Not all wood chips are created evenly.
Smoking meats is an important summer tradition. What better way to capitalize on the pleasant evenings and late sunsets than preparing food that rewards long and attentive cook times? Smoking meat is a great way to imbue your choice cuts with a flavor and profile that are difficult to accomplish with regular grilling. As anyone who's attended a Grateful Dead concert will tell you, however, there are many different kinds of smoke.
Let's take a look at five common types of woodchips and the types of smoking they're best used for!
Wood from apple trees has a very subtle, sweet, and agreeable flavor. This is one of the milder types of smoke, so you can use it on a variety of different dishes without worrying that you're completely overpowering them. Poultry, beef, and pork all respond well to applewood smoke, along with lab and seafood. If you're preparing a more rustic barbeque, then applewood is also good for tempering the gamey flavors of small birds and rabbits. It's difficult to go wrong with applewood smoke, but remember that it plays a supporting role. Think of it as a shirtless Taylor Lautner in the Twilight movies: a great supporting actor, but the meat does the talking.
This is one of the most popular smoking woods, and that's no accident. Hickory has a complex, sweet-but-savory flavor that leaves a strong impression on everything it smokes. It's often used on larger cuts of meat such as whole chickens or full Texas beef briskets. Pork also responds very well to hickory, as it leaves a strong impression on fattier cuts of meat while really bringing out some undertones of bacon. In addition to its strong flavor, Hickory also brings a dark color to meats, something that makes for particularly pleasant plating.
Like applewood, pecan wood is a great supporting flavor. This type of smoke offers a sweet, nutty, and rich flavor which often tastes pronounced but not overpowering. What makes pecan wood unique, however, is that it can smoke deserts in addition to meats. If you feel like getting creative with your cooking, consider letting pies finish in a pecan wood smoker with minimal heat applied.
Make sure that you use the proper type of birch when smoking meats. Green birch produces an overly thick smoke that can choke out any other flavors and render your meat inedible. There are few things more depressing than having to throw away over smoked meat. That said, there are few types of wood better for smoking fish than birch. These wood chips respond well to short cooking times, as the wood is often consumed faster and can quickly get overpowering if you add too much in. Smoking properly with birch gives a smooth but punchy profile to just about any lake or river fish.
Smoking with mesquite is a lot like cooking with hot chilis; moderation is important. Just like chili peppers, this wood can be used to give your dish a distinctive kick in flavor, but overdoing it runs the risk of cooking something with all the sensory properties of meaty pepper spray. This wood is great for adding some boldness to dark meats, although you want to make sure that whatever you cook can stand up to its bold earthy flavors. If you're not 100 percent on your ability to keep the reins on a mesquite smoke, consider mixing it in with a more subtle flavor to even things out. Mesquite partners well with hickory and oak for long-and-slow barbeques.
Are you looking forward to smoking some meats this summer? Do you have any top-secret barbeque techniques that you'd like to tell the internet? Sound off in the comments!