There’s flavor where there’s smoke. Buckets of it. When grilling….
…or smoking brisket, pork ribs, salt, salmon, or turkey, it’s critical to use the right variety of wood to meat. Consider pecan, mesquite, and alder smoke in the same way you would ginger, basil, or tumeric. Each has a distinct flavor that complements or detracts from a dish.
“Smoke cooking is similar to cooking with other ingredients. It’s all about the flavor — and how much of it there is. You’re looking for a nice balance of smoke, food, and other seasonings “Chef Mark Hittle of Bobby Q’s in Phoenix said as much. “There’s nothing like the wrong smoke to ruin a barbecue.”
Cooks have been smoking meats since the dawn of time, but smoked foods are currently experiencing a resurgence. Smoked foods satisfy a dual craving for flavor and comfort, from wood-fired pizza to old-fashioned Southern barbecue. As the popularity of wood-fired cooking grows, so does its sophistication.
For two-dimensional flavors, serious wood-fired experts like Hittle frequently combine two types of wood to meat. Bobby Q’s uses a combination of mesquite and almond for its boldness and sweetness.
Some woods aren’t suitable for use in a smoker or grill. Only use hardwood varieties that are low in resin and high in flavor. The quality of the wood to meat is also important. Buy wood to meat that feels heavy for its size, as this indicates that it’s ready to smoke. Dry, old wood burns too quickly and produces too much smoke.
Hittle recommends two to three hours pre-soaking in dry wood.
There are three basic ways to add smoky flavors to foods. First of all, a smoking process in which wood to meat smoke cooks food indirectly at low temperatures. The most time it takes to smoke, but it gives the smokiest of tastes.
The other options are to grill over burned wood, not coals, and to add the best wood chips into the background grill so that smoky tastes can be added to grilled meats quickly and easily.
When Smoking Wood to Meat
Follow these tips:
- Typically, dry rubs are best when smoking. Liberally cover the food with the rub. Overnight marinating is best for beef and pork. Chicken, seafood and vegetables need as little as two hours of marinating in a refrigerator.
For an all-purpose dry rub, combine 1/3 cup coarse salt, ¼ cup packed light-brown sugar, ¼ cup paprika, 2 tablespoons ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves and, for extra kick, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper.
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- Boneless meats, such as pork shoulder, can shrink during slow smoking. Ask for untrimmed cuts — a layer of fat slows shrinkage. Cut off the fat before serving.
- When cooking in a smoker, avoid peeking. Every peek causes the temperature to drop and extends the cooking time.
- Charcoal can be added during smoking to maintain heat. Keep a small pile burning in a small grill before adding it to the main fire. For meats smoked six to eight hours, add three to four briquettes to the supplemental fire every 40 minutes.
- Use a thermometer to check the smoke’s heat; heat should be less than 200 degrees.
- Cooking time depends on type, size and shape of meat, distance of food from the heat, temperature of the coals and the weather.
- Use a thermometer to monitor internal temperatures.
- For additional flavor, apply a “mop” of sauce during the last stage of smoking.
When Grilling with Wood to Meat
Follow these tips:
- Always cover the grill while cooking, so the aroma has a chance to fully penetrate the food.
- Soak four to six wood chunks or one cup of wood chips in water for about two hours before cooking, then place them on hot coal.
- When the chunks start smoking, begin cooking. The more chips or chunks you use, the more powerful the flavor.
- Wet wood chips can also be used in gas grills. Place the chips in foil with holes poked in it. Set on the lava rocks.