8 common mistakes to avoid when cooking with wood.
We are approaching that exciting time of the year when just about all of North America can start to enjoy cooking outdoors again! Make it the best outdoor cooking season yet by learning the steps to using wood for cooking and grilling successfully, avoiding the trademark pitfalls that sink those outdoor meals.
#1:Don’t Soak the Wood Chips or Chunks
The goal when you cook on outdoor equipment is to maintain a stable temperature for the cooking process. This ensures that your foods cook evenly and have a pleasant flavor from the cooking process. When you add wet wood products to coals, you stimulate a “cool down” effect to those coals which translates to fluctuating temperature. Energy is expended to steam off the water from the wood and bring the coals back up to temperature. Even when you add wet wood product to a gas or electric assisted unit, you still use up energy for temperature control, requiring more energy to generate steam to dry the wood. Always apply wood products dry whether directly to charcoal, to the flavor bars/diffusers of an LP grill or in a smoker box, smoking tube, or disposable pan.
There is a time when wet wood is preferred. If you are going to do a traditional hot smoking technique on a food item that will take more than a few hours, and you don’t want to constantly replenish the wood chips, you can do a “two-pan” set up of wood. Using disposable foil pans, add dry wood chips to both and place under the food grates. Pour enough warm water into one pan to cover the wood pieces. Leave the other pan dry. By the time the dry wood product has combusted completely, the water in the “wet” pan set up will have dried up (steamed off) making the wood ideal to start smoking. This is a great way to keep the wood flavoring the food the whole cook time without having to constantly feed wood.
#2: Don’t Add a Lot of Wood
Likely the biggest mistake made when cooking with wood is to add too much. I always tell cooks to view the wood as another ingredient in the overall dish and have a tempered hand. Smoke is a vapor that contains very small particles of organic compounds with certain compounds that contain the actual flavoring imparted from wood. As a plant material, these flavonoids, when combusted, can be quite bold. Always start with about 6-8 ounces of wood product and only replenish when the wood has reduced to 1/3 its size. Replenishment is only needed to get the full cooking time completed.
#3: Don’t Measure Flavor Infusion By the Quantity of Smoke
It will take another article to explain the differences in smoke by color so let’s stick to the basics. As I mentioned above, smoke vapor particles are quite small and are known to be attracted to moist surfaces. With most equipment on the market today, materials used in construction ensure an efficient set up so air does not escape other than out the intended vents. Don’t add wood to the equipment just because you don’t see smoke. The best smoke vapor is barely visible and has a blue tint to it. Rest assured, the wood is doing its job even if you don’t see a lot of smoke. You certainly should smell the aroma of the wood as it combusts.
#4: Stop Peaking When Your Smoking or Indirect Cooking
I know it’s hard to keep to this rule but you must stop opening the grill hood or smoker lid and looking! Proper oxygen flow, a balance between intake of air and exhaust damper or vent, is critical to keep everything you grill, smoke or wood-fire tasting good. If you’re using wood on a traditional charcoal smoker or kettle style grill, then you shouldn’t be checking anything – water pan, charcoal level, wood combustion – until at least a couple of hours have passed. And for those units that have a charcoal access door, you can cause a temperature differential when you expose the hot coals to a flood of air as well as cause ash to become air born if windy. No one likes ash on their foods! Limit the amount of time you lift the lid.
#5: Pick the Right Moisture Level for the Cooking Technique
For most wood-fired cooking techniques, a moisture level of between 15-25% is ideal. That level will allow you to hot smoke either via direct method (heat/smoke directly under the food) or indirect method (food placed to the side without direct heat under), produce smoke vapor on the gas grill using the diffusers/flavor bars or a smoker box, and do direct fire cooking. For ember or coal cooking, I prefer to see a wood with a moisture level around 15%, as that will allow the wood to combust faster and produce the bed of coals needed for this type of cooking. If the wood is too dry, say below 10%, you simply are using something designed for a maximum amount of heat output so that wood should be reserved for campfire cooking or direct hot searing. Remember, moisture means there is water in the wood. It takes some time to evaporate the water out which is how the wood will last longer during cooking.
#6: Hardwoods Only
Without question, the type of wood as well as the species is critical for a successful wood cooking event. ONLY use hardwoods! That means no pine, redwood, spruce, fir, cypress, cedar, or hemlock. Softwoods contain a greater percentage of sap which translates into unpleasant flavors when you cook. Additionally, many of these softwoods can trigger reactions to the digestive track which make many people sick. Also, stick to hardwoods that have been tested for cooking. Favorites include: apple, beech, hickory, pecan, oak, cherry, peach, maple, alder, ash, mesquite, walnut (http://www.smokinlicious.com/blog/?p=746 ).
#7: Build a Hot Fire
Many equipment manufacturers include a charcoal basket or grate for the charcoal and wood to sit on. This is done for a very specific reason; wood needs oxygen to generate heat. If wood product sits in ash, it won’t burn consistently and cleanly. This can result in soot coating your foods. Also, don’t build a huge fire. A small fire that can ignite unlit charcoal and wood is the ideal and produces the best temperature control and flavor.
#8: Balance Everything
Don’t simply purchased grilling, smoking, or cooking wood and throw it on the fire without thinking about how you want the dish to taste. If you’re using sweeter ingredients, than pick a hardwood that has a bit more boldness to it like ash, beech, hickory or oak. Fruity ingredients to the food doesn’t translate to using a fruity wood. Remember, taste is aroma (http://www.smokinlicious.com/blog/?p=405 ) so any wood fire you use for cooking should smell pleasant and enticing.
If you keep these tips in mind, you’re on the way to having one of the best outdoor cooking seasons ever when everyone wants to always gather at your house!
Banana’s peak season is from January thru April but you can enjoy this fruit anytime of the year! Although you’ve likely enjoyed most of your bananas raw, they are one fruit that works exceptionally well in all types of recipes, from breads, puddings, smoothies, cookies, and muffins, their sweet undertone makes them ideal as a dessert item. With a light, creamy flavor you’ll find bananas are compatible with so many other ingredients like dark and white chocolate, coconut, blueberries, caramel, ginger, honey, sugar, vanilla, and many nuts. The best part, is they work in recipes whether ripe, under ripe, or overripe! The level of ripeness determines what you do with it.
In this series, we’re going to use the Gourmia® hand held food smoker with Piccolo® Chips in Size 8 from SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood Products to get the perfect level of smoke using this quick, easy method. No spending hours over a traditional smoker and taking the risk of your bananas turning to mush! Get ready for a new flavor to your traditional banana for drinks, breakfast items, and desserts.
I’ll be using the Gourmia® hand held food smoker for this series, but any similar unit will work fine. In addition, you will need a cookie sheet, a food storage bag large enough to go over the cookie sheet or you can use plastic wrap, bananas – any variety will do, SmokinLicious® Minuto® Chips in either size #6, #8 or #10, and a lighter or kitchen torch. When selecting your bananas, look for evenly colored yellow bananas flecked with tiny brown specks which indicates ripeness. Avoid those with any visible blemishes as that usually indicates the fruit is bruised.
Be sure you are doing the smoking process in a well ventilated area or even outside. Kitchen hoods work great!
PREPARING THE HAND HELD SMOKER:
Gourmia® Hand-held Smoker
A good rule of thumb prior to starting your smoking process is to be sure everything is in working order. Check the batteries of your hand held food smoker and the butane level of your lighter. You’ll also need a few tablespoons of SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood Products Minuto® Wood Chips available. I’m going to use Cherry today to keep the fruit flavoring marriage.
Attach the smoking tube to the hand held unit and have a lighter at the ready. It is important not to over stuff the bowl of the hand held smoker with chips as a little goes a long way. Now, place the Minuto® wood chips in the bowl of the unit being sure not to stuff. Remember, once lit, these hand held units produce a lot of smoke vapor quickly so everything needs to be set up well.
PREPARING THE BANANAS:
Removing the peel
I have a preference for using a small sheet pan or cookie sheet when I cold smoke fruits. It makes it very easy to expose the fruit to the smoke vapor without the need to rotate the food. As I want to get good wood flavor to the bananas, I am peeling them and cutting them in 2 inch pieces as the recipe I plan to use them in will require smaller segments. I then placed the cut pieces on the sheet pan, and then secure a food storage bag or plastic wrap over the pan. Be sure you are able to draw in the end of the bag as if you’re going to tie it off with a twist tie. The ability to cinch off the bag is what will ensure that the smoke vapor produced is trapped within the food bag and infuses each piece. If using plastic wrap, leave one end loose so you can insert the smoking tube. The length of time you leave the smoke vapor in the bag or under the plastic wrap will determine the strength of the flavor. I plan to incorporate dark chocolate, coconut and nuts with my smoked banana so I will be filling the bag with smoke vapor and allowing it to dissipate on its own. Remember, you have control of when you release the smoke so timing is up to you!
Smoking the Bananas with the Gourmia® Mini Smoker
My Gourmia® hand held food smoker is assembled and filled with Wild Cherry Minuto® wood chips in Size #8 from SmokinLicious®. I now position the smoking tubing within the sealed bag or under the plastic wrap if you are using that, and cinch the excess around the tube to prevent any smoke from exiting while the unit is on. I turn on the hand held smoker and lite the Minuto® wood chips. Once I have enough smoke into the bag, I will shut the unit off, remove the tubing, and seal the bag using a cable tie or tighten the wrap around the sheet pan. Can it get any easier than that? This will let you see just how long smoke vapor can last in a contained area.
THE SMOKY FINISH:
As I see the bag start to clear of the smoke vapor, it’s time to release the cable tie and be ready to remove my smoked banana slices for my recipe. So, what do you do with smoked banana? What can you think of? Essentially any recipe that calls for banana can be considered for smoked banana. I’ll get you started with our upcoming series on Smoked Banana Double Bites that you’ll fall in love with. Oh, don’t forget, smoked bananas freeze exceptionally well so put some away for those days when you want something made with the sweet, creaminess of banana and you’ll have a great start.
We have your top things to consider when purchasing cooking wood ! We are getting closer to peak season in North America for outdoor cooking. What a perfect time to start thinking about what you want to get out of your outdoor cooking time this year so you’ll be able to source the supplies you’ll need and feel confident in your decisions. This includes the wood used for cooking.
There are many companies who offer woods for cooking in the United States. We thought we’d assist you in determining the perfect fit for your needs based on what you’re looking for in the cooking wood as well as a match for your equipment.
Today, we are going to compare 7 popular cooking wood companies who may use the terms cooking woods, grilling woods, wood and BBQ, gourmet cooking woods, or BBQ products. The comparison will include 9 key areas: Established date of the business, where the wood is harvested or sourced from, wood types offered, how the wood is sold, shipping costs, treatment process the wood is exposed to, packaging of the product, if bark is present, and primary claim made by the Company. Following this listing, I will highlight any information that you may want to question further.
Our goal is to arm the purchaser with needed information to ensure that they are getting the perfect wood for the cooking technique(s) they plan to do. Remember, there are different variables needed in a wood for different methods of wood-fired cooking which you can read about further in our blog Taste is Aroma (http://www.smokinlicious.com/blog/?p=405)
CAROLINA COOK WOOD
Established: Unable to locate
Harvest: Local to S. Carolina
Wood Types: Cherry, White Oak, Apple, Hickory, Peach
Product Sold By: Cubic feet for logs/pounds for chunks & chips
Product Packaging: Burlap bags, ½ cord stacked split firewood or on a pallet
Claim: “Our cooking wood is locally harvested, freshly cut and naturally cured”
Notes: All species listed would be native to S. Carolina with Apple and Peach being orchard woods not necessarily forest woods. Although some products are sold by the cubic foot which is the legal method of sale for the wood commodity, others are sold by weight. “Naturally cured” implies air drying so the wood could have laid around for many months.
Established: 1992 under the name Cowboy Charcoal; purchased in 2015 by Duraflame, Inc.
Wood Types: Apple, Hickory, Mesquite
Product Sold By: Cubic inches
Wood Treatment Process: Not specified
Bark On: Yes
Product Packaging: Plastic bags, individual foil tins for chip product
Claim: Long standing charcoal manufacturer under various trade names
Notes: Apple would be an orchard wood rather than forest grown. Mesquite is not native to TN and KY which are the manufacturing locations for the Company, thus, it’s likely these woods are imported into the states. Plastic packaging implies the wood has a very low moisture level which would be in line with a charcoal manufacturing practice.
FRUITA WOOD & BBQ SUPPLY
Established: Unable to locate
Harvest: Not specified
Wood Types: Apple, Cherry, Peach, Apricot, Red Oak, Post Oak, Maple, Hickory, Pecan, Pear, Grape, Plum, Alder, Mesquite, Sassafras
Shipping: Included in pricing
Product Sold By: Weight
Wood Treatment Process: “Naturally cured”
Bark On: Yes
Product Packaging: Cartons
Claim: “The wood out of our valley contained more sugar and moisture than any other wood on the market.”
Notes: It is likely that the woods sources for sale are from areas outside of the state since many of the selections are not native to Colorado. This implies that the Company is merely the seller and not directly involved with the manufacturing process. Wood is sold by weight and is air dried as defined by the term “naturally cured”. Their claim to have woods that “have more sugar and moisture than any others on the market” cannot be validated as hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin composition are relative to the wood species. Plus, they indicate that they “naturally cured” their woods which translates to air drying like you do for seasoning firewood to render out the moisture.
MAINE GRILLING WOODS
Harvest: “Local wood cutters and farmers in Maine”
Wood Types: Acadian Oak, Black Cherry, DownEast Hickory, Golden Alder, Mountain Mesquite, North Atlantic Olive, Northern Beechnut, Northern White Cedar, Sugar Maple, Wild Apple
Shipping: Included in pricing
Product Sold By: Cubic Inches
Wood Treatment Process: Not specified other than “dried”
Bark On: Yes
Product Packaging: Cartons, poly bags
Claim: “Our wood comes fresh from the many small woodlots and family farms in the nearby rural areas of coastal and central Maine”
Notes: I assume that Acadian Oak is a reference to the oak coming from the Acadian forest in Maine while the name “DownEast Hickory” is the company’s nickname since there is no variety of Hickory by that name. I am unclear on the references to North Atlantic Olive as I am aware of no olive trees per se that are native to Maine. Again, Mesquite would not be native to the state of Maine given its poor tolerance to winter conditions.
SHARPE GOURMET COOKING WOODS
Harvest: None specified – indicates they source woods from all over the USA
Shipping: Charge (note: delivered and stacked for firewood sold in S. California)
Product Sold By: Cubic feet
Wood Treatment Process: Not specified
Bark On: Yes
Product Packaging: Plastic bags
Claim: “All Sharpe Gourmet Products are custom processed, packed & shipped from The Woodshed in Orange, California. We search the U.S. for the best quality wood & package the finest chips, chunks and logs to enhance the flavor of your favorite foods! We specialize in exotic, hard to find varieties!”
Notes: Since this Company is sourcing woods from all over, there is likely no consistency in the products moisture or overall condition. It is also unclear who is completing the manufacturing of the wood into the chips, chunks, and logs.
VAUGHN WOOD PRODUCTS
Established: Unable to locate
Harvest: Within a few weeks of being sold but does not state where the wood’s origin is
Claim: “Nearly 95% of all our products come from trees we have harvested within a few weeks of our products being sold. We have high quality and the freshest woods on the market.”
Notes: Although it certainly is possible to harvest fresh wood and heat treat it, as wood, when green can have as much as 50% water by weight, it would take a very long heating process to rid enough moisture from the wood to be able to package it stably in plastic bags.
Claim: “Business has grown from supplying Hickory and Mesquite wood to local barbequers to supplying the world with a multitude of wood flavors and BBQ related items”
Notes: This is a Texas based Company which means some of the species listed are not native to that state. They likely source outside wood supply for the inventory. Online purchases will dictate if shipping is included or is a separate charge based on the online business dealer selected.
There you have it! A place to start. Of course, if you’ve reached us on our site then you already know the answers to above key areas for SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood Products! These companies may provide some opportunity to purchase woods not offered by us so you have a pantry full of options!
Without question, Cherry is one of the most popular woods for wood-fired cooking, particularly when it comes to hot smoking using traditional smoking equipment. Despite information SmokinLicious® has provided on this hardwood species (Put a Cherry on It blog) or (Cherry Wood Question blog), there are still many questions posed and many misunderstandings about this wood. My intention here is to speak on the cherry varieties in North America and ensure that you can make an informed decision when selecting this hardwood for cooking.
I think the one key question is always on the varieties of cherry that people have access to, whether it’s in their own yard or a neighbor’s, or they come across a “firewood” seller along the roadside or an ad online or in print. A good place to start is with a primer on exactly what types of cherry would be common in this scenario and if all of them are suitable for using in cooking.
Black Cherry or Prunus serotine Ehrhart is the most prevalent variety of cherry in North America likely due to its ability to grow in rich bottomlands and moist hillsides as well as drier climates. It is the primary variety used for commercial purposes in the Northeast. Other common names are Wild Black Cherry, Rum Cherry, and Mountain Black Cherry. Black cherry grows from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick west to Southern Quebec and Ontario into Michigan and eastern Minnesota; south to Iowa, extreme eastern Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas, then east to central Florida. You can even find small areas in Georgia, Texas, and Alabama.
Let’s be clear, though. There can be great differences in the wood from state to state. Remember, Black Cherry has a high commercial purpose, meaning, it is harvested for cabinetry, paneling, trim work, etc. To make the wood into those products it must be very dry. Keep that in mind when you see prepackaged cherry under the name Black Cherry as the extremely low moisture level will make this hardwood burn more rapidly.
Prunus pensylvanica L.f. with the common names Pin Cherry, Fire Cherry, Bird Cherry, Wild Red Cherry, and Pigeon Cherry is a variety that does not tend to grow as large as the black cherry mainly due to its role as a cover for wasteland and protector of soil beds. Usually once larger trees establish themselves, this cherry variety will be crowded out. It is a wood commonly harvested in New York and Pennsylvania during timber harvesting (SmokinLicious® sources this variety) so it is plentiful in these areas. Because this variety is not as readily found as Black Cherry, it does not have as popular a selling point for the grade lumber to produce the home construction items listed above. If you can locate this variety of cherry, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at its performance as a cooking wood.
Now, briefly, let me touch on the ornamental cherry trees that usually are encountered within neighborhoods and are the trees most people inquire about for trimming and using in their equipment. All cherry trees are part of the genus Prunus. Most of what is sold as ornamental are the Prunus serotine variety. Don’t be fooled into thinking that cherry means anything cooked with that wood will have a cherry-like flavor! Nothing can be further from the truth. The wood itself will have variation in aroma as you may readily find when you burn wood in a fireplace; burn a fireplace frequently enough and you can pick up the aromatics that come from cherry versus maple versus ash, etc.
Flavor from the wood is directly influenced by the other ingredients incorporated and exposed to the heat. It will NOT produce a cherry flavor even if you had plain meat in the cooking chamber with the wood.
In fact, I dare you to find two people who would describe the flavor of a food item cooked over cherry hardwood with the same description.
If you get a hold of an ornamental cherry tree or you take trimmings from a tree, here are my cautions:
hydrogen cyanide, a poison, is present in the leaves and seed so never burn these when cooking foods as they are very bitter and you increase the potential for a reaction or worse
many ornamental trees are treated with chemicals to keep them free of insects, larvae, and mold – don’t cook with woods exposed to chemicals as this can contribute to a bitter flavor to foods and increase your risk for an allergic reaction
using trimmings that are fresh from the tree can produce an acrid smoke due to the high level of water in the wood. It’s best to allow any collected pieces to dry to ensure some of the water has evaporated
There are 18 Prunus varieties available in North America. With a little research and trial and error, you should be able to source a suitable variety for cooking that will give you wonderful wood-fired food memories.
Smokinlicious® wood blocks are a pristine backdrop for the 10 things to consider when purchasing wood for cooking!!
Many of you who reside in the Southern and Western States have the advantage of being able to engage in wood-fired cooking pretty much whenever you want, regardless of the calendar. You may do so on an LP grill, a charcoal grill, charcoal/wood smoker, or electric grill or smoker. Those of us living in the North and to the East – though we could continue cooking outdoors all year – usually elect to restrict our outdoor cooking methods until temperatures climb above 55°F!
Soon, it will be an even playing field when it comes to enjoying the outdoors for all of us so what better way to get prepared than to start thinking about replenishing supplies for our outdoor living and cooking.
Today, I’m going to give you a guide on the top 10 things to consider when you purchase wood for grilling, smoking, or cooking in general.
#1 Is the wood native to the USA?
If the wood comes from outside the United States, it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad choice but you do need to understand that importing wood products into the USA is highly regulated. Mostly, the wood needs to be certified that it has been treated in some way to ensure no insects are hitching a ride in! Remember, that treatment could be with chemicals or by heat only, so be sure you check the label. This product may turn out to only be ideal for hot temperature cooking like searing and grilling due to the dryness of the wood, or if chemicals were used, it shouldn’t be used at all.
#2 Is the wood 100% hardwood?
It is imperative that any wood you use to cook with, over, or in be only hardwood. Look for labeling that attest to the fact that only hardwood was used as some companies will use a mix of softwood and hardwood or include press woods.
SmokinLicious® Double Fillet Wood Chunks
#3 How does the company get the wood?
Many of the companies who supply wood for cooking have another manufacturing process that produces a scrap or waste product. Often, those leftovers are used in this secondary business of BBQ woods, smoking woods, or cooking woods, to name a few of the labeling names. Check packaging for the source or origin location of the wood and if that company name matches the one on the front of the packaging label.
#4 Are you getting the wood named on the label?
This seems like a no brainer but honestly, wood is no different than olive oil or cheese. You may not be getting 100% of the wood species listed on the label just as we’re finding extra virgin olive oils may not be extra virgin or grated cheese isn’t 100% cheese! If you find packaging that simply states “hardwood” or “mixed hardwoods” then you don’t know what you’re getting. Be sure to read the entire label and check for a reference to 100% of a species.
#5 Is the brand name the actual manufacturer of the wood or just the distributor?
It is very common for brands to be in a business that they don’t participate in from a manufacturing point. Check the small print on the label to see if the manufacturer of the product is listed or if the label simply states who the product is distributed by. Distributors don’t have a lot of history on the product in the box or bag.
#6 Does the seller make claim to a certain cooking method for the wood?
This is key to ensuring you don’t end up with a disaster. If the packaging clearly states the product is for grilling, then don’t try to use it in your smoker or stove top smoking pan. Compatibility of a cooking wood to equipment should factor in the moisture level of the wood. Too dry, and it will just catch fire. Too wet and you won’t be able to grill with it.
#7 Are there any terms such as “naturally cured” or kiln dried on the label?
The terms generally mean that the wood has been air dried for an extended period, much like you do with firewood before using it in your fireplace, or the wood has been exposed to low temperature drying in an enclosed area. Either method means the wood will usually have a moisture level of 4-13% which will not make it ideal for hot smoking techniques. Again, these woods are best for high heat level cooking as dry wood produces a lot of heat. Woods with a moisture level ~20% are ideal for hot smoking.
#8 Does the wood have bark?
Our competitors’ bark on product
Bark is the protector of the tree and so it is like a sponge, absorbing anything that isn’t healthy to the tree. When bark-on wood is exposed to heat, you will get a lot of separation or weakness to the cell structure of the bark. This can loosen during exposure to heat and burn separately causing flare ups in temperature control, sparks, and leave a coating on your equipment. If you have an option, go bark-free!
#9 Does the packaging label reference cooking or merely say “firewood”?
If you planning on going camping and setting up an elevate cooking grate over the fire, or using a Dutch oven for cowboy-style of cooking, then I don’t have a problem with using split firewood for the cooking part. This is in the great outdoors where there is a lot of area to handle the smoke vapor. But if you are using any kind of equipment that has a contained firebox area, please use something other than firewood to cook with. You simply don’t know where the wood has been or what it may contain so cooking within a confined chamber is not the ideal. Firewood can have a lot of resin, sap, and spark.
#10 Does the brand sell the product by weight?
Wood is a commodity that has a lot of variance when it comes to weight due to differences in density, moisture level, and variety of the species. It is the reason why wood cannot be sold by weight legally. Look at the packaging and be sure there is a reference to cubic inches, cubic feet, liters, centimeters, etc. Anything but weight.
There you have it! A guide for your upcoming outdoor cooking season using cooking/grilling woods. Take a bit of time to check the packaging and examine all the information on a website before making your decision. Most importantly ask yourself: Do I want to eat anything cooked over this?