Cooking over an open flame is a traditional way to prepare some of the best steaks out there. But to really get that tenderness, you need to make sure it is cooked to perfection. This introduces multiple variables that you need to consider, such as the type of fuel you’re using and the temperature.
Essentially, you can either use charcoal or wood smokers. Depending on the fuel, the taste will vary. But which type of smoker is the better of the two? And more importantly, how does the fuel affect the taste? Get your steaks and kebabs ready to grill, cause we are about to answer all your questions.
Charcoal vs. Wood Smoker
The main difference between the two is the fuel. Wood burns much faster than charcoal. However, it burns inconsistently.
On the other hand, charcoal does not produce as much smoke as wood, making it a cleaner and more efficient fuel source.
What Is Charcoal?
Charcoal is a form of carbon produced when wood is heated in an oxygen-starved setting.
Depending on the type of wood used, the charcoal quality will vary. For instance, if you use hardwoods such as hickory and maple, then the heat treatment will produce “hardwood charcoal.”
Similarly, when we heat sawdust or coal, we get briquettes. This is a cheaper option in comparison to hardwood charcoal, but it’s less efficient.
Nevertheless, both briquettes and hard charcoal work great for cooking.
What Is a Wood Smoker?
As you can tell from its name, wood smokers essentially cook food by using smoke. This method uses wood chips, which are basically chopped-up pieces of wood. To split logs into wood chips with ease, use a wood splitter.
The most common types of wood chips used in these smokers are mesquite and oak, although you can practically use any kind as long as it is dried.
Advantages of Using Charcoal Over Wood
Perhaps the greatest selling point of charcoal is its ease of use and low cost.
Compared to wood, charcoal sees a consistent and gradual increase in temperature, making it easier to moderate. In grilling alone, the rate at which the fuel burns is extremely important.
Another factor here is the price. As we mentioned earlier, charcoal is cheap, with briquettes costing as low as $15 for a bag.
Additionally, charcoal heats up much faster than wood. This is primarily due to the moisture inside the wood, which makes the process slower.
Disadvantages of Using Charcoal Over Wood
As with all things, charcoal has a silver lining to it as well.
One of the main issues is the mess it creates. Since charcoal is mainly carbon, anything it touches gets stained black.
It can also be slightly dangerous to use charcoal in a confined space since this could build up carbon monoxide.
On the contrary, wood is environmentally friendly, containing no toxic chemicals. To top it off, it adds flavor to the dish.
Is Grilling With Charcoal Dangerous?
Grilling is one of the best summertime activities, and it’s also a great way to enjoy food outdoors without spending too much time or effort.
However, many people are afraid of using charcoal due to the health hazards that it is known for. These include toxins and chemicals such as carcinogens, which can cause cancer.
However, if the correct measures are taken, then using charcoals is just as safe as wood.
Precautions to Take When Cooking With Charcoal
The first and foremost precaution is to burn charcoal in an open space or in a location with good ventilation. If the charcoal smoke builds up, it can lead to an increase in carbon monoxide levels. This can be dangerous for health.
It is also important to take note of the quality of the charcoal you are using. Charcoal that hasn’t undergone proper incineration may still have harmful chemicals inside. These can cause health issues, such as breathing difficulties and coughing.
One way of ensuring the quality of charcoal is by observing how brittle it is. If the charcoal breaks easily, then it stands to reason that the incineration process was done well, making it less likely to be dangerous.
Grilling With Wood
If you are looking to cook a mean pork chop for a family dinner, wood can spice things up in the flavor department.
Depending on the type of wood you use, the overall flavor of the meat can change. Due to this very reason, many chefs prefer wood over charcoal, simply due to the exotic taste.
Using applewood can add a pinch of sweetness, while hickory wood brings a smoky flavor to the table. In the end, using wood comes down to mastery and how well you can capture its flavor.
Getting the Best Results With Wood
Even if you are not a chef, you can still capture the flavor of wood just like an expert by keeping a few things in mind.
When you are first about to light the wood, it may have organic substances that can stick to the meat and lead to an inconsistent flame.
To tackle this problem, we suggest you preheat the wood. This will remove all the icky substances and leave behind a dry piece of wood.
Soak In Water
No one likes a bbq night that ends up with fire extinguishers and ruined food, except if maybe you are vegan.
Although wood is quite safe to work with, there is always a chance for a fire to start unintentionally.
A quick remedy to ensure safety is by soaking the wood in water for a while before it is lit up to prevent contact with indirect heat.
What Kind of Wood Is Not Safe For Grilling?
Even though most types of wood are safe, there are a handful that can produce toxins if burned. Namely, these are pine, spruce, and cedar. The conifer family of wood is best avoided.
Using these can be hazardous to health as they can irritate the lungs and throat. This is mainly due to chemicals in these woods such as phenol and terpenes, which become a part of the smoke.
Can Charcoal Be Used To Smoke Meat?
Even though it is possible to use charcoal to smoke meat, we do not recommend it. This is primarily because charcoal produces more heat than wood.
But isn’t that a good thing? Not always.
Controlling the heat can become difficult if you are using a smoker rather than a charcoal grill. If you are adamant on getting more smoke from charcoal, changing your fuel to high-quality briquettes could work for you.
Charcoal vs. Wood – Which Fuel Works Longer?
If we compare the two, then charcoal will generally last longer. However, it depends on the charcoal’s density as well. Lump charcoal offers different results compared to briquettes.
The longer the wood was incinerated, the longer it will last as charcoal. Essentially, briquettes will last around two hours, while lump charcoal may last as long as four hours.
A similar case is with wood. Hardwoods can burn much longer compared to softer ones, providing a consistent temperature all the while.
It boils down to the density of the fuel. However, if we had to choose between the two, charcoal would most likely outlast wood when burning due to its composition.
How to Make Fuel Last Longer?
To make wood or charcoal last longer, the way fire is started can greatly change things. Ideally, lighter fluid works great to start a fire. However, it should be used modestly.
If a fire is started, then the fuel is likely to run out much faster. On the contrary, a smoldering fire will burn slowly and last much longer.
Similarly, the size of the wood matters as well. Using big wood chunks will essentially make the fire last longer since it will be denser.
Another important thing is ash. This is because ash can act as an insulator. Therefore, if ash gets collected on the charcoal or wood, it will prevent oxygen from reaching the fuel, and thus, the fuel will burn slower.
Which Wood Works Best to Make Charcoal?
The best charcoal is the one with the highest amount of pure carbon. In this regard, oak wood stands at the top for being the best kind of wood to make charcoal.
This is essential because oak wood has a high percentage of carbon in its composition, which makes it ideal for charcoal smokers.
What Meat Works Best?
Deciding the method to choose may be hard, but it is even harder to decide which meat to use. The primary three contenders in this race are pork chops, spiced lamb chops, and chicken thighs.
All of them bring a unique flavor to the touch. If you are using a charcoal smoker, then we suggest you go with pork or chicken.
On the other hand, lamb chops work great for steaks prepared in wood smokers. When camping in the wild, it’s best to have a good set of knives to make the best chops.
When it comes to fuel for grilling and cooking, the two primary options are wood smokers and charcoal smokers. To get the best smoky flavor, it is important to choose the best kind of fuel.
As we discussed, there are two types of charcoal, briquettes and hardwood charcoal. Of the two, briquettes are cheaper, while hardwood charcoal is more efficient. They both can last much longer compared to wood.
However, the woody flavor adds a new aroma to the cuisine, making it preferable for most chefs and grill masters alike.
Last Updated on September 3, 2022 by Judith Fertig
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