What kind of fuel are you a fan of ?
In the big and beautiful world of BBQ, there are different types of fuel or sources of energy that you can use to feed a grill : hardwood, charcoal,
charcoal briquettes, gas (propane or natural gas), wood pellets, and electricity.
For those who would like to venture into wood fire cooking, know that it is more difficult to cook with hardwood than with charcoal because wood is denser and the air will have more difficulty to kindle the fire if the oxygen supply gets reduced too much. The main advantage is, of course, the incredible taste, but I suggest you experiment with charcoal before you get to wood fire cooking.
It is often recommended that you start your wood fire outside of the BBQ. When you get burning embers, you can then transfer them to your grill, since they are much easier to control for cooking evenly.
Another advantage of hardwood cooking is that it can reach VERY high temperatures for grilling. But, the main downside to this is the fact that it can create backfiring.
Hardwood is the ideal fuel for oven-style cooking on the barbecue, such as the baking of pies, pizzas and cakes. It is also excellent to cook all types of meat, but grilling on wood fire might be a bit difficult to master.
Finally, never use softwood like pine to grill, because the natural resin present in coniferous wood gives an unpleasant taste to food. Also, only use barbecues that were designed for wood burning, since some charcoal barbecues might not be as resistant to higher temperatures.
Charcoal and briquettes
Those who know me already know that my favorite fuel is coal. And if it’s not yours yet, read on to understand why.
Yes, it is a little longer to cook with charcoal than propane; and yes, it requires more maintenance. But the end result is worth it.
Charcoal is the result of a simple process that we call carbonization. The main objective of charcoal cooking is to reduce the mass of coal by heating it with very little air, so that it does not catch fire. This high level of control on charcoal will allow you to adjust your cooking temperature quickly.
Charcoal can be used in many types of barbecues, such as kettles and Kamados. A charcoal basket is even available to use in some gas grills. It is so easy to cook with charcoal, that you can even cook on lit charcoal that are put directly on the ground, with or without a grill. You can also cook straight on the hot coals, if you wish !
And you can cook anything on charcoal : shepherd’s pie, cookies, burger, chicken, pork, beef, corn on the cob, baked beans, bacon… You can grill or sear or slow cook any kind of meat.
All things considered, charcoal really is the most versatile fuel of them all. And, if you have great control over your air intake, you should be able to avoid backfires !
Gas (propane or natural gas)
The gas grill is almost as versatile as a charcoal BBQ. However, unlike charcoal and hardwood cooking, gas will not add any flavor to your food. It is possible to put a container filled with liquid (like beer or juice) inside your gas grill to add some flavor, but this will mostly add moisture. It will still help to make your grilled meats tastier, since gas flames tend to dry the air and the food inside your BBQ. You can also use metal containers filled with wood chips (like our Chip-o-nator or the Smoker Box) to give a smoky flavor to your food.
The main advantages of the gas grill are that it is very easy to light up, needs very little maintenance, has a long durability and, generally, good grilling power. The gas grill, given its speed, can also be used as an additional grill to cook a side of vegetables, while you slow-cook meat on another grill. It can also be used as your quick and easy winter barbecue !
Wood pellets, which are composed of pressed sawdust without any additives, can be used to power grills designed exclusively for this purpose. The main advantage of this fuel is the simplicity of its use, since we only need to fill the pellet hopper of the smoker, plug it into an electrical outlet, select the cooking temperature and let it work its magic. Many types of pellets in several different wood flavors are available.
The only problem with this kind of smoker, is the fact that it only can rise to temperatures between 150 and 400 degrees, so it is not recommended for grilling. Despite this, you will have a lot of fun and ease to realize all kinds of flavorful slow cooking recipes on your pellet grill !
Electric grills are more suitable for people who have very little space or time for grilling. However, given the lack of interest from grilling enthusiasts, there are very few models available on the market. The obvious advantage of an electric BBQ, if we compare it to an electric oven, is the possibility of grilling. Almost all electric grills come with a cast iron grill and tub that allows them to counterbalance their lack of power by accumulating a lot of heat to get a better caramelization. Electric grills can reach temperatures as high as 700 degrees !
To find out which type of fuel is best for you, evaluate how you use your BBQ and what you enjoy cooking with it. Remember that the BBQ is a tool that can be used daily, if you know how to choose your machine !
Written by Sam Bouchard