Why Use Wood for a BBQ Smoker?
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Barbeque smokers are not just for summer picnics. As an old and traditional way to preserve and flavor meats, it is a process that can be accomplished year-round. Smoking helps prevent protein-rich meats from decomposing. With modern barbecue smokers it is an easy process to smoke your own foods at home.
Smoking meats is no longer a survival function. Now imbuing select flavors to meats using different types of wood is considered a delicacy. Barbecue smoking is becoming increasingly popular since the range of flavors and combinations make it an endlessly variable taste sensation. Even the type of smoker you are using can alter the subtle flavors of some woods. A side-box smoker can be used for hotter woods than a column smoker where the column smoker can be better for the hot smoking method.
Still, for the beginning outdoor smoker, there are a number of things to learn and grow in experience to make the most of your time and equipment. While the rookie smoker may be lured into the quick fix of using artificially flavored wood chips or chunks, these commercial products have a number of drawbacks over learning ho to use natural woods.
Not only will these products not offer a true smoked flavor, the chemicals used may have unforeseen side effects. The smoking process is involved enough that a person should not shortchange themselves with imitation materials.
All Woods Are Not Created Equal
While there are a wide variety of woods that can be used to smoke food, not all woods will work. Softwoods, for example, are very bad for the smoking process. They are usually full of resins that can leave a bitter tang in the flavor of the meat or, as in the case of pine wood, can leave a toxic residue. Softwoods burn quicker and produce inferior smoke even in the best electric smoker.
Most assuredly, never use treated woods. The toxic chemicals out-gassed from these products run the gambit all the way up to arsenic; not a good additive for food. Getting your smoking wood from a trusted source is as important as making sure the meat you cook is also handled safely.
Hardwoods on the other hand, burn slower and hotter, thus making then ideal for meat smoking. The different woods can produce not only different flavors but colors as well. Almost any fruit tree will work well enough for smoking although the most popular varieties are apple and cherry. The most popular nut trees are hickory, oak, and pecan with mesquite and alder finishing out the list of the top varieties.
Part of the learning experience is finding out what woods work best with which meats. Just like wine, some woods work better with fish than red meat or makes pork taste better than the same wood would imbue in a chicken or turkey.
The 7 Most Popular Smoking Woods
HICKORY: Hickory is the hands-down favorite smoking wood in America. Generally likened to bacon flavoring, this awesome taste enhancement works best on ribs, pork, ham, brisket and beef. It is a strong flavor and will sometimes be blended with fruit woods like apple in order to prevent this easily recognizable taste from overpowering the meat.
MESQUITE: Another very strong, very sweet flavored wood, mesquite wood needs to be very old and well dried for best use. Green or unaged mesquite wood can leave an unpleasant bitter taste. Mesquite is often softened by blending other, lighter woods into the fire. Mesquite works best on red meats and is especially great for beef but is not very good with lamb or mutton.
PECAN: Pecan wood burns at a much lower temperature compared to most other smoking woods. It is an excellent wood for poultry and pork being more for slow cooking and a subtly sweet taste. Pecan’s light flavor blends well with stronger woods like mesquite for use on beef or venison.
APPLE: As with most fruit woods, apple burns low and slow for a flavor that works well with pork and poultry. It too is a great blending wood to moderate stronger flavors. The mild, apply taste by itself even works well on fish or other seafood meats.
CHERRY: Of the three most popular fruit woods, cherry is the smoothest and sweetest. Not only does it do white meats and fish, this wood is mild enough to use on vegetables as well. Cherry wood mixes well with oak for a robust flavoring on turkey.
WHITE OAK: White oak is a long-burning classic. Used particularly in the commercial smoking industry, this heavy smoking wood lays the foundation for flavoring red meat especially. As a base for mixing various specialty woods, white oak can be used with everything. Red oak has been known to create a sweeter flavor than the white oak.
ALDER: Most smokers prefer red alder for smoking delicate dishes like fish or vegetables. The hint of sweetness alder imbues is so light that poultry and pork are the heaviest meats it should be used on.
There are dozens of woods available in addition to these that can be experimented with to see how they compliment each other and the meats they cook. The more experience you get in smoking foods, the greater the usefulness for refining specific tastes.
Once familiar with the variations between ash, almond, or walnuts compared to fruits like plum, orange, grape, or pear woods will give you the ingredients for your own personal taste sensation.