How to Select the Right BBQ Wood
Choosing the right BBQ wood is highly personal. It is common for pitmasters to each have their own signature blend of woods. Ours consists of pecan, hickory and oak, but there are many possibilities depending on the flavor you are craving. Think of it as what grapes are to fine wines: a winemaker blends the grapes together to bring out different complexities and numerous layers of flavor. The same effect can be achieved with your meat by selecting complimenting woods for your smoker. Pecan and hickory always work well together, but if you want to add a bit of sweetness to the flavor, throw in some cherry or apple woods.
The selection of wood varieties available for you to choose from will generally be based on the wood that is grown locally. In Texas, BBQ wood preference is even regional within the state due to the sheer size and ecological diversity within its borders. Northern Texas generally smokes with a blend of hickory and pecan, Central Texas uses white oak, and in Southern Texas mesquite is king.
The type of meat can impact your choice of wood as well. You may not want to use the same wood for red meat and fish. Think about what flavors might go well with each type of meat and if you’re smoking more than one type, can you find a common ground?
As a general rule of thumb, see what is available in your area and go from there. There is a wide range of woods that will produce great tasting BBQ, but you should never use pine or cedar unless you want to risk ruining your meat. Experiment a little and most importantly don’t stress too much about your choice. Not everyone you serve will be a meat sommelier, most will just be happy to be eating barbecue.
Here’s a little cheat sheet from Sam’s Smoker Pro to get you started on your wood blending journey.
|Alder||Very delicate with a hint of sweetness||Good with fish, pork, poultry, and light-meat game birds. Traditionally used in the pacific Northwest to smoke Salmon.|
|Apple||Slightly sweet but denser, fruity smoke flavor.||Beef, poultry, game birds, pork (particularly ham).|
|Cherry||Slightly sweet, fruity smoke flavor||Good with all meats.|
|Grape vines||Aromatic, similar to fruit wood.||Good with most meats.|
|Hickory||Pungent, smoky, bacon-like flavor. The most common wood used.||Good for all smoking, especially pork and ribs.|
|Maple||Mildly smoky, somewhat sweet flavor.||Good with pork, poultry, cheese, vegetables and small game birds.|
|Mesquite||Strong earthy flavor.||Good with most meats, especially beef and most vegetables.|
|Mulberry||The smell is sweet and reminds one of apple||Beef, poultry, game birds, pork (particularly ham).|
|Oak||One of the most popular wood’s, Heavy smoke flavor.||Good with red meat, pork, fish and heavy game.|
|Peach||Slightly sweet, woodsy flavor.||Good with most meats.|
|Pear||Slightly sweet, woodsy flavor.||Poultry, game birds and pork.|
|Pecan||Similar to hickory, but not as strong. Try smoking with the shells as well.||Good for most needs.|
|Plum||The flavor is milder and sweeter than hickory||Good with most meats.|
|Walnut||Very heavy smoke flavor, usually mixed with lighter woods like pecan or apple. Can be bitter if used alone.||Good with red meats and game.|