Charcoal vs. Wood Chips: What Makes Better BBQ?

There are two types of people who make BBQ: those who like it, and those how love it. For those who simply enjoy it for what it is, they’ll often use cooking methods that are convenient when prepping their BBQ. 

The end result is decent, but it could be better. 

That’s BBQ lovers come in. These people will employ whatever methods necessary to craft a better BBQ experience. This, however, often leaves room for debate. Which method creates a better BBQ experience.  

Any BBQ lover would tell you that smoking is the best way to make tender, flavorful BBQ. The question is, what do you use to produce the smoke and heat? There are two options: charcoal and wood chips. 

Now, before we dive into the specifics, there’s something you know: 

They’re Less Different Than You Think 

Wood chips and charcoal actually have the same source material: trees. Charcoal and briquettes are wood and sawdust that have been burned until they’re almost pure carbon. Knowing that, you may ask yourself “well, how different can they be?” 

Let’s take a look…  


Technically there are two types of charcoal out there. There are the classic square-shaped briquettes, and then there’s lump charcoal that basically looks like burnt wood pieces. 

Most “purists” will stay away from the briquettes. To form those picturesque square-shapes, some additional chemicals and bonding materials are needed so things hold together. Some say this affects the taste negatively. 

As for the raw charcoal, you get a cleaner taste. Charcoal burns hotter than wood chips, but at a slower rate, making it arguably more convenient. But as we said before, great BBQ is not about convenience. 

Wood Chips 

While charcoal is regularly used for both grilling and smoking, wood chips are used almost exclusively for smoking. That’s because their greatest strength is their long game. They take longer to setup, and you’ll need more time to let your food cook. 

But in exchange for your patience, you get a rich, smokey flavor that no other material can authentically match. 

Additionally, wood chips give you a variety of flavors to play around with depending on what type of wood you’re using. Hickory and mesquite are popular options. But some get a little more creative with apple or almond wood. 

Whatever you use, make sure it’s a hardwood. 

What About Electric Smokers?

Another method of BBQ that has seen a rise in popularity recently is the electric smoker. Though you may encounter some BBQ-ers who roll their eyes at the idea of an electric smoker, these machines have some distinct advantages for those BBQ-ing at home.

They’re very easy to use, less messy, and generally safer. Also, with the right electric smoker, you can still utilize different types of wood chips to add a distinct flavor.

Though they may not quite match a gas smoker in terms of all-around flavor, they can come surprisingly close. If you’d like to more about electric smokers, make sure to check out Electric Smoker Guy’s blog here.

The Winner? 

As long as the BBQ you make is tender and flavorful, we’d say everyone is a winner. Both methods produce some great BBQ when done right. In fact, we utilize both at Rudy’s. While our in-hour BBQ is cooked low and slow with hickory wood chips, we also do on-site grilling using charcoal.

Now, most hardcore BBQ folk are going to say that the best BBQ is smoked and slow cooked with wood chips, but when time is a factor, charcoal is a great second choice.

To experience the wonders of real BBQ, come on down to Rudy’s Smokehouse or take a look at our wedding catering menu to see what delicious options we can provide for your special day.

Who knew learning something new could be so delicious?

True barbeque as practiced in the American South has 4
main ingredients- quality meats, low temperatures, wood
burning for flavor enhancement, and lots and lots of
patience, which is exactly what we do here at Rudy’s
All Glory be to God!