How to Wood-Fire Up Your Grill

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By Mandy Maxwell Posted June 03, 2016

Here's an expert's guide to at-home wood-fired grilling.

When chef John Delucie traveled to Argentina, he noticed that all the grilled meats had incredibly robust, smoky flavor. Investigation turned up a simple explanation—everyone was cooking on wood-fired grills—and the inspiration for his new Manhattan restaurant Bedford & Co. Here, Delucie explains how to get fantastic wood-grilled flavor in your own back yard.

Choose your wood. Depending on location and season, your options will vary. A good rule of thumb is that heavier hardwoods (i.e. oak and hickory) work for richer meats like pork or beef, while lighter hardwoods (i.e. alder, maple, fruit and nut wood) are best for fowl and fish. Regardless, make sure any wood you buy has been air-dried.

Learn to blend. Delucie grills over a mix of wood and charcoal, and so should you. You'll get the smoky flavor of wood and the firepower (and consistent heat) of charcoal. At the restaurant, Delucie uses a 70/30 wood/charcoal blend, but for the home he suggests an easy 50/50.

Light up. Start the charcoals in a chimney and when they're ready, cluster them toward one side of the grill. Top with wood and it will catch on fire.

Oil up. Before any food touches the grate, rub it with oil to prevent sticking. The best way to do this is to take an old rag, roll it up, and tie it with butcher twine. Soak it in any high-smoke-point cooking oil and use tongs to glide it over the grill.

Work the heat. If you've piled your fuel to one side, you'll find yourself with two cooking zones. Place food directly over the flaming wood to sear it, then move it to the other side to finish cooking over indirect heat. A great advantage of wood-fired grilling: You'll never lose track of the hot spots.

Make the most of your smoke. To get the full benefit of your live fire, choose fatty or long-cooking cuts that will absorb smoky flavor. Good meat options include marbled steaks and chops, as well as brisket and whole pork butt. For fish, think oily—black bass, salmon or branzino.

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