It's no secret that charcoal is a very popular type of fuel used for grilling. Whether you're grilling hamburgers, steaks, chicken breasts or any other food, you can rest assured knowing that charcoal will provide a sufficient amount of heat. With that said, you might be wondering whether you can use firewood for cooking as a substitute for charcoal or if you can mix it with charcoal.
Cooking over wood is perhaps the most timeless tradition in human history. Despite the modern conveniences of microwaves, ovens, and gas grills, cooking over wood has returned to popularity because it's fun and provides incredible flavor. In this post, we're going to explore the growing trend of grilling with cooking wood, and provide some great tips for making the most of it.
Yes, You Can Grill With Cooking Wood
Charcoal is an excellent heat source when grilling or smoking, but it basically adds no flavor. Consisting almost entirely of pure carbon, charcoal is an effective type of fuel for grilling. Once lit, it can heat up to extremely hot temperatures, allowing you to sear meat from 500-800 degrees.
Many people think that cooking wood cannot get as hot as charcoal, but this is only true when using lower-quality wood. If you use hickory cooking wood from Cutting Edge, for instance, you can cook over insanely hot heat! If, however, you use wood that is damp and decaying, you might struggle to get the fire as hot as you want.
In fact, people have been cooking over wood for centuries, long before charcoal was used for this purpose. Briquette charcoal, in fact, didn't appear until the end of the 19th century. In 1897, Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer filed a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for briquette charcoal. In the years to follow, other entrepreneurs took notice by designing and releasing their own briquette charcoal. Prior to the inception of modern charcoal, though, cooking wood was used almost exclusively for grilling.
If you are used to using charcoal, then we recommend you start with wood chunks for smoking because they are the most similar in size and function to charcoal. Cooking wood splits are another good option, they are 8" long and 1-2" wide, so they're perfect for smaller grills
Yes, You Can Mix Cooking Wood with Charcoal
One of the most popular ways today is to grill or smoke food over a mix of charcoal and wood. Charcoal works as the heat source, and then you add a few wood chunks for smoking to the grill just before adding the meat. Just a few pieces of wood can make a big difference in flavor when you cook meat, veggies, bread, or cheese.
The best way to mix charcoal and cooking wood is to start by lighting the charcoal. Once you have brought the grill or smoker to the right temperature, add your cooking wood and then add your food right after. If you're using good quality wood, it will ignite quickly and start providing delicious smoky flavor right away!
Advantages of Grilling With Cooking Wood
Grilling with cooking wood offers several advantages. When compared to charcoal, cooking wood offers a better flavor. Charcoal doesn't necessarily produce a bad flavor. However, most people will agree that grilled food tastes better when cooking wood is used as the fuel rather than briquette or lump charcoal. As the cooking wood burns, it will release flavorful smoke that's absorbed by your food.
Cooking wood is also all-natural, so it won't expose your food to potentially harmful fumes or substances. Some types of charcoal, for example, are pre-soaked in lighter fluid. If you use pre-soaked charcoal such as this, it may leave your food with a harsh and bitter flavor. Even non-soaked charcoal may contain substances that produce an unpleasant flavor when burned. Briquette charcoal, for instance, contains sawdust and wood scraps that are bound together with a filler ingredient like cornstarch. Cooking wood, on the other hand, consists of all-natural wood without any fillers or additives, making it a safer and more desirable type of fuel for grilling.
Let's face it, charcoal is messy. When preparing your grill with charcoal, you'll probably get the black particles on your hands and clothes. If left unchecked, charcoal can permanently stain your clothes. You can handle cooking wood, however, without worrying about staining your clothes. All premium cooking wood is clean and devoid of any stain-causing compounds.
You'll probably discover that cooking wood produces a pleasant aroma when burned. Each species of wood offers a distinct aroma. The smell will engulf your patio or outdoor living space to create a more enjoyable grilling experience. Just be careful, you might have neighbors come knocking when they smell the incredible meal your cooking!
Disadvantages of Grilling With Cooking Wood
What are the disadvantages of grilling with cooking wood? Well, if you're using quality wood, then there really aren't any disadvantages. Wood that is dry and dense will burn hotter and longer and create amazing flavor.
That being said, you will struggle with wood that is damp. Moist wood leads to pitmasters struggling to light their cooking wood, and then once it is lit the wood creates a lot of dark smoke that leaves a musty flavor. Nobody likes that. If you try to use seasoned wood for grilling, then you might also end up cooking with mold and fungus in your wood. That's disgusting!
Fortunately, we know exactly where to find wood that has no bugs, no mold, no fungus, and a very low moisture content...
Choosing the Right Cooking Wood for Grilling
If you're going to grill with cooking wood, you need to choose the right type of cooking wood. Here at Cutting Edge Firewood, we offer a wide variety of kiln dried cooking wood. Our kiln drying process is the most rigorous one in the industry, we cut the trees and place them quickly into the kiln for 48 hours at 250 degrees. This means the wood remains dense (seasoned wood is decomposing), and it comes out incredibly clean and dry.
It doesn't matter if you choose our chunks, splits, or logs, when you cook with Cutting Edge Firewood, you will have an amazing experience, every time.
Don't forget to consider the species of tree from which the cooking wood was harvested. Hardwood species are preferable over softwood species because they contain less moisture and resin. Hardwood trees can also produce more heat and will burn for a longer period of time. As a result, cooking wood from hardwood trees -- oak, cherry, hickory, etc. -- are better suited for grilling. They burn more cleanly to produce better-tasting food. We only offer hardwoods here at Cutting Edge!
How to Grill With Cooking Wood
For most people, we recommend mixing charcoal and cooking wood chunks. This is the easiest way to get started cooking with wood. If you're ready to take it to the next level, however, then here is how you cook with nothing but wood.
When you're ready to grill with cooking wood, prepare your grill by arranging the wood chunks, sticks, or logs in the bottom of the fuel compartment below the grate. Oak is the best wood to replace charcoal because it provides great heat and subtle flavor. After filling the bottom of your grill with cooking wood, you can proceed to light it. Just place 1-2 excelsior fire starters below the wood and light them with a match. These all natural fire starters will burn for several minutes and easily light up our dry cooking wood. If you're cooking with logs, make sure to place a couple pieces of kindling underneath the cooking wood as well.
From then on, you can treat the wood just like charcoal!
Here are some tips to follow when grilling with cooking wood:
- We recommend using oak as an alternative to charcoal, but you can add other species as a way to add the flavor.
- To turn up the heat, open your grill's dampers all the way. Turn down the heat by closing the grill's dampers.
- As your cooking wood burns to ash, add new pieces of cooking wood to maintain stable grilling temperatures.
- If you prefer a more smokey flavor, try using the reverse sear technique. This will give your food more time in the smoke and provide more consistently amazing results.
- Experiment with different types of cooking wood to see which varieties offer the best flavor.
- Don't use lighter fluid on your cooking wood.
- Don't soak your cooking wood in water. Although this sounds like an effective way to extend its burn time, soaking cooking wood in water will only inhibit its combustion while creating excess steam in the process.
Don't assume that charcoal is the best type of fuel for grilling. While you can always grill delicious meats and veggies using charcoal, cooking wood offers several key advantages. Whether you want to add a couple cooking chunks to your charcoal or grill with nothing but wood, you can have a great experience when you use the right kind of wood.
Become a grill master by choosing Cutting Edge Firewood’s premium kiln dried cooking wood. Whether you choose hickory, pecan, white oak or cherry, it will allow you to cook delicious, restaurant-quality food. Shop all our cooking wood here, or view our most popular options below. We offer complimentary shipping on all chunks and splits!