Everyone loves the smell of a barbecue on a warm summers day. Especially if it’s done right.
You see, not every barbecue is the same. A great barbecue hinges on 3 important factors – the right meat, the right seasoning (both spices and the process of seasoning), and the right kind of wood.
Did I just hear a gasp on the last one?
Yes, when it comes to smoking meat, not all trees are created equal. In fact, some trees are not even supposed to grace your smoker – ever. And as for those that are good for smoking, not all are suitable for every type of meat.
Smoking meat is a science. But thank goodness it’s not rocket science. Anyone can master this tasty art.
Let’s delve into the science of “meat smoking wood” and discover the different types of wood and their effect on your meat.
The Effect of Wood on Your Meat
When it comes to creating the perfect slab of smoked meat, you need to understand that the kind of wood you use has a great impact on the finished product. Wood has 3 effects on meat, which are:
- The wood you use to smoke your meat also adds flavor to your meat.
- Ever wonder how those barbecue champs turn out beautiful looking pieces of meat with a rich texture? Part of their secret lies in the type of wood they use.
- Yes, different woods have different aromas and that aroma is transferred to your meat.
Now that you know how powerful wood is on your meat, it’s time to take a more specific look at the types of wood and their specific impact on it.
3 Wood Types for Different Kinds of Meats
The general rule of thumb when it comes to determining whether a wood type is suitable for smoking or not is this – if it’s from a fruit-tree or a hardwood, it’s good to go. But then again, certain wood types are more suitable for certain meats.
Smoking wood falls into 3 basic categories that favor (and flavor) certain meats. Like spices, they are categorized as mild, medium and strong, according to the strength of the flavor. Let’s dig in shall we.
These wood types have a mellow that can’t be added to meat in a short space of time. If you want their flavor, you will need to smoke your meat for a long time.
For flavor – any meat that can be smoked for a long time. For example beef, ribs and game meat.
For basic smoking – any meats., including fish.
Examples of mild woods are alder, ash, and maple.
Medium woods have, yes, a medium smokey flavor. These are usually barbecue favorites because they are readily available and easy to use. Because they predominantly come from fruit trees, they have a fruity and sweet flavor (and smell). Mild woods typically favor poultry, pork, ham and some types of seafood.
Examples of medium woods are apple, oak, peach, pear and a number of other fruit trees.
Strong woods add a strong flavor, usually quite quickly. They are not recommended for novices as balancing smoking time and flavor is tricky business. Left too long in the smoker, the strong flavor quickly turns bitter.
Examples of strong woods are hickory, walnut and pecan wood.
What about mesquite wood? Those who have been in smoking circles have probably heard about this wood type. Mesquite wood is an oily wood, making it a hot and fast burner. It also has a very strong flavor. Because of this, it is not recommended for long barbecues. The strong flavor makes it more suitable for dark meats like beef.
Woods to Avoid
Having seen the woods that are suitable for smoking, I need to warn you of the woods you should steer clear of – at all costs. The general rule of thumb is – if it’s a softwood, if it has sap, don’t smoke with it.
Examples are: cedar, fir, cypress, elm, pine, redwood, spruce, eucalyptus, and sycamore.
The 2 main reasons you have to avoid these kinds of trees are quite simple.
- They are airy and oily, making them burn fast.
- The sap, when burnt, produces a pungent (and usually bitter) smoke.
Fire It Up!
Congratulations. You have just mastered the “Wood for Smoking” module. As you have by now discovered, knowing your meat smoking wood is a critical key to the success of any barbecue. It’s time to fire up your smoker and wow your family and friends with your new found knowledge.
Fire it up!