June 2008


 What can I tell people about smoking food with wild cherry wood when they have been told there is arsenic in wild cherry wood?  They want to know if it is safe.  Also, what about the issue of cyanogenic compounds?  Is this a concern, and if so, I assume it is a non-issue if the wood is aged a period of time?

Thank you for educating me about the SAFETY of using wild cherry wood for smoking food. 

Elizabeth Andress

Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D.
Professor and Extension Food Safety Specialist
Department of Foods and Nutrition
The University of Georgia

Our Response:

Good Afternoon, Dr. Andress!

      Thank you for the question regarding Wild Cherry wood! and for seeking our opinion regarding use of the wood for smoking foods.  Let’s see what new information I can present to you that may be of value.


     First, it is important to note that Smokinlicious® Gourmet Wood Products only manufacturers gourmet “cooking” wood from forest trees.  We do not, and will not, produce our products from orchard-based woods.  Our reason is simple – we do not believe in smoking foods over woods that have been or have the potential to be sprayed or growth enhanced with chemicals. As you’ve already indicated, trees produce prussic acid, better known as hydrogen cyanide.  We feel that humans can use woods produced in nature when they have been left alone, unburden by the human hand in trying to manage what sometimes is the normal cyclical pattern of nature.  In the areas in which we purchase the heartwood for our gourmet wood production facility, the varieties of cherry (prunus pensylvanica L.f.) we commonly deal with are: Northern Pin Cherry, Fire Cherry, Wild Red Cherry, and Pigeon Cherry.  Of course, predominately, we bring in Wild Red Cherry. Your portion of the country generally in known for production of Southern Crab Apple, Narrow-Leaf Crab, Wild Crab, and Eastern Chokecherry. The main difference in these woods is that our forest trees tend to be on the sweeter side versus the sour.  For the most part, hydrogen cyanide is found mainly in the leaves and seeds of the cherry tree.  Black Cherry bark is also commonly used in herbal cough remedies.   

Predominate Opinion

     The predominate opinion is that when used in small quantities, the hydrogen cyanide is a mute issue. Now let’s talk about the smoking application of wood.  Cyanogenic compounds WOULD remain a factor for our production of cooking wood.  This is due to the fact that we do not allow our gourmet woods to deplete their moisture content to a level that other wood product manufacturers may do (what is commonly referred to as “seasoning of the wood”).  For ideal smoking of foods, wood needs to have a moisture level preferably at 20% or higher.  This results in the wood smoldering rather than burning at a rapid rate.  The resulting smoke from the plant material provides for that wonderful flavor.  Because smoking is done at low temperatures for longer periods of time, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s) found in wood molecules are not stimulated as they normally would be when cooking, say, a steak over a hot flame.  Thus, the health risk associated with PAH’s and smoked foods is not considered an issue.


      Our main concerns regarding woods used for cooking and smoking foods is to always ensure a bark-free product.  Bark does not hold moisture but rather is designed to rid the tree of wastes by absorbing them and locking them into this area.  In fact, this is the reason why bark-on woods burn so much faster than bark-free wood pieces.  This portion of the tree is actually responsible for temperature flare-ups, tainted smells, “spotty” appearance of the food’s skin, and increase in the production of ash. Additionally, once the temperature is increased during wood-fired cooking, heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, are created due to the reaction of the amino acids and creatine with the higher cooking temperature. 

     In a nutshell, a person is at greater risk of cyanide exposure in treated wood products for home construction than they are when consuming BBQ. Knowing the source of the wood being used in the cooking application is vital to ensure that the necessary steps have been taken to prevent tree disease and pest infestation spread, as well as to ensure that the wood has not been exposed to any chemical/toxin treatments.

Our Position

     It is our hope, that one day soon, inspection of the wood products used by restaurants, caterers, bbq competitors, and grocery stores who promote smoked and natural-wood fired foods, will occur as normally as food inspections.  After all, I think we all can agree that what you cook the food over is as an important as what food you are cooking!

Thanks again for your interest!

Dr Smoke

Dr. Smoke

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See our follow up blogs related to using cherry wood when smoking, cooking, and grilling.

Thanks for the question regarding Mango wood.  Although limited in the
areas they can grow (India, Florida, Caribbean, Hawaii, etc.), Mango wood
is very popular for upper end wood products like bowls, vases, and even
some furniture.  However, you are correct.  Mango wood contains a sap
that is located at the base of the stem, branches, and trunk. As a result,
a recommendation is made never to burn mango wood as it emits a smoke
that is full of potent irritants.  Plus, Mango trees are highly
suseptible to a number of diseases and pest infestations,
including the fruit fly, black twig borer, sooty mold, and
southern green stink bug to name a few. Pesticide application
is generally necessary to maintain the health of these trees.
Because of the chemical application, Mango wood does not make
for good BBQ!
Stick to forest producing products for the safest woods for BBQ!
Use Smokinlicious® Gourmet Mango Smokin' Dust®  instead!

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Dr Smoke

Emergency regulations were issued on June 3, 2008 by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation  concerning Firewood. Here are the highlights of the new regulation:

> there is a prohibition on the transport Firewood into New York State!

>Firewood entering New York State must have a “Phytosanitary” or “Plant Health” certificate attached certifying that the firewood meets the phytosanitary regulations of New York State.

> Each firewood shipment must adhere to new labeling requirements which include: producer’s name, legal address, bill of sale or purchase receipt.

> Each firewood shipment must adhere to new labeling requirements which include: producer’s name, legal address, bill of sale or purchase receipt.> “New York – Sourced Firewood” and “untreated” can ONLY be transported within 50 miles (New York State) from the producer’s declared (location) source of the firewood.

Each firewood shipment must adhere to new labeling requirements which include: producer’s name, legal address, bill of sale or purchase receipt.> “New York – Sourced Firewood” and “untreated” can be transported (New York State) from the producer’s declared (location) source of the firewood.> Personal Use – Untreated Firewood is allowable but only if the user completes and possess a Self-Issued Certificate of Source. Self-Issued Certificate of Source are available at http://www.dec.state.ny.gov/ or at regional office locations. However, the 50 mile restriction from the source still applies!

Smokinlicious® Gourmet Wood Products has contacted the New York State officials to discuss these new regulations and the application to our gourmet products. While our products are considered “cooking” wood not “fire” wood, presently, there is no provision in the regulations that will exempt our log, block, and chunk products (double or single filet). Our Woodscuit®, wood chips, and Smokin’ Dust® products are exempt from these regulations.

Smokinlicious® Gourmet Wood Products has phytosanitary capabilities at our facility and will begin implementing these new regulations immediately! We have been working with the US Department of Agriculture along with the National Hardwood Lumber Association in the implementation of appropriate phytosanitary procedures. While we believe that there could be some reduction in the moisture content of our products, we do not believe that the new procedures will interfere with the cooking results from our product line. We are posting these regulations in an effort to reinforce to the public, the competitive barbecue teams, and our faithful customers, Smokinlicious® Gourmet Wood Products commitment to preserving not just New York’s natural hardwood forests, but all of North America’s!



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Wood Chip Comparison Data

If you’ve been following the Smokinlicious® Gourmet Wood Products website for a while, then you very aware of how serious we take wood. It is extremely important to us, to provide pertinent information concerning product comparison, as well as to educate the public regarding

the benefits of investing in high quality hardwoods designed specifically for smoking.

Recently, we investigated the moisture levels of two popular name-brand products that are available across the USA. Using a commercial-grade moisture reader (Delmhorst Instrument Co., RDM-3 #12084), we recorded the moisture level of both name-brand smoking wood chips. One was Hickory, the other Mesquite – two very popular wood species. The Hickory wood chips registered 7% moisture and the Mesquite 7.3%! Although Smokinlicious® is not a manufacturer of Mesquite products ( we only manufacturer products native to our area), we are able to provide you with comparison numbers for our seven hardwood species. On average, the following are the moisture levels for our woods:

Alder = 24.8%

Ash = 21.2%

Hickory = 25.6%

Red Oak = 26.2%

Sugar Maple = 25.4%

White Oak = 20.9%

Wild Cherry = 23.8%

It is important to remember, that when shopping for smoking wood chips and chunks, products that are packaged in plastic bags generally must have an average moisture level of less than 8% to remain stable enough to prevent mold growth and spoilage. Unfortunately, this means this type of product would compromise the ability to re-hydrate that would, as once the molecules of the wood are deprived of air circulation and moisture, they permanently die.

Smokinlicious Gourmet Wood Products only sells are products fresh! You’ll never see our gourmet woods sealed in plastic!


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