|Wood Smokers need Charcoal for fuel/heat/combustion and smoking wood for flavor!Add caption|
WOOD SMOKERS & GRILLING- RETURN TO THE BASICS! – I recently received an email from a new customer who was questioning the moisture level of the wood she recently purchased. Her claim was, she thought the moisture wasn’t ideal as she was finding that the wood chunks “weren’t catching fire.” That got me thinking that despite what we publish for information on the various methods of wood-fired cooking, when it comes to smoking, the very basics of this method may not be understood, as well as the basics of grilling with wood.
My goal with this article is to remind you of what is needed to be successful with each type of wood-fired method.
Know the Combustion Need
One of the knowledge areas I feel is weak is understanding what is needed from the wood for different styles of wood-fired cooking. Let me get you educated.
Hopefully you know that hot smoking means you are cooking with wood material to affect the color, aroma, texture, and flavor of the food. This method requires a lower temperature, a longer cook time, fuel for temperature and wood for flavor. Certainly, you can use wood for both flavor and fuel but a more cost-effective method is to use charcoal or briquets for fuel and wood just for the flavor, aroma, color, and texture to food.
For cold smoking, you still need the same items listed above but the temperature needs to be under 80°F which means the fuel is often wood which will flavor, color, provide texture, as well as the minimal heat level.
What’s the difference for these methods? Moisture of the wood product.
Hot smoking needs hardwood that is at least 20% moisture and preferably under 30%. Cold smoking needs hardwood that is under 15% moisture.
This method of grilling generally requires the use of wood both for higher temperature and for flavor. Here’s a big difference with this method: you can vary the type of food used on the grill but how you position the food to the active fire versus the hot coals is another need. Often operators of a wood-fired grill will have a couple of stations to the fire. One will be direct fire or flame cooking. This is for mostly animal proteins that you want to get a great char on the outside while cooking relatively quickly. Then there is wood grilling with the hot coals from the fire. By raking hot coals to one side, you can direct fire items that need less char to them like fish, vegetables, fruits, etc.
Another option with wood-fired grills is you can do both direct heat cooking and indirect. These two methods can also be done directly on cooking grates or by using grilling accessories like high heat tolerant cookware, grill baskets, and grilling pans.
Animal Protein Preparation
Everyone has their own preference when it comes to preparing meat or poultry for the grill or smoker. But did you know that marinating meat or poultry should be done for shorter periods of time not over night or longer. Why? Marinades contain oil and meat contains water so… just like the old saying “oil and water don’t mix”. Don’t take a risk of breaking the fibers down too far and stick to short marinating times. Don’t forget – any marinade left in the bag or pan after removing the meat or poultry should be discarded as it CANNOT be reused due to bacteria growth potential from exposure to raw product.
Now if you’re thinking about a dry rub, feel free to marinate just as long as you want. In fact, I’ve been known to marinate up to 3 days!
A wet rub, however, goes by the rule of a marinade. If you’ve included oil in that rub, short marinating time is best.
Wood Quantity Doesn’t Make It Better for Wood Smokers
If you’ve made the commitment to introduce wood flavor to the grill or smoker, then know up front, it doesn’t take a lot of wood to add flavor. As mentioned at the start of the article, you need to be sure you select the right wood with the right moisture level for the right application.
When smoking, about 6 ounces of hardwood is ideal to start. Although you may need to add wood during the cooking process dependent on what your cooking (larger cuts of meat may require you to feed additional wood every hour), always start with a reserved amount.
When grilling, the same quantity of wood applies – about 6 ounces. Wood is the ingredient that works with the other flavors to bring out a balanced wood-fired flavoring of the food. Put too much wood on and you’ll have food that tastes like an ashtray. Put wood on that contains too much moisture and it will produce an acrid smoke that will leave bitter flavors and black coloring to the skin or bark.
Let’s summarize. Decide what method of wood-fire cooking you plan to do, if you plan to set up a direct cooking method or indirect, and the hardwood you plan to use. If smoking, plan on that hardwood to smolder given a moisture level of at least 20%. If wood grilling, plan on that hardwood to be drier, between 15-20% to allow it to release flavonoids quickly. Start with about 6 ounces of wood regardless of the method you select and add only as the previous wood has combusted. That’s the basics to having a fun, positive experience no matter what you elect to put on the grill or smoker.
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