When you think of grilling, charcoal is usually the first fuel that comes to mind. But there are a few other options, too – like wood!
Whether you’re a casual griller or a barbecue aficionado, you’ve probably wondered if it’s possible to grill with wood instead of charcoal.
The answer is yes!
Yes, you can grill with wood instead of charcoal. Wood can be used to create a delicious, smoky flavor and is a popular choice for grilling and smoking. It’s important to use the right type of wood, however, and to pay attention to the temperature to ensure that the food cooks evenly.
Let’s have look at the advantages and disadvantages of grilling with wood, and how to get started.
Table of Contents
- Wait! Isn’t Charcoal Just Burnt Wood?
- The Pros and Cons of Grilling with Charcoal and Wood
- How to Get Started With Grilling Using Firewood
- Best Types of Wood for Grilling (and Smoking)
- Types of Wood to Avoid for Grilling
- Final Thoughts
- Frequently Asked Questions
Wait! Isn’t Charcoal Just Burnt Wood?
Well, no. Charcoal is made from wood, but it’s not the exact same thing. Charcoal is a popular fuel for grilling, but many people don’t know how it’s made.
It is created by heating up wood in an oxygen-free environment to high temperatures without actually setting it on fire. This process removes moisture and other volatile elements from the wood and creates charcoal that burns hotter, longer, and cleaner than regular firewood.
The result is a highly efficient fuel perfect for outdoor cooking! Light it up, put it into your charcoal grill, and throw some steaks on the grates.
The Pros and Cons of Grilling with Charcoal and Wood
There’s nothing quite like a cookout on a summer evening. What kind of fuel you use for the meat and vegetables sets the tone for the whole event! We all know that gas grills are convenient and simple to use, but they tend to lack that authentic smoky BBQ flavor. Use charcoal or wood for grilling and you are bound to experience some new exciting flavors.
- It burns hotter than wood so it’s great for high-heat cooking like searing steaks
- It burns much longer than wood
- It is readily available in pretty much any store, making it a great choice for last-minute grilling
- It is (usually) cleaner to burn than wood
- It doesn’t impart much of any flavor on its own
- It’s more difficult to start and usually requires a charcoal chimney starter, that is if you don’t want to use lighter fluid or match light charcoal
- Lump charcoal and briquettes are the epitomes of messy grilling. Charcoal stains are bound to show up on any clothes you wear when handling both lumps and briquettes.
- Wood imparts a more robust flavor than charcoal does
- Many different types of wood can be used for grilling, each offering its unique flavor
- It’s easy to ignite the wood. No need to use lighter fluid or special equipment.
- Wood burns out faster than charcoal
- It’s more difficult to keep flames under control
- Grilling with wood requires a bit of practice
Looking at the list of advantages and disadvantages, one may think charcoal wins hands down. But, the smoky flavor imparted by wood is something charcoal on its own simply can’t match, and it makes it worth it to experiment with wood grilling at least once.
How to Get Started With Grilling Using Firewood
If you want to add smoky flavor to your grilled food, then grilling with wood may be for you! Wood grilling is a great way to make juicy and flavor-packed dishes that will take your taste buds on an adventure.
To get started grilling with wood, you will need some wood (who knew, right?), a grill, and some kindling or a firestarter.
Although it may seem like any wood will do, the opposite is true. It’s best to stick with hardwoods like oak, hickory, or mesquite. We will discuss the types of wood a bit later.
Wood suitable for grilling can be bought in small chunks or chips from hardware stores, supermarkets, and even online. Usually, it comes packaged in a bag similar to charcoal.
If you’ve got your source of wood, you can of course use that, too. Make sure it’s dry though. Unless, it’s kiln-dried wood, it’s recommended to let the wood air dry for at least 6 months before using it for grilling purposes. Also, make sure to cut it into smaller chunks. Large logs are not good for grilling as they take ages to get going and are difficult to control.
Once you have your wood, it’s time to light the grill! First, lay down some kindling or a firestarter cube and place the wood chunks on top. Light it up and you should have a fire going within 5 to 10 minutes.
The most important thing to remember is that you want to grill on hot coals, not flames. Let the wood burn until the flames have died down and the coals are glowing red. At this point, you’re ready to start grilling!
From now on, you can continue grilling as usual while keeping in mind that wood will burn out faster than charcoal, so you may need to add more wood during the cooking process. When doing so, be aware that the new chunks of wood will most likely bring in fresh flames that may burn your food, so keep an eye on it.
Best Types of Wood for Grilling (and Smoking)
Not all wood is suitable for grilling. Hardwoods, like oak and hickory, are best as they burn longer and hotter than softwoods. Furthermore, some woods are great for chicken, other woods are better for pork or beef, and so on.
Here is a short overview of some of the popular types of wood you can use for grilling. Some other woods can be found here.
Hickory is possibly the most popular type of wood for smoking in the US and it’s an excellent choice for grilling as well. It produces a lot of smoke and burns at a high temperature and provides a rich and smoky-bacon flavor to whatever you’re cooking. It works great with pork and beef but can be used for pretty much all types of foods.
Oak wood has a medium-strong, smoky flavor that works well with a variety of meats, including beef, pork, and game. It produces a moderate amount of smoke and burns at a medium to high temperature, which makes it ideal for a variety of cooking methods, including grilling, smoking, and roasting. Oak, and especially white oak, burns for a long time, which is great for slow-cooking methods like smoking brisket or ribs. Overall, oak wood is a versatile choice for outdoor cooking that can add a rich, smoky flavor to many types of meats.
Mesquite imparts a bold, earthy flavor that works well with heartier meats like beef and lamb but can be used with pretty much anything. It produces a lot of smoke and burns at a high temperature, which is ideal for grilling and searing. However, because it has a strong flavor, you may want to use it in moderation to avoid overpowering the taste of the food. Very popular in Texas.
Applewood is a popular choice for grilling and smoking because it has a subtle, sweet fruity flavor that works well with many types of meat, including poultry and pork. It’s not as strong as woods like hickory or mesquite, which makes it ideal for lighter meats like chicken and turkey. Applewood burns at medium heat and produces a pleasant aroma that enhances the flavor of the food.
Very similar to hickory, although perhaps slightly milder. Again, an excellent choice for all types of meat.
Alder is one of the best woods to grill or smoke seafood. Alder wood has a mild, sweet flavor that doesn’t overpower seafood, making it a popular choice for grilling and smoking. It burns at a low temperature, making it ideal for smoking, and is versatile enough to be used with a variety of other meats.
Remember, ashes from most woods can be composted just like charcoal.
Types of Wood to Avoid for Grilling
Some woods are not suitable for grilling (or smoking) at all. These include coniferous woods such as pine, spruce, fir, and cedar. They contain too much resin and tar which can give your food an unpleasant flavor and cover it in nasty black soot.
Furthermore, softwoods usually burn very quickly, making them a poor choice for grilling as you would have to frequently add more wood to the fire. That would cause a lot of flames to pop up and also the temperature would be very hard to control.
You also should avoid wood that has been treated with paint, chemicals, or any other type of preservative. The toxins released from the wood can be detrimental to your health and have the potential to make very you ill.
Grilling on moldy wood is a no-no for me just like grilling on moldy charcoal.
Using wood instead of charcoal is certainly a viable option when it comes to grilling. When deciding between these two as your fuel source, each has its pros and cons.
Wood provides an amazing smoky taste to your food that elevates the grilling experience. However, it can take more time and effort because of how hard it is to control the temperature and flames.
Meanwhile, charcoal burns hotter than wood and requires less work after it’s started, but doesn’t offer much in terms of flavor dimensions. Either way, your friends & family are sure to have a great time no matter what!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it cheaper to grill with wood or charcoal?
That depends on where you are sourcing your fuel. Commercially available packaged hardwood chunks suitable for grilling are quite a bit more expensive than charcoal. That’s mainly because these wood chunks are meant to be used for smoking.
If you can source hardwood locally and cut it into smaller chunks yourself then it can be more economical than charcoal.
Can I use wood chips for grilling?
Wood chips are usually so small that they would burn out very quickly without producing enough heat to grill anything. They are meant to be used for smoking and to add some smoky flavor to food when grilling with charcoal or when using a gas grill or a griddle.
Is it better to grill with wood?
It’s just a matter of personal preference. Wood will give your food a more complex smoky flavor while charcoal is much more consistent and easier to control in terms of temperature and flames. Ultimately, the choice is yours! Or you can combine them to get the best from both worlds.