Cooking with wood chips has been a favorite with BBQ chefs since the first fire. In recent times we have become so sophisticated with our tastes and techniques that cooking with wood has become an art.
Many individuals refuse to cook with propane or natural gas for fear of losing the flavor of the wood in the barbeque. Others will only cook with gas stating they can achieve the flavor of the wood by utilizing techniques we will discuss later.
First we should discuss why to use chips at all. Food has a natural flavor and with the addition of others flavors doesn’t distort the very taste we seek to achieve? Interestingly enough the answer is both yes and no. The primary factor we must consider is the type of meat we are cooking or smoking. Light or white meat such as fish, poultry, or certain cuts of port should use a light fruit wood. Using heavy woods will cause the meats to taste like the wood with a consistency of the meat. Alternatively, using a light wood on beef or game will not initiate any change in the taste3 of the meat. The surrounding are will have a great aroma but the meat will remain unchanged.
Using wood chips is the method we use to enhance the flavor of the meat. By selecting the correct type or types of chips our meats will thrill the taste buds and cause your guests to wonder how you select the choice meats for the dining pleasure.
Now that we have decided to use chips, selection of which type of wood to BBQ or smoke our meats becomes the next task. Below is a list of the most common woods available on the market. They will be listed in alphabetical order and by meat category later.
- Acacia – the same family as mesquite, though not as heavy. A very hot burning wood. Smoked color: yellow, lemon type
- Alder – light flavor that works well with fish and poultry. Contains a hint of sweetness, good with poultry and light – meat game birds. Traditionally used for smoking salmon. Northwest.
- Almond – a nutty, sweet flavor
- Apple – mild, fruity flavor, slightly sweet. Good for poultry, pork. Northwest.
- Apricot – mild, sweet flavor. Good on fish, poultry, pork
- Birch – medium hard wood, flavor similar to maple. Good with poultry, pork,
- Black Walnut – heavy flavor, can impart bitter taste if not monitored carefully
- Cherry – mild, fruity. Good with poultry, pork, beef.
- Citrus – lemon, grapefruit, orange, nectarine – light fruity flavor, good with fish, poultry, pork and beef.
- Fruit trees – apple, cherry, apricot – sweet mild flavor
- Hickory – strong flavor, good with beef and lamb. Smoked products develop reddish color. Southern regions.
- Maple – like fruit, sweet flavor. Northeast.
- Mulberry – sweet, similar to apple
- Mesquite – very strong flavor, burns hot and fast. Good for hot short smoking, better for grilling.
- Oak – probably best all around wood for meat smoking. Strong but not overpowering, good for sausages, beef or lamb. Smoked products develop light brown to brown color, depending on the length of smoking.
- Peach – mild, sweet flavor. Good on fish, poultry, pork
- Pear – light and sweet, smoked color dark – red. Excellent with poultry and pork.
- Pecan – milder version of hickory. Burns cool. Southwest region.
- Plum – mild, sweet flavor. Good on fish, poultry, pork
- Walnut – heavy smoke flavor. Can impart bitter taste if not monitored. Good with red meats and game.
There are of course, other woods you can try, orange, oregano, or basil are just a few. You are limited by your imagination. However, be careful of potentially dangerous woods. If there is a doubt, don’t use them. Oleander is an example of a wood to be avoided. It is highly toxic and can cause death.
Now that we have decided to use wood we must choose the right wood for the food we will be barbequing or smoking. The following is a guide to help you in your decision.
POULTRY: Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Cornish Game Hen, Quail, Goose. (Alder, apple, maple, pecan)
FISH: (light) Cod, Flounder, Halibut, Monkfish, Turbot, Sea Bass, Sole, Trout, Clams, Oysters, Shrimp, and Scallops. (Alder, mesquite, pecan)
FISH: (Dark) Salmon, Tuna, Swordfish, Shark Mussels. (Alder, cherry, grapevine, maple, mesquite, oak, pecan)
BEEF: (Cherry, grapevine, hickory, maple, jerky, mesquite, oak, pecan)
PORK: (Alder, apple, hickory, maple, oak, pecan)
LAMB: (Alder, cherry, mesquite, oak, pecan)
VENISON, ELK: (Cherry, grapevine, hickory, maple, mesquite, oak)
To achieve the best possible flavor, experiment. Try combinations of woods in varying quantities. You’re the cook. Be brave, be bold, but never give away your secret.
We’ve decided to use wood; we’ve decided which wood to use. Now we must choose chips and bits f chunks. The general rule here is simple. Use chunks for charcoal and chips for gas.
In a gas grill the chips should be soaked in liquid for a minimum of 30 minutes. It is generally better to soak the chips overnight if possible. If you have a smoker box (a small metal container that sits on your grate), place your chips in there and light the fire. A good substitute is to wrap your chips in heavy duty tin foil, log fashion and place on top of the lava rocks or ceramic briquettes. About five minutes are lighting the fire you will begin to smell the aroma of smoking wood. Place your meat in the BBQ, turn the flame to low, close the hood and enjoy the smell of the wood while your dinner is being permeated with the taste of the great outdoors.