CAN HARDWOOD BE TOO DRY FOR COOKING?
|The importance of proper moisture in cooking wood to generate smoke flavor in any barbeque|
Here are the misnomers:
- Wet = Smolder
- Wet = Smoke
- Dry = Fast Cook
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear — all wood, whether hardwood of softwood, contains water! As a comparative, when wood is dried to ~20% moisture content (MC), it weighs 40–50% less than undried wood. This is the direct reason why the National Conference on Weights and Measures — Uniform Regulation for the Method of Sale of Commodities does not allow for the sale of wood products by weight. It wouldn’t be a level playing field for those of us selling this commodity.
So, we know that wood has too much water when a tree is first cut down and obviously will need to dry to some degree before being used for cooking. Why you ask? Without reducing the water in the wood, when burned/combusted, the wood will produce an acrid aroma and smoke vapor which in turn, will produce off flavors, colors, and textures when foods cooked over wet woods are consumed.
You might ask, does it matter how the wood is dried?
Absolutely! There are various ways wood products can be dried with the decision on a drying process usually dictated by what the wood will be used for. Just because you purchase a wood chunk bag or other product for cooking, doesn’t mean it started out for that intended purpose. Often the wood is used first for a primary business like furniture manufacture, hardwood flooring, or cabinet making. It’s only the waste wood leftover that is repurposed for cooking use with a focus on BBQ.
Let’s examine the most likely methods of drying woods for this scenario.
Lumber or other wood items that have been dried in a closed chamber in which the temperature and relative humidity of the circulated air can be controlled. There are 3 types of Kiln Drying methods: low temperature drying which is below 130° F, conventional electric dehumidification drying, and conventional steam-heated drying which have temperatures up to 180° F. Of the 3, the conventional steam-heated drying system is preferred due to its computerized programming but the high cost of this system makes it less attractive to most businesses.
The process of drying green lumber or other wood products by exposure to prevailing natural atmospheric conditions outdoors or in an unheated shed. There are 3 dominate Air Drying methods: open yard, shed, and forced-air shed. The first is not held in high regard as the wood is exposed to all the elements making it the longest method of depleting MC. The second, similar to the first, has the addition of a roof covering to maintain a precipitation-free environment. The third option is most used although the use of electric fans increases the cost from the other two options, it produces quicker results meaning products can be sold quicker. Remember, the primary purpose of the wood is not necessarily cooking so quicker is better to get it to the primary business’ production.
A very popular method of drying lumber despite higher capital and energy costs, this system can run consistent drying parameters almost 24 hours per day.
Now, knowing many wood producers sell their products first under the guise of another business before packaging waste wood for cooking, you need to understand where the MC needs to be in order to work for the furniture making, flooring manufacture, or cabinetry business. These are items that require lower MC and that level across the United States and Canada has an average between 4–13% MC!
Can you imagine putting a piece of wood on a grill’s diffuser or on hot coals when it only has a MC of 4%? What do you think will happen to such a dry piece of wood? POOF! It’s gone!
SmokinLicious® developed a method of decreasing MC in our hardwoods using a controlled heat method with a rehydration parameter. Our sole/primary business is wood-fired cooking woods! That’s it! We have no reason to reach for MC in the single digits and for cooking purposes, you would NEVER want this! The ideal MC for cooking is in the 20% range (this is dependent of wood species, however).
We ALWAYS provide you with a MC of the hardwoods you purchase from us, so you can be educated about the conditions of the wood for the type of wood-fired cooking you want to do. That’s just one of the reasons why SmokinLicious® is a superior product for superior outcome in wood-fired cooking!
Written by the SmokinLicious® Culinary Team offering tips, techniques, and recipes about wood, ember, and smoking cooking.