Wood Or Charcoal?

Natural wood, what kind of question is that? Each cook has their own preference for what material to use for generating heat for the asado. Nothing can beat the flavor that is produced by wood but time, availability of materials, simplicity also play a role in what cook choses to create the ideal fire. The three sources are wood, briquettes, and lump charcoal.

Wood

As mentioned earlier, wood offers the best flavor to grilled meats. It also provides optimal heat that lasts longer than charcoal. The downside is that wood is difficult to light and at times hard to acquire, especially for the last minute asados. Wood needs to be well-dried before use and of a variety that is ideal for cooking. It takes longer a longer time to be ready to use under the grill and if additional coals are needed later on during the cooking process, you have to make sure to stack them on the side fire way ahead of time.

Briquettes

These are those pillow-shaped charcoals that are all uniform in size and popular in countries like the United States. Briquettes are usually a mixture of wood coals, sawdust, and binding materials. Some varieties even have lighter fluid embedded in them for easy starting. A big no-no in Argentina. Although sold in Argentina, even the slight purist would not be caught dead using briquettes. For those who enjoy asado try to stay as natural as popular. You never know what chemicals may reside in some varieties of briquettes.

Lump Charcoal

For the majority of asado cooks this is the most popular and preferred source of heat. Lump charcoal is 100% wood that partially burned and heated without oxygen so that the wood does not actually catch on fire. The process turns the wood into carbon while removing any impurities that may have resided in the wood. The end result is charcoal. When lump charcoal is lit and reaches the optimal level for use on the grill it is almost as good as regular wood for that it burns longer and provides good heat. Quality can often vary and if the charcoal contains too much moisture you will have better fireworks display than an asado. Although briquettes are made of ground lump charcoal, they do not offer the same smoky flavor that the natural lumps provide. If you don’t want to mess with regular wood and have store nearby that sells lump charcoal, give it a try. You’ll never go back to briquettes again.

Like many other topics in the barbecuing world, there is a debate between briquettes and lump charcoal on which burns hotter, faster, longer, slower, etc. Personally I believe lump charcoal burns hotter and faster while briquettes burn slower. I’m not a scientist nor have I performed any well calculated experiments on either of the two. Perhaps that will be an article for another day.

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