News & Opinion | July 3, 2018 5:00 am

Grilling Returns to Its Roots: Wood

The world’s oldest cooking method has become a hit cooking technique yet again.

grilling
Whole chickens spin over the oak wood fire rotisserie. (Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Denver Post via Getty Images

The culinary industry is returning to the world’s oldest cooking method: Using wood fires for grilling meat. While there is nothing new about wood-burning grills in restaurants, what is new is the variety of equipment available, the excitement chefs have about using them, and the growing number of American homes who are deciding that grilling over a wood fire in their backyard is better than a gas or charcoal grill.

“Wood smoke contains more than a thousand flavor-producing compounds,” said Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft executive who has become an evangelist for modernist cooking, according to The New York Times. But Myhrvold says, by the time the wood becomes charcoal, about 99 percent of those compounds are lost, so that’s why wood fire delivers so much more flavor than charcoal does.

Traditionally, you grill with the wood that is grown in the area you are located, so oak in North and South America and Europe, hickory in the south, almond wood in California. But you always want to grill with a single wood because you cannot pinpoint a flavor when you mix woods. It is recommended you use logs that are 10 to 12 inches long and two to three inches wide. Lump some charcoal in with the wood (use a ratio of about 30 percent to 70 percent) to make the fire hotter and last longer.