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BBQ Smoking Basics – I’ve Got Wood

Selecting the right wood for smoking is just as important as the choice in seasonings and sauce. Or, as in our previous article, just as important in control how hot your fire is. Your wood choice can make or break the end result.

It is important to remember that smoking is a completely different game than grilling. While grilling is meant to be quick and lock in flavors, the impact of flavor choices is subtle. Smoking meat takes time and patience and because of this subtle changes can become drastic. Due to the hours of cooking involved, things like wood make a huge impact.

In this article we will discuss the most common and safest to use woods. Then we will discuss the unique woods that can be fun to try due to rarity but also because of intensity. Lastly, we will discuss the woods to avoid completely. All woods are not created equal but at the same time, you don’t need to fret over it.

One thing we will not discuss is which woods go for which meats. We will save that for another article. This is your first step in selection though.

Subtle amounts will do

The trick with smoking is to enhance the flavor. These woods are the easiest but any wood choice can go completely wrong if you over do it.

Very much like controlling your heat you want to control how much smoke you create. A common rookie mistake is to stack up the entire smoker with wood, leaving you with pure smoky flavored food. People in the end want meat not smoke.

I try to set my fire up in a way to burn one or two pieces at a time. General rule is half of the cooking time is for smoking. Without further ado, here are your safest woods for smoking.

Standard Woods for Smoking

The woods in this list are comprised of your standard fair. These are woods you are most likely to see in any grill store or hardware store. Or some you can just pickup at your local firewood store.

In this list too are woods that deliver a nice flavor profile that generally will not overpower your meat.

Apple, Cherry, Peach, Alder, and Maple – These encompass your mild and fruit woods. Often known for sweetness above color, these are the lightest in the smoke flavor profile.

If you are a beginner, take your pick from these woods. Any one of them will be a great entry into smoking.

Oak, Hickory, and Pecan – These woods fall in the middle of the smoke spectrum. It is readily available and very popular for one key reason. Oak and hickory are known for leaving the meat with a nice rich color that screams “we been BBQ’ing!” While flavor is not key here, color is making this a good choice for almost any session.

Hickory is probably the number one most used wood. It is perfect with just about everything because of the flavor and color it provides. When food looks good, people get excited to chow down.

Pecan is a more intense version. Creating a more noticeable flavor pecan is a popular choice above oak. While not overpowering, pecan lends itself well to an all around wood for smoking.

Unique Options for Smoking

In this list there is not necessarily anything wrong or anything bad about these woods. In fact there are many more you could add to this list that make good options. However, most woods for smoking that fall in this group are hard to come by. I have included two that while unique, are still readily available. However, where you may live may change that.

Almond, Fig, Guava – These are great woods. They are subtle but create a unique flavor and color to the meat. The difficulty is finding these. I personally have only found these a few times and they were worth it but came at a higher price as well. If you find these I would recommend trying them out but not rely on them as an everyday choice.

Mesquite, Kiawe – These are too that must come with a caution. Mesquite is very popular and easy to find but I had to include in this section for one key reason. The smoke is intense. I personally don’t like mesquite all that much and use it sparingly. The smoke is on the very heavy side of the spectrum and can quickly be overkill.

Kiawe is similar to mesquite but it comes from Hawaii and is very hard to get outside of Hawaii. Same goes as what was said for mesquite, but kiawe is more subtle in my opinion. The flavor is not so pungent to drastically kill a dish when used in moderation. People often like this too because of the dark rich color it creates.

Woods to Avoid

In the list below you will find woods that you should avoid at all costs. Not only will they impart bad flavor but they can actually be dangerous to your health. As a general rule of thumb when selecting wood for smoking, if you have never used it or never heard of it, do your research before trying.

Woods like pine, cedar, liquid amber, redwood, eucalyptus, and elm to name just a few are all bad choices. Generally any wood that has a sap or resin is not good for smoking.

I think back to when I had to cut a sea grape tree down in my yard, so many people wanted the wood or suggested I used it for smoking. I was unfamiliar with it but did my research and glad I did. Quickly came to find out that the smoke can burn your lungs and is extremely painful. No thank you.

Certain woods are dangerous when inhaled and when the smoke is on the meat can stay dangerous to your body.

The Pool Boy

A lover of all things food and beverage related, Ron Nattress is on the constant hunt to learn and experience all he can. A man of many hats, he takes his passion from grain to glass to readers.

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