A trip to the beach is a vacation. It’s a chance to enjoy the ocean, dunes, and surf that rejuvenates the mind and body. There are many ways to enjoy this natural beauty without decreasing its appeal or ability for enjoyment when you return home. One such method is through barbecue wood chips from sawdust-free hardwoods like maple, oak, and birch.
What are BBQ wood chips?
Barbecue wood chips, also known as briquettes and lump charcoal, are the alternative fuel for grilling. They are produced from wood that has been turned to sawdust and then compressed into a light, low-carbon fuel source for the barbecue grill.
As golfers, we know what a “lump” of coal is. It’s a heavy hard rock that emits sparks when struck with a hammer. Because they are made up of tiny particles, they will ignite quickly and spread fire like a torch burning. When the fire burns out, the smallest particles have all burned away, leaving behind only hot coals or black or dark gray ashes or embers in layman’s terms.
Barbecue wood chips are small chips of sawdust compressed into small, round pieces the consistency of thick pencil shavings. They do not burn like a lump of coal. They burn slowly and evenly, providing an intense heat that lasts for an extended period. This is why barbecue wood chips make the best fuel for grilling meat because they do not flame up and cause flare ups that char meats, which results in a burnt taste and dry texture.
How are BBQ wood chips Different from Briquettes?
The two main differences between briquettes and barbecue wood chips are size and shape, leading to more performance differences.
The size of barbecue wood chips is much smaller than briquettes, which results in more intense heat. Whereas a briquet is hollow in the middle and blocks oxygen, increasing the time it takes to ignite and extinguish, barbecue wood chips are solid and more compact. Because they are small enough to be air permeable, they take less time to ignite and burn out quickly. The heat intensity lasts longer than an equivalent briquette because there’s more surface area touching the grill grate. Hollow charcoal briquettes fill up with ash as they burn, so they lose their ability to burn quickly, making them useless as a fuel source before other types of charcoal are ready.
Because barbecue wood chips are solid, they do not expand and contract during cooking. This makes them ideal for grilling. Briquettes, however, extend and contract during cooking causing uneven cooking temperatures. They develop when heated, resulting in hot spots at the center of the charcoal basket where it has a higher temperature than what is surrounding it. This results in varying cook times and undercooked food while overcooked on the opposite side. The top has a lower temperature and will be blackened before any other areas on the basket get hot enough to cook food at average grill temperatures (around 350°-400°F).
How to choose the Best BBQ Wood Chips
Consider these essential factors to choose the best barbecue wood chips for your needs.
- Ash: The amount of ash is directly related to its “greenness” or how recently it was cut down. When wood chips are cut from a tree, some ash will fall to the ground around it. This ash is called dirt and should be cleaned off before you use the wood chips for grilling, so any other organic material does not fall into your grill, the food being cooked, or accidentally touching it with your hands. Only use wood chips that have been cut almost the same size as the charcoal briquettes you will use.
- First, ask your local dealer what kind of wood they use to make their chips. Different types of woods give off different amounts of ash and thus produce different amounts of smoke when they bake in the oven. You can also tell your dealer how much you can handle regarding ash, and they can recommend lighter or heavier woods for different tasks.
- Second, look at the packaging that the dealer is using for their barbecue wood chips. The packaging will provide information about how heavy on or heavy offash a given type of wood is. You can also look up information from the company on their website.
- Third, if you see the words “low ash” or “no ash,” the wood chips have not been cut from a tree, and therefore, there is no dirt to clean them off.
- Straws: Straws are used in making barbecue wood chips because it is easier for the saws to cut through when they are made of firmly held fibers like stalks and stems. Look at what kind of straws your dealer uses. Straws with a dark purple hue are more likely to come from acacia trees and often produce some ash when they are processed. Straws that are yellow and arrive without any ash are the most highly processed, processed from firewood.
- Grades: The grade of the wood has a significant impact on the quality of the barbecue chip. Lower grades of wood produce a lighter-colored barbecue wood chip that produces less smoke than heavier grades. The lower rate also means it will take longer for your grill to reach operating temperatures, so foods cooked with lower quality chips should not be eaten immediately after cooking.
As you can see, there is a great deal of difference between different types of barbecue wood chips. We recommend you purchase at least two types of barbecue wood chips and experiment with them both. You can increase the flavor intensity by adding more coals to your grill and reducing the amount of heat from lighter woods. However, it’s best not to overdo these adjustments because doing so could cause your food to burn before the smoke can adequately penetrate the inside.