What fuel should I use in my grill? Charcoal, gas, or wood. Wait. Did you say wood? Can you burn wood in a charcoal grill?
This is a question open for debate. Master grillers will tell you charcoal is for heat and wood is for flavor. But here you are, wondering whether you can use wood as the primary heat source for your charcoal grill.
So, can you burn wood in a charcoal grill?
Yes. You can burn wood on a charcoal grill.
Cooking with wood takes your grilling to the next level. It not only enhances the taste of your food, but it also allows you to experiment with wood smoke and building a two-zone fire. For those looking to master the art of grilling, using wood is a nice way to hone your skill. Wood-Fired Grill vs. Charcoal Grill.
Wood-Fired Grill vs. Charcoal Grill
There are distinct advantages to grilling with wood or charcoal.
A charcoal grill gets very hot and will burn a long time as compared to a wood-fired grill. This is because you can start grilling on charcoal as soon as you have the lumps burning.
But for wood, you have to wait for the fire to smolder to white and orange embers before you can start grilling.
A charcoal fire creates a nice, seared steak because of the high heat. However, getting a gorgeous sear can be difficult when burning wood if you don’t know how to create a hot zone and a medium-heat zone on your grill. Because you need to alternate the food between the two zones.
A wood-fired grill adds undeniable flavor according to the type of wood used.
Why Use Wood?
Wood plays a key role in creating flavors and color in food.
If you want a rich, brown coloring and intense smoky flavor on your steak, wood is the most effective way to achieve this. It’s especially true if you use Hickory wood.
It’s also where you won’t need to use marinades, spice blends, sauces, rubs, and brines. It blows all these additions out of the water.
Advantages of Wood Grilling
Grilling with wood offers several advantages.
When compared to charcoal, food grilled on wood tastes better. You can extract different flavors from different species of wood.
Burning wood allows you to maneuver your heat source. It’s possible to create a hot zone for searing steaks and a cooler area for vegetables.
Cooking with wood means your food is not exposed to potentially harmful fumes. Some types of charcoal are pre-soaked in a lighter fluid which leaves food with a harsh, bitter flavor.
Easy to Handle
Compared to charcoal, wood is easy to handle and clean after. You won’t deal with black particles on your hands and clothes.
Steps to Grilling with Wood
You will need:
- Charcoal grill. They usually have a vent at the bottom to let oxygen in and another on top to let the smoke out. This type of grill often has a rack for burning wood. It allows the embers to drop under the rack where you can scoop them for cooking.
- Wood-starter cubes or fire sticks
- Wood chunks of seasoned (air-dried) hardwood like oak, walnut, maple, Hickory, etc.
- Heavy tongs that can work with fire.
- Remove the cooking grate.
- Place the fire starter at the base of the grill and stack the wood chunks around it. Leave the end of the fire starter exposed.
- Light the end of the fire starter. Lighting the fire starter ignites the wood. You do not need to use newspaper and kindling wood.
- Let the wood burn down until it is grey and orange embers. It takes 15-20 minutes.
- Use the tongs to spread the coals around.
- Put the cooking grate back in and replace the lid
- Close all the vents to allow for the fire to smolder. This step allows you to cook over hot coals rather than an open flame.
- Now you can place your food with minimal seasoning on the grate and cook with the lid open when grilling or closed for barbecuing.
It’s important that you cook over embers and not on open flames. This method will help to sear your food instead of burning the outside while undercooking the inside.
Wood Grilling vs. Wood Barbecuing
Grilling with wood is not the same as wood barbecuing. For grilling, you need a high temperature to cook for a short period.
Wood grilling is for tender cuts like strip steaks and T-bones. It’s best to cook such cuts for a short time to preserve their juices.
When grilling poultry, vegetables, and fish, you will require a two-zone fire so that you can grill delicate foods at lower temperatures.
Wood barbecuing involves low temperatures. In this method, you are looking at large cuts like beef briskets and pork shoulders.
Close the lid on a grill when barbecuing as opposed to leaving it open when grilling. You also have to add wood chunks every hour when barbecuing.
Types of Grilling Wood for a Charcoal Grill
Choosing the right type of wood is the first step in wood grilling. You want to get your hands on hardwood that is air-dried for six months to a year. Wood with moisture content will give you endless smoke that’s not pleasant at all.
The reason we recommend hardwood is because it provides more heat and burns for longer when compared to softwoods.
When using wood on a charcoal grill, space can be limited. That’s why we recommend wood chunks over logs and splits.
Here are some popular woods you can use for grilling.
It’s robust with a very distinct, nutty flavor. Barbecue purists swear by this wood for the rich flavor and rosy color for pork, lamb, and beef cuts. It is also ideal if your meat is heavily seasoned.
Like Hickory, Oak has a woodsy, nutty flavor. Though it’s on the mild side, you will find it gives the meat a nice, golden yellow and brown color. Oak is also the best for mixing up with Mesquite wood because it has a distinctive flavor. This combination pairs well with beef.
Also known as Fruitwood, this wood gives food a rosy hue and a subtle Fruitwood flavor. It is ideal for chicken and fish because it is easy to overwhelm these foods with smoke flavor.
Other types of fruitwood include peach and applewood to pair with oak.
If you are looking for a sweet, savory flavor in your cuts, Maple wood is just right for your grill. Because the flavor is on the mild side, you don’t need to season your food. Maple gives food a golden yellow hue.
This wood has a sweet, ashy flavor. Chefs recommend it for bacon because it introduces vibrant brown and yellow colors on the bacon.
If you are grilling game meat, Walnut wood gives the meat an intense smoke flavor. The flavor can be overpowering so you’ll want to leave out tender cuts, poultry, and seafood.
For fish and vegetables, Alder is perhaps the best wood choice. It has a slight smoke flavor that won’t overpower the food.
Wood comes in different profiles depending on the type and where it grew. It’s nice to know what you are dealing with so that you can grill food that goes well with the wood. It also helps to know the level of seasoning to go with a particular wood type.
How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill
Wood chips are strictly for smoke flavor. They are smaller than chunks hence they cannot be used as a heat source.
Wood chips can be used dry or wet. But for more intense flavor soak wood chips and drain them before adding them to the grill. You can also use an aluminum foil tin for the wet chips so that they can smoke for longer.
For a subtle flavor, add dry wood chips on top of the charcoal. The chips will flareup so you need to keep a bottle of water handy. Dry wood chips won’t burn for long so they won’t impart a heavy smoke flavor.
Grilling with Charcoal and Wood
Grilling over charcoal and wood is perhaps the best balance for grilling. Charcoal acts as the heat source while the wood creates the flavors you want.
First, you need to light the charcoal and wait for it to get ready for grilling. It can take up to 30 minutes. Now, add a wood chunk to the side of the grill.
You need a chunk with no bark because bark adds unpleasant flavor to food. Then, put the cover back on and allow the chunk to start smoking for 2-3 minutes. Place your meat over the coals and not over the wood. This way, it will give smoke, but will not burn from flareups.
Wood chunks burn longer, unlike wood chips that ignite and die down in less than ten minutes.
Don’ts of Grilling with Wood
Here are a few don’ts of using wood for grill.
Don’t put the food in too soon- If you place the food before the coals have smoldered, you will not get gorgeous sear marks.
Don’t buy wood seasoned in a kiln or oven. Though free of bacteria, the wood is extra dry which causes it to lose flavor and burn faster than air-dried wood.
Don’t add wet wood over charcoal. It only serves to bring the temperature down. Instead, add the wood on the side or use a grill pan when using wood chips.
Don’t use softwoods like spruce and pine. Though easy to find, they produce a resin that ruins the taste of food.
So, can you burn wood in a charcoal grill? It’s a resounding yes as long as you have any grill that holds charcoal. Remember that using wood is playing with fire. Always be aware of fire risk safety guidelines and keep an eye on your grill fire.