on a sanitized cooking sheet at 200F or so and leave in the oven for 15 minutes or so. This will sanitize the chips, and subtly brings out some of the flavour, but not too much tannic or other astringent flavours. Essentially you are pasteurizing the oak chips by heating them to 138F (min), before adding them to your wort or must. I usually use the method for my homemade wine, but see no reason why it would not also work for homemade beer.
Boiling the oak chips can bring out undesirable tannins. Soak them in alcohol, or trust that there is enough alcohol in your beer to kill an infection. Many people do not sanitize flavorings added to the secondary.
I've soaked them in scotch, and I've boiled them for up to 20 minutes. No harsh flavors. I pour all of the extracted woody liquid in too. I recommend using french oak unless you intend to age for a long time.
If you want to avoid adding the alcohol flavorings from bourbon or whiskey, I would jsut steam them for 10 minutes. Get a good rolling boil going with a steamer in the pot, toss in the chips and once the steam refills the pot I'd take them off the heat.
The hot steam with still sanitize, while the slow reduction in heat will help minimize the tannin issues that can come with outright boiling the chips for too long.
EDIT 1/19/10 Rethinking it now, soaking in vodka, then adding the chips only would be a pretty neutral way to add oak without too much contribution from the sanitizing liquor (like bourbon etc).
When I used oak chips in my scotch ale, I boiled them for a minute or so and then dropped them in.
You can also soak them in scotch, which would sanitize them and add some pretty awesome flavoring. I think I'll do that next time, actually.
I immerse it in two cups of boiling water for 15 minutes, then toss it in the secondary. I always add the water as well with good results. I also keep a 1.75 LT bottle of Jim Beam half full with bourbon and the rest with Med toast French oak chips so they are always soaking up that great flavor to add to Bourbon stouts. The chips pick up a lot of the great bourbon flavor and stay sanatized due to the high alcohol. Both ways have worked well for me depending on what kind of flavor you are looking for.
I like a heavier toast than the french oak chips my local brew store sells, so I soak them in Chardonnay (for IPAs) for a couple of weeks and then toast them dry in the oven (10-15 minutes at 350º or so). The Chardonnay might not have enough alcohol to fully sanitize them, but it adds a great subtle flavor to oak-aged IPAs. 350º is hotter than a wort boil, and it seems to do the trick. I've not had any probs, but my beers are all pretty high-octane so the alcohol that's present in secondary helps keep things clean.
Make sure to watch them closely in the oven though-- you don't want them to get too toasted and it's probably also some kind of fire hazard :) -- Makes your house smell really good though.
I've got 4 oz of oak chips soaking in 4 floz of Jack Daniels right now for a porter I'm brewing on Christmas day. If that doesn't kill all the bugs in the wood, I can't imagine anything will.