Charcoal vs Wood
Where to Start / Backyard Apprentice

Charcoal vs Wood

What fuel to use and when to use it

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Which fuel should you use? Charcoal, wood or a bit of both? Take a quick read to get your feel for fuel!
  • Charcoal cooks hotter than wood and is more consistent in its heat output.

    Charcoal cooks hotter than wood and is more consistent in its heat output.

  • Wood chips are great for adding extra flavour to your barbecue or smoker.

    Wood chips are great for adding extra flavour to your barbecue or smoker.

  • Charcoals unique flavour is a result of the released drippings evaporating and going back into the food.

    Charcoals unique flavour is a result of the released drippings evaporating and going back into the food.

Both Charcoal and Wood have their pros and cons. Wood-fired ovens are all the rage, and it’s a wonder pizza ever existed without it. But here’s the thing: charcoal cooks better. To know charcoal is to love charcoal, so here’s an introduction!

What is charcoal anyway?

Charcoal used to be wood. It’s a wood that was pre-burned with very little oxygen, and is almost pure carbon.

What is so great about it?

  1. Charcoal burns hotter than wood. This is because there’s less moisture in it. Wood has an energy value of between 14 & 18MJ/kg when burned, whereas charcoal has a value of 29MJ/kg, so it packs a punch and burns hotter and longer.

  2. Charcoal doesn't give off smoke. When briquettes first start to burn, they may give off a bit of vapour, but that will cook off and then start it’s 'clean burn'. Unlike wood, which continues to create smoke and particulates right through it’s cook.

  3. Charcoal is cleaner burning than wood.

  4. Charcoal is more consistent. Wood can vary in moisture and temperament between species and age. Charcoal is pretty much consistent, and can be relied on to deliver the same results and heat output each time, meaning you can hone your skills with one less thing to worry about!

What about flavour?

Charcoal flavour is everywhere right now. Burger buns are being infused with it and it’s even being added to healthy smoothies to aid in detoxification. So it’s on trend, but, it’s also delicious. But we now know it doesn't give off smoke, so how does that flavour get into your food? The answer is extremely hot radiant heat. When the meat heats up, it releases juices and drippings that hit the super-hot coals and combust, returning that gorgeous flavour back into your meat. It’s constantly increasing the flavour profile of your meat, the longer it cooks... amazing!

But adding even more flavour can be fun and make you feel like a pro, so once your charcoal is glowing away beautifully, then add a handful of your favourite wood-chips or chunks on top of your coals. We've done a handy wood match chart to show you which wood goes with which meat, so take a look.

Most of all though, enjoy the feeling of cooking with charcoal. It feels primal, because it is, charcoal cooking has been around as long as fire. So tap into your inner cave-man and get experimenting!

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