Cooking with wood is wonderful. You 'll discover that you can add flavor to your meal just by choosing a different wood as fuel. But it 's not as easy as it looks. Here are some key things to remember about using wood as your fuel versus charcoal or gas:
Cook Indirectly to Avoid Casualties
Cooking indirectly is an effective way to cook meat all the way through while still maintaining its tenderness and not causing the fire to flare-up. When you first start cooking with wood, you really need to cook most meats this way simply because a wood fire can get away from you if you don 't have a lot of experience. Remember, meat drips fat on the fire. Fat is concentrated fuel. It creates flavor, but it also generates large flames. Steaks are great with a good grill mark, but I 've never had black and crusty steak that I enjoyed.
Gas is easy to control. If the fire gets too hot, you simply turn down your burners. Charcoal works quite well when an even bed of coals is spread across the ash pan. When using wood, however, you need to place your heat source in a side fire-box or off to the side of the grill (see the GOTW section) so that you can move meat away from the fire when it gets too hot. Wood flares up like charcoal, but not just from grease dripping on the fire. It 's just the nature of how wood burns. You CAN of course create a nice bed of wood coals, but that 's another article.
Controlling the Temperature of the Grill
Your grill WILL get too hot at times. A good gas grill gets up to about 600 degrees Fahrenheit; and most gas grills can 't even come close to this. ANY grill burning wood or charcoal can get up to 700 degrees quickly, and you won 't necessarily have to try to make this happen. I 've seen the steel on my smoker turn blue from being so hot. Lower the temperature by opening the grill to let internal heat escape, and then close it and close the dampers a little to lower the flow of air to the fire.
While the temperature of wood can get too high very rapidly, it can also do just the opposite. Have more wood at the ready to raise the temperature of the grill. Wood burns at relatively the same temperature as lump charcoal (look for an article about lump and briquette charcoal soon). The problem is that once wood reaches its optimum temperature it won 't stay there as long as charcoal (yes, there is actual COAL in charcoal). You 'll need to feed the fire without flare-ups burning your food.
Searing to Lock in the Juices
If you 're cooking a steak, chop, burger or some other fairly flat piece of carnage, sear it on both sides and then move the item off to the side of the grill and start the SLOW cooking process! Yes, I know. You 've been told not flip your meat too much, but trust me on this. Generally the more fatty a cut or chop is, the more tender it will be when cooked, but at the same time you can make a low fat cut like sirloin very tender by locking in the moisture and cooking it slowly!