The BBQer’s fuel guide: picking the best fuel for you
Written by Sam Bouchard
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 logs, charcoal lumps, charcoal briquettes, gas (propane or natural gas), wood pellets, and electricity. In the following BBQer’s fuel guide, we’ll take you through the
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 kindling the fire if the oxygen supply gets reduced too much.
The main advantage is, of course, the incredible taste, but I suggest you try a charcoal BBQ before you get to wood fire cooking.
It’s often recommended to 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.
The main downside to this is the fact that it can create backfire. Hardwood is the ideal fuel for oven-style cooking on the barbecue, such as baking 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, because the natural resin present in coniferous wood gives food an unpleasant taste. Also, only use barbecues that were designed for wood burning, since some charcoal barbecues might not be as resistant for these temperatures.
Charcoal lumps and briquettes
If you know me, you know that my favourite fuel is coal, and any BBQer’s fuel guide certainly needs to include this classic grilling fuel. 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 so 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 doesn’t catch fire. This high level of control on charcoal allows you to adjust your cooking temperature quickly.
Charcoal can be used in many types of barbecues, such as kettles and kamados (a traditional Japanese wood or charcoal-fueled stove that can often have an egg-style exterior). A charcoal basket is even available to use in some gas grills.
It’s so easy to cook with charcoal that you can actually cook on lit charcoal that are put directly on the ground, with or without a grill. You can also cook directly on hot coals if you want to! And you can cook anything on charcoal lumps: shepherd’s pie, cookies, burgers, chicken, pork, beef, corn on the cob, baked beans, bacon and more!
You can grill, sear or slow cook any kind of meat. All things considered, charcoa is truly the most versatile type of fuel. 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’s 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 gas grills is that they are very easy to light up, need very little maintenance, they remain durable for a long time and, generally, they have 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.
And finally, let’s not forget that in a cold, harsh winter, gas barbeques are quick and easy to start up.
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 can only can rise to temperatures between 150°F and 400° F, so it’s not recommended for grilling.
Despite this, you’ll have lots of fun with all kinds of flavourful slow cooking recipes on your pellet smoker!
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°F!
To find out which type of fuel is best for you, evaluate how much you are barbecuing and what you enjoy to cook with your grill. Remember that your BBQ is your tool that can be used daily, if you know how to choose your machine! We hope our BBQer’s fuel guide has given you enough information to make the right choice.
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