Thursday, April 27, 2017

Before You Cook with Wood- Know the Risks!

 Before You Cook- Know the Risks!

Knowing your woods is important before you cook

Knowing Your Woods is Important Before You Cook

Let me begin by emphasizing that we have a lot more research to do on woods used for cooking! There has been a great deal of attention to developing countries who, out of necessity, have to rely on wood fires for cooking to survive.

I’m going to first relate the information on why the risks in North America are not the same as developing countries and then I will highlight the top six (6) potential reactions we face when using specific woods for cooking. This will be generalized reactions to wood compounds and not the direct result of a specific cooking technique.

 Developing countries generally use very primitive equipment for cooking the daily meals needed to sustain families. The simplest method is with three large stones to contain the fire with a pot or other metal container placed on top for the cooking. The fires are fueled with solid materials like coal, wood, dung, and crop waste. All these materials release harmful particles into the air as they burn. Here’s the issue: they employ this cooking set up INDOORS, where they live which generally is in homes constructed from thatch, mud, and/or animal skins. Chimneys may not be present or if present, have no flue to draw the contaminated air out.

What results from the exposure to smoke from cooking daily in these situations?

  • Respiratory Infections
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Ocular Disorders
  • Lung Cancer and Upper Airway Cancers
  • Death (from long-standing exposure)
In North America, we view wood-fired cooking as entertainment as we are blessed with having other options for our primary cooking needs, specifically, gas, electric and convection cooking equipment. Our equipment is built from high end materials with proper ventilation key to installing and using this equipment. All our cooking can be done safely with minimal exposure for the health risks listed above.

Most of us engage in wood-fired cooking outside, where the particulate matter of smoke cannot accumulate in one area lowering our risks for compromised health. Restaurants who include wood-fired menu items do so by having specialized ventilation that must pass rigorous inspection. All this ensures that we don’t suffer the same consequences as these developing countries.
The question is: are there any other variables that put us at risk when we cook with wood even outdoors?

I’m going to pick some of the most popular woods to cook with in North America and isolate some of the potential concerns with these woods. I will list these by two categories: fruit wood and hardwood.

Fruit Woods

In this group, I’ll include Apple, Cherry, Grape, Peach, Pear as these tend to be the favorite fruit woods to use for wood-fired cooking. Let’s address the gorilla in the room first– pesticides.
Like the fruit these trees produce, the wood absorbs the pesticides that are applied to the trees. Eat a non-organic apple (keep in mind organic produce also is exposed to pesticides but usually these are natural derivatives and not synthetic), wash it, and you will still absorb any pesticide that has been absorbed into the actual fruit meat. Same is true for the tree. Pesticide applications embed into the soil base of the tree, which then enters the root system, and is on the way to the other parts of the tree. Now let’s be clear, pesticides can also become air born as they turn into a vapor and travel with air. Bark of any tree is a great absorber of these air particles. Once pesticides enter the human body, they are stored in the colon.

For the Prunus Armeniaca family which includes ornamental cherry, peach, plum, and apricot trees and shrubs, it is the stems, leaves, and seeds that pose the greatest risk if these are consumed by animals, even the dog and cat. Cyanide is present and can be lethal to animals so if you bring in wood with bark and/or leaves intact, be sure these are away from all animals.

Hardwoods

Popular hardwoods to use for cooking include Beech(nut), Cedar, Alder, Pecan, Mesquite, Hickory, Maple, and Oak. For all these woods as well as the fruit woods, dust irritation in the form of rhinitis and general respiratory reaction is a given. Wood dust is an irritant. How people react to the dust is dependent on each person’s immune system. You should make every attempt to purchase wood for cooking that is clean of dust, particularly for wood chips. Often sellers of wood chips don’t screen the product sold and you can often end up with a bag or box full of wood dust. This will certainly aggravate most respiratory systems and potentially could exacerbate already compromised systems.


Of the hardwood listed above, these are the noted potential reactions:

Alder: dermatitis, rhinitis, bronchial effects, eye irritation
Apple: seeds contain cyanogenic (cyanide), pesticide risk/reaction
Beech: irritant likely from bark lichens, dust, leaves
Cedar: allergic contact dermatitis
Cherry: cyanogenic
Grape: pesticide risk/reaction
Hickory: irritant from dust
Peach: pesticide risk/reaction
Pear: pesticide risk/reaction
Pecan: irritant from dust; high level of ethanol extract in bark
Maple: irritant, asthma, sensitizer
Mesquite: dermatitis, coughing, respiratory
Oak: irritant, sensitizer, asthma, eye irritation, dermatitis

I’ve highlighted only those hardwoods that have gained popularity as a cooking or grilling wood. In future articles, we will explore the hazards of using woods that are less common and more toxic. Don’t assume just because you’re cooking outdoors, the risks are few. Be informed on the wood choice before you make a lethal mistake.

Start a conversation with us on this topic by leaving a comment!


Written by the SmokinLicious® Culinary Team offering tips, techniques, and recipes about wood, ember, and smoking cooking.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

All You Need to Know & More About BBQed Brisket

All You Need to Know & More About BBQed Brisket

The perfect smoked beef brisket over SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood
The perfect smoked beef brisket over SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood


We receive a lot of questions about preparing and smoking a beef brisket on different equipment. There is no question, that people in North America love their beef and anyone who has sampled prime BBQ knows that brisket has a truly unique flavor that puts this food experience on many people’s bucket list.  Let me share some of the key tips we offer as well as some of the interesting questions posed regarding this infamous meat.

What’s With All The Names?  
Whole packer, Flat, Point, Deckle, Burnt Ends.  These are likely names you’ve heard or seen float around.  Let’s start with what brisket is – pectoral muscles (there are two) of the animal.  They get a lot of work, bearing more than half the animal’s weight, which causes them to get tough. Thus, the reason for a low temperature, long cook time to get this cut of meat tender. Oh, and yes, you can use a slow cooker but that just isn’t BBQ!

When purchased, a whole packer often called Texas Style Brisket will weigh 9-16 lbs.  Let’s be clear – the whole packer contains two muscles; the flat and the point.  So, there are really 3 cuts offered in most butcher shops: a whole packer brisket (which includes the next two cuts), a flat (1st cut), and a point (the 2nd cut or deckle).   These 3 cuts are not the same and will require some changes in cooking.  Also, don’t confuse corned beef.  Yes, it is brisket but it is a preserved cut that should not be used for barbecue!

Don’t you need all the fat left on to make it tender?  
When brisket is sold whole, it will contain a fat cap side that can be up to an inch of fat.  This requires trimming!  Fat is oil and meat is essentially loaded with water, so the two do not readily mix.  However, fat can add a flavorful component to dishes especially when cooked over or with hardwood.  Therefore, I recommend you trim all the outer fat layer to ⅛” or at the most ¼”.  Regarding the fat cap, my preference is to remove it, but if you want to add some extra flavonoids to your cooking environment, you can always cook the fat cap separate from the meat, allowing it to drip into the water pan and add flavor to the condensation/steam that develops.

If you elect to cook with the fat cap intact, cook the meat with the fat cap down so it renders into the water pan, or coals depending on what equipment you’re cooking on.
There is silverskin so trim any that you see, much like you do with ribs, as this is stiff connective tissue.  Remember, the fat needs to be trimmed for flavor to penetrate the meat.  Too much fat, and nothing will get through to the meat!


Size: Can I cut it up to reduce the cooking time? 
Sometimes I think the biggest obstacle to a successful brisket is the thinking that you must keep this cut of meat as one large piece (if purchased as the packer cut).  Generally, you end up with a dry thinner portion and undercooked thicker portion given the long cook time.  Why not try cutting this so you have two more equal thicknesses to deal with?  That is, instead of attempting the whole packer, purchase the flat and point separately.  It’s always a good rule of thumb that if you don’t possess great butchering skills, have the butcher do the cutting for you.

Always Foil?   
Known as the “Texas Crutch”, this is a technique of wrapping the meat in heavy duty foil with 1-2 ounces of liquid.  The purpose?  Aiding tenderization of a muscle meat and speeding the cooking process.  You will compromise some of the crisping of the bark (outside of the brisket) with this method but not the flavor.

Brisket = All Nighter? 
Not necessarily.  Although you need to plan 45-60 minutes per pound at an average temperature of 225° F, and that the meat will likely stall around 150° F (when connective tissue and internal fats liquefy), the average full smoker/grill time will be 12-14 hours.  You can do a partial smoke on the grill/smoker and then move to the conventional oven.  Here’s how - Smoke until the internal temperature is close to 130° F or when the meat stalls at about 150° F, ensuring great wood-fired flavor.  Now, you can move that beautiful meat to the oven.  Set is still for a low temperature oven say 200 to 225° F.  I recommend tenting the pan.  Keep in mind, you won’t get a crunchy bark but you will get the peace of mind of a flavorful meat and the ability to enjoy family and friends.  If you need the oven for other food items at a higher temperature, just pull the meat, tent it well and allow it to sit untouched until you’re ready to carve.

Rub/Brine/Injection?  What do I do? 
Food is personal so experiment and find what works for you and the people that you serve.  Plus, no one said salt and pepper can’t be your rub so don’t feel pulled to have to add a ton of ingredients for a rub.  The key is to marinate the meat with whatever seasoning/rub you choose for at least 6 hours or overnight to ensure that some of the water is rendered out and tenderizing begins.  Plus, cold meat will attract smoke vapor. Also, beef does not like sweet so any combination of ingredients you use for a rub, include only a small quantity of sugar.

You can consider injecting the meat with a brine to breakdown the intramuscular fat.  The application of salt allows the muscle of the meat to retain moisture and gives the final product greater flavor.  Always cook it fat cap side down to the heat.  This allows the fat to act as an insulator and keep more moisture in the meat so you don’t have a dry meat result.

Final Tips:  
Purchase only USDA Choice or Prime beef.  Start with 4-6 ounces of wood and add more every 30 minutes for the first 2-3 hours.  If you notice a considerable color difference between the top and bottom of the meat, go ahead and turn it.  If you plan to foil, do this at 150° F.  Shoot for a finished internal temperature of about 200° F.  At that point, let the meat sit in the foil for up to 2 hours on the closed cooker or move to a cooler.  If you prefer a crisper bark, you can unwrap the meat from the foil following the 2 hour rest and broil for a few minutes on each side or put on a hot grill.  It just takes a few minutes on each side.  Always slice the meat with the fat side up, across the grain, preferably with the flat and point separated first.  Add any sauce or mop after the slicing.


Now, go get your beef!


Written by the SmokinLicious® Culinary Team offering tips, techniques, and recipes about wood, ember, and smoking cooking.



Friday, April 14, 2017

THE SAFE BET!

THE SAFE BET!
Alder wood the safe bet for cooking wood- little in flavor!

Alder

I’m often asked if there is any hardwood that is a safe bet to use with any food item and equipment. One that won’t be too strong if over applied or hurt the equipment if too much wood is used. Well, as you’ve heard me mentioned before, we don’t provide descriptors of the woods we manufacture as we believe there are too many variables that affect the overall flavor of the hardwood. Instead, we offer a rating of our woods based on how bold they are. On the low end of that rating scale? Alder.

Family of Trees

First, let me state that Alder is part of the Birch family of hardwood. It is a genus that is a flowering plant. Around the world, there are 35 species of both the tree and shrub form. Yes, that is correct. Alder is not always a tree but can be a tall growing shrub. In New York State, we have roughly 13 varieties with our Alder referred to as Eastern Alder. On the density side, this is a lighter hardwood and thus, it does not hold moisture long. This makes this hardwood ideal for very specific cooking applications.

Alder is very light in its stimulating flavor compounds. I’m sure you’ve read that Alder is ideal for fish but there are missed opportunities if you don’t go beyond the fish category. Given there are so many options to infuse smoke vapor, this can be a great wood choice when using a hand held food smoker or even a stove stop smoker or cold smoke generator. Contemplating chocolate, cheese, or fruits? Alder can be a perfect match.

Caution

Here’s my one caution. If you are planning to incorporate bolder ingredients with your food item, then alder may not be the first choice. Lots of bacon, chili or cayenne pepper — these will mask the flavor of the Alder wood. Instead opt for foods that have lighter ingredients like herbs, citrus, dairy components.

As mentioned, Alder or Birch will start with a moisture level that is higher but due to the composition of its cell structures, the water will evaporate faster in the hardwood. Using it on a LP grill or in a charcoal unit may require quicker replenishment than another denser hardwood so extra supply is always recommended.

Blending

Don’t forget, blending Alder with another hardwood works well too so if you do want a spicier kick to your ingredients, feel free to add Alder with a bolder wood like hickory, beech or oak.
The best part is always in the experimentation so have fun working with this hardwood that I call the safety net — it won’t let you fall flat if you select it for your smoke infusion.

Written by the SmokinLicious® Culinary Team offering tips, techniques, and recipes about wood, ember, and smoking cooking.