Wood! Flavor! Smoking! Wood is the key to smoking meat. It is what causes the smoke and thus creates the flavor. The type of wood and the flavor it creates is where we need to start. There are many types of wood people use to smoke foods. These woods vary in the intensity of smoke, flavor and time of burning. There are a lot of resources online that discuss this subject. I don’t think there are a lot of differing opinions, but since I am trying to create a website that attempts to provide information about smoking food as well as entertaining insights I think it only proper that I add my thoughts/opinions about wood that adds flavor to smoking.
Let’s begin with the type/flavor of each wood. There are many to choose from and by clicking here you can see a well designed chart. Here’s another chart that is similar but has some added information. What I’ve learned about the types of wood is to start with a very basic but important question. “What do I want my food to taste like when it’s on my plate?” I know it sounds simple but it’s actually crucial in deciding which wood to use to smoke the food.
Let me give you an example. I am going to smoke some baby back ribs for dinner on Saturday. I want the flavor of the rib meat (pork) and the spices of the rub to be the main attraction so I will pick a wood that pairs well with pork and doesn’t overwhelm the meat. If I were to use mesquite then I can either use very little of the wood which will limit the duration of the smoke, or I can put all my smoke in the smoker at the beginning. (This is done by adding your wood when you first light the smoker. The smoker then “seasons” with the smoke. When the smoke is almost exhausted, you put in your ribs. This will really limit the amount of smoke on your food.) OR I can just choose the right wood to begin with. Everyone’s pallet is different but for me either apple wood or pecan are my go to woods for pork. The apple is still a strong aroma so I need to be careful with the timing and the amount of wood I use. Pecan is much milder aroma so it is more forgiving should it be used in a unintentional manner.
The example I give isn’t really about the wood or the food, as much as it is the final taste you’re looking for. If I am smoking a fish that has a strong fish flavor, I can get away with a stronger wood. If I am smoking salmon then I need to be careful and use a lighter wood, like alder or a fruitwood that is mild. If I am smoking venison, and I know that since it is lean it will absorb the smoke more quickly and I don’t want to overpower the meat, again a medium to mild wood.
So to wrap up this discussion on wood, and I am sure I’ll have more to say in the future, the key to which wood you use should be based on the flavor you want to plate. Any wood can smoke food. Any wood can add flavor. Starting with the end in mind will help you decide which wood is best for that particular smoke.