Barbecue season is finally here, and what better way to spruce up your outdoor cooking than with some natural wood chips. Wood fire is smoky, aromatic, and free from the chemicals typically found in charcoal.
Can You Use Wood in a Charcoal Grill?
When working with charcoal grills, you can certainly use wood. This grilling combo will create decent direct heat from the charcoal and a nice flavor from the smoke.
There are several types of wood ranging from hickory wood and apple wood to oak that can enhance the natural flavors of your food in different ways. If you have yet to try wood grilling, we suggest you give it a go and enjoy the pleasant, smoky flavors emitted from the wood chunks. It takes practice, but it makes a big difference and isn’t as challenging as you might think.
How to Use Wood Chips in a Charcoal Grill
One easy way of using wood in your grill is to begin by burning charcoal. I know you thought you were doing this with some awesome smelling wood chips but stay with us. Simply add some charcoal and lighter fluid to help it ignite. Light it a get a good flame going. Once your charcoal is at the right temperature to add food to the grill grate, in comes the wood.
You can use either chunks or chips, but a few chunks will do the trick. Just sprinkle them right on top of the charcoal. As soon as you have your burning, go ahead and add your food to indirect heat. You don’t need the food on top of your wood to still achieve the smokey wood flavor you’re after.
Another alternative is to create a two-zone fire. Simply place your lump charcoal on one side heated up to your desired temperature, and place your wood chunk on the other side.
This is a good cooking method to avoid flare-ups because your meat won’t cook directly over the smoking wood. Don’t worry. The smoke will drift to the food, and you’ll still get loads of flavor.
What’s the Difference Between Wood Chips and Charcoal?
Wood chips and charcoal are both popular materials for outdoor cooking, but there are some distinct differences.
Quality charcoal is made of pure carbon and easily ignites to create a roaring fire. Once the charcoal has cooled slightly, it creates a direct heat that works well for searing steaks or creating stunning grill marks.
Charcoal comes in two forms: briquettes and lumps. Briquettes are found in a uniform square shape that typically contains some added chemicals, while lumps are a more natural type of charcoal that emits a better overall taste and smell.
Wood is one of the world’s natural fire starters and comes in all different shapes and forms. Wood that’s straight from a tree won’t be a good wood for grilling because of the natural moisture, but there are many forms of dried all-natural wood that are fantastic to work with.
Because there are so many types of wood, you can easily switch up the flavors to complement your food. Wood is also better for cooking slowly, so don’t expect to get a good sear with high heat on wood fires.
Pros & Cons of Grilling with Wood Chips
Using wood instead of charcoal has some pretty important benefits. You can easily find bark-free wood that has no pesticides, chemicals, or other harmful substances. Many people prefer wood cooking due to its purity and cleanliness.
Another benefit is versatility. All wood is unique with distinct flavors, aromas, and colors that can produce a smokey flavor or sweet flavor. Some recipes might call on a particular firewood to compliment the flavor of steaks, pork, or chicken breasts.
Wood is also not a messy or difficult substance to handle compared to charcoal, so you can save your hands and clothes the hassle while enjoying the mesmerizing smoky aroma.
One downside of grilling with wood is how difficult it is to burn the chips enough to cook the meat properly. It takes some practice because you usually have to burn it until there is enough ash to cook the food.
Smoky flavor can also be overwhelming, and finding the right amount of added smoke for your food is challenging. Still, it’s worth experimenting with, especially if you start adding fresh herbs or onion slices when cooking to punch up the flavor even more.
Types of Wood Chips for Grilling
Wood is great for low and slow-cooking, and there are several kinds to choose from that can transform the taste of your food.
Apple wood, for example, pairs well with poultry and fish due to its sweet flavor. There is a slightly fruity taste to food that has been grilled with applewood.
Oak compliments a variety of meats and seafood. Grill up some steak or shrimp with this mild smoky flavor.
Mesquite is the wood for you if you like a flavor of high intensity. We recommend using meat with a bold flavor, such as steak.
Cherry is another that will work well with poultry or fish because of its sweet, fruity taste. Turkey or chicken grilled over cherry wood with some fresh veggies would be a good match.
Wood Chip & Food Pairings
Determining which wood chips and foods complement each other depends on a sweet vs. smoky taste. Intense, gamey meat simply does better with a deeper smoky taste, whereas sweet woods compliment mostly fish and poultry.
Can you grill with wood instead of charcoal?
You can definitely grill with wood, and we recommend everyone tries this method at least once. There is something special about meat and veggies with natural smokey flavors. Just keep in mind that wood takes longer and can be challenging to master.
Can you grill with just wood chips?
While some prefer to set up a two-zone method of charcoal and wood, you can still grill using wood alone. Wood grilling isn’t cutting-edge technology, but it has some nuances, and it can be fun to explore different flavors and perfect your technique.
Is it better to grill with wood or charcoal?
To some extent, the battle between wood vs. charcoal comes down to personal preference and taste. If you enjoy the taste of wood instead of charcoal, then you should grill with wood.
However, wood is better for cooking slow at a low temperature, while charcoal heats up quickly for foods that need a good sear.
How do you prepare wood chips for grilling?
You can purchase wood chips ready to go at the store for grilling. Simply arrange wood chips in the bottom fuel compartment below the grill grates. Light a fire and wait until you have ash burning at a medium-low temperature.
Heading out back and taking a log from your stack isn’t likely to work as well unless it has been thoroughly dried. Commercial chips that you buy are either air-dried or have gone through a kiln-drying process to help them burn easier and cleaner.
Overall, grilling with wood chips instead of charcoal and getting a good fire and smolder going is not rocket science. While it might take some time to master the perfect temperature for cooking, you’ll end up with delicious food infused with smokey or sweet flavors that will make you want to use wood chips forever!