Charcoal and wood smokers have been favored by many over the years. The flavor of smoked meat is one of a kind and has been known as a conversation starter among those who enjoy the smoked side of culinary arts.
Can You Use Wood In A Charcoal Smoker? Yes, wood can be used in a charcoal smoker. Often, wood is preferred over charcoal, if not at least encouraged to be added to the charcoal when smoking meats and vegetables.
Adding a small amount of wood to your charcoal grill will enhances the smoky flavor taking it to next level.
Wood, or pellet, smokers are similar to charcoal smokers; both offer the exact cooking temperatures, special features, and add-ons.
The main differences are the labeling that identifies the wood or charcoal briquettes, the availability of product brands, and the price.
The Basics Of A Charcoal Smoker
A charcoal grill and a charcoal smoker are not the same things. Some brands are well-known for high-quality grills that feature a smoker component, but the primary cooking point is still the grill.
Similar to charcoal grills, a charcoal smoker uses burning charcoal as the heat source. Unlike a grill that uses high and direct heat, smokers use low and indirect heat for cooking and flavoring the meat.
After hours of gradually cooking, the meat in a smoker will have an internal temperature that is the same temperature as the air in the cooking chamber and a distinct flavor that only smoked meat will have.
There are four main parts to a charcoal smoker. The lid is essential to keeping the smoke inside the cooking chamber. The cooking chamber is where the meat is lined up on cooking grates and smoked.
The firebox holds the charcoal used for smoking and generating indirect heat. A water pan above the firebox regulates the temperature and produces steam to help the smoking process.
Related Product: PK Portable Charcoal Grill and Smoker Combo
How To Use A Charcoal Smoker
When you are ready to use your charcoal smoker, there are some general guidelines to follow, whether your first time or your hundredth time. To start, make sure you are using regular charcoal briquettes.
There is no need to look for specialty briquettes since the normal ones burn at the proper smoking temperatures, while more expensive brands with special additives tend to burn too hot.
Next, fill the water pan three-quarters full of cold water. It is crucial to use cold water since the water pan operates as temperature control. Now it is time to light the coals.
There are two ways to light the coals; a charcoal chimney or a stacked charcoal pyramid. If you have a charcoal chimney, once the coals have a thin white layer of ash, you can add them to the smoker.
If you do not have a charcoal chimney starter, stack the briquettes in a pyramid inside the smoker, use a little lighter fluid if needed, and light the coals on fire.
Now that the smoker is set up and ready, it is time to add the prepared meat. Meat intended for smoking does not have to be prepared in any specific way, but this is a good time for those who want to add any extra flavors.
Salts, peppers, spices, or a specially made meat rub can be added before placing the meat on the grates.
Once all the meat is set and ready to cook, adjust the vents, or dampers, to maintain the desired smoking temperature. Ideally, between 200- and 250-degrees Fahrenheit will provide the best smoking results.
Lower vents will allow air inside the smoker, while the upper vents allow air out.
If this is your first time using a charcoal smoker, or any smoker in general, be forewarned that this is not a quick and done process. Smoking meat takes quite a bit of time.
Some meats can cook within six to seven hours, while others may take up to twenty hours. It is best to not go off time alone when deciding if smoked meat is finished or not.
Have a meat thermometer available at all times during the cooking process to ensure all your hard work has been successful and worth the long wait.
Is It Better To Smoke With Wood Or Charcoal?
There are advantages to using either wood or charcoal for smoking. However, the best smoking method to get into the habit of is combining charcoal and wood for a better and deeper flavor that using only one or the other couldn’t produce on its own.
The nostalgic flavor that comes from charcoal is a commonly quoted preference. The convenience and availability of charcoal briquettes are two of the main advantages.
Also, being easily lit with a match or lighter makes charcoal user-friendly for beginner to advanced meat smokers.
Wood smoking has a nostalgic feeling to it as well. Before charcoal briquettes, there was only wood as a heat source for cooking.
There are different wood varieties to choose from that will flavor meats and vegetables with either robust or mild flavors to satisfy everyone.
Wood can be paired together for blends or used individually to highlight certain aromas and tastes.
Another advantage to wood is that it can be added to charcoal to improve and emphasize flavors, while the opposite may not be as easy to accomplish.
Pairing wood and charcoal together is an excellent way to get the best of both worlds.
Experimenting with different flavors of wood for various meats and vegetables is not only a delicious way to discover what you like, but also an aromatic experience as the wood and meat infuses.
How To Use Wood Chips In A Charcoal Smoker
There are two ways to use wood chips in a charcoal smoker; either putting them directly over the charcoal or next to the burning charcoal.
Following the initial steps of using a charcoal smoker, once the lit charcoals are coated with a thin white layer, place two to four wood chunks or a few wood chips directly over the burning charcoals.
It may take about thirty minutes for the charcoal to become white and ready for the wood. When using wood chunks, they will burn slower since they are larger than wood chips and require less replenishing.
If you are using wood chips, they are smaller, will burn much quicker, and produce significantly less smoke than a wood chunk. A second option for using wood chunks and chips in a charcoal smoker is placing the wood next to the burning charcoal rather than directly on top.
Start by making two separate piles, one charcoal and one for the smoking wood.
By placing the wood next to the charcoal, it will take longer to ignite and burn at a much slower pace. Wood chunks will also provide a fuller smoked flavor than the chips since the chunks can produce more smoke per piece.
Wood chips will need to be replenished more often than wood chunks due to the size difference.
An alternative to the two options is to combine both methods. One or two wood chunks can be added directly to the burning charcoal, with one or two pieces spaced next to the burning pile.
Wood chips could also be used directly on the charcoal, and larger wood chunks could be placed next to the burning pile for a longer and slower burn.
This method could also be suitable for mixed wood to create a unique blended flavor in the cooking chamber.
Reduce Oxygen To Make Wood Smoke, Not Burn
Using a charcoal smoker is all about smoking, not burning. So, to keep the wood from burning, a lower oxygen level is needed inside the firebox and cooking chamber.
The goal is to leave the wood smoldering and smoking to smoke the food properly.
Phenol and phenolic are two compounds found in smoke that have antioxidant characteristics to slow bacteria growth and rancidification of animal fats.
These are essential in the smoking process to keep the meat healthy and edible.
Adjusting the dampers on the smoker will help control how much oxygen goes in and out as well as how quickly or slowly the wood and charcoal burn.
The dampers should be partially opened with just enough airflow to keep the temperature lower and the wood smoking. When the lower dampers are open, more oxygen enters the smoker and a higher temperature is reached. When the upper dampers are open, oxygen leaves but so does the smoke.
Experiment With Different Types Of Wood Chips
Choosing the best smoking wood isn’t just about flavor pairings or personal taste. The very first step is to confirm the quality and viability of the wood itself.
With a decent amount of flavored wood chips available, there are various options to experiment with. Finding blends that increase flavors in different cuts of meat is only part of the fun of smoking.
Wood chips are available in hickory, white oak, pecan, cherry, apple, alder, maple, and mesquite.
As for specific types of wood, avoid softwoods like cedar, elm, fir, pine, and spruce. The saps and resins in these woods create an unpleasant smoke and can ruin your BBQ.
If you’re looking for a milder flavor, Maple is the best option which can be paired with a pork. If you want to add some slightly sweet flavor to pork, chicken or even lamb, you might consider the Cherry-flavored chips.
One of the most versatile flavors is Hickory as its flavor pairs well with different type of meats because of its rich and strong flavor.
For vegetables, a universal wood flavor would perfectly compliment like Cherry, Maple and Apple flavor. As for fish meat, you might opt to use Apple and Fruit-wood because of their narrow taste.
Type of Wood
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Tips For Combining Charcoal And Wood
If you haven’t tried it yet, combining charcoal and wood while smoking meat and vegetables are highly recommended.
- Start by choosing your meat and any spices or rubs you want to use.
- Choose the flavor of wood chunks or wood chips that you want to smoke the meat.
- Use a brand of charcoal briquettes you like for smoking.
- If you’d like to extend the life of wood chips while increasing the amount of smoke, put together a wood pouch made from several layers of aluminum foil, filled with wood chips, sealed on the sides but has a few holes poked on the top to let the smoke out.
- Place the pouch on top of or next to the burning charcoals and refill as needed.
- Adjust the dampers to allow the correct airflow in and out of the smoker for a slower smoking process and to keep the wood from quickly burning.
- Add more wood chips to the burning coal to maintain a steady smoke, noting the location of the wood to the charcoal for optimal smoke and replenishment if needed.
Wood smokers and charcoal smokers are excellent culinary tools for anyone who appreciates rich-flavored meats and vegetables. Wood can be used in a charcoal smoker, and in most situations, it should be.
The extra flavor and aroma from the wood are enough to make any neighbor jealous.