The best wood for smoking is one of the must-have ingredients for smoking meat. You might be amazed at the different overtones that each type of wood chip renders.
Moreover, smoking is not just about adding a smoky tang to food. It is about infusing an alluring flavor to promote all your five senses. To do that, you cannot go wrong in the very first steps, from picking and blending wood chips to choosing the spices.
In this article, we will demonstrate to you how to master the former task, whether you are a newbie or a long-time barbecue gourmet.
What Are The Best Wood For Smoking?
Woods help boost the alluringly smoky flavor of your foods to another level, but not all types of wood can do the job. Resinous wood such as pine and cedar or other kinds of softwood is not born for smoking.
That is because the resin emitted by them would render the food inedible whenever you put them in the smoker.
In addition, wood also needs to be seasoned before being lighted up. Then, let it dry in the sunlight for a month or more before dropping it on the grill.
Keep in mind that you should never soak the wood in water before the grill. By doing that, you are creating more “smoke”, which is the water evaporating only. The real smoke only appears after a while.
Here are our suggested wood types for your excellent smoky flavor!
Alder wood has grown popular, especially on the Pacific Coast. Alder produces smooth smoke with a little sweet taste, making it perfect for all types of meat, such as seafood, fish, beef, pork, lamb, and poultry.
Unlike other wood, almonds bring a nutty, subtle ashy flavor to meats. The taste is perfect for poultry, but many people believe its taste also goes well with other types of meat like beef and pork.
Thanks to the subtle smoky taste, applewood chips are the best for red meat and chicken. However, it would take a while for the meat to absorb all its smokey flavor due to the light natural flavor. Applewood is indeed a great companion with slow smoking.
The mild fruity flavor of apricot wood reminds us of the hickory family. Light meat such as chicken, turkey, pork, or fish is ideal for smoked with apricot wood chips.
Birch’s smoke is unique, and it smells like caramel. That is why, like apricot woods, many people use it to smoke light meat.
Cherry wood is among the most favorite pellets of barbecue lovers. The taste never goes wrong. Another great thing is, it can combine with all different meat types.
Using coconut wood in barbecue may sound strange to you, but actually, its subtle yet delicious flavor is perfect for light meat, including seafood, fish, pork, and chicken.
8. Corn cobs
Smoked turkey lovers must be familiar with corn cobs, as its fruity and sweet flavor goes well with turkey, chicken, and even pork.
Dark meat such as lamb or chicken might benefit much from the tarty wood flavor of grapevines. The taste is so special that most barbecue enthusiasts fall in love right from the first taste.
It is generally difficult for you to come across guava, though it is a popular wood in many tropical regions. People usually use guava wood chips to smoke seafood, fish, pork, chicken, or other red meat.
Herbs always give a dish a unique taste, no matter how you cook it. It is also true with grilled food, as wood chips for smoker made from herbs such as sage, oregano, basil, and rosemary can upgrade light meat flavor.
However, as the taste is sometimes too strong, you should only sparingly use it over the charcoal.
Hickory is a universal and versatile choice because it is suitable for both smoking and grilling. It can be applicable for both light and dark meat as it fills food with a savory tang.
Lilac wood chips have a subtle smoke flavor with a special floral flavor. It is a great combination of seafood and lamb.
Like hickory, maple wood chips are among the most widely-known choices for both grilling and smoking. They have a mild maple syrup taste, perfect for smoking pork, beef, and poultry.
Mesquite wood chips are a must in case you are craving Texas-style BBQ meat. Thanks to the intense and strong woody overtones, they work perfectly with dark and light meat, such as pork or poultry.
Oakwood chips are famous for a medium-strong flavor that sticks to the food. Its flavor is like hickory and applewood chips, making it especially great for poultry, pork, and seafood.
Peachwood chips render a similar taste to hickory with mild fruity overtones. It is perfect with poultry, beef, and lamb.
The fruit sweet taste of pearwood chips goes well with a variety of dark and light meat.
Walnut wood is well-known for a large amount of smoke it produces. That is also why many people love it, as it gives your meat a mild acrid flavor. Therefore, you should only combine it with another sweeter-flavored variety of woods for optimum results.
Mistakes You May Have When Choosing Smoking Woods
Holidays without outdoor smoking experience is an absolute pity, but it is even more regrettable that you let any trademark pitfalls below ruin your exciting outdoor moments.
Let’s explore these mistakes together!
1. Using Wet Chunks Or Chips
There was a period when people preferred wet wood. However, after investigating, we find it extremely ineffective.
First, you need to understand the goal of cooking on outdoor appliances – to maintain the constant temperature during the whole cooking process. That will ensure your food is evenly cooked and has a delicious taste from this process.
Thus, if you add wet chunks or chips to the coals, you will accidentally stimulate a “cooling down” effect, which results in fluctuating temperature.
It will require much more energy to completely evaporate the water and bring back the previous temperature to the coals. That is why you should not apply the wet woods to an LP (liquid propane) grill, smoker box, charcoal, disposable pan, or smoking tube.
2. Add Too Much Wood At Once
Adding too much wood at once is considered one of the biggest mistakes when smoking with wood. It is important to consider the suitable amount of wood, regardless of wood chunks, logs, or chips.
Smoke contains very tiny organic particles, some of which have actual flavor derived from wood. As a part of the trees, these wood chips, when burnt, can create quite a heavy smoke flavor.
Let’s start with 6 to 8 ounces of wood chips or chunks instead and only resupply whenever the wood quantity has diminished to one-third of its original size.
From our experience, replenishment is necessary when you are about to get the cooking time finished.
3. Assume The Flavor Infusion According To The Amount Of Wood
Completely mastering how to differentiate the smoke based on its color is not a skill you can learn in a day or two, so you had better stick to the basic terms instead.
As we mentioned above, smoke particles that are attracted to moist areas are pretty small. Almost all kitchen appliances nowadays are designed for an effective set up so that air will not escape from any vents other than the constructed ones.
Therefore, that you barely see the smoke does not mean the wood is not doing its job. The optimal smoke vapor should have a blue tint and be hardly visible.
It is wise to not add more wood to your equipment because of that. You should pay attention to the wood aroma instead. We are sure you can smell it when the wood is combusting.
4. Peeking When Smoking
Maintaining the appropriate oxygen flow, the stability of intake, and an exhaust vent are significant in keeping everything you smoke tasting delicious.
Lifting the smoking lids will lead to the temperature differential when the burning coals are exposed to a cool airflow. Moreover, the ash may become airborne and fly to your food if windy. Hence, limit this terrible habit right away!
We know it is hard to stick to this rule because curiosity is an inborn nature of humans. However, try your best to limit the number of times you open the lid. If you want to check your food, wait at least after two hours of cooking before opening the lids for the first time.
5. Picking The Wrong Moisture Level
An ideal moisture level for almost all smoking techniques is between 15 to 25%. With that level, you can decide to hot smoke via two methods, either the direct or indirect one.
For anyone who has never heard about them, the former is how you directly heat or smoke the food, while the latter is the way you put food on the area with no direct heat below.
To the best of our experience, we prefer the moisture level at around 15% since the wood will combust faster at that level and thus, producing the necessary coals for smoking.
Remember that moisture means the water level in wood chips will take time to evaporate completely. That is how wood lasts longer when cooking.
6. Using Softwoods
What are softwoods? Pine, spruce, redwood, fir, cedar, cypress, hemlock, etc., are examples. They contain a great proportion of sap, resulting in an unpleasant flavor when being burnt.
Besides, several individuals feel sick when reacting to these softwoods. That is why you should use hardwood trees only. Many favorite hardwood trees for professional cooks are apple, hickory, beech, pecan, cherry, oak, maple, ash, alder, walnut, mesquite, etc.
7. Building A Big Fire
Many kitchen appliance manufacturers design a charcoal grate for the wood and charcoal to sit on. That is for a clear reason: wood chips and chunks require enough oxygen to maintain heat. If they sit in ash, they will not burn cleanly and consistently.
Still, building a huge fire is unnecessary. The small one is ideal for igniting unlit wood and allowing better temperature control.
8. Not Considering The Balance Factor
An amazing dish should be a combination of many factors. Do not simply buy smoking woods and throw them into the fire without considering your dish taste.
For instance, if you use sweet ingredients, picking hardy wood with more boldness, such as ash, hickory, beech, and oak, is a wise choice.
“Taste is aroma” should be your priority in your cooking principle. Remember that you are on the way to have the most memorable outdoor cooking experience and impress all of the guests at your house!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What Are The Differences Between Wood Chunks And Chips?
Though both wood chunks and chips share similar purposes, they are different in some aspects to enhance food’s flavor.
Wood chips are only suitable for short smokes. Due to small sizes, they burn up faster and can be used for smoking poultry, fish, and small pieces of meat that do not require long cooking time, such as burgers, sausage, or burgers.
Meanwhile, wood chunks are perfect for longer cooking sessions that take a few hours. Large cuts of meat like briskets, wings, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and pork belly are great options to smoke with chunks.
Wood chunks can infuse more smoke over a long time, so you do not need to disrupt the cook by adding more fuel sources like wood or charcoal.
2. Is It Necessary To Soak The Wood?
The answer is no. Many people soak the wood before cooking to let the wood not burn up so fast. You do not need to soak chunks as their large sizes already do not allow them to catch fire easily.
Besides, soaked wood chips may last a bit longer. As you only use them for short cooking, soaking is also unnecessary.
In addition, wet wood chips would reduce the internal cooking temperature, causing you to wait longer until the grill reaches your desired heat level.
3. How Much Wood Should I Use To Smoke At Once?
It depends on which type of wood you are using. You do not need to use a large amount of wood with a strong and bold flavor. Normally, a handful of chips is ample for a short cooking session, while a long smoke would take you a few wood chunks.
A mild flavor gives you the best result; however, too strong a tang would give your food a bitter taste. Mild woods, such as peach, apple, and cherry, are perfect for white meat, pork, and poultry.
Medium smoking woods are maple, pecan, hickory, or oak, which go well with pork and beef. The strongest wood must be mesquite, which is reserved for Texas-style meat only.
4. What Types Of Wood Should Not Be Used For Smoking?
Besides softwoods, as mentioned in the previous section, multiple wood types are not born for smoking.
Firstly, harmful wood contains toxins like mangroves, sassafras, yew, oleander, laburnum, and tambootie. The toxins in these types of wood can survive the high smoking temperature and stick to your meat.
Secondly, new or used lumber scraps. It is difficult for you to determine the type, origin, or purpose of the wood, making you unsure about its safety for cooking. That is not to mention some lumber is chemically treated, which is poisonous to our health.
Thirdly, stained or painted wood. It might consist of hazardous lead to humans and also make your food taste more bitter.
Last but not least, moldy wood. Old wood covered by fungus or mold tends to have toxins, which is dangerous for smoking.
The Bottom Line
Meat tastes much better with an additional smoky tang of wood. However, not every wood type is versatile enough to fit any type of meat. Some are perfect for light meat such as pork or chicken, while some are used for smoking seafood only.
Therefore, barbecue enthusiasts need to understand how to choose the best wood for smoking. Only the true experts can master this fundamental skill, and hopefully, after reading this article, you now have become one of them.