Many would argue that a barbeque doesn’t deserve the name unless the meat is slow-cooked in a smoky enclosure. Anything else is ‘just grilling’. But whether purist or pragmatist, everyone can agree that adding wood to a barbeque enhances the flavor wonderfully.
Wood chips are frequently placed in among the charcoals or near a gas flame where they ignite and give off smoke. That adds immensely to the aroma and infuses flavor into a layer of the meat that makes the meal delicious and distinctive.
A dozen different varities of wood are used with some more common than others.
Mesquite is a favorite among backyard chefs in the southwest, but the practice has spread far and wide. This cactus-like tree produces a smoke that is spicy and pungent. Nothing says Mexican chicken quite like a mesquite-flavored barbeque.
Hickory is another old-time favorite, especially in the South. This hard wood produces a heavy smoke that can last for hours. Great for smokers, but equally terrific in a short grill this full-bodied wood works great with ham or beef.
Oak is another heavy wood, due to its tightly bound fibers. White oak and red oak are the two most common varieties, with red being the sweeter of the two. It adds a hint of carmel to a great chunk of beef but can even be used with fish.
Pecan is one of the newer tools in the backyard chef’s smoking toolbox. Used in moderation it adds a nutty aroma that is perfect with a fine rib eye. Somewhat sweet, it makes for a great partner for hickory.
Apple is another of the sweet woods and the flavor is appreciated by barbequers everywhere. Low in smoke but high in fruity overtones, it’s the perfect wood for infusing pork or poultry.
Cherry is another fruit tree wood that makes its way into many fine barbeque recipe. Delicate and sweet, cherry can be used with fish or fowl to add an extra hint that complements a good sauce.
Alder is a thin, birch-like tree that has a delicate odor all its own. It’s important that it be well dried, since green wood will smoke excessively and give a bitter taste to the meat. But when properly prepared and used, this wood is a great smoker for game birds or pork.
Woods can be used in combination, where the variety of effects becomes nearly endless. Apple with cherry might provide an excessively sweet, fruity taste. But apple with mesquite can turn ordinary ribs into a gourmet meal. Mesquite and hickory are partners from way back and pecan with hickory is a backyard wonder.
Any aspiring barbeque chef can have hours of fun and pleasure experimenting with the effects of smoking woods. And then, he’ll have even more pleasure eating the results.