June 19, 2021
Understanding how wood choice and smoke affect the cooking process will help take your BBQ to the next level. Should you use a strong flavored wood or a sweet one? Should the burn be fast and hot or slow and steady? When you barbeque here in Texas, to capture that perfect taste, you need to know the best wood for smoking.
Since our caveman days, smoke has added flavor to everything we cook. Back then, its addition was a result of the fact that we prepared our food on open fires. But today, we use smoke intentionally to give BBQ its unique taste.
Using Wood for Smoking
Similarly, a hundred years ago, it was the native trees that decided the type of wood your region used for cooking. Today, you can still grab sticks from the backyard and gather logs from local landscapers, or you can jump on Amazon and order different woods from around the world.
If you haven’t used wood in cooking before, don’t worry. The next time you barbecue, throw a handful of chips on the grill and see what happens. Does it improve the finished product? Would you like more or less smoke? Try different woods. Try different meats. One of the best things about cooking is that there are no rules. You can experiment to your heart’s content.
Choosing Wood for Smoking
Now that you’ve decided to try adding smoke to your next meal, which wood is best? You don’t have to use store-bought products if you don’t want to, but you should ensure that the wood you gather is safe for you and your family.
Don’t use driftwood, plywood, pressure-treated wood, rotten/moldy wood, and anything covered by a poisonous material. Also, burning things like sumac, rhododendron, or poison ivy will create toxic smoke, so stay away!
Generally speaking, any dry hardwood that is free of sap will work. A good rule of thumb is that if the tree makes fruit or nuts, then the wood is suitable for smoking. But, of course, some smokes are better than others for different applications.
For example, applewood is nice and mellow and doesn’t impart much flavor during a short smoke. But, if you cook with it for a long time, that mellow flavor becomes more assertive without overpowering. On the other hand, mesquite is very strong, and although it gives a good taste quickly if you use too much, it imparts bitter flavors to your meat.
Different Woods for Smoking
- Apple has a very mild flavor and gives food a delicate sweetness. It works great with chicken, turkey, and pork.
- Peach has a sweet, subtle flavor that goes well with many different foods. This is one of the most popular woods for smoking fish.
- Hickory adds a robust flavor to the heartiest meats, so be careful not to use it excessively. Beef and lamb can stand up to it, but hickory will overwhelm lighter fare.
- Pecan burns cool and provides a delicate flavor. It’s perfect for low and slow recipes like brisket.
- Mesquite is popular and excellent for grilling, but it burns hot and fast, so it’s not recommended for longer smokes. However, because mesquite has one of the most potent flavors, it’s very popular with trendy restaurants that cook their steaks on wood fires.
- Oak is probably the most versatile wood. It has an assertive flavor, but it’s not overpowering. As a result, it can be used for anything.
You can also find other wood products for smoking. For example, we recently tried a bag of oak chips made from Tabasco Sauce barrels. There are also brands made from wine and whiskey barrels that impart exciting flavors. So keep experimenting and find the woods that you love.
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