The Tip You Need If You're Grilling With Dry Wood For The First Time

Long before anyone was loading Webers with Kingsford charcoal or setting the hopper rate for their Traeger grills, there was plain old wood. Wood has been a heat source for cooking for nearly two million years. Old as it is, even seasoned grill meisters may have no experience with it because folks in the U.S. have spent the last 60 years grilling with charcoal and propane.

Those curious about the method should know that not all wood is safe for grilling, so don't source it from the woods without doing your research. The next crucial detail is that wood destined for the grill can't be green, meaning that it has been dried and seasoned — no more than 15-20% moisture by weight — in order to light easily and develop a good heat. Damp wood, which is still seasoned to a moisture level of around 20%, is used almost exclusively for smoking. 

The heat produced by wood is very intense, making it great for steaks, pork chops, and baked potatoes. Wood is also fairly easy to handle, and offers an all-natural fuel source that hasn't been chemically treated. Equipped even with this knowledge, first-time wood grillers are bound to be apprehensive because wood burns very hot and it can be tricky to develop and maintain an even level of heat. Fortunately, there is a little tip that can help a newbie out: do your first few rounds of grilling with a mix of wood and charcoal.

Star off with a little charcoal

Charcoal is, without question, an excellent grilling fuel. So, starting off your wood grilling experience by building a mix of 50% charcoal and 50% wood is a helpful way to get the feel for the unfamiliar fuel source by using a familiar one. 

Since charcoal is virtually all carbon, it will light and burn quite easily (plus, as always, the bag makes for decent tinder). Additionally, depending on the quality of the charcoal, the briquettes may burn longer than the wood, meaning you won't have to tend to the fire as much. The biggest benefit to starting this way is that charcoal burns evenly, providing you with heat zones you can move your food around. 

Taking this graduated approach is going to serve you well in the long run, and after a few grilling sessions using this method, you should feel comfortable enough to do your first full wood burn.