Among the many difficult questions we get at Grillax, one stands out above the rest — How to grill with wood smoke?
It’s easy to throw any old chunks of wood on a fire to create flavor, but is your wood smoke doing its job? Take a look at this easy checklist for different types of wood readily available for using on grills and smokers worldwide.
Cherry is a very mild smoking wood offering a sweet, fruity smoke that can, at times, leave a red tint to pork and poultry. Ideal meats for cherry are beef, pork, poultry, fish and wild game birds, especially dove and pheasant.
Mulberry is a very mild smoking wood offering a sweet, tangy smoke that can seemingly give a blackberry flavor to pork and poultry. Ideal meats for mulberry are pork and ham, poultry and game birds.
Oak is a very mild, but heavy smoking wood offering a sweet flavor and gorgeous smoke ring. It is commonly used at local pits for its availability, and it leaves little to no aftertaste. Ideal meats for oak are beef, pork, poultry, fish and wild game.
Orange is a very mild smoking wood offering a sweet, citrusy smoke that is outstanding when used with seafood and pork. Ideal meats for orange wood are pork, poultry, fish and wild game birds. Cheese smoked with orange wood is out of this world fantastic.
Pecan is second to hickory in popularity, and provides a mild, sweet smoke that gives a faint nutty flavor. Ideal meats for pecan are beef, pork, poultry, fish and wild game.
Sugar Maple is a mild, light smoking wood offering a sweet flavor, commonly used in smokehouses for pork and ham. Ideal meats for sugar maple are pork and ham, poultry and wild game birds. It’s also a great smoke for cheeses.
Apple is a strong smoking wood offering a sweet, fruity smoke, and packs the most punch of all the fruit woods. Ideal meats for apple are beef, pork and ham, poultry and wild game.
Black Walnut creates a very strong wood smoke and provides intense flavor on the short side of bitter. Ideal meats for black walnut are beef, pork and wild game.
Hickory is a flavor almost any meat eater has tasted in bacon. It’s a very strong smoking wood offering a semi-sweet smoke that can penetrate quickly. Ideal meats for hickory are beef, pork, poultry, fish and wild game, especially venison.
Mesquite provides a strong, almost spicy wood smoke, commonly used in Southwest cooking. Ideal meats for mesquite are beef, pork, poultry, fish and wild game.
Wood Smoke Wildcard
Sassafras is a mild smoking wood offering a musky, sweet smoke that can put the taste of root beer into meats. The roots of sassafras were used in early times to create a flavorful tea in the field, tasting like today’s root beer, however, the root bark has been found to be toxic and cause cancer due to safrole. (Pumpkin pie, nutmeg, pepper, star anise and other common foods also contain safrole.) When smoking with sassafras, be sure to remove the bark from the chunks before adding to smoker. Ideal meats for sassafras are beef, pork, poultry, fish and wild game birds. Sassafras leaves, when dried, can be used to make filé, which is a common flavoring and thickening component of gumbo.
The key to great grilling or smoking is trial and error. Try using some of these wood smoke flavors individually, and try combining woods for unique flavors.