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Which Wood Should I Use for Grilling?

Which Wood Should I Use for Grilling?


Smoky flavor is barbecue's signature, and wood is what brings that essence to the grill. The type of wood is mostly a matter of personal taste (we love the sweetness of applewood in our Applewood-Smoked Chicken with Dijon Rub), but choose based on the flavor and intensity the wood will impart. As a rule, avoid evergreen woods like pine. Use the chart below for guidance.

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CHIPS OR CHUNKS? SOAK OR NOT? Small 1- to 2-inch wood chips are widely available. They burn quickly, so use them for short jobs (30 minutes or less). Soak beforehand to prolong their use. Chunks (4- to 5-inch blocks) will burn for about an hour. Soaking is optional.

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While it’s totally up to you if you want to experiment with hardwood and softwood pellets (most grills can burn either), we recommend always grilling with 100% hardwood pellets (and yes, the 100% part is important).

Hardwood burns at a slightly lower heat than softwood, making it ideal for a slow, long

roast that helps infuse that desirable smoky flavor into your meats. For this same reason, you won’t need to use as many pellets as often when you choose hardwood.

However, life is all about accepting the give and take. Hardwood pellets create more ash than softwood pellets, which means you’ll need to clean your smoker more often. We think that’s a fair trade-off for great flavor.


Table of contents

A common question friends always ask me, is what type of grill they should buy next. They are inspired and excited to get outside and try a new recipe or lured in by the spring displays at the local hardware store with a showroom full of new and shiny models of all the newest grill tech.

Smokers with Bluetooth connections, pellet grills that you can manually program, griddles, electric smokers and a slew of new charcoal options. And I get it, I love good barbecue as much as the next guy.

But, it’s the mighty propane-fueled gas grill that can be your one and done tool that most people overlook as they dive from the casual griller to wanting to learn more of a barbecue mastery.

Yep, you can indeed smoke food on a gas grill. With it’s controlled and even heat and steady fuel source, a propane/gas grill is a great way to add a variety of wood barbecue flavor to anything you can grill.

You just need a few tools, a trick or two, and some great wood chips to impress your friends with your new skills.


How to Use Grilling Plans to Grill the Perfect Steak

Are you ready to start grilling with wood? Here’s how to do it:

  1. First, find some planks! Amazon sells them, but you can also find planks at kitchen supply stores. Of course, you can always head to the lumber yard and ask for someone to cut planks for you, or do it yourself at home. They don’t need to be a specific length or width, but you’ll want to make sure your food has extra room around the edges. Planks should also be about an inch thick.
  2. Soak planks for 30 minutes in room-temperature water before placing them on the grill. This keeps them moist enough to avoid catching fire, so you’ll want to ensure that the plank’s submerged completely in water.
  3. Preheat the grill while you finish the soaking process.
  4. If you’re adding fish to the plank, you might need to brush it with a think layer of oil before grilling.
  5. Season your meat, add it to the wood, and place it on the grill. Have a spray bottle filled with water handy just in case the board does catch fire. You can also sear meat first by placing it directly on the grates for a couple of minutes on each side, and then add it to the wood to finish cooking.
  6. Grill as you normally would, but food may need more time than usual since they aren’t getting direct heat from the grill.

That’s it! The grilling process is essentially the same, with the addition of a wooden board between your food and the grill. Quality woods will last through a few more cycles – usually 3 or 4 total – so don’t throw planks away when you’re done.


Wood Pellet Blending Inspiration

Traeger's Signature Blend - Full Body Flavor

Hickory, cherry, and maple come together to achieve a classic BBQ blend that pairs well with any classic BBQ food. Use this wood pellet blend to smoke the foods you already love. A signature blend gives it a full-body flavor that’s sure to impress. Get yours here.

Oak & Alder - A Kiss of Smoke

Blending these mild smoke flavors adds a nice gentle touch of smoke, making it a go-to for seafood, vegetables, and desserts. Drizzle some olive oil over a tray of your favorite vegetables and roast them -- snap peas, asparagus and/or Brussels sprouts would go especially well with the sweet smoke flavor. It’s also a nice touch for corn on the cob, salmon, or your catch of the day.

Leinenkugel’s Wood Pellet Blend - A Kiss of Summer

If you’ve got a signature summer spice blend or marinade, be sure to pair it with Leinenkugel’s Wood Pellet Blend. This pellet blend combines alder, maple, and a hint of citrus flavor, which will lift mild flavors and add a hint of citrus zest. Seafood lovers ought to try this with a skewer of shrimp and peppers, or use it to finish off lobster tails. It also pairs well with sweet and savory poultry, fish, and vegetables. A must-have for BBQ on the beach.

Hickory and Pecan - Bold to the Bone

This one’s for the spice lovers. As stated above, many grillers like to cut the strong flavor of hickory with a milder wood but different smokes for different folks, and this blend packs a punch. Try it with minimally seasoned fatty cut of pulled pork to make worlds of meaty flavor and smoky goodness collide. The nutty touch of pecan wood also pairs especially well with Asian-style flavors like sweet and sour and teriyaki marinades. This is a must-try for anyone who loves grilled pineapple.

Winemaker's Blend

Wine and spirits get a lot of their flavor from aging in wooden barrels. Now you can bring that same touch to your cooking with this special wood pellet blend of oak, hickory, alder, and apple for a one-of-a-kind flavor that’s both sweet and spicy. Best to try this blend with any meat or vegetables that would pair well with your favorite red wine or finest spirits. Sure to be a hit with venison. Order your own here.

Cherry Mesquite - For Lovers of All Things Barbecued Sweet

There’s a popular debate about barbeque flavor that’s going beyond the sauce. And this blend is a calorie-free, chemical-free way to give that brisket or rack of ribs a little extra magic. The sweet and hearty cherry wood flavor paired with the Texas classic mesquite is sure to wake up the flavors even more. It adds a nice touch to any steak or sausage, and if you can handle the heat, try it with spicy jerk chicken.


Ignition

  • Hardwoods need to burn properly and be ignited correctly before food is introduced, just like when you’re grilling with charcoal. In order to do this, you’ll first place the wood chips or wood chunks on top of the hot coals and allow them to burn until the wood is no longer flaming and is instead producing thick smoke. With chips, this will be almost immediate. When you use wood chunks, this will take some time to get it right, so about five to ten minutes, depending on the size of the wood and the type.
  • You can also cook with hardwood exclusively, but when it comes to grilling, for the best results, it’s also important to use the right amount of wood. This will lead to improved control between the smokiness and heat that will keep the food turning out as perfect as possible.
  • Learning how to smoke and use different types of woods, whether chips or chunks is all about experimenting and learning as you go. You’ll find certain types of wood burn better or impart a richer flavor, which types of woods are best paired depending on the meat you’re cooking, and how long to wait before you add the wood, or how long to allow the meat to smoke. Experimenting is one of the most exciting parts about smoking and grilling.

Smoking wood, what to use when

Fancy some smoked salmon or a delicious smoked duck breast? You can prepare them yourself on the Big Green Egg! Thanks to the lid you can easily transform an EGG into a real smoker. The unique ceramic material keeps your ingredients juicy and ensures a constant temperature. But which smoking wood should you use for which purpose?

Hot smoking

To use your Big Green Egg as a smoker or smoke box, all you need, besides your kamado, is smoking wood. For most smoking sessions you will also need a convEGGtor, which you probably already have. In this blog we are focusing on hot smoking, so working with a cold smoke generator and wood shavings will not be discussed (although you can use the Big Green Egg for that, too). This allows us to look more closely at the various options available to simultaneously smoke and cook ingredients. This is an easy technique in which you use wood as a natural flavouring, which also releases a delicious aroma.

Smoky flavour using charcoal

The use of good charcoal already imparts a subtle smoky flavour. For example, have you ever baked an apple pie in your EGG? The flavour is so good that once you do, you’ll never want to do anything else. When you smoke food, you deliberately add a certain flavour to your ingredients. BBQ recipes usually indicate which flavour of smoking wood you should use, but not why this wood in particular is such a perfect match for the ingredient. Or when you should opt for wood chips or wood chunks. And which ingredients are suitable for a wooden grilling plank. Once you have this basic knowledge, you can start experimenting.

Wood chips, wood chunks or a wooden grilling plank

For hot smoking, use wood chips, wood chunks or a grilling plank. Wood chips are especially suitable for shorter smoking sessions, up to about thirty minutes. You can use them to smoke and cook fish and poultry and thinner thick pieces of meat, but also to smoke other ingredients such as couscous. If you are planning a longer smoking session, for example for a nice large piece of meat like smoked belly pork, then opt for chunks. This is simply because they emit smoke for a long time.

If you don’t have any chunks at hand, you could also mix wood chips with the charcoal. Ignite the charcoal with one charcoal starter and spread the smoking wood all over the charcoal. You could also sprinkle another handful of wood chips on the charcoal every half hour, but this is harder to dose, and it is not ideal to have to keep removing and replacing your ingredients, the grid and the convEGGtor.

Smoking wood: to soak or not to soak

Opinions differ on whether or not to soak wood chips. You could soak the wood chips in advance but you don’t have to. One of the arguments against soaking is the difference in temperature caused by sprinkling damp chips on the glowing charcoal. Because you almost always use the convEGGtor when using wood chips (and chunks), the temperature in your EGG drops when the wood is added. Soaking your wood chips will cause it to drop even further.

Meat and fish will absorb the smoke as long as the pores are open, which is roughly as long as the product is still moist on the outside. The lower the temperature of your EGG, the longer this takes, and the longer your product absorbs the smoky flavour. Moreover, you create not only smoke, but also steam. If that is what you want, then you should soak the wood chips, of course.

In any case, you don’t have to soak wood chips to prevent them from catching fire. Given the fact that you are smoking with a closed lid, the limited air supply makes this impossible. Soaking the chunks is pointless, because – given the hardness of the wood and the size of the pieces – you would have to soak them for days, and even then there would be little effect.

Soaking wood chips Not soaking wood chips
Drop in EGG temperature No drop in EGG temperature
More intense smoky flavour Less intense smoky flavour
Initial steam development Immediate smoke development

Smoking with a grilling plank

With a wooden grilling plank you smoke in a different way than with wood chips or wood chunks. As a rule, you smoke at a much higher temperature than with chips or chunks: between 175°C and 225°C. In principle, you do not have to use a convEGGtor because the grilling plank already forms a heat shield. The intention is for the underside of the plank to smoulder, giving your ingredients a refined smoke accent. Alder and cedar are often used for grilling planks. These are soft woods that absorb moisture quickly and give off a mild smoky flavour.

Wooden grilling planks must be soaked for at least an hour. If you do not soak the plank, it may well catch fire, as you are smoking at a high temperature and your air supply is greater.

Grilling planks are very suitable for delicate ingredients such as fish fillets (with the added advantage that they do not stick to your grid), shrimps, scallops, vegetables and small dishes. Prepare these smoked mackerel fillets, for example. You can also smoke steak on a plank, but grill it afterwards on the cast iron grid for a nice Maillard reaction.

Smoking on hay

Apart from wood, you can also use other natural materials for smoking. One of these is hay (unsprayed). When you smoke on hay, the hay flavour is imparted to the ingredients. Hay burns quickly so it should not be thrown on the glowing charcoal. Basically, you put the hay on the grid with the ingredient on top, possibly covered with extra hay. You do not use a convEGGtor.

You can let the (unsoaked) hay catch fire and then close the lid and seal off the air supply. The hay will smoulder and smoke. In the case of perishable products, take the outdoor temperature into account, as you will be leaving it there overnight.

The easiest and safest way to smoke on hay is to thoroughly soak the hay. As indicated above, you put the soaked hay with the ingredient on the grid. The radiant heat causes the hay to smoke, immediately forming a heat shield that protects your ingredient. Close the lid immediately and let the temperature of your kamado rise to a maximum of 130°C.

Types of wood

In addition to the different types of smoking wood, there are also different flavours, depending on the type of wood. Some are interchangeable. For example, alder and cedar wooden grilling planks are both quite mild. Fruitwood, such as apple and cherry, is also quite mild, while mesquite and hickory are stronger varieties that give off an intense smoky flavour.

The guiding principle is that ingredients with mild flavours are best combined with a mild type of wood. On the other hand, ingredients that contain strong flavours, whether or not through a rub or marinade, will not be overpowered by smoking wood that imparts a more intense flavour. Flavours such as pecan, beech and whisky wood generally suit all ingredients. When in doubt, you can always use one of these types.

Beware of overuse, especially with heavier wood types. A handful of wood chips is often enough for a short smoking session and you should start a long smoking session with two chunks. A slightly less intense smoky flavour still gives a nice result, but too much smoke can cause a bitter taste. If you want a more intense flavour, then add some extra smoking wood next time you make the same recipe.

The table below shows which types of wood suit which products. Of course, you can experiment and decide for yourself what you like best!

WOOD CHIPS WOOD CHUNKS SMOKING PLANK
for smoking sessions up to 30 minutes, with convEGGtor for smoking sessions loner than 30 minutes, with convEGGtor for smoking sessions at higher temperatures, without convEGGtor
Flavour soaking is optional do not soak soak for at least 1 hour
Apple (mild – sweet, fruity) fish (fillets), crustaceans, pork, veal, white meat poultry, citrus, yellow fruit, almonds pork, veal and white meat poultry fish fillets (e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel), seafood such as prawns and scallops, cuts of chicken, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, small dishes
Cherry (mild medium – sweet, slightly fruity) fish (fillets), seasoned pork, lamb, beef, dark meat poultry like duck, wildfowl, peppers, red fruit, peppers spiced pork, lamb, beef, dark poultry like duck, wildfowl fish fillets (e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel), seafood such as prawns and scallops, cuts of chicken, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, small dishes
Pecan (medium – nutty) fish, such as mackerel, beef, dark meat poultry like duck, game, milk chocolate, salt whole fish, such as mackerel, beef, dark meat poultry like duck, game n/a
Hickory (intense, smoky, spicy) beef, seasoned pork, game, nuts beef, seasoned pork, game, often used for pulled pork and brisket n/a
Mesquite (intense, earthy, slightly sweet) beef, seasoned pork, game beef, seasoned pork, game, often used for pulled pork and brisket n/a
Cedar (mild-medium) fish (fillets), pork, veal, lamb, beef, poultry n/a fish fillets (e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel), seafood such as shrimps and scallops, poultry cuts, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, vegetables, small dishes
Alder (mild, sweet) fish (fillets) e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel, seafood as shrimps and scallops, pork, veal, white meat poultry, vegetables pork, veal and white meat poultry fish (fillets) e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel, seafood such as shrimps and scallops, poultry cuts, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, vegetables, small dishes
Oak (medium-intense) fish, pork, lamb, beef, poultry, game fish, pork, lamb, veal, beef, poultry, game n/a
Beech (medium) fish, pork, lamb, beef, poultry, game fish, pork, lamb, veal, beef, poultry, game n/a
Whisky (medium-sweet) fish, pork, lamb, beef, poultry, game fish, pork, lamb, veal, beef, poultry, game n/a

Purchasing smoking wood

You can purchase smoking wood at a barbecue shop, a garden centre or a cookery shop with a barbecue department, whether you want to work with wood chips, wood chunks or wooden grilling planks. Of course, you can always visit your local Big Green Egg dealer for smoking wood. If you are curious about the flavour of hay-smoked food, go to your local pet shop for unsprayed hay.

Smoking on your Big Green Egg

Looking for recipes that use the smoking technique? Get started right away with one of these delicious BBQ recipes.


How to Use Wood Chunks with a Charcoal Grill

When Indirect Grilling

Add 2 to 3 chunks (4 to 6 in all) to each mound of lit charcoal. Replenish as needed (when the smoke ceases to flow).

When Direct Grilling

Place 2 to 3 chunks directly on the bed of coals and direct grill the food over them.

How to Direct Grill Over a Wood Fire

A really cool technique — Fill your chimney starter with wood chunks and light them as you would charcoal. When the embers glow orange, pour them over the bottom of the grill. Insert the grate and you’re direct grilling over wood.

Note: wood burns more quickly than charcoal, so you may want to light a second chimney of wood chunks. When direct grilling over wood, always leave your grill open (uncovered)—otherwise, your food will become unbearably smoky.


How Does It Work?

The way wood plank grilling works is simple. In a nutshell, the plank goes on the grill, then the food goes on the plank. The food cooks via indirect heat, since the plank protects the food from the fire. You don't have to flip the food when you're cooking it on a plank. This makes it ideal for cooking delicate ingredients like fish that can fall apart when you try to turn them. The underside of the plank will also start to smolder after a while, which will impart a smoky flavor to whatever you're cooking.


5 Things You Must Know To Use Wood Chips For Smoking

It's almost that time again! Summer is approaching, and that means it is also time for backyard BBQ'ing. You may grill with gas or charcoal, but this year, you want to try something new - smoking your meat using wood chips for smoking.

Smoked meats provide the enjoyment of cooking out, and provide you with some variety other than just grilling burgers, steaks, and hot dogs. This article aims to give you all the information you need to get started smoking meat with wood chips right in your own back yard - no smoker necessary! Smoking wood can really be that easy.

#1 How To Use Wood Chips For Smoking

So you want to expand your grilling skills and smoked meats sounds interesting. Actually, smoking meats is only the beginning! Seafood, chicken, vegetables, even pizza can be smoked over the grill!

First, pick up a wood chip smoker box. You can use this with your gas or charcoal grill (yes, you read that correctly). A box will hold the chips, plus it is designed to allow the maximum amount of smoke to breathe through to the meat.

An alternative to this is to wrap your chips in aluminum foil, poking holes throughout the foil so that the smoke has maximum airflow.

Depending on whether you are smoking your meat directly or indirectly, you may need to place more chips into your box every so often. When using the indirect grilling method, feed one to two cups of chips every forty-five minutes.

In case you did not catch it earlier, no, you don't have to invest in a smoker to achieve tasty smoked meats. Simply put your chips into the aluminum "bag" you can make yourself, or you can buy a wood chip smoker box if you see yourself smoking meats on a regular basis.

You will get maximum smoke flavor from your smoked meats if you learn how to choose flavored chips that enhance the particular meat you are cooking. Youtube has an abundance of videos that can visually assist you on properly smoking meat this video is a basic "how-to" that can get you started immediately:

Maple and cherry chips burn into a sweet-smelling smoke, and when used to cook chicken and pork, create a light, hint of sweetness in the meat.

Apple wood chips, another chips famous for its sweet smoke, produces a combination of sweet and fruity tasting meat. Apple also complements chicken and pork.

Pecan wood chips have a variety of uses you can even put dessert out on the grill cooked via pecan chips! The result is a mild, nutty flavor that enhances any baked goods and beef, as well as pork and poultry.

Hickory is hands-down the most commonly used smoking flavor. Any meat, especially red meat, goes well with the taste of hickory wood chips.

Want a full easy-to-read guide on which wood chips to use with your meat? Check out the Complete Meat Smoking Guide.

Once you've chosen your favorite flavor wood chips and whether or not to purchase a wood chip smoker box, a smoker, or to try it out with an aluminum foil bag, you are ready to begin smoking! Let's look at tips and tricks for a successful smoke.

#2 Grilling With Wood Chips On Charcoal

If you plan to use wood chips in your charcoal grill, you can forgo the foil bag and the smoker box, but you do need make sure you follow a few important steps in order for your meats to get the best flavor.

You will still need to use a minimum of charcoal as a fire source. You want to use one layer of charcoal, let it burn until the charcoal is white, then add your chips. Allow the chips to develop a thin, smoldering smoke, then add your meat.

If you are cooking indirectly, be sure to add the cup or two of chips every forty-five minutes or so. One great thing about smoking in your charcoal grill is that you have the ability to add chunks of wood in addition to the wood chips you're already using in order to keep your fire burning longer.

Simply place the chunks directly on the lit coals (just a small amount - one or two pieces - while it is perfectly okay to cook over hardwood, too much wood burning will make your meat taste too smoky).

It's really important to make sure that the air vents in your grill allow for proper air flow otherwise, you will burn the wood too quickly, and the meat will have an acrid taste.

Thick, white smoke is a tell-tale sign that your wood is burning too quickly. You want it to cook low and slow. Serious Eats has an excellent article on how to achieve the perfect balance between wood chips and charcoal.