Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wood for your Smoker

Using real wood chips or chunks in a smoker adds mouthwatering layers of real smoky flavor that simply aren't obtainable from shortcuts like adding liquid smoke to cooked meats. Here's a primer on some of the different woods that work for smoking meats and poultry:

*Hickory: Probably the most popular wood for smoking, hickory adds intensely smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness. Hickory's flavor complements most any kind of poultry or meat, and is particularly good with chicken and ribs, which probably explains why hickory is the most common smoky flavor added to barbecue sauces.

*Mesquite: With its straightforward intense smokiness, mesquite adds bold, dark smokiness that works well with brisket and burgers. Mesquite is often used in southwestern and Texas style barbeque.

*Oak: This one is our favorite for making NC pulled pork BBQ and other smoked pork butt recipes. Oak is more subtle than hickory or mesquite, blending nicely with the flavors in dry rubs and adding a clean smoky flavor that won't overpower.

*Cherry, apple, pear and osage orange wood: Fruit woods are lighter and sweeter than nut woods, adding delicate smoke with fruit notes that are particularly nice with pork and poultry. I've never seen pear wood commercially available - we were lucky to have a friend chop down a pear tree and give us the wood, which we aged and then enjoyed in our smoker.

*Soft woods: As a general rule, stick with hardwoods like nut woods (pecan, oak, hickory, etc.) or fruit woods for smoking. NEVER use soft woods like pine in your smoker. Soft woods will add all sorts of unpleasant flavors (think creosote) and sooty discoloration. Not good!

*Aging the wood: Commercially available wood chips and chunks sold for smoking should already be aged and ready to use. If you chop or collect your own wood for smoking, make sure you let it dry and age for at least 6 months. Don't use green wood in your smoker! We usually age our wood for about a year before using it in our smoker.

*Soaking the wood: At least 1 hour before smoking, soak the wood chips or chunks in water. This will allow them to smolder rather than flare up when you add them to the hot coals in your smoker.

Don't forget to select a dry rub to season your meat or poultry before smoking. Once you've smoked your meat or poultry, serve with a tasty Barbecue Sauce and enjoy your feast!

Zestfully yours,

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