Quick Recipes and Easy

Choosing the Right Woods for Your Barbecue

When I reckon barbecue, I get excited. There is nothing better than the smell of the meat slowly wafting by on a summer day. It elicits an immediate Pavlovian response from me – hunger. For the pitmaster, the thrill is watching the ever increasing levels of excitment from your guests as you cook and get ready to serve.

Probably one of the most common questions for the new barbecuer is which wood to choose. There are a number of fantastic woods for smoking meats, many of which are easily available from your local supplier. But what wood goes with what meats? This article will hopefully clear up some of the confusion.

Types of wood – grouped by name and similarity

ALDER – Slightly sweet, this wood is extremely well loved on the Pacific coast. Most commonly seen used with seafood, particularly salmon, alder also compliments lighter meats such as pork and poultry quite well.

ALMOND – This has a nice nutty, sweet flavor that works extremely well with virtually any meat, but is especially excellent with chicken and turkey.

APPLE – This wood has a very light smoke, with a subtle fruity flavor.

CRABAPPLE, MULBERRY, PEAR – Similar to apple wood in flavor and use. Crabapple imparts a lot of smoke, so it is advisable to be frugal with how much you use until you become familiar with it.ASH – With a softer smoky flavor and a nice subtle sweetness, this quick burning wood goes well with seafood and beef, pork and poultry.

CHERRY – This is a well loved wood used among the smoking crowd due to its imparting a smoky sweetness rather than a simply strong smoke flavor. Use this on virtually any meat, from lighter meats, such as pork and chicken, to heartier meats such as beef and game.

CITRUS WOODS – ORANGE, LEMON and GRAPEFRUIT – Produces a nice mild smoky flavor with mild citrus notes. Brilliant with beef, pork, fish and poultry.

COCONUT – Not a commonly used wood, coconut hulls can be used when dried to provide a nice fruity, coconut tone to lighter meats such as chicken, pork and seafood.

CORN COBS – The perfect way to make use of everything in your kitchen, corn cobs provide a nice, slightly sweet and somewhat fruity smoke. The subtle flavors of the corn are also imparted to the meat, making it perfect for pork and poultry

COTTONWOOD – A soft wood that by-itself imparts small flavor and is best used as fuel wood. Because it offers small in the way of flavor, but does provide excellent heat, you should pair it with another wood such as hickory.

GRAPE VINES – Tart and fruity, grape vines are known to go well with virtually any meat, including red meats, lamb and game. Start sparingly when first using as grape vines can overpower meats. Similar, more subtle, flavors can be obtained by soaking lighter flavored chips in wine prior to smoking.

GUAVA – Obtained from tropical regions, and honestly hard to find, this member of the Myrtle family has a semi-sweet aroma and flavor that goes well with beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and fish.

HAZLENUT – Imparts a sweet, hazlenut flavor to your meats, and is particularly excellent with pork and chicken.

HERBS – Most herbs, including oregano, sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, and basil, will provide your meats with unique tastes and herbal tones. Rosemary and sage work quite well because of their thicker, more woody stems. Herbs can overpower lighter meats, so use sparingly at first, until you are familiar with the strength of the flavor of your particular herb choice.

HICKORY – This is the king of the barbecue woods, and is the wood most often associated with barbecue. With a sweet, hearty flavor, hickory works perfectly with with pork, poultry, beef, and game.

PECAN – A close cousin to hickory in flavor, pecan is sweet and subtle, yet robust. Excellent with poultry, beef, pork and cheese.

SWEET FRUIT WOODS – APRICOT, PLUM, PEACH, NECTARINE – All have a flavor similar to hickory, but with a milder smoke and fruit notes, these wood are perfect with most lighter meats, such as chicken, turkey, pork and fish. The flavor of sweet woods, once cut, will dissipate and become lost over time, so older supplies may not be as effective at flavoring your meats. When dealing with plum wood, make sure that it is of the fruit bearing varieties.

LILAC – This wood produces a very light smoke with subtle floral overtones that work extremely well with seafood and lamb.

MAPLE – Slightly sweet, with a mellow, non-overpowering smoke flavor and subtle maple syrup tones, this wood works well with pork, poultry, cheese, and game birds.

BIRCH – Somewhat like maple, this wood goes well with lighter meats such as pork and poultry.MESQUITE – Strong earthy flavor. Excellent with beef, fish, chicken, and game. One of the hottest burning woods available, but it can impart a bitter flavor when used in quantity. For long smokes, it is recommend to mix with lighter woods, such as fruit, to prevent the bitterness. ACACIA – Very similar in taste to mesquite wood, but it doesn’t have the sharpness that right mesquite does, or impart a bitterness when used in quantity like mesquite can. Essentially, acacia is to mesquite, what pecan is to hickory.OAK – A very well loved choice among smokers, oak wood produces a heavy, assertive, and recognizable smoke flavor. While any form of oak can be used for smoking, white oak tends to make a better fuel wood, whereas red oak tends to impart more flavor, especially on pork and beef products. Oak is perfect with with red meat, pork, fish and heavy game.

WALNUT – Usually used in smaller amounts and combined with lighter woods, commonly fruit varieties, due to the heavy smoke flavor it imparts. Similar to mesquite it can become bitter in quantity. Best used with hearty red meats and game.

When obtaining wood, choose carefully. Make sure the wood is well seasoned and ready for use, or make sure that you have appropriate facilities to season and store freshly cut woods. Bulk loads will often contain woods inappropriate for smoking, so make sure if you do buy in bulk, that you buy from a reputable source.

Be careful not to use the following woods, as they are soft woods and produce tars and resins when burnt, which will adhere to and ruin your food and smoker:

Pine Liquid Amber Fir Spruce Redwood Cedar Cypress Other types of woods will become toxic when burnt, and in some cases are extremely poisonous: Elm Eucalyptus Sycamore Oleander Poison Oak Any wood treated with varnishses, preservatives, or other chemical Moldy or fungi covered woods

Joe Johnson is a proud Texan and founding partner and chief pit-master with carolinesrub.com Caroline’s Rub, where he is in charge of product promotion and development for their line of gourmet carolinesrub.com/dry_rub.asp dry rubs, carolinesrub.com/smoked_salt.asp smoked salt, and Texas chili seasoning.



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