Amazing were those days when we all used to barbecue meat, vegetables, and other stuff with wood logs as a fundamental source of heat and smoke. These days we have made the smoking process hell by adding many variations.
Visit the BBQ store near you, and you will be staggered by the options available. You need to get wood chips, pellets, chunks, or logs depending on what and how much food you are going to cook.
Once you are settled on the shape and size, you need to choose between various types of wood according to the flavor you want to infuse into the food. As tons of false information is circulating over the web, which can be confusing for a beginner, this smoking wood guide will help you in this matter.
Overview: Smoking With Wood
You can burn anything for barbecues, such as gas, charcoal, dried animal dung, and wood is popular among all because of its fire temperature and availability. Wood can be used in two ways to cook food when barbecuing:
Primary Source Of Fuel
Burning wood produces enough heat to cook meat and yields smoke to add flavors to your meals. When you use wood as a primary fuel during barbecuing, make sure you use wood logs, as they can last longer than any other wood composition. Keep in mind that you must source more wood because you have to cook and smoke food using it.
Source Of Smoke Flavor
When you use wood to infuse smoke into the meat for flavoring and taste, you have to look for other fuel options like electricity, gas, and charcoal. You can make a wood porch and make a hole into it for maximum efficiency to smoke food while supporting the burning fuel.
You have options to use wood in any of these shapes and sizes:
These have the same function but are better than others for specific use. So wisely choose any of these woods according to your situation.
Many BBQ experts put too much stress over the flavor of wood when cooking any disk. In my experience, knowing how and why to use varying types and flavors of wood is much more worthy than you can imagine. For example, knowing why you should have to use chips instead of chunks in the right amount can yield ideal results when smoking in your backyard.
What Is Wood Smoke?
Wood Smoke is a composition of 100+ compounds. Some are solid, while others exist as gas or liquid states, such as grease and oils. It depends on the type of wood, burning intensity, humidity in the air, and oxygen available to the burning wood. The smoky aroma we like in the BBQ comes from the two gasses, i.e., guaiacol and syringeal.
Guaiacol is responsible for the unique smoky flavor in your smoked food, whereas syringeal adds a smoky aroma. Surprisingly, if I consider the whole smoke from the wood, these two gasses are only a negligible portion, but they do their job well in delivering the trademark BBQ taste in food.
Let’s deeply analyze what happens during the combustion process to understand why and how wood produces smoke. There are four stag-combustion combustions as follows:
Dehydration takes place on wood while burning when the temperature touches the 500° F mark. Keep in mind that it occurs before the wood begins to ignite. At this stage, it is exposed to the external source of heat for lifting it. After that, the wood is completely dry because the moisture is no more, resulting in dehydration in the wood.
Pyrolysis And Gasification
Gasification/Pyrolysis of wood starts after the dehydration phase is over, and it produces heat between 500 to 700° F. All the compounds in the wood tend to change their composition at this point. Some of the gasses produced are flammable, and you can burn them by exposing them to fire. If I make it simple, I can call this phrase “wood catches fire.”
After that temperature reaches 700 to 1000° then, the real game starts. Wood tends to become flame itself and yields the smoke necessary for barbecuing. Nitric gas is also found in the smoke, which is needed to form smoke rings.
Try to keep the wood burning at 650 to 750° as it is the optimal temperature where wood produces maximum smoke. Never let the wood ignite at more than this temperature, as it will result in bitter and hazardous smoke you do not want to infuse in your special dish.
When the wood burns above 1000° F, it will convert into charcoal. At this point, almost all the compounds in the wood are combusted, and only charcoal is left behind. Believe me. The charcoal will not produce smoke, so you have to arrange extra wood, which will cost you a lot.
How Long Do Woods Produce Smoke For Cooking Food?
To find out how long wood should produce smoke for cooking food, I tested the smoke produced by various kinds of wood in a stove-top smoker. Before you start smoking, you should know that the temperature at which certain woods produce smoke differs from their flavors. So, you can try different woods, temperatures, and times until you find what works best for your situation.
Smoke from green wood will last longer than smoke from seasoned wood because green wood has more moisture content. Greenwood also absorbs more water during smoking. Some people believe green wood is best for cooking because it produces less heat than seasoned wood. It does not seem to be true — if anything, seasoned woods produce more heat than green ones.
How To Use Different Types Of Smoke Wood?
The following table will help you understand the types of wood and the way to use them properly:
|Wood Type||Size||How To Utilize It Properly?||Benefits||Useful Tips|
|Logs||Up to 18-inch in length.||You can use wood logs for cooking on the scale in a large smoker.||It is an excellent choice when you are using wood to create both smoke and heat.||Due to the huge size, they do not fit all smokers. You need to ensure that the cooker can easily accommodate this type of wood. While picking it up, consider that wooden logs are time-consuming when it comes to igniting them.|
|Pellets||A compressed form of sawdust, resembling bullets.||From the name, it is clear that pellets are meant for use in a pellet smoker.||They are easy to use and give more heat for a high and fast cooking session.||Do not soak pellets in water, as they can disintegrate them. As they are made of compressed sawdust, soaking them will reverse back to the powdery form.|
|Chunks||Up to 4-inch in length, just about human fist size.||Chunks are well suited for compact size offset and gas smokers.||A great alternative to wood logs if you have a small smoker or grill as it is easy to buy and store.||You also do not have to soak your wood chunks in the water as they smoke well without it. If you are using Weber’s smoker, then it will prove to be an excellent fuel.|
|Sawdust||It is ground wood in powder form.||Ideally, sawdust is great for use in an electric or handheld smoker.||They are great for instant smoking of meat like poultry as it burns in no time and can not last for long||Never use sawdust as the primary source of heat as it can not last long and produce inconsistent heat. Sawdust is perfect stuff if you use it for just smoking food.|
|Chips||They are of 1 square inch size with ¼ inch thickness.||You should utilize this type of wood in electric or gas smokers but you can also try it in a charcoal smoker.||They are similar to chunks but burn. immediately, smoothly, and consistently||You can or can not soak wood chips in water for a short period to get more smoke. To get extra smoke out of them, you can wrap them in aluminum foil and make holes to get smoke.|
|Disks||A compressed form of sawdust shaped like a disk.||Electric Smokers.||Effortless to use and produces smoke evenly.||Like wood pellets, they will also disintegrate when you soak them in water. So, avoid doing it at any cost.|
How To Prepare Wood For Smoking?
Wood can be categorized into softwood and hardwood. For smoking, I recommend you avoid using immature hardwood. Its 50% body consists of water and greenish material over it. So, it is not suitable at any cost because you will be using it twice for the same energy you get from softwood.
According to many experts, hardwood smoke carries too much steam, which can make the flavor of food odd and tasteless, before using the wood for producing fire season or drying it. Almost all types of wood look dry when you touch them, but it is not the case because you can ignite the wood evenly when it has only 20 to 25% of water content.
There are two methods of drying wood with both having their perks and drawbacks:
Air drying of wood is a matter of placing it, usually in a large pile, in an area where it can be exposed to the open air. The wood will absorb moisture from the air and become saturated with water to help you to reduce its water content.
It can take much time, depending on the weather conditions, humidity, and temperature. Once the wood has reached saturation point, it can be placed in an oven for a few hours at 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit to further dry out the moisture content of the wood.
In this method, you can use a kiln to heat the wood to around 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius). The higher temperatures will dry out any remaining moisture left in the woods while also killing off any insects or pests present within it.
The advantage here is that you do not have to leave your smoker unattended while it dries out as you would if you were using an open fire pit or outdoor fireplace. You can also monitor your smoker’s progress daily as opposed to waiting for days or weeks for it to completely cure before smoking again.
How To Add Wood To A Smoker?
If you want to add wood to your smoker, there are a few things that you need to do:
- Clean off the racks inside of the smoker. It will help prevent any wood from mixing up with food and affecting it.
- Before adding it to the smoker, you must ensure that the wood is dry. After using it, store it and do not place it around in damp conditions.
- Check that there is enough space between each piece of wood, so they do not touch each other when stacked up inside your smoker. It could cause them to combust into flames or, even worse, explode.
- After all these steps, there comes time for adding the wood itself. You must understand what kind of smoker you have before going ahead and using whatever kind of wood works for you.
How Much Wood Should You Add To The Smoker?
The amount of wood you need to add to the smoker can vary. It depends on the smoker’s size and how much smoke you want to create. For example, if you own a small smoker, then you can only get away with adding two or three logs to it at a time. If you have a larger backyard smoker, you can add up to five logs at a time.
The size of the smoker also determines how much wood you need to create enough smoke for the cooking session. As some types of wood burn quicker than others, you need more of them to smoke your food. I suggest you source 1 pound of wood for every 1 pound of meat you want to cook with smoking.
Should I Soak Wood Before Using It For Smoking Food?
Soaking wood can help to remove traces of oil, dirt, and other impurities that might otherwise make your food taste bitter or unpleasant. People soak their wood in water before smoking to remove any remaining sapwood for better results.
On the other hand, some do this to get more smoke out of their wood which is right to a few extents, but still, I did not recommend it. To get extra smoke from the smoke wood, you should make pouches of it by wrapping it in the aluminum foil, followed by making holes in it.
Common Woods For Smoking And Food Pairing
In the world of barbecue, there is uncertainty over what type of wood is good for smoking and their better results for specific dishes. Haven’t you seen tons of contradicting charts explaining wood flavor for a particular food? I also have my thoughts on this post according to my years of experience doing grilling and barbecuing in my backyard, kitchen, and outdoors.
I have studied tons of resources, forms, and books about it in-depth. It helps me develop my thoughts and tricks to work with different types of woods for many recipes. The following table is based on my personal experience of wood flavor pairing that I am sure will help you in your wood smoking journey:
|Wood||Flavor Profile||Food Pairings|
|Walnut||Strong – It offers an intensely bitter flavor, so you should use it by mixing it with sweeter wood options.||Pork, game, and beef|
|Plum||Medium – It infuses a bold, sweet, and fruity aroma.||Seafood, pork, and poultry|
|Pecan||Strong – Its flavor resembles that of hickory, but it is not that strong. Due to the nutty and sweet smoke, you can use it for all purposes.||Poultry, beef, pork, and cheese.|
|Pear||Medium – Its smoke is similar to apply but lighter in flavor. You will get a sweet, light, and a little bit of fruity aroma.||Pork and poultry|
|Peach||Medium – Sweet and ground like hickory, but it is fruity, sweeter, and mild compared to it.||Pork and poultry|
|Orange||Mild – It is very light if you compare it with other options available. You will get a fruity and citrus aroma from its smoke.||Seafood, pork, poultry, and fish|
|Olive||Mild – If you love to smoke with mesquite but are hesitant to go due to its intense flavor, then olive is a great choice.||Incredible for use to smoke or cook poultry|
|Mesquite||Very Strong – Its smoky offers an exceptionally intense flavor on the planet. Use it sparingly as it infuses spicy and earthy aromas.||Poultry, pork, and beef|
|Maple||Mild – It somehow offers a balanced sweet and stubble flavor.||Cheese, pork, seafood, and poultry|
|Hickory||Strong – It delivers a bold and universal flavor to cooked food, which is a trademark smoky BBQ taste. You should use it with oak to cope with its overpowering aroma.||Bacon, ribs, poultry, pork, beef, cheese, seafood, and fish.|
|Chestnut||Mild – It is nutty, sweet, and slightly tangy.||Cheese, seafood, poultry, and pork|
|Cherry||Medium – You will get a sweet, stubble, and fruity taste in your smoked dish. It adds a rosy red tint to the meat you will cook.||Game birds, poultry, lamb, beef, pork, seafood, fish, and cheese|
|Cedar||Medium – It bestows a tangy, bold, and sweet flavor, which will not be overpowering.||Mostly used for ‘Planked Fish’ especially ‘Salmon’|
|Birch||Mild – Identical to maple as it is clean and does overpower the flavor infusion into the meat. Before using it, you should remove its bark properly as it is oil and result in a strong flavor.||Pork, fish, poultry, and seafood|
|Ash||In between Mild and Medium – It gives a light flavor resulting in a unique flavor.||Game birds, lamb, pork, fish, beef, seafood, poultry, and beef|
|Beech||Mild – Well-balanced wood for all-around use. You overcome the intensity of flavor and can use it with other woods.||Cheese, lamb, game birds, beef, poultry, fish, seafood, and pork|
|Apple||Medium – Light and fruity. You can use it along with different wood for desirable results.||Lamb, pork, poultry, game birds, and beef|
|Alder||Mild – It infuses a slightly sweet, musky, and delicate taste into the meals.||Game birds, light meat, and fish, especially salmon|
Mix Two Or More Woods For Smoking
It is a great idea to cook or smoke food combining two or more wood flavors. Doing so will control what taste and aroma you get after preparing the meal. For example, you can reduce the overpowering of earthy, strong, and spicy woods by using them by mixing with light, sweet, and fruity woods. This way, you will get the experience and best of both worlds.
Try To Use Any One Of
With Any One From
My favorite combination is using either pecan, hickory, or oak along with applying. You will get the spicy, earthy, sweet, and fruity flavor in your dish at a time. You can also try cherry in place of apple wood to give a spicy red color to the meat from its unique flavor. If you have no experience using wood for smoking, try using any wood flavor solely to understand its taste
What Should Wood Never Be Used For Smoking?
There are many wood options that I strictly tell you to avoid for cooking and smoking. Not only do they make the taste of food hell, but they are also irritating and poisonous. Following are some common wood you should avoid choosing as a source of smoking:
- Osage Orange
- Eastern Cedar
- Poisonous Walnut
Other than that, you should also prevent using wood if it has any of the following properties:
- Wood is treated chemically with any preservative.
- If you are not aware of whether the wood is treated with fungicide, pesticide, or herbicide.
- Wood is varnished, stained, or painted.
- If the wood has molds or fungus over it and it starts to rot, burning can yield toxic smoke that can harm your health.
- Any wood whose species is unidentifiable can be a gamble if you use wood without knowing from which tree it comes.
- A weird or unpleasant smell comes out of the wood.
- Wood that has been in contact with any substance can produce a toxic smell on burning.
How To Source Wood For Smoking?
You can source the smoke wood in any of the following ways:
Get On Your Own
It is the best option if you have the space and time to grow your wood. You can use the logs from your own property to make smoking wood, but other factors must be considered. Consider the space available for planting trees and getting them ready to harvest.
You need at least five years of growth before harvesting. As you are cutting and drying the wood, think about where you will store it. It will be ideal to have a shed or garage to use as a storage area. But if not, you may need to buy a container or barrel to hold the wood until it is dry enough to smoke.
Purchase From Local Marker
Look for suppliers around you. You can even ask local smoke shops or bars if they have any wood and let them know you are looking for some wood for smoking. Local markets often carry a variety of smoking woods from which to choose. They will let you test the sample before you place a bulk order.
If you can not find any local tobacco or smoking wood at your local market, your next option will be either online or from an independent vendor. Using the Internet, look for companies that sell smoking woods online. You can buy different flavors and sizes of smoking wood in the USA from Amazon.
Should You Leave Bark On The Wood Or Not?
The bark on, the bark off. When choosing a piece of smoking wood, it is a question you should ask yourself. Is there a difference in taste? Is one better than the other? Should I leave it on or take it off? The answer is simple: it depends on what you want to achieve with your smoking.
You should leave the bark on if you want to make a strong, rich flavor. It will give you more depth and complexity to your smoke. Remove the bark beforehand if you want something milder, so you do not have too much character in your smoke.
Should You Use Seasoned Or Green Wood For Smoking?
If you have a big piece of wood that you do not plan on using right away, removing the bark and other unappealing parts is good, making it easier to cut and fit into your smoker. However, if you are making chips or chunks for smoking, it does not matter how large the wood is. Use it in its natural state to get the most out of your wood.
It should be about the same size as a normal-sized chunk of wood. Greenwood is also a good idea because it will be less likely to burn during the smoking process. For long smoking sessions, I recommend seasoned wood because it will absorb more smoke and taste better over time.
How To Use Wood Chunks For Smoking?
These steps will help you smoke food with wooden chunks:
- Fill the smoker box with wood chips, and then place the lid on top of the box.
- Place a minute of quality water in a pan over high heat, and then place your wood chunks in it (you can also use a metal bowl or plate).
- Cook the wood for about one hour until it starts to smoke. After this time has elapsed, remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the smoker box.
- Remove from the smoker box, and place on a flat surface to cool down for about 15 minutes before packing into a plastic container or bag with air holes punched through it for later use.
These days we have access to tons of information, so finding the correct information on smoking wood can be a daunting task. Hopefully, My Smoke wood guide has helped you sort out this overwhelming information by covering the various types of smoking woods in an easy-to-understand way. After checking it out and finding your favorite smoking wood, you will have a memorable barbecue experience for your family.