Which wood is best for smoking meat?
When it comes to smoking meat, wood is wood, right? Wrong.
This is just one of many classic misconceptions that people make when they are smoking food. Think of different woods in the same way that you would with different seasoning. Some are sweet, others bitter. Some are strong while others are mild. Different woods can be smoked at the same time to create new flavours, and just like with seasoning, you can smoke too much as well.
Smoke SeasoningThe milder tasting selection would be wood sourced from fruit or nut trees, like cherry, apple, pear or peach. These kinds of wood add a great sweet taste to your meat, and are great for smoking lighter foods like chicken or fish.
A slightly stronger selection comes from woods like maple, oak, pecan and hickory, which are an excellent choice when smoking up stronger tasting meat such as beef and pork. As you can imagine, using one of the above woods with fish for example can be overpowering and you may end up tasting nothing but smoke, which isn't to everybody's preference.
The strongest tasting wood of all is mesquite. It offers an amazing unique flavour - when used in moderation. Consider mesquite the same way that you would a chilli; it can add a great flavour or it can completely ruin your meal depending on how much is used.
Don't Over-do it!Remember, you still want to be able to taste the meat. You are just seasoning the flavour - not replacing it with smoke! For large cuts of meat, use larger chunks of wood which will burn slower. If you're smoking a salmon fillet or similarly sized cut which will cook in half an hour or less, use small wood chips that will quickly start to release the smoke.
What To AvoidAvoid resinous woods such as pine, as these can very quickly ruin any cut of meat and there is no reversing the effect. Adding the flavour of burnt tree sap to your meal won't make you popular among your guests, at least not in the way that you'd want. Don't go ripping a branch clean off a tree and tossing it onto the coals either. Trust me. Just don't.
If you're cutting the wood yourself, chop it into small chunks and give it at least three or four weeks to dry out.
Keep it in a cool dry place and if you can put it in direct sunlight this will speed up the process.
If you don't have the patience or resources for that, different woods are readily available to purchase by the bag.