Differences Between Wood and Charcoal Grilling

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, ‘Differences Between Wood and Charcoal Grilling’, and will discuss which grilling is better than others.

Differences Between Wood and Charcoal Grilling

Differences Between Wood and Charcoal Grilling is that the charcoal grilling, whether it’s made of wood or briquettes, is heated in an oxygen-free environment, so it doesn’t burn up. To make char wood, you’ll need either raw hardwood or timber remnants. However, the ingredients used to make charcoal briquettes include coal, charcoal, maize starch, sawdust, and sodium nitrate.

In addition, studies show that there are differences in the production of carcinogenic compounds when charcoal briquette is used compared to when wood charcoal is used. The amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) generated were higher when in samples barbecued with charcoal briquette. PAHs are formed as a result of direct pyrolysis of fats (in meat) contacting with flame. Additionally, fat dripping onto the flame and returning to the meat as smoke can also produce PAHs (1).

As the popularity for healthy food and outdoor cooking grows, so does the global barbecue grill market; estimated at $4.79 billion in 2018, it is expected to grow to $8.43 billion in 2021 and reach $10.38 billion in 2025 (3).

Charcoal and wood have a few key differences

You’ll find a wide variety of charcoal products while shopping. So-called charcoal is either wood pieces that have been heated in the absence of oxygen and converted into carbon chunks or manufactured charcoal briquettes produced in part from hardwood handled in the same manner as charcoal.

Charcoal briquettes are often used as grilling fuel not only because they are cheaper than charcoal lumps, but briquettes have a number of characteristics that make them superior to lumps: they are easier to store and handle, maintain a steady temperature for a longer period of time, and have a lower sulfur content and a higher carbon-to-ash ratio (2).

Briquettes only contain two more ingredients: sodium nitrate, which aids in burning, and maize starch, which helps bind the mixture. Due to the additional fillers, briquettes produce more ash in the grill than hardwood charcoal.

Most trees are renewable, therefore unless your company specifies, sourcing some of your charcoal wood from renewable resources may not signify anything (ie: for every tree, we chop, we plant 5 new ones).

At first, wood charcoal was made by using simple earth kilns what wood was covered by mud or turf. The process was not very efficient because only 15 to 25% of the drywoodmasswas converted to charcoal. Over the centuries more efficient methods of producing charcoal were invented using brick and metal kilns, and later large-scale industrial plants which allow charcoal to be made from almost any organic material, not just wood, but also straw, coconut husks and shells, rice husks, cotton stalks, coffee husks, sawdust, and even bones (2).

Although “all-natural” is often seen on hardwood lump charcoal, it’s essential to keep in mind that there is no FDA definition for the term, so it may not signify anything.

What are charcoal Briquettes?

Believe it or not, the Ford Motor Company in Detroit invented charcoal briquettes as a method to get rid of sawdust and wood waste. As a result, Henry Ford was able to turn a profit after previously paying to have trash removed.

Technically, Ellsworth Zwoyer was the first to get a patent for charcoal briquettes in 1897, but Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and EB Kingsford collaborated nearly a century earlier to get the product off the ground.

The briquettes are made by heating wood chips and sawdust in the absence of oxygen until the carbon is produced. When they’re pulverized, they’re mixed with binders like maize starch or limestone, as well as flavor enhancers like sodium nitrate and other chemicals to help them burn better (2).

After that, they thicken the batter and pour it into the molds, where it may dry.

Fillers (silica, clay, or soil) are added to briquettes to increase their weight and prolong their burning time. Often 2 to 3% of the briquette consists of whiting, lime, limestone, or calcium to create a white ash and to lower the burning rate. Borax or sodium borate are added to help release the briquettes from the manufacturing press, and, in some cases, flammable substances are added so that briquettes can be ignited without the need for lighter fluid (2).

Is hardwood charcoal preferable to briquettes for cooking purposes?

The grillers will have a great time debating with each other over here. The all-natural hardwood (e.g., beech, birch, hard maple, hickory, andoak) charcoal is preferred by some because they ignite easily and by who claim it has a more natural smoky flavor and less chemical taste. Some manufacturers also use softwoods (including long leaf and slash pine, nutshells, fruit pits, vegetable wastes, paper mill residues, and wood scraps from lumber mills) or even old furniture. As a result, the lumps are irregular in size and have varying heat output and ash content (2).

Even though charcoal briquettes cook more uniformly and reliably, some purists believe that they provide superior results with less attention. they’re both derived from carbonized wood, which is what makes them both the same in the end.

Hardwood charcoal: advantages and disadvantages

·         It Burns hotter but is less reliable.

·         You may have the option of selecting the kind of wood you want on occasion (which can change the flavor)

·         There are usually no other ingredients.

·         Lumber scraps may be used to create this (which could have nails or glue)

Charcoal briquettes: advantages and disadvantages.

·         A continuous smoldering

·         After burning, produce more ash to use as fuel.

·         Possible adverse effects on taste due to the use of chemicals and additions

Can you replace the charcoal with wood?

Charcoal may be purchased in the form of wood pieces (often labeled by type of wood: hickory, mesquite, etc). Although not technically charcoal, they are more suited for smoking than simply grilling.

You’ll need to build a fire or use lighter fluid to cook with it. In addition to charcoal, plain wood pieces will burn at a somewhat quicker rate than that of the latter. However, since the wood hasn’t been cut, you’ll receive a greater smoky taste.

As a result, grillers prefer charcoal (both natural wood and briquette) because it burns hotter, cleaner, and more evenly than plain wood pieces. Hardwoods are best for BBQ burning if you’re planning to use raw wood.

 During cooking, a resin is produced from softwoods like pine, giving your meal an unpleasant taste. Cherry wood, for example, has a subtle sweetness to it (great for lamb or pork). A deep, rich taste calls for pecans or walnuts. However, the most often used cooking woods are mesquite, hickory, and oak. They, too, contribute significantly to the taste of the dish. 

While some wood pellets are labeled specifically as grilling fuels, in many instances (depending upon their properties), any high-quality wood pellets can be used as fuel for grilling. In some cases, though, heating and grilling pellets should not be used interchangeably. For instance, some softwoods found in heating pellets (e.g., cedar, pine, fir, spruce) are not suitable for grilling and smoking. Due to high levels of resin and oils, they burn too fast, give off a lot of smoke, and release dangerous substances during combustion (3).

Cooking only with wood has the drawback of being unsatisfying if you’re looking for a bit of smokiness. If you use too much smoke, the smoke taste will dominate your food. Smoke masters like Aaron Franklin frequently suggest smoking for four hours and then cooking on low heat for the remainder of the time, because of this.

However, wood smoke contains more than 200 distinct organic compounds, many of which have been shown to cause acute or chronic health effects and to pollute the atmosphere. Some wood also led to significant emissions of NO2, and NO. Nitrogen oxides are a family of poisonous and highly reactive gasses and constitute one of the main pollutants of the atmosphere, playing an important role in biosphere health and climate change (3).

Other FAQs about Grills that you may be interested in.

Are Kamado Grills Worth It?

How to Use a Traeger Wood Pellet Grill?


In this brief guide, we answered the query, ‘Differences Between Wood and Charcoal Grilling’ and discussed which grilling is better than others.


  1. Oz, Emel. The impact of fat content and charcoal types on quality and the development of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines formation of barbecued fish. Int J Food Sci Technol, 2021, 56, 954-964.
  2. Jelonek, Zbigniew, et al. Environmental implications of the quality of charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal used for grilling. Sci Total Environ, 2020, 747, 141267.
  3. Jelonek, Zbigniew, et al. Emissions during grilling with wood pellets and chips. Atmosph Environ, 2021, 12, 100140.