All wood is made up of the same fundamental components – cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. The lignin accounts for a fifth to a third of a wood’s weight and why it is such a strong material.
However, all shrubs and trees contain unique secondary properties, which make up the exotic aromas you experience when the wood is burned.
If you are ready to choose cooking wood, you may wonder what wood to choose and which option best meets your needs. Keep reading to learn more.
Types of Cooking Wood to Consider
There are several types of wood used most for grilling. Choosing the one right for your needs depends on a few factors, such as what flavor profile you want and what you are cooking.
Learn about each of the common types of wood before diving any further into deciding what to use.
Applewood provides an ashy, sweet-flavored smoke. It develops a patina of different shades of browns and yellows.
Applewood is most used for smoking bacon, but it can also be used for fish, poultry, and pork, thanks to the mild smoke.
A good option for a lighter smoke, for vegetables, white meats, and seafood because it’s not overpowering. It creates golden-yellow colors.
Of all the woods, alder gives off the least amount of smoke and adds a sweet profile to meats.
Aromas that are both pungent and exotic are created with this wood. It’s one of the most telling characteristics of China’s famous smoked duck dishes.
Cherry wood offers an earthy and bold flavor, which is common for popular fruitwoods. Many people blend this wood with other hardwoods to enhance the flavor.
It’s the ideal option for beef, lamb, pork, and dark poultry, such as duck and other types of gamey meats.
Grape wood offers a medium smoke intensity and provides a fruity, sweet flavor. It smells amazing when cooking and is a great option for game, beef, lamb, and dark meat poultry.
However, don’t go too far, as the flavor may become too heavy.
If you are cooking seafood, you may enjoy the unique flavor this wood provides. However, experts recommend using it sparingly, as it can become overpowering.
Hickory offers a distinct, robust flavor. For barbecue purists, this is a popular option and one of the most used.
With juniper, you get a resinous and bold flavor that is also one that should be used sparingly.
Maple is another popular option for many barbecue enthusiasts. It provides a light and smoky aroma that works with a wide array of foods.
If you have ever had mesquite anything, you know it offers an unmistakable, distinctive fragrance. It is also the wood chosen for barbacoa.
Considered a versatile style of wood, mulberry’s taste profile is like an apple. While you can use it with almost any type of meat, it is a great option for pork, poultry, and fish.
With oak, you really can’t go wrong. It offers a classic, bold flavor that everyone can appreciate. Also, white oak, called post oak by many, is a classic wood used for the Texas meat market-style barbeque.
Fruit tree woods are like one another in flavor, providing a sweeter, mild taste. Peachwood smells great when it is cooking and will work well with pork and poultry.
Like hickory, pecan offers a similar amount and flavoring of smoke, as well.
Sassafras offers a sweet taste and smell, but a lot isn’t needed. If you use too much, the flavor may get overpowering. It is a good option for cooking beef and pork.
Straw is often used in Normandy and paired with mild fish-like sole, offering a delicate and light smoked aroma.
If you want an intense and heavy smoke flavor, walnut is your best choice. Just be careful since it can get somewhat bitter if it is overdone. This is the ideal option for stronger game meats.
Wood Chunks vs. Wood Chips
The type of wood isn’t the only decision you must make.
When you are choosing cooking wood, such as these kiln dried hardwood logs, you can choose chunks, chips, or logs.
Wood chips are most used for a shorter cook. They will burn up faster than chunks, making them ideal for poultry, fish, and other small cuts of meat that don’t require long cooking times.
Wood splits (logs) and chunks are best for longer smokes. Cooks that require several hours to finish, such as ribs, pork belly, wings, brisket, and pork shoulder, do best with this type of wood.
It is best to use chunks for bigger meat cuts or require longer cooking times because the chunks won’t burn up as quickly as the chips.
Wood chunks at smoke flavor for a longer amount of time without adding more wood during the cook. It is not a good idea to have to add wood or charcoal during the cook since this can interrupt the process.
Why Hardwoods Are the Best Cooking Woods
When it comes to cooking woods, you have a lot of options. However, to get the temperature needed for grilling, cooking, and baking, hardwoods are best.
That’s because hardwoods created hotter and heartier coal that lasts longer.
The top hardwoods used for cooking include pecan, hickory, oak, and mesquite; however, you can choose any of the above options to get the desired results.
Anything used to make furniture can be used as cooking wood.
If you are planning Dutch oven cooking, it’s important to find hearty coal that will keep some of the heat. However, you are not as worried about the flavor in this case since it won’t impact the food.
You want to avoid having to re-fire the oven, again and again, to keep things burning. That’s why hardwood should be the obvious choice.
Just remember, if you are using a Dutch oven for cooking, what you need is a hot coal that will last. The hardwoods mentioned above are ideal for this.
Soaking the Wood
Some people recommend soaking your wood. However, this isn’t always needed.
Most people choose to do this to help ensure the wood doesn’t burn too quickly.
Your wood chunks don’t need to be soaked since their bigger size ensures they won’t catch fire and burn too quickly.
If you want to soak, to see a difference, you must allow the wood chunks to soak for a few days; however, this is not necessary.
While soaking your wood chips can help them last a little longer since they are used for shorter cooks, this is not necessary, either.
Also, if you add wet wood chips to your lit grill, it will reduce the temperature. This means you must wait even longer for things to reach the desired temperature again.
Selecting the Perfect Smoking Wood
Selecting the right type of wood is an important part of smoking meat. It is just as important as choosing the right temperature and time.
Based on the type of meat or food you plan to smoke, you need to choose the right wood type to work with the meat profile.
Selecting the wrong smoking wood may result in a bad flavor and ruin the cook all together.
This is the main reason you should be careful when it comes to choosing smoking wood.
Using the Right Amount of Cooking Wood
Be sure you aren’t using too much wood. That’s especially important when it comes to stronger types of wood.
A handful of wood chips is usually enough for short smoking sessions. You should also start your longer sessions with just a few chunks.
A slightly less intense smoky flavor is still going to provide quality results. However, if too much smoke is created, it will cause your food to taste bitter.
Some smoking woods will come off mild, while others are extremely strong.
The mild woods include fruit woods such as cherry, peach, and apple. These are great for port, poultry, and white meat.
Try oak, pecan, maple, or hickory if you want a “middle of the road” wood. These are ideal for port and can stand up to game meats and beef.
The strongest smoking wood available is mesquite. Be sure you only use mesquite when you want a strong smoke flavor. In most cases, this is only used for larger chunks of beef.
Mistakes to Avoid When Using Cooking Wood
If you are new to using cooking wood, it isn’t uncommon to make some mistakes. The best way to avoid these mistakes is to know what they are.
Avoid Adding Too Much Wood
One of the biggest and most common mistakes when using cooking wood is adding too much. If you choose to use logs, chunks, or chips, don’t get too much.
Smoke is a vapor. It is made up of small particles of organic compounds that contain flavoring from the wood. Because it is plant material, the flavonoids, when combusted, are often extremely bold.
It’s best, to begin with just six to eight ounces of wood product. Only add more when it has been reduced to just 1/3 of its original size.
Replenishment should only be done to ensure the full cooking time of the meat.
Avoid Measuring Flavor Infusion Based on Smoke Quality
Smoke vapor particles are very small (as mentioned above). They are also attracted to moist surfaces.
It is never a good idea to add more wood just because you don’t see any smoke. This is another common mistake.
Quality smoke vapor is usually difficult to see. It also has a blue tint to it.
Even if you don’t see a lot of smoke, you can feel confident that the wood is doing its job. As the wood continues to combust, you should smell the aroma.
Don’t Peek with Smoking
This is a hard rule to follow. However, you need to resist the urge to open the lid and look at what you smoke.
Proper oxygen flow and balance are achieved in your grill. If you continue peeking at your meat, it’s going to disrupt this balance.
Moisture Level Considerations
A moisture level of 15% to 25% is ideal for most wood-fired cooking techniques. With this level, you can hot smoke through a direct or indirect method.
If your wood is too dry, you aren’t going to achieve the ideal heat output. Moisture is the level of water in the wood. It takes time for the moisture to evaporate, which will help the wood last longer while it is cooking.
Choosing the Right Cooking Wood
When it comes to choosing the right cooking wood, there are a lot of factors to consider. If you are new to this cooking method, it is important to use the information and resources above to find the right wood option.
In some cases, it will also take a process of trial and error to find the right wood for cooking. Also, everyone has their own personal preferences, so be sure to consider what you like and then use it for cooking.
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