Tips for Grilling with Wood

By Hallie Hammack , last updated March 10, 2011

Backyard cookouts are a favorite American pastime but to ensure that your meal is perfectly flavored, you should know the finer points of grilling with wood. Grilling over a wood-fueled flame may seem simple at first glance but in actuality, a lot goes into making sure the fire is just right.

Type of Wood: There are many different types of wood you can use when grilling and each has its place. Wood chips are great for smaller grills, where there is less space between the wood and the cooking grate. Larger grills will be served by wood chunks and ovens and BBQ pits should use wood logs.

Flavor Combinations: There are not hard and fast rules when it comes to grilling with wood and choosing the right flavor combinations. Experiment with different types of wood to see what gives you the perfect flavor you've been searching for. As a general rule, however, woods with lots of resin—like pine—should be avoided because their strong aroma is too overbearing for most food. Oak and hickory are longtime favorites but if you're looking for something a little different, fruit and nut woods—like apple wood or almond wood—can give your meal a truly distinct flavor.

Preparation: A common grilling mistake is to place the wood directly in the bottom of a grill. This method not only results in a messy cleanup process, it can also be dangerous. Instead, invest in a smoke box—a sturdy iron box with holes that allow the heat and smoke to escape. An added bonus is that placing wood in a smoke box helps the smoke to last longer, leading to a more richly flavored meal.

Lighting: Lighting a wood fire isn't the same as lighting charcoal. The flavors from the wood give your meal its delicious taste and any chemical you introduce will alter that flavor. Instead of turning to lighter fluid, use a natural material like kindling to start your fire.

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