Charcoal vs. Wood Grilling: What’s the Best One?
Summer is right around the corner. That means scrubbing the grates, cleaning the hood, sweeping out last summer’s BBQ ashes, and solving the age-old debate — charcoal vs. wood grilling — what’s best? To lighten your load, we highlighted the differences and benefits of charcoal vs. wood grilling.
Barbecuing with Charcoal: The Benefits and Drawbacks
Charcoal is wood pre-burned in low oxygen until it turns into pure carbon. Common charcoal options include:
- Charcoal lumps: These are uneven chunks of burned wood. They burn cleanly, produce less ash, and are very hot at first. However, the temperature drops after a while, making charcoal lumps ideal for grilling quick and simple BBQ delicacies.
- Charcoal briquettes: These are a combination of charcoal, coal dust or cornstarch, and chemical additives. They’re evenly shaped and maintain a consistent temperature longer. However, they give off an unpleasant smoke on the initial burn due to the additives and take longer to attain cooking temperature.
The Benefits of Charcoal Grilling
Whether or not it tickles your fancy, charcoal grilling your steaks gives you the following distinct benefits:
- Perfectly Seared BBQ Delicacies: Charcoal burns hotter for longer, and it doesn’t combust. As a result, it’s easier to maintain the right temperature for grilling juicy, tender steaks with a perfectly crunchy, browned sear that makes you instantly salivate.
- Fantastic Chargrill Flavor: When meat drips on charcoal during grilling, it sizzles and releases steam, infusing the meat with a delightful chargrill flavor you can’t get with other cooking methods.
- Affordable and Cleaner: Charcoal is more cost-effective than wood for grilling. A twenty-pound bag of charcoal briquettes costs about $18 to $20. Plus, charcoal burns longer, so a little goes a long way. Since it is pure carbon, charcoal is cleaner and eco-friendly.
Charcoal Grilling Downsides
Charcoal may create a gorgeous sear on BBQ meat, but it’s not all perfect. Here are the downsides of charcoal grilling:
- Messy: Charcoal grilling is all fun and games until your cooking apron gets stubborn charcoal stains. Charcoal also produces more ashes, making the grill-cleaning process harder.
- Takes long to heat up: Charcoal may burn hotter and longer than wood, but it takes longer to reach the right temperature, usually around 20-25 minutes.
Grilling with Wood: Available Types and What to Expect
At its core, wood for grilling is fresh cut wood that’s been dried for about half a year. Common sizes used in BBQ grilling include:
- Wood logs: Ideal for pit or campfire BBQs
- Chunks and chips: Small, handpicked, and fully-seasoned wood pieces ideal for backyard BBQs
Wood grilling is a popular option among BBQ enthusiasts because it has a versatile flavor range. Each wood profile infuses your meats with its unique flavor. For instance, oak adds a slightly woody and nutty flavor to BBQ, while fruit tree wood like cherry adds a subtle sweetness with a rosy aroma.
Some wood profiles are, however, not ideal for grilling. Softwoods like spruce leave not-so-pleasant soot on meat. Also, if you’re not careful, you may over-smoke your BBQ, making the wood flavor overpowering.
Charcoal vs. Wood Grilling: Using Both Mediums
Some barbecue enthusiasts believe charcoal is the holy grail of all grilling, while others swear by wood grilling. But why choose one when you can have both? The two can be combined for some lip-smacking burgers and other grilling delicacies. For best results, create a two-zone fire using wood as a source of indirect heat as well as flavor.
Experiment to find out what grilling medium works for you. While you’re at it, take a break from the grill every once in a while and simply enjoy the taste of BBQ.