Which Wood? What Smoke?

Ever wonder what type of wood to use in your bbq? Or even if it makes much difference? Chunks, chips, to soak or not? Hickory, maple, alder, mesquite?

I just came across this handy little write up by Cooks Illustrated testing the merits and differences. Apparently they were surprised by the results. Surprising though really, since mesquite is very strong compared to most fruit woods (e.g. cherry, apple…) and I always thought that was common knowledge.

The variations on flavour can be subtle for sure, but generally I tend to reserve hickory and mesquite for strong flavoured meat, cedar for salmon (and sometimes a pork roast). Actually, I love combining woods like cherry and alder, soaking some and using dry to get the smoke started faster.

A staged technique works best for longer cooking times: For instance, start with a foil pouch with some dry fine chips, have a tray with soaked chips which will kick in once the dry is done and you can even have a third stage with chips sitting in water (the water will boil off while the other chips are smoking), giving you, theoretically, hours of unattended smoke. In practice I’ve found no matter what I’m cooking, it has to be tended to anyway, so that kind of staging isn’t really necessary, and it’s a gamble since I’ve yet to really make it work in good succession.

On a gas grill, especially if you are cooking low and slow, often the temperature never rises high enough to smoke larger chunks and even chips. If you are cooking anything for 30 minutes or less, skip the soaking and use dry – add a bit more if it stops. Otherwise, use a combination of dry and soaked (even in the same pouch/box).

Also, Brian at House of Q recently pointed me in the direction of Smokinlicious woods. The most interesting is their infused dusts. Cool! I’ll be trying it soon hopefully. Happy grilling this weekend.


2 Responses to “Which Wood? What Smoke?”

  1. Posted on July 28th, 2008

    Great article! If you want some different varieties of wood chips, chunks, planks, and dust to try, Maine Grilling Woods has some unusual choices. Enjoy!

  2. Posted on July 28th, 2008

    Thanks. Sugar Maple and Black Cherry amongst others sure sound interesting. Would love to hear from anyone who is using some of the more exotic woods and techniques. Check them out at Maine Grilling Woods.

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