Ask any well-seasoned barbecue cook about his methods, and you'll hear about time-honored and time-tested traditions for the materials used to cook food. Most people have a small grill or community grill available to them, but true grill masters perfect their grilling habits by cooking with wood or other materials.
We're cooking with fire
Smoke has been a major facet of cooking for quite some time. From its use for preserving meat to offering a warning that a dinner has gone wrong, smoke stands as a cue for cooks everywhere about how their meal has fared and how it will taste. While you may use anything from charcoal or gas to electricity to fuel your grill, adding various types of wood to meal preparation adds flavor and dimension.
Barbecue wood in various shapes and forms
When it comes to the style of wood to use when barbecuing, one size does not fit all. Logs, chips, chunks, briquettes, pellets and even sawdust are all viable forms of wood used with a grill or smoker for smoking meat. The varying forms of wood allow you to better control burn time and how much flavor gets added to whichever meat you're cooking. For example, wood chips are common and easy to find. These pieces of wood are coin-size and burn easily, so have extras on hand for adding to the smoker as your cook time proceeds. Chips are recommended for short cooking times because of how quickly they burn. For long cooking times, chunks are a better option; these pieces are larger, burn less quickly and range from the size of an egg to that of a closed fist. By adding one or two chunks to a smoker at the start of your cooking cycle, you can save yourself the trouble of opening the smoker regularly to check on your meal.
Various woods produce varying flavors
Once you decide what kind of wood material to use, decide what kind of wood that material should contain. Different kinds of wood produce different flavors. Two of the most common, apple wood and mesquite, produce opposite flavors. Apple adds a mild, mellow flavor to a meal and is great for long cook times, while mesquite produces a punch of flavor in a short amount of time. Alder offers a mild flavor that's perfect for fish, but acacia will offer a flavor punch much like that of mesquite. For poultry or pork, try wood from fruit trees, such as apricot wood, or add a nutty flavor with wood from a pecan tree. There are countless types of wood to use in your smoker, so look for the various types and their effect on your meal.
When barbecuing and smoking meat, take the time to examine your materials. Make sure you have a good base material for the ignition, and get creative with wood to add varying flavors for something a little different this summer.