When we talk of smoking food, one of the core elements is the fuel that provides the heat and smoke. And no other fuel is as common or versatile as wood.
Although different types of smokers run on other heat sources, wood is like a different standard altogether. And this is because there are more organic varieties in wood than you’d find in charcoal, electricity, gas, etc.
Importance of wood choice
When we burn wood, it’s the lignin that provides that smoky aroma we love in our barbeques. Also, the cellulose and hemicelluloses in the wood can create a variety of flavors. And these effects can vary depending on the wide range of wood types available. Now, all these varieties of wood have their specific benefits and shortcomings. And as you use them more, you’ll find that some varieties go better with certain food items. For example, mulberry is among the favorites if you want to smoke lamb.
While these differences can also come from personal taste, there are features of certain woods that make them better for specific meat. And today, we want to give you the rundown on how to find the best combination with the right information.
Before you read on about wood combinations and their potential, make sure you learn how to prepare your wood before smoking.
Before you start learning about different combinations, you have to learn a little about the woods themselves. In a general sense, any wood that’s hard and without sap (resin) works for smoking. However, some wood indeed works better than others. Also, wood aromas and flavor can range from light to strong, with a lot of variety in between.
Let’s looks at some wood varieties popular with smoking and what they’re suitable for.
Alder wood is famous for smoking white meat like poultry and fish (especially salmon). It’s usually known to have a lighter flavor compared to other hardwoods.
Applewood is another wood that provides a mild flavor. It goes well with both pork and poultry. It can add a browner color to chicken skin.
Like apple, apricot also works excellent for both pork and poultry. It may be similar to hickory in some aspects, but it has a lighter flavor.
Birch is typically used for white meat as well as pork.
Cherry is easily one of the most widely used woods. It has mild flavors but also adds sweetness to the food. It works well for smoking any food item.
Wood from citrus trees (lemon, orange, etc.) also has a fruity flavor. It provides medium smoke and is milder than woods like cherry.
Cottonwood does not add too much flavor on its own. It has a milder effect and works well with woods of more robust flavor.
Hickory is another popular choice of wood for smoking. It adds intense flavors to the food, so you should use it in moderation (or in combination with milder woods).
Maple wood also brings a sweet flavor to the meat. It’s an excellent choice for meat products like ham and poultry.
Mesquite is a strong-flavored wood that burns well. It’s been gaining popularity, especially for grilling. The combustion is hotter and faster than other woods, so it’s not the best choice for longer barbeques.
Mulberry has a lighter but sweet flavor. It’s similar to an apple.
Oakwood is a versatile hardwood that’s useful for smoking almost any food. It has a considerably strong flavor and goes well with lamb or beef.
Pecan can deliver a delicate aroma, and it doesn’t burn too hot. So, it’s ideal for slow and mild smoking.
Pear is another fruitwood that gives both sweet and mild flavors.
Walnut woods are known for more robust flavors. It’s also great for adding that smoky aroma to the meat. It works better with milder woods.
These are some of the common choices of wood that go into smoking. But this is, in no way, an exhaustive wood list for smoking. Lots of other varieties exist, each with its strength and aroma. You’ll learn about them as you continue using your smoker and experimenting with different woods.
Combining different woods: A Learning Journey
You already know that different woods affect the taste, flavor, and aroma of a piece of meat in different ways. However, you need to remember that your taste palate must develop over time. Some of these flavors are stark and obvious. Other woods are finer and harder to detect. It does take time before you can tell how each wood influences the taste and aroma.
Let's say you smoke pork. Apple suits pork and has fruitier and sweeter flavors, whereas oak also works well with red meat but has stronger flavors. So, you could use a standard smoker to try different quantities of apple and oak wood to see the difference.
There are a few ways to determine which combination you prefer, but you have to try it yourself to find out. If you smoke more and more, you’ll discover that your tastes change and become even more refined.
Smoking meat and vegetables are one of the best ways to infuse new taste and flavor into your food. And a large part of it depends on the choice of wood. As you use your smoker more, you’ll be able to separate the nuances in wood choice more and more.
Wood choice is an integral part of quality smoking. And it matters in other forms of barbequing too. Follow the link to learn more about wood choice for grilling a steak.