It was not that long ago that all BBQ was done with just wood. What type of wood you used depended almost entirely on what part of the country you lived, and what was available. The common thread was that it was almost always a relatively dry “hard wood.” Today is different. The regional differences are getting smaller and smaller. With the appeal BBQ/Grilling, the availability of different charcoals and wood choices have exploded in retail stores. Walk down any isle in a large store today and you can easily be overwhelmed by the choices. Lump or Briquette Charcoal, Charcoal infused with wood, pellets, chips, Oak, Hickory, Maple, Apple, Cherry on and on and on. How do you choose which is right for you?
I am going to be focusing more on BBQ smoking here than I am Grilling (we can talk about grilling at another time). With that being said, the first thing you should do when building your fire is start with Briquette Charcoal. Briquettes tend to give a consistent temperature over a long period of time, perfect for “low and slow” BBQ. Stay away from wood infused Briquettes as there are addition additives in these that are not needed here. From this point we place the wood of choice on the coals. Ideally you want a smoke that is slightly blue and not heavy. They type of wood depends your personal taste and what type of meat you are BBQ’ing. Below is my best bets for what type of wood to what type of meat.
- Oak – used for Lamb, beef, Brisket, and Sausage – Oak is the easiest wood to work with, it has a middle of the road flavor that is not overpowering. The perfect place to start if you are new to BBQ smoking.
- Hickory – used for Ribs, Pork Shoulders, all things Beef, Pork Bellies, Poultry – Hickory is by far my go to medium. It puts a great flavor into almost any meat, and produces a one of a kind distinctive smoke ring. Hickory takes some practice to work with though. It can be overpowering and is capable of leaving a bitter heavy smoke flavor in your food. You will almost always see Pitmasters who use hickory will “wrap” the meat after a certain time during the cook.
- Mesquite – used on all Red Meats – I hesitated to even put Mesquite on this list. It burns very hot and fast, has a distinct flavor that can quickly overpower in a BBQ smoker.
- Alder – used mostly with Seafood – When Alder burns and renders a light and sweet flavor. It works very well with any seafood, especially Salmon.
- Apple – used on Chicken and Pork – Apple wood will yield a very mild and surprisingly sweet flavor. Because the flavor is so mild smoking times takes longer to reach the desired taste. When used with Hickory, you will get an amazing flavor in larger cuts of Pork. IE Shoulders, Fresh Hams, Boston Butts etc.
- Cherry – used on Chicken, Turkey, Fresh Ham – Cherry, like all “Fruity” woods, gives a mild sweet flavor that when combined with Hickory will give an amazing flavor profile to Chicken and Turkey.
- Pecan – used on Brisket, Beef Roasts, Pork Roasts, Ribs – While Pecan is not exactly a “Fruity” wood, I tend to put it in the category. Pecan when burned will give a “nutty” flavor that is also sweet and rich. When mixed with a hardwood it helps to balance out the flavor.
The woods listed above are not the only ones available to you, but they are my go to flavor profiles. No two cooks are exactly the same. To find your favorite you have to experiment. But it is a fantastic flavor experiment.
Hey don’t forget “Get Some Boogie Woogie In Ya.