Max out on Grilled Flavor with These Charcoal Winners
Gas is good, but hardwood and charcoal deliver true wood-fired flavor. Here are three ways to level up to logs
Thomas J. Story
Unlike charcoal briquettes that can be made from wood pulp, paper, or sawdust, with lump charcoal what you see is what you get. And what you get is whole carbonized chunks of wood that burn superhot and produce a natural-wood smoke flavor. Fire & Flavor’s almond and olive-wood charcoal (from ($35/8 lbs) comes from sustainably managed forests and is ideal for getting that perfect crispy sear on a steak or crackling skin on chicken.
Beautiful binchotan is the gold standard in izakayas, and it’s the secret fuel in the kitchens of many a Michelin-starred restaurant. The carbonized branches of indigenous Japanese ubame oak burn clean, even, and smokeless and are perfect for lightly searing delicate foods like scallops and shishito peppers. Andy Ricker’s Portland-based Pok Pok Restaurants will deliver their house brand of Thai rambutan-wood binchotan straight to your door.
Wood-fired cooking is the pinnacle of the outdoor culinary arts. There’s the initial high heat of the roaring flames that demands a cast-iron pan and a well-marbled steak; the medium stage when vegetables caramelize; the lingering embers that slow-roast root vegetables. Sourcing the wood requires effort but is worth it. Scour Craigslist and Yelp for culinary woods such as almond, oak, mesquite, and pecan. Ask a local restaurant specializing in wood-fired dishes where they source their wood from and join the delivery route. Or, Kingsford offers bundles of mesquite logs at select Home Depot stores.