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Grilling & Smoking: Wood? Briquets? Chunks?


Richard Kilgore
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I have always used briquets for both smoking with a water smoker and for grilling, but am interested in understanding the why and how of using chunk charcoal and wood chunks for grilling and smoking. Why would you choose one over the other for each cooking process?

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I think the flavor profile from chunk charcoal is much more pure and you have less ash which is nice. The big but though is that chunk charcoal burns much hotter and is more prone to temperature fluctuation so it is a bit tricky to use for a water based smoker such as a Weber Bullet.

Also, you can certainly put wood chunks on top of your briquets for smoking.

Ben

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-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

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Yeah... What he said. I haven't tried the chunk charcoal in the WSM yet but I intend to. I have read the warnings that it is not consistent as far as heat and that you might have to fiddle with it. I want to try it just out of curiosity to see if it makes any difference. Less ash would be nice but no biggy. I am interested in the taste profile versus the plain Kingsford that I have been using since I got the thing. The Virtual Weber Bullet site warns that the ash is light and may be prone to flying up onto the meat if you mess with it. I am still going to try it.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I have always used briquets for both smoking with a water smoker and for grilling, but am interested in understanding the why and how of using chunk charcoal and wood chunks for grilling and smoking. Why would you choose one over the other for each cooking process?

I think that chunk charcoal and wood chunks are great for grilling, probably would lean more toward wood, just make sure it is a hard wood. You want high, constant heat with low smoke.

Smoking is a completely different animal, I'm sure there is some thread about it. Hickory chips are probably the most popular choice. I like to use dried herb branches; rosemary, basil, fennel ect.

"He could blanch anything in the fryolator and finish it in the microwave or under the salamander. Talented guy."

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I would think that on a kettle it may not make a lot of difference since you are already running hot. I haven't tried it but I would be curious to see if any others out there think that there is a flavor difference.

Do you mean that you have mesquite and hickory charcoal? I am wondering if it really adds any flavor since fully finished charcoal should be pure carbon.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster than briquets.

Lump charcoal is essentially pure carbon; there are basically no volatile flavoring components in it. Briquets have lots of junk in them - binders, sometimes coal dust, sawdust, and possibly other things. These additives will add flavors that plain charcoal won't (but the worst possible 'additive' is charcoal lighter fluid - never ever use that, unless you want to ruin the food). My favorite brand of briquet, Royal Oak, has plainly visible sawdust in it, which helps add some flavor when I'm not using chips of some kind.

I'm only doing grilling at the moment, not barbecue :sad: but real barbecue in an offset smoker or pit generally uses wood, not charcoal of either kind. For a water smoker, it's probably easier to use briquets (I used to have an electric bullet smoker that I hated).

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The advantage of lump charcoal, which I assume is what you are speaking of, is the purity. There are no resins or accellerants you will find in most briquets so the flavor is very clean and free of the carbon and lighter fluid flavors. Adding a few wet chunks of wood on a hot bed of lump coals is sufficient in a webber grill or Brinkman smoker for lots of smoke flavor. Lump charcoal is much lighter in weight with the same BTUs as the briquets IMO.

RM

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I thought the charcoal (whether briquets or chuncks) was primarily to provide heat. When grilling, any smoke you get is from burning grease that drips from your meat. There might be some flavor from the charcoal, but when I want ot add smoke flavor, I use hickory chips. When using my electic smoker, I just use soaked chips. I recenlty dug out the owners manual for the smoker and saw that it recommends using the wood chunks, wrapped in foil, instead of the chips. Next time I smoke (perhaps this weekend) I plan to try the hickory chunks. They should last longer than the chips.

spelling edit

Edited by mnebergall (log)
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The Weber Bullet site keeps yammering on about using Kingsford plain briquets. I think they have a minimum of binders to affect the flavor. I don't find that they add any off flavors. Using the Minion Method for the fire, the wood chunks add the smoke flavor.

I have used the same combination in my offset smoker. I haven't really tried wood only. Col klink is the expert on that.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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The Weber Bullet site keeps yammering on about using Kingsford plain briquets. I think they have a minimum of binders to affect the flavor. I don't find that they add any off flavors. Using the Minion Method for the fire, the wood chunks add the smoke flavor.

I have used the same combination in my offset smoker. I haven't really tried wood only. Col klink is the expert on that.

What is the minion method?

Bruce Frigard

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It is described on this site. Basically it is a method of loading up the basket in the WSM with a lot of charcoal and wood chunks and lighting a few coals to get it started. The fire will go for about 12 hours or more without any fiddling. The technique can be tweaked for other smokers I am told.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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It is described on this site. Basically it is a method of loading up the basket in the WSM with a lot of charcoal and wood chunks and lighting a few coals to get it started. The fire will go for about 12 hours or more without any fiddling. The technique can be tweaked for other smokers I am told.

Thanks for posting that link, fifi.

I am curious if you've ever used the sand-in-the-water-pan method mentioned under "Variations". From what I read of the Minion Method regarding overnight cooking, you have to check the water pan every 2-3 hours to see if more needs to be added. Which would suck, if true. So much for a good night's sleep. :huh:

The sand method make more sense if you want a solid night of sleep while doing overnight grilling/smoking. But I wonder if it really works.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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For the reasons mentioned above (purity and intense heat), I use lump charcoal for grilling.

For smoking I use briquettes (since they burn slower) with wood chunks (hickory or mesquite) on top of them. This is usually sufficient to generate a lot of smoke in my ancient, soon to retire, Weber-style grill.

Elie

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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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It is described on this site. Basically it is a method of loading up the basket in the WSM with a lot of charcoal and wood chunks and lighting a few coals to get it started. The fire will go for about 12 hours or more without any fiddling. The technique can be tweaked for other smokers I am told.

Thanks for posting that link, fifi.

I am curious if you've ever used the sand-in-the-water-pan method mentioned under "Variations". From what I read of the Minion Method regarding overnight cooking, you have to check the water pan every 2-3 hours to see if more needs to be added. Which would suck, if true. So much for a good night's sleep. :huh:

The sand method make more sense if you want a solid night of sleep while doing overnight grilling/smoking. But I wonder if it really works.

No, I have never tried it. I just check the water pan before I tuck in. I normally don't sleep more than 6 or 7 hours anyway and it does just fine. I don't find that I have to add water every 2 - 3 hours anyway. Maybe once for a 12 hour pork butt.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I see. It sounds as if the WSM folks were trying to be overly cautious on checking the water.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Yep... Heat sink. Sand would work but water is better. I can't find the heat capacity of sand but water has a very high number compared to other substances. That is what makes the world work. All of that water in the oceans retaining and distributing heat energy. Or something like that...

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Fifi, I think you want to look up the heat capacity of silicon dioxide if you want the heat capacity of sand.

That being said, the water, as it evaporates/boils will also tend to keep the temperature constant due to the heat and temperature of vaporization. This effect is beyond simple thermal mass. The energy required to vaporize a gram of water is roughly 500 times the amount required to heat it one degree according to these guys: Hyperphysics, phase changes or about 5 times the energy to heat that same gram from having just melted to being at the boiling point.

Depending on the temperature, water can be better than sand.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I did a quick google for silicone dioxide and didn't find anything right off so I gave up. I do remember that the specific heat capacity of water is something like 4.xxx whereas most other things are 2 or less, most things less. If I have that right. (I deep forgetting if specific heat capacity is the one that takes mass into account. It has been too many years since physics. :biggrin: )

Yeah... you have that heat of vaporization going on, too. That keeps the water around to act as a heat sink. It is a complex situation.

Most folks assume that the pan of water is there to keep the meat moist. While it may do some of that (I have my doubts), the main reason it is there is to help maintain a steady even temperature.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I did a quick google for silicone dioxide...

Um, er, silicone is used in things like Silpats and breast implants. :shock:

Silicon dioxide is very different.

But, that said, a very quick google search of heat capacity for water vs. silicon dioxide showed conflicting units, so I gave up... I think that sand has a greater heat capacity than water, but I'm not sure.

Heat capacity of breast implants is (ahem) left as an exercise for the reader.

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I am lousy at typos. I also keep typing ration instead of ratio. :wink:

I don't want to go there on the silicone! :raz:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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