July 2017


Charcoal that is produce properly is a fuel and provides heat! Wood adds flavor!

Charcoal that produces properly is a fuel and provides heat! Wood adds flavor!

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WHY CHARCOAL IS NOT AN INGREDIENT

There are so many methods of getting a message out rapidly given the speed of technology and the many platforms for posting opinions and marketing strategies today.  In doing research for a publication, I came across a statement made by a charcoal company that made me a bit … confused.

An Ingredient Not A Fuel

This company claimed that their charcoal product was an ingredient, not a fuel!

Not a fuel?  That statement is in direct conflict to what charcoal manufacture was designed for – heat.

I realize that when used with 100% accuracy, charcoal will produce no smoke and a consistent heat.  We all know that the 100% accuracy is the kicker – pretty much no one is proficient at producing full ignition of the charcoal with stable air intake to maintain the high heat level the product was designed for.  What usually occurs is that we start out with full ignition but given the need for longer cooks, we add charcoal and thus, start to fluctuate the oxygen feed.  Only during those fluctuations does the production of smoke occur with charcoal.

Non-Carbonized Wood IS Flavor

Charcoal production is the act of carbonizing wood which means all the volatiles of the wood is burned off until what is left is pure carbon or at least a high percentage of carbon.  There is no refuting that charcoal burns cleaner, hotter, and more evenly than wood only.

Here are where differences occur though when it comes to types of charcoal.

Lump charcoal is made from various scrap wood sources like furniture manufacture, a wood packaging manufacturer, the flooring manufacturer, and building material scraps.  Due to the high level of variation in these pieces, most often there is not 100% carbonization of the lump charcoal production.  That’s why you can get some smoke and flavor from that product; when combustion of a non-charred piece occurs, you’ll stimulate organic compounds that produce flavor.  Keep in mind, because scrap wood is used you can get other debris in the purchased bag as often this is scooped up from a site and transferred to a production facility, with the scoop gathering anything that may be in the area.

Traditional charcoal manufacture also known as briquets is also made from scrap wood, sawdust and wood chip product.  It is known that some manufacturers include a percentage of softwood but for the most part, the product is derived from hardwood.  Briquets do have binders added and there are some types that have accelerants added to make them extremely quick to lite.  Personally, I can detect those additives and feel they do change the overall flavor when cooking foods over them but you can make that determination for yourself.

Controlled flavor only comes from wood and the best and safest flavors, from hardwood.   Charcoal is a fuel, it is for heat, and the only flavor it produces is when meat/poultry drippings fall directly on the hot coals and vaporize, stimulating flavors.  Never are flavors stimulated from the briquet or charcoal.

So, Who Is The Ingredient?

If the definition of an ingredient is a substance that contributes or makes up a mixture, then truly hardwood is an ingredient in wood-fired cooking recipes as it gives off its distinct organic flavor compounds that make up the cell structures.  Heat is NOT an ingredient and that is what charcoal is: HEAT!  A claim to be an ingredient just holds no truth.

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Other related reading:

HOW TO TURN YOUR CHARCOAL GRILL INTO A SMOKER

HOW TO USE CHARCOAL WITH WOOD IN COOKING

Products discussed in this Blog:

Wood Chips- Grande Sapore®

Wood Chunks- Single & Double Filet

Dr. Smoke Charcoal needs to be supplemented by Smokinlicious wood products!

Dr. Smoke Charcoal needs to be supplemented by Smokinlicious wood products!

our food scale demonstrates HOW MUCH WOOD TO ADD of Grande Sapore® and Double Filet wood chunks as a guide to adding wood flavoring with our Smokinlicious® products.

Our food scale demonstrates HOW MUCH WOOD TO ADD of Grande Sapore® and Double Filet wood chunks as a guide to adding flavoring with our Smokinlicious® products.

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One of the most common questions asked when it comes to smoking foods on a gas grill, traditional charcoal grill or smoker is, how much wood do I need? Likely the second most common question is where does the wood go? Click To Tweet

HOW MUCH WOOD TO ADD WHEN SMOKING-Let’s break this down by equipment and method of smoking so you have a good place to start in answering the above questions.

Get A Food Scale

As a reminder, wood should not be sold or referenced by weight so I always recommend you keep a food scale handy to weigh pieces of wood or handfuls of wood chips until you get comfortable with eyeballing your needs.  After practicing on your specific equipment, you’ll develop a sense of how much will produce a smoke infusion level you and your food guests like.

To make easier understanding of the amount of wood needed, I will be referencing by ounces in my breakdown lists.

Adding to The Traditional Smoker

If you adhere to the basic rule of low temperature cooking on a smoker, then you’ll likely be cooking between 225° and 250°F.  You will also likely be using lump  charcoal or traditional charcoal known as briquets, for the fuel or heat.  That is the material that keeps the smoker at a steady temperature.

Regardless of whether you use the snake method, minion method, or simply dump the charcoal in the smoker’s charcoal area, wood will be needed in some form to provide the actual flavor to the foods being smoked.  Why?  Because it is what gives foods that smoky flavor and distinct texture and appearance.

For the smoker, here is a guide on the quantity based on food being smoked and for using wood chunks.  Note, you can smoke different foods at the same time with small adjustments to these amounts.

Guide

Fruits/VegetablesTurkey/ChickenRibsPork Shoulder/Brisket
2-4 ounces4-6 ounces8 ounces10 ounces with additional needed during cooking

For placement of the Double Filet chunks, these can go directly on the hot coals with some  banked to the side to catch as the hot coals spread.

Adding to The Charcoal Grill

Essentially, you will be doing the same steps as above for the traditional smoker. The main difference between these two units is that smokers are for hot smoking and generally don’t do well when used for grilling.  In fact, I would highly recommend you never try grilling on a smoker.   Charcoal grills, on the other hand, can do both but you will have to make some airflow adjustments with the unit’s venting to ensure that you can maintain a low temperature consistently for smoking.  You also may find adding a heat insulator like bricks or stones works well to attract and use radiant heat.

Here is the guide on quantity based on food being smoked as well as type of wood product.  Remember, a wood chip product will combust faster so you will need more chips on hand when hot smoking.

Guide

WoodFruits/VegetablesTurkey/ChickenRibsPork Shoulder/Brisket
Chips2 ounces6 ounces10-12 ounces16 ounces
Chunks2-4 ounces4-6 ounces8 ounces10-12 ounces

For placement of the wood chunks, these always go on top of the charcoal.  You should have a piece on the hot coals and then stage some on unlit coals that will ignite during the cooking process and keep the flavor going.

Adding to the LP/Gas Grill

I think the key misnomer is that LP/Gas Grills can only use smoker chips if you want to attempt to do wood-fired cooking.  That has certainly changed with the advent of dual fuel or multi-purpose grills on the market today, as well as the development and design of diffusers over the gas burners for traditional grills.  The heat covers on burners are the perfect place for wood chunks.

Even if you don’t want to add chunks directly to a component of the grill, you can use a standard chip smoker box and simply put chunks in the box versus chips.  Usually these boxes will hold 3-4 small chunks of Double filet.  The box also aids in capturing ash.

Here are the options for placement:

  • smoker wood chips in a foil pouch placed over a hot burner or directly on a heat bar/diffuser
  • smoking wood chips in a smoker box placed on the grill grate with the heat under it
  • smoking wood chunks in a smoker box (these will be small pieces about 2×2-inches) place on a grill grate with the heat under it
  • smoker wood chunks directly on a heat bar/diffuser (3-4 pieces) with the heat on medium

Here is a guide on the quantity based on food being smoked as well as type of product.  Remember, a wood chip product will combust faster so you will need more of it on hand than wood chunks when hot smoking.

Guide

TypeFruits/VegetablesTurkey/ChickenRibsPork Shoulder/Brisket
Chips2 ounces6 ounces8 ounces with replenishment needed as they reduce to ash8 ounces with replenishment needed multiple times
Chunks2-4 ounces4-6 ounces8 ounces – may need to add an 1-2 pieces8 ounces with replenishment needed at least once

Also, keep in mind that if you’ve purchased a “green” wood or air-dried wood, it likely holds more moisture than a kiln dried products.  This will change the weight.  Pieces of wood that fall into the “green” category, even if they are the same size, will weigh differently.  Work with wood long enough and you’ll develop a feel for what is just about at the perfect weight for smoker or direct-fired cooking.

Adding to Dual Fuel or Hybrid Grills

With technologies advancing in the grill world you now have so many more options for using charcoal and wood in the convenience of a gas fired grill.  For those looking to have that level of ease but the flavors of charcoal and wood at your fingertips, those equipment manufacturers are to be considered.  Just get ready to make a substantial investment as these models do not come cheap.

We hope this article provided you with new information.  Leave a comment and remember to follow us on social media for additional tips, techniques, recipes, and great photos.  As always, your suggestions on other article topics are always welcome. Hope you can use our blog

Additional reading you may enjoy:

BEYOND PRICING: THE TOP THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PURCHASING COOKING WOOD

WHY WON’T MY WOOD CHIPS SMOKE!

ELECTRIC SMOKERS: WHEN IS A WOOD CHIPS ‘DEAD?’

Electric Smoker Guy-HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST ELECTRIC SMOKER

Purchase Products:

Chunks- Double Filet

Chips- Grande Sapore®

Dr. Smoke-

Dr Smoke- “With our moisture controlled products, you need a lot less then you think. Please follow our guide on HOW MUCH WOOD TO ADD which is specifically directed to the use of our products. If it’s in a plastic bag, it is not moisture controlled.”

The grand ole tree beech hardwood adds a very European flavor to smoked foods, especially sausage style products.

The grand ole tree beech hardwood adds a very European flavor to smoked foods, especially sausage style products.

BEECH HARDWOOD IS CERTAINLY

“GRAND” IN EUROPEAN SMOKER WOODS

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With 10-13 Beech varieties available throughout the world, this is a hardwood tree that can age to some 300 years.  Visually, they are quite impressive often with distinct “root feet” and gray, smooth bark.  The scientific name is Fagus Grandifolia but in North America, we know this as American Beech.

I’m With the White Oaks

Beech is a relative to the White Oak hardwood family.  However, there are some differences in its performance as a fuelwood and flavoring wood.  Beech tends to hold more water or moisture than white oak and for that reason, you need to be sure you are using this for cooking when the level is closer to 20-25% or lower.  Anything higher will produce a brown smoke as the energy generated is used to evaporate the water.  Using Beech with a higher moisture level could produce some off coloring to the foods.

Cooking Specifics

Beech is a very easy hardwood to burn and produces a nice bed of coals.  It does not throw spark when it combusts so it is ideal for all types of equipment including fire pits and camp pits.  It has a minimal aroma when burned but produces a balanced flavor profile to foods.

The MBTU level is considered high so know you will get a long cook time from this wood.

NeutralWays

In my opinion, Beech is one of those hardwoods that is neutral when it comes to food pairing.  I have found the ability to cook vegetables, fish, meats, poultry, and even flavor seasonings and herbs with its flavonoids.  You really can’t miss with this choice.  Knowing it is a hot burning wood and makes a great bed of coals, you should attempt to get all the wood can give from a heat point of view.  Think about raking hot coals to one side of your equipment and cooking foods directly in the coals while the remaining fire cooks more traditional foods on the grate.   Remember, there is value in the wood through the entire stages of combustion.

My Tan Skin

Coloring to foods tends to be on the earthy palette side giving a very pleasant appearance.  Because this wood is so well balanced, you can select both sweet and savory ingredients without causing any muted flavoring.  This is true whether the wood is in a chunk, chip or dust form.

This can be a harder hardwood to locate since it is more prevalent in the Northeast, especially New York State but if you can locate it, pick some up and enjoy the many benefits of this grand tree.

Was this post informative?  Leave a comment or suggestion as we’d love to hear from you so we can bring the information you’re looking for.   And don’t forget, follow us and subscribe so you don’t miss anything!­­

Dr Smoke- "Beech hardwood adds a European flavor while also imparting a unique ember glow."

Dr. Smoke- “Beech hardwood adds a European flavor while also imparting a unique ember glow.”

 

For related reading:

TO THE BEECH (WOOD SPECIES) WE GO!

THE TOP 8 MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN COOKING & GRILLING WITH WOOD

Smokinlicious® products referenced in this Blog:

Wood Chunks- Double Filet

Wood Chips- Grande Sapore®