What is the Difference Between Woods for BBQ Grills

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Updated June 27, 2022

If you are new to the wide world of outdoor cooking, you may wonder what is the difference between woods for BBQ grills. Some of the best grills, after all, use wood as a fuel source so it’s good to have this information on hand. So what are the different types of wood for grills and what are their preferred uses? Keep reading to find out.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • There are plenty of different types of wood available for grilling, such as hardwoods like mesquite and fruit woods like apple or cherry.
  • Wood also comes in many forms, such as wood pellets that are great for low and slow-cooking to provide smoky flavors. You’ll need smoker grill parts for some grills, too. 
  • Wood chips are great for quick cooks and wood chunks are great for longer cooks with larger cuts of meat like pork shoulder.

What Kinds of Woods are Available for Grills?

There are plenty of types of wood out there for grilling, just like there are many grills made in the USA to buy. Each wood type offers unique flavors and use-case scenarios. Hardwoods like mesquite and hickory are great for adding amazing flavor and smokiness but come in at a higher-than-average price point. Nut woods and fruit woods like pecan, apple, and cherry are great for creating a sweet aftertaste. All told, there is a much higher variety of useable wood types than there are gas types, if you are learning the definition of a natural gas grill.

Insider Tip

Some types of wood give the meat an overdone texture and flavor, so be careful when purchasing your wood.

What Kind of Wood to Use for Wood-Fired Grills?

In addition to types of wood, there is also the form factor to consider. Some grills use wood pellets, while others use shavings. Let’s go over some types.

Wood Pellets

Compressed wood pellets offer a wide and even temperature range, making them great for slow cooking and smoking if you are wondering what pellets to use for brisket. These pellets are on the inexpensive side and come in a variety of flavors and subtypes. If you are interested in low and slow cooking, this is your wood. Of course, you’ll need a wood pellet grill or stove to use this type of wood.

Wood Chips

These are your standard wood chips for use in an average wood-fired grill. They are great for short cooks, such as when you sear meat. They do tend to burn out rather quickly, so they are not a great choice for low and slow cooks.

Wood Chunks

These larger-than-average chunks of wood are the go-to choice for large cuts of meat, as they take hours to go out, giving them a decent temperature range. They impart a subtle smoky flavor, depending on the subtype.

Charcoal

Believe it or not, charcoal is also wood, or once was wood. This popular fuel source for a charcoal grill is created by strongly heating wood in minimum oxygen. The result (lump charcoal) makes for a long-lasting heating element perfect for a wide variety of grilling applications. That’s why you need experience, so you’ll know when charcoal is ready for use in your grill. Otherwise, food will be undercooked.

F.A.Q.S

How to decide between wood, charcoal, and gas grilling?

It depends on personal preference and how you like to cook. Enjoy lighter fluid? Then go with a charcoal grill and charcoal briquettes. Like the wood flavor of cherry wood? Go with a pellet grill to create wood fires.


Do I need to soak the wood?

Some advocate soaking wood before use to prevent it from burning out. This depends on the species of wood you choose and the amount of wood smoke you create.


Does meat stop taking on smoke?

No matter what type of grill you use, be it a charcoal grill or a wood pellet grill, the meat never stops taking on smoke during a cook.



STAT: Alder is a very delicate wood with a subtle sweet flavor. It’s commonly used when smoking salmon, but it goes well with most fish, pork, poultry, and light-meat game birds. (source)

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