Going to try using dry oak chips in my secondary fermenter. How do you recommend sanitizing the chips before adding them?
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.
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).
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 toasted a 500 Gram bag of light English Oak chips in the oven (on a sanitised and bubbling hot baking tray covered in baking parchment) for 1 hour at 175 degrees Celsius whilst I baked a cake and a tray of oven fries on the lower shelves. Once done, whilst still warm, I added 100 Gram of this (now a deeper brown-tan colour) into a small sanitised jar with 200ML Scotch Whisky and 100 Gram of light brown sugar (bottle priming). I topped with boiling hot still water, sealed the lid, shook them vigoursly for a minute and put in a cool, dark cupboard for 3 days. When I was ready for bottling my 23 Litres of golden-Yorkshire IPA, I sieved the chips off, let the liquid into the bottom of the bottling bucket and then carefully siphoned in the brew. 4 weeks later, I popped open a bottle for testing... Delicious. I now have a firm and fixed method ongoing. Whilst doing this oven work, I have to say, my whole house smelt deliciously Christmassy lol.