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