Up in Smoke Part 1 – selecting the wood
There was a time when smoking meats was done not because of taste or popularity but out of necessity. Prior to refrigeration and modern packaging the only way to preserve meat was drying, salting or smoking. The fact that it also results in an extraordinary flavor is a bonus. Although smoking is no longer necessary many people still find it an excellent means of enjoying their favorite meat, fish , or even vegetables. Let me share some simple tips to get you started and see if it doesn’t add another level to your already enjoyable wild game.
The first step in smoking your favorite meat is selecting the wood you will use. There are literally dozens of wood varieties you can use- as long as it has a pleasant flavor chances are it will make you meat taste better. What it really comes down to is which flavor you prefer and which pairs best with the meat in question.
Hickory is the most popular smoking wood. It imparts a strong but sweet flavor and is especially popular when used in conjunction with a mild barbeque sauce. It is best paired with pork or ribs and is not recommended for seafood or fish.
Fruit woods are also popular for smoking due to both the pleasant flavor and added aroma they add. Apple and cherry both produce a sweet, fruity flavor and are an excellent choice for almost any meat, peach adds an additional woody flavor and works well with pork, beef or poltury as well as fish.
Mesquite is almost as popular as hickory, it would probably be number one if it were more wildly available. It adds a flavor even sweeter and more delicate than hickory with the added bonus of a strong earthiness. This flavor does not pair well with seafood or fish but is an excellent choice for beef and vegetables.
Oak is the perfect selection for those new to smoking, especially if they are unsure of the end result. The mild flavor does not include the after taste other woods are famous for and pairs well with red meat, big game, pork or fish.
Pecan is the true flavor of the south with a sweet mild flavor similar to hickory. It pairs well with most meats including poultry and also works well for cheese.
Cedar has an extremely strong aroma but can be used successfully for short sessions. For this reason it works best with seafood, fish, vegetables or small cuts of meat – anything which will cook quickly.
As I stated earlier there are literally dozens of woods which are suitable for smoking, many more than can be listed in a single article. The most important consideration, other than your personal flavor preference, is ensuring the wood is safe for consumption.
Never used wood of an unknown origin or lumber scraps.
You should also avoid those species known to produce heavy sap or conifers such as pine, fir, eucalyptus, cypress or sycamore.
Stay tuned for the next article which will address how to prepare the wood for the best flavor and smoke production.
Good luck, good cooking!