Join Date: Jul 2009
Which wood is good
I've been asked numerous times, which is the best wood to smoke with. Here is a very good explanation that should help you in your choices.
For me I always use lump charcoal in the firebox and add hardwood chunks for more flavor during the cook. I use an offset pit and lump charcoal is easier to regulate than an all wood fire. Of course building cabinets I usually have a good supply of woods to choose from.
Appropriate Smoke Woods
A variety of sources on the Internet indicate that all the woods listed below are suitable for smoking most any type of meat, poultry, or fish. The most popular and widely available smoke woods are oak, hickory, mesquite, pecan, apple, cherry, and alder.
Generally speaking, you want to use only hardwoods from fruit-bearing or nut-bearing trees. In my experience, fruit woods tend to impart a lighter smoke flavor, while the nut woods produce a stronger smoke flavor. If I could choose only one smoke wood, it would be apple, which seems to complement most everything I barbecue.
acacia, alder, almond, apple, apricot, ash, bay, beech, birch, butternut, cherry, chestnut, cottonwood, crabapple, fig, grapefruit, guava, hackberry, hickory, kiawe, lemon, lilac, madrone, manzanita, maple, mesquite, mulberry, nectarine, oak, olive, orange, peach, pear, pecan, persimmon, pimento, plum, walnut, willow
Woods To Avoid
The conventional wisdom is that cedar, cypress, elm, eucalyptus, liquid amber, pine, redwood, fir, spruce, and sycamore are not suitable for smoking. Some people say that sassafras is also inappropriate for smoking, yet it is available from some mail-order wood suppliers.
When in doubt about a particular smoke wood, play it safe--don't use it until you confirm with a reliable source that it's OK for use in barbecuing.
Flavored Smoke Woods
Retailers sell a variety of flavored wood chunks and chips. Some are made from old wine or whiskey barrels, while others have just been soaked in wine or even Tabasco. Flavored woods add an interesting aroma to the smoke coming out of your cooker, but you'll have to judge for yourself whether they do anything for the flavor of your barbecue.
Logs, Slabs, Chunks, Chips, And Pellets
You'll find smoke wood available in all these forms. In retail stores you'll most likely find chunks, chips, and pellets. Chunks will vary in size from small pieces to fist-sized pieces. Chunks burn slowly and release smoke over a long period of time, and are the choice for most smokers
Chips burn hot and fast, releasing smoke in a quick burst. If you use chips, you will have to add them several times during the cooking process, whereas with chunks you can add them just once at the beginning of the process. To prolong the smoke from wood chips, they are often placed in a pouch formed out of aluminum foil and put directly on the hot coals. Small holes poked in the foil allow the smoke to escape.
Should Bark Be Removed?
Some people are adamant about removing the bark from smoke wood, believing that it introduces an undesirable flavor to their barbecue. On the other hand, I know of one gentleman who barbecues using only the bark. I don't bother removing bark from my smoke wood. You'll have to try it both ways and see if you can tell any difference.
Quantity Of Smoke Wood To Use
It is possible to apply too much smoke to meat, resulting in a bitter or overpowering flavor. In general, I've found that the equivalent of 4-12 fist-sized chunks of wood work best for most meats in the smoker. You should experiment with using different amounts of smoke wood to determine what works best for you, depending on if you like a heavier or lighter smoke flavor.
When using a new smoke wood for the first time, I suggest using a small amount for a lighter smoke flavor. You can always increase the amount of smoke wood next time, but there's no way to salvage a piece of meat that's been oversmoked.
Apply Smoke Wood To The Fire
Here are some of the ways that people add smoke wood to the fire.
By the way, don't bother soaking wood chunks before use. It's not necessary as long as you're using decent-sized chunks, and the water doesn't penetrate seasoned wood very much, anyway.
* Place Smoke Wood On Top Of Hot Coals
Most commonly used when firing the cooker using The Standard Method. Distribute the chunks evenly over the fully lit charcoal after putting the meat in the cooker. This keeps you from getting blasted with smoke while adding the meat
* Bury Smoke Wood In Unlit Charcoal
Only possible when firing the cooker using The Minion Method. Bury wood chunks throughout the unlit fuel, followed by a few chunks on top. Distribute the hot coals evenly over the unlit fuel, making sure some wood touches the hot coals to start generating smoke right away.
* Layering Charcoal And Wood Chips
I don't advocate the use of wood chips, because I think chunks burn longer and more evenly. However, some people put down a layer of charcoal in the bottom of the chamber, then a layer of wood chips, a layer of charcoal, and so on, until the chamber is filled to the top. Light using The Minion Method.
Where To Buy
The best smoke wood is free smoke wood! Check with local orchards, golf courses, and tree trimming services, especially after storms. Tell them that your hobby is barbecue and you're looking for a few split pieces of wood, and you're likely to get some for free.
If you have to purchase smoke wood, it's best to buy locally whenever possible because of the high cost of shipping.
Hickory and mesquite chunks are readily available at most hardware stores and home centers. Check Home Depot, Lowe's, Orchard Supply Hardware, Ace, True Value, and other such stores. Better grocery stores will often have these products, too.
You can also find a number of other smoke wood suppliers listed on The Smoke Ring.
Many of the "exotic" woods listed at the top of this page are not available through retail suppliers. Most people harvest these woods from trees on their own property or on a friend's property, or purchase them from orchards and other property owners.
By The Bag, Box, Or Truckload
If you buy smoke wood at retail stores, it will probably come in paper or plastic bags in small quantities sold by weight or volume. This is convenient for those who live in urban areas without a lot of storage space and without access to cut trees or branches.
If you order smoke wood over the phone or Internet, you'll probably have to buy a minimum quantity by weight, usually a 50 pound box or sack of wood. This is fine if you have storage space, and the price of the wood is reasonable, but you'll pay about as much in shipping as you will for the wood itself.
If you're lucky enough to have appropriate smoke wood trees on your property, or know someone who does, you can chop up green logs and branches into chunks for use in your smoker. Never use green or unseasoned wood.
Choosing The Right Smoke Wood
Choosing the right type of smoke wood is an important decision you make each time you barbecue. Each wood imparts its own unique flavor to beef, pork, poultry and seafood. It's also true that certain woods are commonly associated with and go better with certain kinds of meat.
There you have it