The Benefits of Grilling with Wood – Unlocking the Secrets

grilling with wood

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As a seasoned barbeque enthusiast, I can guarantee that grilling with wood is nothing short of extraordinary. The smoky and savory flavor it adds to meats and vegetables makes for an incredible dining experience. Not only does cooking over an open flame fueled by wood adds exquisite taste, but it also gives your food the perfect texture and appearance!

Whether it’s for health benefits or just pleasing taste, grilling with wood is an unforgettable experience. So let’s dive into the enchantment of outdoor cooking! Pour yourself a cold drink and light up your grill as we explore this one-of-a-kind method.

In this guide, you’ll learn the following:

  • What are the benefits of grilling with wood?
  • How does smoke enhance the taste?
  • How can grilling with wood reduce the fat and calorie content?
  • And more!

What is grilling with wood, and why is it becoming more popular?

It is pretty straightforward. It means you are using hardwoods or fruitwoods as the primary source of heat for cooking. There are many reasons why it’s becoming more and more popular. Compared to other methods, some of these can be the smoky flavor, the health benefits, sustainability, and cost efficiency. Food enthusiasts embrace this trend as well since it adds some additional complexity to the cooking process.

What are the main benefits of grilling with wood?

Using wood for grilling offers many benefits, making it the ideal choice for outdoor cooking. These benefits are pretty much the same as what makes them popular.

grilling with wood flames

The unique smoky flavor, as someone who eats grilled meat regularly, the difference between wood and other methods can be easily felt on the taste alone. But additionally, to the rest of the benefits I discussed in the first paragraph, wood grilling increases your control over the temperature of the grilling and opens up an array of variety you can introduce to your cooking by experimenting with different types of woods, each having its unique flavor profile. This is why I like grilling with wood vs charcoal alone, as we can get a better-tasting meal.

How does wood smoke enhance the flavor of grilled food?

Here’s how smoking with wood will enhance the flavor of grilled food, in several ways actually. During the burning process, wood releases an array of complex organic compounds and aromas, which enrich the food with a rich smoky flavor. These compounds are absorbed deep into the meat and penetrate the surface, enriching the food in its entirety, not just a shallow outer layer, with the meat remaining bland on the inside.

Here are a few examples of how different wood types will affect the flavor of your masterpiece.

  • Hickory will give the meat a strong, bold smoky flavor. As a hardwood, the intensity of the smoky taste will be higher when compared to fruit woods in general. This wood is great for beef, pork, and game meats.
  • Mesquite is like hickory on steroids; its smoky taste is dialed to the max. Be careful with this one if you don’t want to lose the flavor of the meat to the smokiness. Beef, chicken, and fish go well with this one.
  • Apple is a lighter option, with the smokiness not as overpowering, with a hint of sweetness. Pork, chicken, and fish are ideal choices for this wood type.
  • Oak I is the lighter/popular choice when going with hardwood. It is easy to use and more forgiving for beginners since the danger of the smokiness being too overpowering is pretty low, and it has a balanced flavor profile that compliments most, if not all, meat types but is perfect for beef, pork, and fish.
  • Cherry has a mild, sweet flavor that goes well with chicken, pork, and fish.
  • Alder has a more delicate flavor profile that compliments fish, chicken, and vegetables well.
  • Maple brings some additional sweetness to the table with a mild smokiness, making it especially good for pork, chicken, and vegetables.

Read more >> Can you grill frozen chicken?

wood pile for grilling

To use these woods just, simply toss chips or chunks in the grill. The amount used is up to you. It depends on how smoky you like your meat. However, be mindful that some wood types have stronger smoke than others.

A given amount of mesquite, for instance, can over-smoke the meat, while the same amount of apple wood would be barely noticeable.

How does the taste of wood-grilled meat compare to gas-grilled meat?

The main difference is the smokiness of the flavors imparted by the glorious woodsmoke, which can never be overlooked. The difference is night and day; the richness, the added complexity, and the smoky taste just make it vastly superior, in my opinion. Gas grills are indeed much more convenient, but you pay for that added convenience by losing the smoky taste. Not a good trade if you ask me.

wood for grilling

Gas grills use natural gas, which burns cleanly, not giving any extra flavor to the meat, leaving them more naked/bland. Reading this, you might’ve figured that I am leaning more toward the smoky flavor. According to my experience, most people prefer the smoky taste, but this is also a preference. Some people might dislike the smokiness, so using wood is not a surefire way of impressing everyone.

How can grilling with wood reduce fat and calorie content in food?

Grilling with wood can help reduce the fat and calorie content in food in a few different ways. Firstly, wood grilling allows for the excess fat to drip off the food and onto the coals, which can help reduce the overall fat content. Secondly, grilling with wood cooks the food at a lower temperature than other cooking methods, which can help prevent the food from becoming too dry and losing moisture.

This can lead to a lower calorie content as well, as less oil or butter is needed to keep the food moist. Ultimately, grilling with wood infuses food with a smoky flavor that can render the necessity of salt, sugar, and other unhealthy condiments unnecessary. Although this technique may not be enough to make your meal healthier on its own, it is still an effective factor in supporting healthful eating habits overall.

wood burning for the grill
  • Grilling with wood will actually reduce the fat, in turn, the calorie content of the food you are preparing. Excess fat will drip down onto the hot coals, disappearing with a satisfying sizzle. 
  • The process of grilling with wood takes place at a lower temperature keeping the meat moister. Essentially you won’t have to compensate for the dryness of the meat with a large amount of butter, oils, and sauces.
  • The Meat will require less sugary or other types of high-calorie flavorings. 

These are not major factors in conducting a healthy lifestyle, but every little bit counts.

How do the health benefits of wood-grilled meat compare to other cooking methods?

There is evidence of harmful chemicals forming while cooking the meat at a high temperature (PAH, HCA). These levels are lower when grilling with wood, which can be correlated to the lower cooking temperature. Also, avoid burning or charring the meat if you are more conscious about your health.

Furthermore, using hardwoods, in general, is much better than softwoods such as pine. These woods can release more harmful chemicals and have resin as well, negatively impacting the food’s overall quality.

Which is more convenient?

This depends on the style of your cooking. Some people find wood to be more convenient since it can be run anywhere without needing a power source; you don’t have to worry about running out of gas.

Alternatively, gas grills offer a more convenient experience since they are much quicker to light, and you can precisely command the temperature. Maintaining the fire is very easy as well.

  • In general, propane or natural gas is more expensive than grilling with wood. This can, of course, vary on the type of wood we use, but generally, it is cheaper. They are also more efficient, requiring less fuel to cook the same thing.
  • Maintaining a wood grill is less expensive, saving you money in the long run.

Conclusion

Due to its unique benefits, it’s no wonder that grilling with wood is rising in popularity. Using hardwood or fruit wood will add a unique flavor to your cooking, and they also add an additional component for you to play around and experiment with different flavors. 

Compared to gas, it offers a much richer flavor and is overall preferred. It also has slight health benefits as it reduces the fat content of the meat and has a lower content of harmful compounds due to the lower cooking temperature. It is, overall, a great way to add some complexity and depth to your outdoor cooking.

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Tom Wilmer

I'm Tom Wilmer, an award-winning pitmaster and BBQ judge. I share my passion for barbecue through my blog, BBQ Soldiers, offering recipes, tips, and smoker reviews. Let's grill together!

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