Different Wood Equals Different Flavor
A quick introduction to what you are about to read – this article is not for the experienced pitmaster who expertly knows their way around the smoker and knows what wood to use for different flavor. This article is for the rest of us – those that love to spend a day smoking and barbecuing meat and other items in the smoker to near perfection but we may not know the subtle flavor and aroma differences that each type of wood delivers. Let’s explore a few of the most popular woods (and some unusual ones) used for smoking and the differences between each one.
Hickory is probably considered the most popular and most used wood for barbecuing and smoking. It’s a “universal wood” that can be used for any type of smoking and barbecue. When used properly, it delivers perfect results and is the main smoke flavor that we all think of when we think of barbecue. Hickory delivers great flavor to beef, pork, poultry and fish and should be the “go to” wood for anyone who wants to get a strong smoky barbecue flavor.
Mesquite is a wood used frequently with Texas barbecue but it also has devout users all over. Mesquite is a tough wood to use because of its very strong flavor. Using mesquite with barbecue and smoking usually requires some experience because even just a little too much smoke can quickly ruin the food. Mesquite smoke provides amazing flavor, but very easily, the flavor can become too intense. Mesquite can be used on all types of meat.
Apple wood delivers a mild smoky flavor and has both sweet and fruity qualities. In my personal opinion, apple wood is the perfect wood when you are barbecuing a pork butt, ribs or chicken. The flavors that the apple wood delivers to both pork and poultry seem to be a marriage made in heaven! Apple wood is an easy wood to use because of its mild smoke flavors. When thinking about a perfect appetizer for your crowd, you cannot go wrong with smoked chicken wings using apple wood!
Between apple wood and hickory on the “flavor scale” is oak. I believe oak wood is one of the unsung heroes of barbecuing and smoking. Many people overlook oak when barbecuing or smoking simply because it’s a common wood found almost everywhere. Don’t let that fool you! Oak can be used with every type of meat including pork, poultry and fish. Oak can also be mixed with your favorite wood to create another layer of flavor that will really impress. The next time you get ready to add some wood to the smoker, mix up equal parts of oak and hickory and I’m pretty sure you’ll be happy with the results!
A unique type of wood to use for barbecuing is wine barrel wood chunks. These wood chunks are oak wood pieces for wine barrels used in the process of aging red wine. Wine barrel wood has an amazing aroma and flavor that can only be found with this type of wood. The flavor that this type of wood delivers may be subtly different than normal oak, but in all honesty, is isn’t much different. Using wine barrel wood when barbecuing or smoking provides a way to “dress up” your food for presentation – it sounds pretty neat when you unveil and announce wine barrel smoked ribs!
The last example of wood type isn’t a wood type at all. It’s actually an extremely interesting and surprising way to deliver unbelievable flavors when barbecuing. This process is called Chinese tea smoking. Create a heavy duty aluminum foil smoking packet and add ¼ cup of whole leaf (dried) jasmine tea, ¼ cup of jasmine rice (dried), ¼ cup of light brown sugar, 6 whole star anise, 2 broken up cinnamon sticks and 2 teaspoons of orange zest. Use the smoking packet in place of wood when smoking fish and you will wow your family and friends with something that they have probably never had before!
There are so many other wood varieties available for barbecuing and smoking that the flavors, and flavor combinations, seem endless. Always remember to keep your wood selection as simple as possible but don’t be afraid to try something new, or even mix in a new type of wood to experiment with flavors, the next time you are barbecuing!
Image credit: schan / 123RF Stock Photo