There are two options for cooking over solid fuel: wood or charcoal. If you have a charcoal grill or smoker (or even a Groker) then you have to decide which to use. Let me put the bottom line up front.
For the best flavor, buy a bag of charcoal and a bag of wood and mix the two whenever you cook.
Henry Ford invented charcoal after he saw huge volumes of wood scraps being wasted at his auto plant. So he made charcoal briquets and people started using them for cooking and heat. That business actually became Kingsford, the biggest seller of charcoal.
Charcoal is to wood as Spam is to meat. Take a great product for cooking and mix it with a bunch of crap. Walla! You have charcoal. A crap product with one redeeming feature - it lights easily.
Hardwood has many non-cellulose compounds which slow combustion. These compounds, especially the phenols and carbonyls, also add flavor. And flavor's what I care about most when I cook.
Wood is used to flavor the finest foods made. Bourbon and Scotch whisky, Balsamic vinegar, Bordeaux wines, and Tabasco hot sauce all use wood for flavor. And of course BBQ. Wood is totally natural. Wood is awesome.
So use charcoal to light the fire, and wood for flavor. In fact, it's kind of insane that you can't get one bag with half and half.
I use only wood in a Groker, because the gas burner lights the wood and so I have no need of charcoal and obviously I want the best flavor.
I rarely use wood chips for anything.
But never use wood chips.
This isn't a hard and fast rule, I mean sometimes you have emergencies. But one thing that marks a grilling pretender is when they claim to get "smoke flavor" from a few wood chips. No, you can't. There are tons of products that let you do this. Weber even sells a $2000 grill with a "smoke box" that it virtually useless. Haha no.
But OK there is one exception and it applies to only fish and vegetables. (Beef, pork, and chicken need chunks or logs.) Follow these steps:
- Take your chips and make a bag from aluminum foil. Poke holes on the top of the foil. Use a lot of chips.
- Take you fish or vegetables and place it directly on top of the chips. Wrap more foil around the food and chips to make one giant semi-sealed bag.
- Place on heat source.
It's basically a foil version of the Cameron Stovetop Smoker.