When it comes to the wood you use when smoking meat, there are many varying opinions. For regular backyard barbecuing, it can be enjoyable to debate about, and to experiment with different wood varieties. However, it’s important to try and get things right when it comes to commercial wood burning grills.
There are so many different foods that can be grilled, and each will adopt the flavor of wood smoke you use. Before choosing what wood to use, you must first understand the depth of flavor they offer.
While certain woods are better suited to particular foods, some people overthink it. Wood that’s suitable for smoking meat will work for almost all grilled foods. However, some woods simply aren’t suited to smoking and should be avoided entirely.
Wood Varieties Used to Smoke Meat
When deciding on what wood to use, it’s important to know that grilling wood varieties are categorized into three segments: mild, medium, and strong (mesquite). These are all best suited to certain meats.
Mild grilling woods are exactly as advertised: mild. Their subtle hints and tones provide enough aroma to flavor your meat without overpowering the native flavor of the food itself.
Some of the most common mild grilling woods are from fruit trees, including cherry, apple, peach, and pear.
Cherry wood, while adding a fruity flavor, is very mild, making it ideal for any meat.
Apple wood has a more distinct tang, but due to its subtleness, is versatile and suited to many meats. Pork, poultry, beef, lamb, and small game birds smoke well with apple chips.
Pear and peach woods are similar when it comes to grilling. They give off a light, yet sweet and fruity flavor that works very well with poultry, pork, and small game birds.
These grilling woods are significantly stronger than mild varieties and can give off particularly distinct flavors. These wood chips are very popular for commercial use.
Some of the most sought after medium wood chips are hickory, maple, pecan, and oak. Their unique flavors are synonymous with barbecued meats, adding depth, and enriching the food they are grilling.
Hickory wood generates quite a sweet and hearty taste. Its rich flavor profile and pungent aroma make hickory perfect for many different meats. It’s frequently used to smoke bacon, other cuts of pork, and ribs.
Maple grilling wood is milder than hickory but also adds a sweet taste to the meat. Certain varieties of maple chips add more sweetness than others. Due to its subtleness, maple is often used to grill vegetables and cheeses. It’s best suited for grilling poultry and pork.
Pecan is milder than hickory and is great for adding flavor to poultry.
Oak wood chips provide a medium smoky tang and can work wonders with all meats. While it functions perfectly well as an individual grilling wood, oak is often blended with other woods to develop even richer flavors.
Mesquite is the strongest smoking wood on the market. Texas-style barbecue famously uses mesquite to create its distinct taste. It requires knowledge and expertise to use as it has an intense and strong flavor. Mesquite is strong enough you want to have a handle on how long to expose your meat else you can over-smoke it.
Things to Look Out For
As with all crafts, there are some red flags to note when it comes to smoking meat;
Don’t over smoke your meat
The most common mistake people make when smoking meat is over smoking. While time on the grill is crucial for a tender piece of meat, too much smoke will take from the flavor. It’s important to taste the meat as well as the wood flavoring.
Get the process right and focus on timing. You don’t want to smoke the meat for over half of the cooking time.
Be careful using local wood
As mentioned, just because certain smoking woods are popular, it doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones suitable. Local wood can also be used in meat smoking, but source your wood wisely.
The Griller is More Important Than the Wood
The simple truth of the matter is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the wood you use to smoke. With so many options to choose from, optimal choice comes down to suitability. Depending on what flavor profile or taste that you’re after, a different wood might be recommended.
It takes time, knowledge, and experience to learn about the wood and the corresponding flavors. It’s not necessarily about the wood, it’s how you use it that gets the best results.