Unless you are an absolute purist and want to use hardwood as the heat source for your smoker then charcoal is probably the next best thing. Hardwood has been used for eons as a source of both heat and smoke, but in this modern-day and age is it practical?
Assuming you buy good quality charcoal then you will get a product which is upwards of 80% pure carbon. This ensures that you get a clean burn. Just be wary of some of the cheaper products that have additives. Some of these may be petroleum-based and therefore could end up tainting the flavor of your food.
The main advantage of using charcoal is that it is completely self-contained. There’s no need for pipes (gas) or power cords (electricity), once your charcoal is lit, the only thing it needs to continue burning is a ready supply of oxygen. So if portability is high on your list of criteria when buying a smoker, then maybe a charcoal burner is right for you.
Disadvantages of Charcoal
There are however a number of disadvantages to a charcoal fire pit and this mainly revolves around the control of the heat. Dependent on the supply of oxygen, charcoal can produce very intense heat. If that supply of oxygen is abundant then this intense heat will only last for a short period of time.
For this reason, careful control of your fire is required to ensure that you get an even heat for as long a period as possible. After all, we’re not heating the oven to a very high temperature. So, getting the charcoal to burn low and slow is possible by restricting the supply of oxygen.
Draft vents top and bottom help you achieve this. Once sorted, you can relax a little. But getting the fire under control will involve a lot of sequential incremental adjustments to the apertures of both vents. Some smoker enthusiasts consider this to be part of the fun, if you don’t fancy it then go for gas or electricity.
It’s also the case with charcoal that your fire can start to die within 30 minutes or so. This means that you have to keep checking your smoker on the half hour throughout the cooking process. Finally, if you’re going to do a lot of smoking, charcoal can become very expensive very quickly.
So if you want to spend your time playing with your smoker then charcoal fuel is probably for you but if you’re more inclined to sit back, enjoy the day and then enjoy your food, it’s probably time to check out the gas smokers.
Gas Fireplaces vs. Wood-Burning Fireplaces
Gas fireplaces have been increasing in popularity lately. It’s hard to beat the ease of flipping on a switch and having an instant fire. If you’re reading this article, you probably haven’t decided, however, if a gas fireplace is right for you. They cost anywhere from $1,500 and up, and in most cases, installing one means you won’t be able to use your wood-burning fireplace anymore. (Most gas fireplaces come as inserts that fit into your old firebox.)
To help you decide, let’s look at the pros and cons of each:
Pros of Wood Burning Fireplaces
- You get the crackling realism of a true fire
- You can practice your fire-building skills every time you want some extra heat
- They can bring the family together during a power outage
Cons of Wood Burning Fireplaces
- You have to haul the wood inside, often up stairs
- You have to clean ashes out of the hearth regularly
- It takes time to build a regular fire, and then it’s a bad idea to leave the house or go to bed as long as it’s still burning, so you’re committed to a fire for hours
- Much of the heat goes up the chimney, because wood-burning fireplaces are not energy efficient
Pros of Gas Fireplaces
- You can have warmth and a fire at the flick of a switch
- They are energy efficient and warm up a room quickly
- You don’t need to worry about chimney sweeps, creosote, and chimney fires
Cons of Gas Fireplaces
- Though the flames on many gas fireplaces today are quite realistic, you don’t have the sound of crackling wood and the genuine feel of a fire
- Potential homebuyers who haven’t been turned on to the comfort and ease a gas fireplace provides, may prefer a traditional wood-burning hearth
As you can see, there are arguments for both sides. Is a gas fireplace better than a wood-burning unit? This is something that depends on the tastes of the fireplace user. It’s really up to you and your preferences as to whether you want one over the other. If you go wood…then here is some information on what kind of wood to burn.
The Joy of Fireplaces
As someone with two gas fireplaces in the house, I will say that many people don’t realize just how wonderful they are until they’ve owned one themselves. We started with one upstairs and soon after installed the second in our downstairs fireplace. You just can’t beat the convenience of getting out of bed on a cold morning and snapping on the gas fireplace, so you can warm your buns while you dress.
And many of today’s models have remote controls and automatic timers, so you can program the fireplace to turn on ten or fifteen minutes before your alarm goes off, or you can have the unit turn off after you’ve gone to sleep. You just don’t get that kind of immediate satisfaction with a wood-burning unit.
And, if you’re still drawn to the side of a wood fire, there’s always the backyard. Outdoor fire pits are increasingly popular these days.
- Mike Moser of Thefirepitstore.com
- Skagerak – Helios Firebowl