Cooking With Wood

Best wood to use and avoid in order to enhance the flavor of your food by smoking and barbequing.

Cooking in the great outdoors usually conjures up images of campfires and tents, which may be true for some, but you don't have to wait for a camping trip to enjoy the flavors of the great outdoors. In addition to the summertime cookout, a thanksgiving turkey or a holiday ham can add to the variety of foods that can be enhanced by smoking or barbecuing. The following are some ideas that may improve the flavor of your cooking experience.

Generally, the grill types will be the charcoal burning type. Most gas grills do not allow for wood to be added, as the ashes would spread over the gas outlets, although there are some types of gas grills that allow for chips to be added. Check your own grill's manual for details.

Smoker grills are a bit different from the average charcoal grill. Smoker grills have a lower air intake for incoming fresh air and usually a raised pipe of sorts to clear the smoke from the cooker. This type of design allows for the build up of smoke in the grill while slowing the fire thus allowing the smoke to flavor the food. Opening the vent and air intake will allow the smoke to then clear from the chamber.

The type of wood you would use to smoke food is a matter of choice. There are however, a few woods not to use, as they can be unpleasant or hazardous. Pine, spruce, cedar-evergreens of this sort are really not usable as the sap content can leave soot on the food. They also contain high levels of tannin, which is used primarily in curing animal hides. Oak also contains tannin so it would not be good to use. Willow or other soft woods are not good to use either as when they either contain too much water or when dry burn too fast.

The best woods for smoking and barbequing are nut woods, as well as some fruitwoods. The most popular is hickory wood. Hickory wood chips are best if they are cut from wood that has been cut and aged for 6 to 12 months. This aging of the wood allows it to retain enough water to make smoke. A shortcut is to use bark from the shagbark hickory and can be pulled from a live tree and used right away.

Walnut, black walnut. Pecan and fruitwoods such as apple or cherry can be used much in the same way. Again, wood aged 6 to 12 months and then chipped is best. These woods flavor the food nicely without being overpowering.

Another exceptional wood for smoking and barbequing is mesquite, primarily found in the southwest. Mesquite essence is sometimes added to charcoal to give food that "southwestern" flavor.

Whatever you choose, keep in mind the larger the items you are cooking, the more wood you will need. Cooking times will also depend upon the type of food you are preparing. Be sure when smoking pork you allow for ample time for it to thoroughly cook. There are many cookbooks that provide great recipes to try. Visit your local home center to find out what grills and kits are available to add versatility to your outdoor cooking adventure.

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