Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: March 27, 2023

Charcoal vs wood are suitable materials to use when you decide to break out your grill in the hot summer months. But what makes these two materials so different from each other?

Our experts have put together everything you need to know about lump charcoal vs. wood for grilling. So, let's go through what the differences are.

Quick Summary

  • Both charcoal vs wood grilling are a great option to cook your food on a summer’s day, but they have some noticeable differences that may change your opinions about which one you will use.
  • For example, Charcoal is more difficult to clean after grilling than wood, but there are many more.

Grilling with charcoal briquettes and grilling with wood does end with very different results in the flavors of the food.

You need to consider various facets before deciding which one you will be using. So, let's go through them all!

Grilling With Charcoal Vs. Wood – Which One Is Better?

charcoal and wood in flames

Summer nights are made for grilling; there is nothing more perfect than lighting up the grill with your family and friends; as you know, you will have a great time.

However, this can lead to the question of what material to use in your grill for a robust flavor: charcoal or wood?

This is an age-old debate with no definitive answer, except it depends on your personal preference.

To help you decide the one you should use this summer, we will go through everything you should know about charcoal grilling and wood grilling.

It doesn't matter whether it's for the nutty flavor or the subtle sweetness. Let's look through the big difference between these two, starting with charcoal grilling.

Grilling With Charcoal

Charcoal is one of the very common materials used for grilling and outdoor cooking.

This material has been used for decades to cook food and give food that delicious and iconic char-grilled smoky flavor. But what is charcoal exactly?

Charcoal is per-burned wood that was burned in a low oxygen chamber until it turned into pure carbon, making the initial burn hotter.

There are two main options of charcoal on the market today, which are:

  • Charcoal briquettes – a combination of coal dust, charcoal, corn-starch, and some chemical additives. These are an even shape and help maintain a consistent temperature for a longer time in the grill. But when they are burning, they give off an unpleasant smoke, and they take longer to attain the correct cooking temperature.
  • Charcoal Lumps – uneven pieces of burned wood that burn cleanly. They produce less ash and start very hot, but the temperature drops after an hour or two. Making them perfect for quick grills.

Pros And Cons Of Grilling With Charcoal

close up of charcoal in hand

Whether you are a hard-core charcoal fan or just a grilling enthusiast, we can all agree that grilling with charcoal does come with some drawbacks, but there are also some distinct benefits to charcoal burns.

Some of the benefits of grilling with charcoal include:

  • The delicious char-grilled flavor – when the juices from the meat drip onto the charcoal during grilling, it sizzles and creates steam. This infuses the meat and creates that distinctive char-grilled flavor we all love. It applies to any meat, whether pork, beef, or chicken breasts.
  • Perfectly seared meats – charcoal does not combust, meaning it burns hotter for a longer time. Therefore, it is easier to maintain a consistent temperature on the grill. This allows you to get a perfect sear outside the meat while keeping the center juicy and tender.
  • Cleaner burn and highly affordable – charcoal have a cleaner burn as it is pure carbon making it eco-friendly. Charcoal is an inexpensive material for grilling when compared to wood alternatives. Firstly, it's cheaper to buy overall and tends to burn for longer, meaning you use less.

These benefits of charcoal are pretty enticing and are why many people choose to use charcoal for their grilling needs.

However, there are some drawbacks to using charcoal for grilling, which include:

  • Charcoal takes a long time to heat – even though charcoal burns for longer and at a higher temperature, the grill will take longer to reach the optimum cooking temperature. You can spend between 25 to 45 minutes waiting for the temperature to dip before you begin grilling your food. Registered dietitian and food writer Lori Walker notes that controlling the heat when cooking with charcoal requires more practice — so one should really be ready to wait a long time before digging in.
  • Charcoal is messy – not only is charcoal messy when you are trying to place it into your grill, but it also creates a lot of ash when it's burned. This ash is difficult to clean and can leave a few stains on your clothes if you are not careful.

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Grilling With Wood

Wood grilling is fast becoming a popular option to grill. People are starting to turn away from charcoal grilling and replacing it with wood grilling as it has a more versatile wood flavor range than charcoal.

The wood logs used for wood grilling are generally fresh-cut wood that is dried for six months, such as apple wood.

There are a few different sizes and wood types you can look at, which include:

  • Cooking with wood is perfect for long campfire BBQs or handouts with friends and family, especially when looking for the best results.
  • Wood chips and chunks are usually handpicked, small and perfect for your next BBQ as they do not take long to reach optimum cooking temperature.
  • Hardwood for grilling – hardwood is the best wood for grilling as softwood does not last as long, so you will use more softwood when grilling than hardwood.

Pros And Cons Of Grilling With Wood

Stacks of wood trunks

Wood grilling has begun to grow in popularity over the years. Whether you love grilling with wood and consider yourself a veteran or grilling with wood for the first time, you need to understand the benefits of this grilling method and its drawbacks.

Some of the benefits of grilling with wood include:

  • No extra additives are present – certain types of charcoal have added chemicals and additives, whereas wood does not. This can make your food safer to consume, and the flavor of your food will not be affected by any surprising ingredients, so you get a richer flavor.
  • Different flavor varieties – you can choose the right type of wood to perfectly complement the food you are cooking, as other types of wood will impart different flavors to the food you are grilling.

These benefits of using pieces of wood for your grilling needs are pretty enticing, and why many people choose to use wood instead of charcoal.

However, there are several drawbacks to using wood for grilling that you need to be aware of; these include:

  • Wood is slow to heat – wood takes longer to reach the optimum temperature, and it takes an extended time for the food to cook as it does not burn as hot as charcoal. It generally takes one hour for the wood to heat up and two hours for your food to cook, especially with indirect heat.
  • Grilling with wood is challenging to master – wood creates a lot of smoke when used for grilling. You need to monitor these smoke levels as the smoke can quickly become too much and overwhelm the food with the wood's flavor. This constant monitoring can be challenging to get right when you first start grilling with wood.
  • Wood chips burn faster – wood tends to burn a lot faster than charcoal, so you will use more wood when grilling with it.
  • Wood is more expensive – wood is generally more expensive than charcoal, and because you need to use more wood to grill your food, this cost can become relatively high after one or two BBQs.


Both wood and charcoal are excellent materials to use when grilling your food. Charcoal vs wood have pros and cons, but it is up to personal preference which one is better.

There will always be the hard-core charcoal fans that refuse to use wood and the die-hard wood fans that would not dare touch charcoal. But which category do you fit into?

Check these lists of the best briquettes and charcoals out there:

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