Choosing the right wood for smoking meats

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Smoking Meats

Choosing the right wood when smoking meats can be daunting.  There are so many choices and variations.  How do you know where to start?  Hopefully this short guide will help you decide which one is right for the food you’re getting ready to cook.

First, let’s start with the different types and sizes of woods you can use in your charcoal grill or smoker.  Keep in mind that you’ll want to use air dried wood and not fresh cut hardwood.  Fresh cut / green woods have a lot of water still in them (up to 50% by weight) so it produces a lot of steam and off flavors during combustion.  It will also take a lot more energy to dry it out.  Therefore, using air dried hardwoods is the way to go.  Some barbeque cooks use the whole log for their pits and giant grills.  The downside of using whole logs is that you’ll need more space and they will burn hotter, say, 275° instead of 225°.  A positive, though, is that the smoke is generally cleaner since it is hotter.  The next type you are likely to see are wood chunks.  Air dried chunks (2 – 4oz.) burn slow and steady.  If you have enough space, chunks can be a great way to smoke.  Another popular type is wood chips.  Wood chips burn quickly so they may need to be re-added over and over.  They can be soaked in water to last longer, though.  An extremely high quality ceramic grill that can accommodate charcoal, chunks, and chips, is the Vision Grills Kamado Pro.

Smoking Meats

There are also wood pellets which are compressed chips and sawdust which burn hot and clean.  A very nice feature of these are that when used with a grill with a special auger the can be precisely controlled.  Woodcraft offers such pellet grills and fuel on the dropship program.

Smoking Meats

Another variation on the compressed chips / sawdust idea is Bradley Smoker’s bisquettes.  They have many different flavors and species of woods in their bisquettes.  They too can be precisely controlled to suit your exact smoking needs.

Now that we know the different styles of woods, let’s move on to finding the right wood for your food.  Pairing the right wood with the food you are cooking / smoking is a big part of finding the perfect combination.  The most common types of combinations are lighter sweeter smoke for seafood and vegetables, and bolder more strong smokes for meat like beef, pork, and game.  I’ll outline some species and the food they are most commonly used with in order from lightest to boldest.

Smoking Meats

Bradley’s Pacific Blend and Applewood

The lightest wood smoke usually comes from fruit trees like Apple.  Bradley Smoker makes a special bisquette called Pacific Blend.  It exhibits a light, clean smoke which is perfect for fish and other seafood.  Apple smoke is characterized as lighter, fruity, and slightly sweet.  It is a perfect smoke for fish, poultry, and ribs.

Smoking Meats

Maple and Cherry

A step up in character but still mild would be Maple and Cherry wood.  Maple is a favorite for smoked salmon and is great for seafood, turkey, vegetables, and cheese.  Cherry’s smoke is a sweet and flavorful mild smoke that is great with chicken and cheese.

Smoking Meats

Alder and Oaks

Alder is another mild, slightly sweet smoke.  It is used commonly with fish and seafood, but is also good with pork and poultry.  Oak is another step up in flavor.  It is characterized as rich.  Oak is good for any meat and can be used intermittently with Hickory to mitigate Hickory’s robust flavor.  There are even bisquettes and pellets available that are made from bourbon or whiskey casks to leave a hint of those flavors along with the smoke flavor.

Smoking Meats

Mesquite

A well-known wood for smoking is Mesquite.  It has a strong, smoky flavor that is very popular when cooking / smoking beef.  It is the wood most commonly found in southern barbeque.  Mesquite is a great compliment to beef, venison, and other wild game.

Smoking Meats

Pecan and Hickory

The most robust woods you can find on the ‘flavor spectrum’ would be Pecan and its cousin Hickory.  They have a strong robust flavor which can be toned down, if you want, by adding in some Oak.  Hickory is a very popular smoking wood that many consider the best for pork.  It can be used with all meats, though, in my humble opinion.  Pecan is a great wood for pork, beef, venison, poultry, and wild boar.

Now that you know the styles and sizes of woods you can smoke with, and the various common pairings, get out there and start cooking!

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