The Bearded Butchers Smoking Wood Chart – How to pick the right wood for smoking different types of meat
Pretty much any type of meat is better when it's perfectly smoked. From beef and poultry to fish and wild game, smoking produces unique flavors you can't get on a gas grill. But not every type of wood works well for smoking, and not every brand is the best. Our family loves to smoke meat and we do it year round, even when it snows. Over the years, we have learned which type of wood for smoking work best for the recipes we are making. This article will share with you some of our experiences and what types of wood are our favorites for certain meals.
The Types of Wood Commonly Available
Let's start with some basics: wood for smoking is always a hardwood. Softwoods, like pine, are too resinous and will ruin the flavor of your meat. Lots of types of trees are hardwood, and many are sustainably harvested right here in the United States. Some of the most common hardwoods for smoking are hickory, oak, maple, and fruit woods. These are available as chips, chunks, and pellets, but you can also use scraps from furniture making, just make sure you avoid painted, stained, or treated products because you'll end up eating the nasty chemicals that are released when smoking meat.
There is a ton of information online about wood for smoking. You can download great charts that have more information than you probably will ever need. The smoking chart describes the various flavor profiles each type of wood contributes, along with information about which types of wood you shouldn't use. Just keep in mind that any soft, resinous wood is not for smoking. And even more important, never use wood from conifer trees like pine, spruce, or cedar. They are poisonous and will make you sick.
The Different Types of Wood for Smoking
Wood from fruit and nut trees make a mild flavored smoke. These woods are best for delicate proteins like fish and poultry, but they also contribute sweet and delicious notes to more flavorful meats like game and beef. Apple wood is commonly used, as are peach, pear, and cherry. Often, fruit wood is used in combination with other types of hardwood to increase sweet flavor and add dimension to your meal. You will find fruit woods like apple, peach, and pear sold in chunks, chips, and pellets. Try to use apple wood pellets in your smoker box for some of the best baby back pork ribs ever. You can even use chunks of fruit wood on your bbq. Chunky apple wood works well on a bbq grill to add the smoky flavor to your favorite meats.
Probably the most popular wood used for smoking pork, beef, and game is hickory. Hickory is an American hardwood that produces an intense flavor reminiscent of bacon. That's because bacon is frequently smoked with hickory or flavored with liquid smoke. A lot of grill masters mix apple and hickory wood when smoking pork ribs. Hickory is a favorite smoking wood of ours to combine with other hardwoods. You can also use hickory when grilling to add flavor and color to your meats.
When we are smoking big game (like deer) we reach for oak, especially red oak. The flavor is very mild, but the smoke creates great color on your food. Cooking with oak is a great way to get started smoking. Seafood is also a great choice for smoking with oak. Many of our favorite venison recipes take advantage of the woods ability to color and flavor without hiding the great natural flavors we love.
The most intensely flavored of all the hardwoods, mesquite is a great choice for pork, beef, and chicken, but also is great for smoking vegetables. Mesquite is very popular for it's spicy and sweet flavor and it will give your food good color, too. We like to smoke with mesquite for poultry when grilling. The intense smoke flavor isn't overpowering since the meats don't sit on the barbecue for very long.
Chips, Pellets, Chunks: Our Guide for You
Purchasing wood for smoking can be overwhelming. Not only are there lots of different types of woods, they are sold in different forms. Smokers tend to develop a preference for one type or another, so here are some tips for getting the most out of your woods smoke.
Pellets are the most common product for smoking. These are manufactured, often from scraps of wood which are ground and pressed. They are essential for use in an electric smoker that has a box, but can also be used on a gas grill or over charcoal.
Wood chips for smoking are most often made from larger pieces that have been pulverised. Chips are super versatile because you can add them to any type of grill to get the best flavor of smoke easily.
Chunks are less common than pellets, but smoking with these pieces of wood is actually quite fun, especially on an open fire. A little bit goes a long way when you smoke meats with chunky pieces of wood.
Smoke Wood Tips
There is a huge amount of debate out there about soaking wood for smoking. Many manufacturers recommend soaking their products before using in your smoker with the assumption that the moisture will prevent the wood from burning. In our experience, soaking wood before smoking does not improve the flavor and actually works against your smoker. Excess moisture reduces the smoke flavor and makes the process take longer. The steam that is made can affect the temperature of your smoker, making it more difficult to hit the targets on your temperature chart.
No matter what product you try for smoking meat, you'll get the best results by keeping the temperature low and cooking your food slowly. One of the best tools you need for great results is a high-quality meat thermometer. That way, you can monitor the temps without opening the lid of your smoker or bbq. Your meat will get the perfect smoke flavor and you'll know when to pull your meat off the grill.
Hopefully, this guide will help you pick the best wood for the meat you are smoking. When you first start smoking meat, it's a good idea to start simply with one of the common woods. Keep in mind that some wood types are better for poultry, pork, beef, or fish. Once you get confident in your skills with smokers, try combining different species or wood for unique flavors. Often, the best wood depends on the type of meat smokers are grilling.
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