Grilling with wood
I've always used charcoal to grill. I want to try using hickory, oak or mesquite. Anybody have any tips on grilling hicken, steaks, tri tip, top round/London Broil over wood?
I believe that the key is to let the wood burn down to coals, and use the coals to cook like charcoal. Open flame is too hard to control and get to cook evenly.
An open BBQ pit operates on this principle, shoveling coals from a fire under the grate. In grilling, you'd have the food much closer to the coals, and directly over.
I find that using real wood charcoal, as vs. briquets, really does the same thing - since it is actually wood (with no additives), but already burnt down to the coal.
Not only do I get the good smoky flavor, and the lack of that nasty briquet taste, but I also get real wood rings, just as I do when smoking with real wood - that pink ring just under the crust of the meat.
I use my weber kettle with real wood charcoal and the electric rotisserie attachment for leg of lamb, beef rib roast, pork loin roast - items that I want to do quickly (as opposed to the smoker) - and get really great results.
I use cheap hardwood charcoal to get my wood burning. As the other posters noted, it is not an easy thing to cook over. The hot and cold spots move constantly, and you have to rotate what you're cooking to get it to cook evenly. I'm not sure I'd try it without an adjustable coal tray.
I started my journey 3 years ago with hardwood charcoal. But I had to use most of a bag to get my grill hot. I wasn't into spending five bucks a pop for fuel. So I started burning hardwood, primarily oak but other species too. Chicken is what I notice the most difference with. I don't know what it is, but chicken cooked around an open flame is really amazing. And this is from mass produced chickens. While I admit I could have spent more time experimenting with charcoal, I don't think the results would be the same. Steaks certainly taste good, but quality of meat and technique will get you a lot more bang for the buck. I'm still experimenting with heat and steaks (don't cook much steak at home) and am leaning towards what the other posters mentioned, starting a bonfire and letting the coals burn down.
I primarily grill chicken, sausages, game hens, fish/shrimp, some steaks, some baby back ribs, paella, butterflied leg of lamb and lamb chops, hot smoke pork chops and of course I BBQ spareribs, pork shoulder and brisket. All use wood, but of course all are different. Hot smoking pork chops is particularly good.
And remember what I said in the first paragraph, because of the difficulties of wood don't expect to have time to do much other then watch the fire when you're grilling. Even with chicken you're moving it around constantly. And it is very easy to undercook things. Expect to order a pizza or two while learning.
A VERY strong word to the wise,,,, when using REAL Wood, remember that it has a tendency to erupt (spark, pop, crackle,, you get the idea), so make sure that the surface you are cooking on is NOT wood, as in deck, because I have seen other less experienced chefs call 911 to have their experiments extinguished!!!!
I soak the wood chunks in water for at least an hour and keep them wet until I use them. I use them with charcoal because the coal burns longer. I have read that you can just use all wood chunks and start a fire in a chimmney starter but I have yet to try it. I have also read that this method, wood only, with oak is ideal for big veal rib chops. Some others have mentioned using hardwood which is really a kind of charcoal made from type of wood. It imparts a good flavor but burns quickly and can create a difficult fire to manage. If you have a lot of items for cooking then I would suggest buidling a charcoal fire and add wood as you go. The cips burn to quickly so go for wood chunks instead. If you are cooking steaks and chops then use the direct grilling method. If its Ribs or beer can chicken than build the fire on the sides of the kettle - its a good smoking process. Works for roasts too.