Nowadays barbecue is done using grills where the source of fire is electricity or gas or charcoal which has replaced the traditional technique of cooking meat in open field with only wood as a source of fuel. Anyone who knows about the art of barbecue will tell you the real essence of meat cooked over wood fire, it is the smoke which separates barbecue from other forms of cooking methods, the hard wood fire not only cooks the meat but it also imparts a distinctive flavor and aroma which cannot be obtained over an electric grill. The only problem in cooking meat over wood fire is the control of heat and anybody who can control this, still prefers to cook his or her meat on wood and not on gas.
When it comes to selection of which wood to be used for smoking meat, there is a simple rule i.e. heavy hardwood for heavy meats like beef, pork and mutton and light hardwood for lighter meats like poultry and fish. Also before choosing the hardwood it is to be understood that different wood produce different smoke and even same wood from different area produce different type of smoke, so it is very important that you choose according to your requirement.
Here is some of the common hard wood and their characteristics.
Alder- light, sweet, delicate and musky flavor, imparts golden yellow hue and doesn’t over power the meat best used with fish, poultry and white meat game bird.
Apple- light, fruity, denser and ashy smoke flavor, best with poultry, game birds and pork. It is suggested to add apple wood at the beginning itself as it takes time for the smoke to permeate the meat because of its lighter character.
Beech- a mild flavor smoke similar to oak and can be used any type of meat especially with seafood, burns slowly with high temperature.
Camphor Laurel- exotic and pungent aroma leaves light brown hue on the meat skin, famous in China for smoking duck, best with poultry and game birds.
Cherry- mild, fruity and sweet flavor smoke which imparts dark rosy hue to the meat skin, burns slowly and for long, best used with poultry and light game birds.
Corn Cob- technically not a wood but famously used for its earthy aroma on light meats like chicken and small game birds. May over power the flavor if too much is used.
Grape Vines- sweet, light and aromatic flavor, imparts golden brown color on the meat, best with, chicken, turkey, pork and fish.
Heather- fragrant, flavorful smoke best used with seafood, leaves pale yellow hue on the meat skin.
Hickory- sweet, strong, and robust flavor, known for its heavy bacon flavor, best with pork, ham and ribs, should be soaked before using to avoid bitter taste.
Jack Daniel’s- this is actually made form charcoal used in making of the Tennessee whiskey, has very robust aromatic flavor smoke, can be used with any meat.
Juniper- bold flavor which should be used in limited quantity as it may over power the flavor, develops light to medium brown hue.
Lemon- Tangy, fruity and citrus flavor best with beef and pork.
Lime- fruity, tangy and sweet flavor best with beef and pork.
Maple- mild, sweet and subtle flavor and smoky aroma, leaves golden yellow hue on the meat best with poultry, ham, cheese, game birds, turkey and vegetables.
Mesquite- Strong, distinctive and earthly, smokes a lot, best with red meat, develops golden brown coloring.
Oak- mild smoke, no after taste, smoked flavor, imparts golden yellow brown coloring on the meat, there are two type white or post oak and red oak, best with red meat and big game animals and birds.
Pecan- sweet, mild, tasty similar to hickory, best with turkey, red meat and cheese.
Pimento- gives natural peppery flavor to the meat, also known as all spice or Jamaican pepper, best used for grilling poultry and fish.
Straw- light and delicate smoked aroma imparts bright yellow hues on the meat, best with sole and other mild fish.
Walnut- very intense heavy smoked flavor, can become bitter if overdone, imparts dark brown coloring on the meat, best with red meat. Two types available black walnut, English walnut.