Don’t fret about the kind of charcoal. Smoking fish is all about the wood. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post)

Xcanuck1 wrote:

Jim — great article. Like you, it blew away a lot of my thoughts about grilling seafood. Do you know how much charcoal Seaver started with and whether it was natural or pressed briquettes? Were the wood chunks soaked before tossing them in? Did he stir the coals at any time? Sorry for all the questions but if I’m going to learn from a master, I might as well get it right!

No need to apologize, Xcanuck1. I agree completely. This is a great chance to learn from one of the best.

I was astonished to see that Seaver didn’t favor some exotic hardwood charcoal or an expensive high-end natural lump charcoal, but Kingsford blue-bag briquettes. The reason for my astonishment? Because I tend to use lump charcoal when grilling fast. Lump burns cleaner and hotter.

But it also burns faster. And that, Seaver explained, is why he feels it is unnecessary. “It’s not about the charcoal,” he told me. “It’s about the wood.”

Plus, Seaver just seems entirely down to earth about these things. When I expressed my surprise about his preference for Kingsford, he replied, “Yeah, I think they were on sale at Wal-Mart.”

Like Seaver, I believe that if you’re smoking on the grill, the charcoal matters much less because it is basically burning down to function as a furnace for the wood. A layer of ash-colored pressed charcoal, which burns longer than natural lump, serves as a bed for the wood. And going slow is what Seaver’s method is all about.

He used an average amount, a chimney-full. He did not soak the wood chunks. He let them burn down for roughly 10 or so minutes, until they created a lovely, gentle smoke.

I do not have notes about whether he stirred the fire, and I don’t want to go on memory. But a layer of briquettes typically needs minimal attention. You might move a chunk or two of wood if you feel they aren’t catching fire as you want. But, basically, because you are gently smoking and not direct-grilling, hot spots are not much of a concern. Once your fire is producing a nice steady heat, it’s generally best left alone.

Hope that helps, Xcanuck1. Thanks for writing.

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