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 in smoking
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.
Common varieties of Wood for 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.
Apple 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 apple.
Oak 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
It’s probably clear by now that different woods have varying effects on the taste, flavor, and aroma of the meat. However, you must remember that your taste palate also needs to develop with time. Some of these differences in flavor are stark and obvious. Others are finer and harder to detect. It does take some time before you can tell how much each wood influences the taste and aroma.
Let’s take the instance of smoking pork. Apple is a decent choice for pork, but it has fruity and sweeter flavors. Oak, on the other hand, also suits red meat but has more robust flavors. So, you could use a standard smoker to try different quantities of apple and oak woods to see the difference.
The final taste and aroma depend on your personal preference. So, what is considered an excellent combination for someone may seem pretty ordinary to you. The best way to define these combinations is to try and find out for yourself. You’ll find that, as you smoke more and more, your tastes also become more refined and sensitive to small changes.
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. If you want to learn more about wood choice for grilling, check out this informative piece.