The roles of charcoal and wood

Discussion in 'Grilling Tips' started by patrick bair, Sep 6, 2015.

  1. patrick bair

    patrick bair Newbie

    Just finished reading "Peace, Love and Barbecue" by Mike Mills. Genuinely enjoyed it, a fun read. One thing he said about smoking kinda grabbed me: "Use charcoal for smoke, wood for flavor." I'd never thought of it that way before, but I can see myself using less wood on my next smokes. Thoughts?
  2. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I use charcoal for heat, wood for smoke and flavor.  Interesting.
  3. mike5051

    mike5051 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Me too!  I think the stick burners use charcoal for heat also.  Just saying, I've only used a WSM.  Smoking is smoking!  

  4. sawinredneck

    sawinredneck Meat Mopper

    I started a similar thread the other night,
    I'm using a stick burner and used charcoal, as little as possible, oak splits, for heat, and apple for flavor. I did an 18hr smoke this weekend, 40ish lbs of meat, not all at once! I used 18lbs of Kinsford blue, 30lbs of oak splits and 15lbs of Apple splits.
    I'll say you can do it with splits, but it requires more effort than charcoal. I have a Brinkmann trailmaster offset, it's not efficient at all! I can easily go through 18lbs of charcoal of a simple smoke! I can get a LOT of oak at the prices for charcoal!
    But, hickory and apple are hard to find, read expensive, around here!
    I don't get the "charcoal for flavor"? I use oak when grilling steaks for the flavor, not charcoal? I use oak for heat when smoking, then add fruit wood, and/or hickory for flavor. I just don't see where charcoal imparts that much flavor?
  5. gdribs

    gdribs Newbie

    I made some baby backs over the weekend , e a nice rub on the ribs I separate the charcoal both sides of grill place pan of apple juice in the middle smoke for 3hrs a little dry be very good without a real smoker grill
  6. 3montes

    3montes Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    We do things pretty similar with the exception of the amount of charcoal. I use 1/2 to 3/4 of a chimney of charcoal to start my oak splits. After that it's oak and apple splits all the way. The charcoal bag gets put away.

    I think I may have found a source for hickory up here now. Apparently they are untreated hickory timbers that were rejected for use as railroad ties. Can't wait to give it a try.
  7. bluewhisper

    bluewhisper Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I'm an offset stick burner, too. I use lump for clean heat, and wood for flavor. But sometimes I run sticks alone, and sometimes lump alone. Stick burners (including kettles) offer flexibility in that.
  8. joe black

    joe black Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    To me, this is becoming a real conundrum. I have a stick burner that I really love. Wood is available here, but it's usually 18"-20" and I have to cut it in half and then split it again. I store my wood outside, so it is subject to the weather. I have always used lump for a good bed of coals and then splits for heat and chunks for flavor. I am seriously considering using more lump and less splits or maybe none for heat along with the chunks.

    Can anyone give me their thoughts on this? Is anybody using all lump in a stick burner? I would really appreciate some ideas on all coal in a stick burner.

    Thanks in advance, Joe
  9. 3montes

    3montes Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    If you are going to use all lump why have a stick burner [​IMG] get a WSM or a Egg. Unless sourcing wood in your are is difficult and or expensive. I sometimes split wood down to 1/2 inch splits because that's all I need every once in awhile to get a little flame going. Other times it might be a 6 or 8 inch split or a full quarter log.

    To me this all part of the fire management skill and learning your smoker which sadly is becoming a lost art with all the computer control fans etc.

    I truly enjoy the entire process of fire management and vent control and all the fire poking and stoking. Sure I may be a a little busier around the smoker than the set it and forget it guys but I don't look at it as a hassle at all I think it's a rewarding effort.
  10. sawinredneck

    sawinredneck Meat Mopper

    A buddy showed up Tues before Thanksgiving wanting to smoke a turkey, he showed up with a bag of Western lump charcoal he'd picked up at Attwoods. I was pretty impressed with the stuff, so I bought two bags for my sons Birthday smoke, it was around 20deg, I smoked a 10lb and 8lb brisket and six slabs of spare ribs, around 8hrs and I only used 2/3's of a 20lb bag! I'd bought two bags for around $28, heat management was easy as long as I stayed on top of it, fed it every hour.

    So far I'm really impressed with this stuff and may very well be using more of this in the future, I like it tons more than Royal Oak, and I find it's a lot easier to manage temps than using splits. I'd suggest trying it at least once to see if it will work for you.
  11. joe black

    joe black Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Thanks for the comeback. What type and size is your smoker? What do you like about the Western than you do about Royal Oak? Did you start the re-loads in a chimney or just put it on top of what was there?

    Thanks for your response, Joe
  12. joe black

    joe black Master of the Pit OTBS Member


    That's exactly the main issue that I have. My smoker is great as far as heat management is concerned and I really enjoy tending it. One of my main issues is the want to cook and the status of the available fuel. This is now 2/6/2016, and I haven't cooked since Christmas. There have been several times when I would have been cooking, but it was either raining or my wood was still wet from the previous rain. If I was of the mindset to use lump for the entire cook, I could have been cooking. I know one answer is to build a shelter over the wood, but my homeowners restrictions won't allow a shed.

    Also, I like the size of my smoker and the amount of meat that I can cook. If I was using a WSM, it would have to be a 48" diameter.

    Some physical drawbacks are also part of the equation.

    Thanks for your comments. They are right on except for some of the physical restraints. Joe
  13. sawinredneck

    sawinredneck Meat Mopper

    I have the Brinkmann TMLE horizontal. The Western is a lot more uniform in size, none of the football sized chunks you find in the Royal Oak. I tried lighting it in the chimney once, I don't recommend it unless you have very small holes in your chimney. I had embers dropping out everywhere on my driveway, it was a mess! That's the one downfall with the Western brand, same as RO to be honest, lots of fines in it.

    But as I said, it's a lot more consistently sized so it's easier to maintain heat, rather than getting large chunks one round, then small ones the next round!

    Here's the review I wrote about it, not a lot more information, but,,,,,
  14. joe black

    joe black Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Just curious.... I have been using RO for several years and I have never had any of the issues that some folks talk about; sparking, slow ignition, etc. I don't really mind the larger chunks. It seems to me that they just make larger coals. I can see why the fines would be a pain in the chimney. I light my lump with about 2/3 chimney of RO briqs. I keep a couple of bags just for that purpose.

    I'm just going to do some serious experimenting to see how it all works out. After a good workout, I'll post a review.
  15. sawinredneck

    sawinredneck Meat Mopper

    I've seen the sparking, but not the "Fourth of July" many claim! I was with you on the larger chunks with the RO, but after fighting so much to keep temps even, I gave up, it was either too hot or too cold, had to adjust my air all the time, I didn't have that problem with the Western as long as I did my part, I fell asleep for an hour and half instead of the hour times I'd been keeping. I had to work a bit to get it back after that, but once stable I had the airflow back where it had been the rest of the time.

    If you can find it close to home, try a bag sometime and see what you think, I'm curious to read your thoughts now.

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