How to Match Wood to Meat for Best Smoky Flavors

admin | August 28th, 2014 - 6:15 pm

How to Match Wood to Meat for Best Smoky Flavors

It’s essential to match the right woods when grilling or smoking foods, from pork to fish. Think of pecan, mesquite and alder the same as ginger, basil or turmeric. Each tastes different. Use only varieties of hardwood that are low in resin for smoking or grilling.

Where there’s smoke, there’s flavor.

Bucket loads. That’s why it’s essential to match the right variety of woods when grilling or smoking brisket, pork ribs, salt, salmon and turkey. Think of smoke from woods like pecan, mesquite and alder the same as ginger, basil or tumeric. Each imparts a distinct flavor that either works with or against a dish.

Cooking with smoke is like cooking with other ingredients. Flavor makes a big difference. You want a nice balance between the smoke, the food and the other seasonings. Nothing can ruin barbecue faster than the wrong smoke.

Today smoked foods are enjoying a renaissance. From wood-fired pizza to old-fashioned Southern barbecue, smoked foods satisfy a dual craving for flavor and comfort.

As interest in cooking with wood increases, so does sophistication.

Serious wood-fired experts often combine two types of woods for two-dimensional flavors. Mix and match mesquite for its boldness and almond for its sweetness.

Not all woods are suited for the smoker or grill. Use only varieties of hardwood that are low in resin and high in flavor. Quality of the wood also matters. Buy wood that feels heavy for its size, a sign that it’s fresh enough for smoking. Old, dry wood burns too fast and smokes too much.

There are three basic ways to infuse foods with smoky flavors. First is by smoking, a slow-cooking process in which wood smoke indirectly cooks foods at low temperatures. Smoking takes the most time, but imparts the smokiest of flavors.

The other options are grilling over burning wood, instead of coals; and adding wood chips to the backyard grill for a quick and easy way to infuse hints of smoky flavors to grilled meats.

When smoking follow these tips:

• Typically, dry rubs are best when smoking. Liberally cover the food with the rub. Overnight marinating is best for beef and pork. Chicken, seafood and vegetables need as little as two hours of marinating in a refrigerator.

For an all-purpose dry rub, combine 1/3 cup coarse salt, ¼ cup packed light-brown sugar, ¼ cup paprika, 2 tablespoons ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves and, for extra kick, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper.

• Boneless meats, such as pork shoulder, can shrink during slow smoking. Ask for untrimmed cuts — a layer of fat slows shrinkage. Cut off the fat before serving.

• When cooking in a smoker, avoid peeking. Every peek causes the temperature to drop and extends the cooking time.

• Charcoal can be added during smoking to maintain heat. Keep a small pile burning in a small grill before adding it to the main fire. For meats smoked six to eight hours, add three to four briquettes to the supplemental fire every 40 minutes.

• Use a thermometer to check the smoke’s heat; heat should be less than 200 degrees.

• Cooking time depends on type, size and shape of meat, distance of food from the heat, temperature of the coals and the weather.

• Use a thermometer to monitor internal temperatures.

• For additional flavor, apply a “mop” of sauce during the last stage of smoking.

When grilling with wood follow these tips:

• Always cover the grill while cooking, so the aroma has a chance to fully penetrate the food.

• Soak four to six wood chunks or one cup of wood chips in water for about two hours before cooking, then place them on hot coal.

• When the chunks start smoking, begin cooking. The more chips or chunks you use, the more powerful the flavor.

• Wet wood chips can also be used in gas grills. Place the chips in foil with holes poked in it. Set on the lava rocks.

Top choices for woods

• Pecan: This all-purpose wood works well with red meats and poultry. Providing a mild flavor, it is the wood of choice in the Southwest thanks to the extensive pecan groves in Arizona and other states in the region.

• Almond: A mild wood with nutty, sweet flavor, it pairs with all meats. Almond is similar to pecan.

• Alder: Adds gentle smoke flavor to pork and seafood.

• Fruit woods, such as apple, cherry and peach: Work well for chicken, turkey and pork, but are too strong for fish.

• Hickory: The wood of choice for Southern barbecue. It imparts strong, hearty flavors to meats and is used mostly to smoke pork shoulders and ribs.

• Maple: Provides a mild smoke that imparts a sweet flavor. It is a traditional choice for smoking ham, poultry, pork and seafood.

• Mesquite: The boldest flavor. It is excellent for ribs and other strong-flavored meats.

• Oak: Popular in Europe, it’s strong, but not overpowering. A good choice for beef and lamb.

Where to buy it

It’s easier than ever before to buy wood for smoking. Mainstream grocery stores carry a limited selection, and home-improvement stores stock a respectable variety of woods, from cherry, mesquite and apple to pecan and hickory.

Dry wood produces more smoke but less flavor, and green wood burns longer and produces more flavor. Both appeal to grillers and smokers.

Source:  azcentral.com, 8-5-2014

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