BBQ myths

Barbecue Wood Chips vs. Charcoal

Which is safer for grilling: barbecue wood chips or charcoal?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Barbeque wood chips are a popular fuel source for grilling and barbequing. Some people prefer them over charcoal. Barbeque wood chips are generally inexpensive and easy to use. And many people like to use hickory or other wood fires to add smoke flavoring to their barbeque.

Another reason people prefer barbeque wood chips is because they think the natural wood materials are healthier than charcoal. But this assumption is not necessarily true.

Charcoal Choices

Like barbeque wood chips, most charcoals are actually made from wood. However, there are different types of charcoal, and each is made differently. Briquettes are made from sawdust and low quality woods that are burned to a carbon state and then compressed with a starch binder. Ground coal may be added to help it burn.

In some cases, these additives can make the charcoal briquettes burn faster or at a lower heat than barbeque wood chips. In addition, some people think the additives in briquettes make food taste funny.

There is no indication that they cause health concerns. Some self-starting briquettes contain petroleum to help it ignite. While this also has been known to make food taste funny, it burns off quickly so there are no health concerns if used correctly.

Hardwood lump charcoal is a better quality charcoal. As the name implies, it is made from hardwoods that have been cooked with medium heat, either while buried under soil or using a special oven or kiln. The key is to limit the oxygen so that the wood burns slowly and releases gases, resins, water, and other elements while retaining the carbon. This type of charcoal burns hotter and slower than barbeque wood chips and is not any less healthy.

Smoke 'Em

What barbeque wood chips do that charcoal briquettes don't is add smoky flavor to foods. This is especially important when making authentic barbeque, which is slow cooked for hours. But when it comes to grilling, unless foods are cooked for 20 minutes or more, very little smoke is absorbed from the wood chips anyway.

So if you want to add wood smoky flavor to your food or you just like the smell of a wood fire, go with the barbeque wood chips. But when it comes to health concerns, charcoal may have some additives to make it more user-friendly, but it has not been shown to be any more or less healthy than barbeque wood chips.


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