Charcoal that is produce properly is a fuel and provides heat! Wood adds flavor!

Charcoal that is produce properly is a fuel and provides heat! Wood adds flavor!

 

WHY CHARCOAL IS NOT AN INGREDIENT

There are so many methods of getting a message out rapidly given the speed of technology and the many platforms for posting opinions and marketing strategies today.  In doing research for a publication, I came across a statement made by a charcoal company that made me a bit … confused.

An Ingredient Not A Fuel

This company claimed that their charcoal product was an ingredient not a fuel!

Not a fuel?  That statement is in direct conflict to what charcoal manufacture was designed for – heat.

I realize that when used with 100% accuracy, charcoal will produce no smoke and a consistent heat.  We all know that the 100% accuracy is the kicker – pretty much no one is proficient at producing full ignition of the charcoal with stable air intake to maintain the high heat level the product was designed for.  What usually occurs is that we start out with full ignition but given the need for longer cooks, we add charcoal and thus, start to fluctuate the oxygen feed.  Only during those fluctuations does production of smoke occur with charcoal.

Non-Carbonized Wood IS Flavor

Charcoal production is the act of carbonizing wood which means all the volatiles of the wood are burned off until what is left is pure carbon or at least a high percentage of carbon.  There is no refuting that charcoal burns cleaner, hotter, and more evenly than wood only.

Here are where differences occur though when it comes to types of charcoal.

Lump charcoal is made from various scrap wood sources like furniture manufacture, wood packaging manufacture, flooring manufacture, and building material scraps.  Due to the high level of variation in these pieces, most often there is not 100% carbonization of the lump charcoal production.  That’s why you can get some smoke and flavor from that product; when combustion of a non-charred piece occurs, you’ll stimulate organic compounds that produce flavor.  Keep in mind, because scrap wood is used you can get other debris in the purchased bag as often this is scooped up from a site and transferred to a production facility, with the scoop gathering anything that may be in the area.

Traditional charcoal manufacture also known as briquets, is also made from scrap wood, sawdust and wood chip product.  It is known that some manufacturers include a percentage of softwood but for the most part, product is derived from hardwood.  Briquets do have binders added and there are some types that have accelerants added to make them extremely quick to lite.  Personally, I can detect those additives and feel they do change the overall flavor when cooking foods over them but you can make that determination for yourself.

Controlled flavor only comes from wood and the best and safest flavors, from hardwood.   Charcoal is a fuel, it is for heat, and the only flavor it produces is when meat/poultry drippings fall directly on the hot coals and vaporize, stimulating flavors.  Never are flavors stimulated from the briquet or charcoal.

So, Who Is The Ingredient?

If the definition of an ingredient is a substance that contributes or makes up a mixture, then truly hardwood is an ingredient in wood-fired cooking recipes as it gives off its distinct organic flavor compounds that make up the cell structures.  Heat is NOT an ingredient and that is what charcoal is: HEAT!  A claim to be an ingredient just holds no truth.

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Dr Smoke

 our food scale demonstrates Grande Sapore® and Double Filet wood chunks as a guide to adding wood flavoring with our Smokinlicious® products.

Our food scale demonstrates Grande Sapore® and Double Filet wood chunks as a guide to adding wood flavoring with our Smokinlicious® products.

HOW MUCH WOOD TO ADD

WHEN SMOKING

One of the most common questions asked when it comes to smoking foods on a gas grill, traditional charcoal grill or smoker is, how much wood do I need?  Likely the second most common question is where does the wood go?

 Let’s break this down by equipment and method of smoking so you have a good place to start in answering the above questions.

Get A Food Scale

As a reminder, wood should not be sold or referenced by weight so I always recommend you keep a food scale handy to weigh pieces of wood or handfuls of wood chips until you get comfortable with eyeballing your needs.  After working with wood on your specific equipment, you’ll develop a sense of how much will produce a smoke infusion level you and your food guests like.

To make easier understanding of the amount of wood needed, I will be referencing by ounces in my breakdown lists.

The Traditional Smoker

If you adhere to the basic rule of low temperature cooking on a smoker, then you’ll likely be cooking between 225° and 250°F.  You will also likely be using lump hardwood charcoal or traditional charcoal known as briquets, for the fuel or heat.  That is the material that keeps the smoker at a steady temperature.

Regardless of whether you use the snake method, minion method, or simply dump the charcoal in the smoker’s charcoal area, wood will be needed in some form to provide the actual flavor to the foods being smoked.  Why?  Because wood is what gives foods that smoky flavor and distinct texture and appearance.

For the smoker, here is a guide on wood quantity based on food being smoked and for using wood chunks.  Note, you can smoke different foods at the same time with small adjustments to these amounts.

 

Fruits/Vegetables Turkey/Chicken Ribs Pork Shoulder/Brisket
2-4 ounces 4-6 ounces 8 ounces 10 ounces with additional needed during cooking

For placement of the wood chunks, these can go directly on the hot coals with some wood banked to the side to catch as the hot coals spread.

The Charcoal Grill

Essentially, you will be doing the same steps as above for the traditional smoker. The main difference between these two units is that smokers are for hot smoking and generally don’t do well when used for grilling.  In fact, I would highly recommend you never try grilling on a smoker.   Charcoal grills, on the other hand, can do both but you will have to make some airflow adjustments with the unit’s venting to ensure that you can maintain a low temperature consistently for smoking.  You also may find adding a heat insulator like bricks or stones works well to attract and use radiant heat.

Here is the guide on wood quantity based on food being smoked as well as type of wood product.  Remember, a wood chip product will combust faster so you will need more chips on hand when hot smoking.

Wood Fruits/Vegetables Turkey/Chicken Ribs Pork Shoulder/Brisket
Chips 2 ounces 6 ounces 10-12 ounces 16 ounces
Chunks 2-4 ounces 4-6 ounces 8 ounces 10-12 ounces

For placement of the wood chunks, these always go on top of the charcoal.  You should have a piece on the hot coals and then stage some on unlit coals that will ignite during the cooking process and keep the flavor going.

The LP/Gas Grill

I think the key misnomer is that LP/Gas Grills can only use wood chips if you want to attempt to do wood-fired cooking.  That has certainly changed with the advent of dual fuel or multi-purpose grills on the market today, as well as the development and design of diffusers over the gas burners for traditional grills.  The heat covers on burners are the perfect place for wood chunks.

Even if you don’t want to add chunks directly to a component of the grill, you can use a standard wood chip smoker box and simply put chunks in the box versus chips.  Usually these boxes will hold 3-4 small chunks of wood.  The box also aids in capturing ash.

Here are the options for wood placement:

  • wood chips in a foil pouch placed over a hot burner or directly on a heat bar/diffuser
  • wood chips in a smoker box placed on the grill grate with the heat under it
  • wood chunks in a smoker box (these will be small pieces about 2×2-inches) place on a grill grate with the heat under it
  • wood chunks directly on a heat bar/diffuser (3-4 pieces) with the heat on medium

Here is a guide on wood quantity based on food being smoked as well as type of wood product.  Remember, a wood chip product will combust faster so you will need more of it on hand than wood chunks when hot smoking.

Wood Fruits/Vegetables Turkey/Chicken Ribs Pork Shoulder/Brisket
Chips 2 ounces 6 ounces 8 ounces with replenishment needed as they reduce to ash 8 ounces with replenishment needed multiple times
Chunks 2-4 ounces 4-6 ounces 8 ounces – may need to add an 1-2 pieces 8 ounces with replenishment needed at least once

 

Also, keep in mind that if you’ve purchased a “green” wood or air-dried wood, it likely holds more moisture than a kiln dried wood.  This will change the weight.  Pieces of wood that fall into the “green” category, even if they are the same size, will weigh differently.  Work with wood long enough and you’ll develop a feel for what is just about at the perfect weight for wood-fired cooking.

Dual Fuel or Hybrid Grills

With technologies advancing in the grill world you now have so many more options for using charcoal and wood in the convenience of a gas fired grill.  For those looking to have that level of ease but the flavors of charcoal and wood at your fingertips, those equipment manufacturers are to be considered.  Just get ready to make a substantial investment as these models do not come cheap.

We hope this article provided you with new information.  Leave a comment and remember to follow us on social media for additional tips, techniques, recipes, and great photos.  As always, your suggestions on other article topics are always welcome.

Additionally reading you may enjoy:

Beyond Pricing: The Top Things To Consider When Purchasing Cooking Wood

Why Won’t My Wood Chips Smoke!

Dr Smoke- "With our moisture controlled products, you need a lot less wood then you think. Please follow our guide which is specifically directed to the use of our products. If it's in a plastic bag, it is not moisture controlled."

Dr Smoke- “With our moisture controlled products, you need a lot less wood then you think. Please follow our guide which is specifically directed to the use of our products. If it’s in a plastic bag, it is not moisture controlled.”

The grand ole tree beech adds a very European flavor to smoked foods, especially sausage style products.

The grand ole tree beech adds a very European flavor to smoked foods, especially sausage style products.

BEECH IS CERTAINLY “GRAND”

IN EUROPEAN SMOKER WOODS

With 10-13 Beech varieties available throughout the world, this is a hardwood tree that can age to some 300 years.  Visually, they are quite impressive often with distinct “root feet” and gray, smooth bark.  The scientific name is Fagus Grandifolia but in North America we know this as American Beech.

I’m With the White Oaks

Beech is a relative to the White Oak hardwood family.  However, there is some differences in its performance as a fuel wood and flavoring wood.  Beech tends to hold more water or moisture than white oak and for that reason, you need to be sure you are using this for cooking when the level is closer to 20-25% or lower.  Anything higher will produce a brown smoke as the energy generated is used to evaporate the water.  Using Beech with a higher moisture level could produce some off coloring to the foods.

Cooking Specifics

Beech is a very easy hardwood to burn and produces a nice bed of coals.  It does not throw spark when it combusts so it is ideal for all types of equipment including fire pits and camp pits.  It has minimal aroma when burned but produces a balanced flavor profile to foods.

The MBTU level is considered high so know you will get a long cook time from this wood.

Neutral Ways

In my opinion, Beech is one of those hardwoods that is neutral when it comes to food pairing.  I have found the ability to cook vegetables, fish, meats, poultry, and even flavor seasonings and herbs with its flavonoids.  You really can’t miss with this choice.  Knowing it is a hot burning wood and makes a great bed of coals, you should attempt to get all the wood can give from a heat point of view.  Think about raking hot coals to one side of your equipment and cooking foods directly in the coals while the remaining fire cooks more traditional foods on the grate.   Remember, there is value in the wood through the entire stages of combustion.

My Tan Skin

Coloring to foods tends to be on the earthy palette side giving a very pleasant appearance.  Because this wood is so well balanced, you can select both sweet and savory ingredients without causing any muted flavoring.  This is true whether the wood is in chunk, chip or dust form.

This can be a harder hardwood to locate since it is more prevalent in the Northeast, especially New York State but if you can locate it, pick some up and enjoy the many benefits of this grand tree.

Was this post informative?  Leave a comment or suggestion as we’d love to hear from you so we can bring the information you’re looking for.   And don’t forget, follow us and subscribe so you don’t miss anything!­­

Dr Smoke- "Beech wood adds a European flavor while also imparting a unique ember glow."

Dr Smoke- “Beech wood adds a European flavor while also imparting a unique ember glow.”

 

Smoke has many colors and they all mean something special when cooking- learning what they mean could increase your culinary results!

Smoke has many colors and they all mean something special when cooking- learning what they mean could increase your culinary results!

LEARN WHAT THE COLOR MEANS

WHEN COOKING WITH WOOD

You smell it before you see it!  The aroma of foods being cooked outdoors.  When those foods involve cooking over wood – hardwood to be specific – well, it’s a flavor experience that is in a league of its own.

Today, instead of concentrating on the cooking technique of wood-fires, let’s examine the smoke vapor.

Does the color of the smoke being produced mean anything for flavor outcome?

The quick answer: absolutely!  Let’s take a closer look at the finer points of smoke vapor colors.

From Black to Nearly Invisible, The Language of Smoke

There are four basic attributes to smoke when it leaves equipment: volume, velocity, density, and color.  It is the combination of these attributes that reveal so much about the color of smoke vapor or gas produced from combusted wood.

Black Smoke = No Oxygen

Black smoke is unattractive, highly dense, consisting of large particles, and the key sign that the wood is starved for oxygen.  When air intake is left uncorrected, this black smoke vapor can turn foods acrid, bitter, and sooty.  Certainly, this is not the goal of wood-fired cooking!  Don’t cook with smoke that is black in color.  Learn how to control air intake and exhaust for proper air flow and the best smoke vapor infusion for great flavor.

Gray/Brown Smoke = Poor Wood Quality

You understand air flow, the balance needed between air intake and outtake.  Despite you optimal setting of air flow, you still find gray to brown smoke color occurring.  What happened?

Often, this boils down to a case of poor wood choice.  Gray or brown smoke occurs when there is a mixture of moisture and hydrocarbons.  Bark on woods can stimulate brown smoke as this is the driest and most impure part of the wood.  You can also see gray to brown smoke color when there are other stimulants on the wood.  It may be that something dripped on the wood, was deliberately applied to the wood, or was part of the wood’s manufacturing process if the wood is a bye-product from another process.

White Smoke = Initiation of Heat

Virtually all solid materials exposed to combustion emit white smoke.  This means heat is being stimulated to the wood and drying it out.  Remember, moisture is water and when heat finds water it has to induct it to produce steam.  This takes energy from the fire or ignition and can stall full stages of combustion.  Once moisture is evaporated you will observe white smoke to transition to a clearer color, hopefully the infamous blue.  For longer, lower temperature cooking, wait for the white smoke stage to pass before adding the food to the grates.  For hotter temperature cooking like burgers, steaks, etc., go ahead and add to the grates even with white smoke present.  The abundance of aromatics at the white stage will allow for flavor to permeate shorter cook items.

Blue Smoke (or nearly invisible) = Holy Grail

Keeping in mind that you don’t always need an invisible or blue smoke to have a flavorful wood-fired cooking event, this is still the goal when cooking with wood for many hours.  Blue or invisible smoke means that full combustion has occurred to the wood and the lignin compound is releasing the smoky aromatic that will stick to moist food surfaces.  Take advantage of this pristine stage and get cooking for the best wood-fired flavors.

Finding the Perfect Wood with the Perfect Moisture Level

As a final note, don’t be fooled into thinking that using dry wood will save time on waiting for the fire’s heat to evaporate excess water and get to the flavoring.  There is extensive research demonstrating that the ideal smoke composition containing flavor stimulating compounds called carbonyls and phenols is in hardwoods that have a higher moisture rating not the 10% or less that is considered seasoned wood.  Use caution when making the wood purchase.  Knowing key details about the wood prior to purchasing will help to achieve the smoke color that produces maximum flavor.

 

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Learn The Top 8 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking And Grilling With Wood

Dr Smoke- “Wood choices are very important when it comes to generating the proper color of smoke to flavor your foods.”

Add a new twist to your kiwifruit by cold smoking it to enhance its wonderful sweet flavor.

Add a new twist to your kiwifruit by cold smoking it to enhance its wonderful sweet flavor.

KIWIFRUIT GETS SMOKY

Kiwifruit is now in season!  It’s time to use this potassium, vitamin A, C & E enriched fruit in your favorite recipes.   How about doing something to up the flavor level a bit?

Packed with more vitamin C than an orange and as much potassium as a banana, Kiwifruit, more commonly called kiwi, is also a fiber powerhouse.  I’m going to take this creamy fruit favorite to a new flavor level by cold smoking it.

The Ease of Hand Held Food Smoking

To do this technique, you’ll need a hand held food smoker, SmokinLicious® Minuto® Smoking Wood Chips in size 6, 8 or 10, a lighter, a sheet pan, a food bag large enough to go over your sheet pan, and a cable tie.  Then gather together the number of kiwifruit you’d like to infuse with smoke vapor, and have a knife and cutting board available.

Let the Smoke In

Simply cut your kiwifruit in half to allow the smoke vapor to penetrate the fruit flesh.  As kiwifruit is covered by a brown, fuzzy skin, you will need some of the fruit’s meat exposed to get real smoke flavor incorporate.  Otherwise, leaving them whole won’t bring much of a smokiness to the fruit meat.

What I love the most about cold smoking with a hand held food smoker like The Smoking Gun™ Smoker, is how fast this flavoring can be done to any food, beverage, liquid, spice or herb item.  After cutting me kiwifruit in half to allow for maximum penetration of the smoke vapor, I place the cut halves on a sheet pan.  I then slip a food bag over the sheet pan.

A Pinch of Hardwood Is All It Takes

Time to prepare The Smoking Gun™ Smoker or other hand held food smoker you might have.  I take just a pinch of Alder Minuto® Smoker Wood Chips and place in the bowl of the food smoker.  I insert the tubing into the food bag, about ½ way back and gently draw in the end of the bag around the tubing.  I’m now ready to turn the food smoker on and light my Alder chips.

A Cloud of Smoky Goodness

Once the smoke is dispensing at a good rate into the food bag, turn the hand held food smoker off and remove the tubing, cinching the food bag tight.  I attach a cable tie to the end to keep it closed tight.  Here’s a tip: have your cable tie pre-looped for easy application and less chance for any leaking smoke vapor.

Allow the smoke vapor to remain in the bag until dissipated.  If you want an extremely light smoke flavor, then feel free to release the smoke vapor as you see fit.  For me, I will patiently wait for it to clear before releasing the cable tie on the bag.

Containment Is Key

Not only are hand held food smokers, like The Smoking Gun™ Smoker easy to operate and extremely fast at infusing smoke flavor, they generate a lot of smoke that can be easily capture.  Although I’ve used a food bag over a sheet pan, feel free to place the kiwifruit on a plate fit with a dome cover or simply use plastic wrap.  Anything that can trap the smoke is ideal.  You will see as the smoke is produced, it will travel throughout whatever container your using covering the entire food surface.  Although this looks like a huge amount of smoke that would potentially produce strong or bold smoke flavor, I remind you that I am using a very mild hardwood – Alder – to infuse smoke flavor to the kiwifruit.  I highly recommend whenever doing a fruit item – go with a milder hardwood for the infusion process.

15 Minutes to Smoky Goodness

This simple method of using a hand held food smoker with SmokinLicious® Minuto® Smoking Wood Chips in Alder to add a mild smoky flavor to seasonal kiwifruit takes just 15 minutes.  All of the nutritional benefits remain in this healthy fruit; rich in potassium, vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber.  Think about all the things you can do with this super fruit: add it to a smoothie, cut it up for fruit salad, pair it with a grain like quinoa, rice, or farro, or simply enjoy it as is.   For me, I’m thinking of entertaining so I will start with a cocktail recipe.

Did you like this idea?  If so, leave us a comment and let us know what you would love to see next.  Be sure to follow and subscribe to us as we bring you innovative ideas for adding wood-fired flavoring to all types of foods.  Check in next for my Smoked Kiwi Caipiroska, a flavorful cocktail featuring kiwifruit, mint and vodka.

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Dr Smoke- “Smoked kiwi is a great dessert, snack, or it can be added to your breakfast smoothie to provide some added flavors.”

Adding wood chunks to your charcoal can produce smoky results

TURN YOUR CHARCOAL GRILL INTO A SMOKER

Let’s be honest.  When you bought that charcoal grill you were likely thinking that you could both grill and smoke without needing to add anything.  Soon, you realized, that just wasn’t the case.  Now, you’re contemplating whether you need to purchase a smoker.  Well, hold on the shopping trip until you read this.

You can turn your charcoal grill into a smoker with these simple steps!

Any Charcoal Unit Will Smoke

Obviously, if you own a little tailgate model of a charcoal grill, you won’t be doing multiple slabs of ribs or a full packer cut brisket on that unit.  But you can smoke on any charcoal grill if you follow some simple steps and afford yourself enough time to do it right.

How To Add Smoking Woods to the Charcoal Grill

Essentially, when you smoke on a charcoal grill you are roasting outdoors like you do in your conventional oven.  If you use a good quality hardwood charcoal, you will get some flavor from that product but not like true smoked foods you may have experienced in your favorite barbecue restaurant.  That bolder smokey flavor only comes from hardwoods.

Picking Your Fuel and Smoke Flavor

There are three primary fuel types you can use in your charcoal grill: briquettes with instant lite, briquettes, and lump hardwood charcoal.  Right off the bat, I’m going to tell you to eliminate the briquettes with instant lite.  That is a product that contains an accelerant or petroleum product to make it quick lighting.  Unfortunately, it adds a very distinct, unpleasant component to the cooking process that can transfer off-flavors to your foods.  Stick with plain briquettes or lump hardwood charcoal.  Just note, that you likely will find a bit more ash developing faster with lump hardwood charcoals than you would with briquettes.

Picking the wood for smoke flavor has a few rules you should adhere to: only use hardwoods, try to limit the bark on the wood or go bark-free for the best temperature control, find woods that have some measurable moisture level so they smolder – around the 20% level is ideal, and use chunks of wood versus chips.

Indirect Cooking Method

What truly makes for barbecue and not just grilling is using the indirect method of cooking.  There are many ways to set up a two-zone cooking method which is also referred to as indirect cooking.  Often, what you are cooking and the quantity will determine the setup of the fuel.

There are two popular methods that work the best: banking the charcoal to one side of the unit with the food going on the unlit side and putting the charcoal on each side of the unit with the food going in the middle where no charcoal is present.

For those that need a bit more help keeping everything where it’s supposed to go, there is an accessory called the Slow ‘N Sear that works well with kettle grills and includes a trough that holds water.  This allows you to place foods on the upper grates as well as below on the opposite side of the charcoal.  It certainly will give you ample room to cook many pounds of meat.

Water Keeps Everything Moist

To ensure that any protein cooked on the grill remains moist and tender, include a water pan in your set up.  This is easily done by purchasing readily available disposable foil pans from the discount store.  The shape and size will be dependent on your actual grill.  I like to add warm water to the water pan so the grill does not have to exert energy to heat up the water, which takes heat away from the unit.  Remember, the water will be evaporating during the cooking process so have additional water available if it depletes before the cooking is complete.  Water pans are set in the base of the unit on the charcoal free side, directly under the food.  This will also act as a drip pan, catching all those juices as well.

Chimney Starter for Easy Lighting

Once you have your charcoal set up, the water pan laying in the charcoal free section, it’s time to light the charcoal.  The easiest way to do this and ensure that the grill gets hot pretty fast is to light a chimney starter.  These are portable containers made of metal that allow you to pour a couple of pounds of charcoal into and light from vent openings at the base.  Usually these devices require you to place newspaper at the base which is then lit with a lighter to ignite the cold charcoal.  I skip the newspaper step and simply use a MAP gas canister with easy operating torch head to light the charcoal.  The best part is I can leave the torch under the chimney starter on a safe surface such as concrete, while I finish the grill set up.  Once the charcoal at the bottom of the chimney starter is lit, I remove the torch and allow it to burn up through the rest of the charcoal.  Once the pieces are grayed over and showing hot embers, it’s ready to pour into the grill’s charcoal area.  I carefully pour the hot coals on top of the unlit coals.  This will ensure plenty of fuel during the cooking process.  Next, 3-4 smoker wood chunks are placed on the hot coal area.  I usually disperse these with a couple of inches between pieces.

Moist Cold Surfaces Attract Smoke Vapor

With the grill set up complete, the hot coals going and the smoker wood chunks beginning to smolder, it’s time for the meat.  Always take the prepared meat directly from the refrigerator to the grill COLD!  Cold foods will attract smoke vapor faster, allowing the vapor to condense on the food’s surface.  The water pan will ensure that moisture remains within the grill which also will ensure attraction of the smoke vapor.

Vent Settings Guarantee Temperature Control!

Although charcoal as a fuel also aides in temperature control, I’m going to speak about air control.   To sustain fire or combustion, you need oxygen flowing into the grill, stimulating the hot coals.  This is the intake damper.  Close it completely, and you’ll put the fire out and lose all temperature.  Open it wide and you’ll increase the temperature as the coals get stimulated for more heat.

On the opposing end is the exhaust damper also called a vent or flue/chimney.  This vent is what pulls in the oxygen through the lower intake damper.  Yes, smoke is expelled through the exhaust vent but heat as well as the gases that are derived from the combustion of the fuel material including the hardwood smoker chunks are also vented.  The exhaust vent needs to be partially open all the time.  If the temperature starts to fall, open the intake damper wider.  If the temperature is too high, reduce the oxygen to the fire by closing the intake damper.

Now, make your shopping list for your favorite foods to smoke and set up that charcoal grill for a fabulous flavorful day.  It’s really that simple!

Recommended Additional Reading:

The Precious Forest

Is Heartwood Really The ‘Heart’ Of The Tree?

10 Things To Consider Before Purchasing Wood For Cooking, Grilling & Smoking

 

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Unfortunately many people use wood for grilling and smoking which includes common lichen mold as seen in this picture

Learn why moldy hardwood is unfit for cooking and smoking food

SHOULD YOU GRILL WITH MOLDY WOODS?

There are many opinions out there in the BBQ world when it comes to the wood used for smoking and grilling.  Some people preach it doesn’t matter where the wood comes from as long as it isn’t a treated lumber.  Comments include, “don’t worry if there are bugs or bug holes – if they’re in there, they’ll just burn up”, or “fires are hot so anything on the wood just burns”.

But you should worry.  Here’s why.

In the USA, we try hard to re-purpose items so our landfills aren’t overflowing.  What we fail to do, however, is ponder the history of that re-purposed item.  Let’s take the common wooden pallet for example.

Wooden pallets have enjoyed a rebirth with the DIY generation.  Everything from headboards and wine racks, to dining tables and wedding guest books have been constructed from the used wooden pallet.  What should be widely discussed, is the potential for toxic exposure to this wood item.  Wood pallets, just like scrap woods, can harbor mold spores as well as chemical residue if they were used to transport items containing or exposed to chemical toxins.  Use these discarded items for cooking wood and you introduce a whole host of new risks.

A Primer on Mold

Mold growth is stimulated by three specific needs:

#1 Moisture: Mold spores need moist or damp locations to grow

#2 Food Source: Mold spores need food to survive and they love porous materials

#3 Optimal Temperature: Mold spores can thrive in temperatures from 32° to 120°F and have the highest stimulation rate in temperatures of 70-90°F.  Yes, even at the freezing mark, mold spores don’t die, they simply go dormant.

The Look of Mold

Mold has a range of appearances but on wood is mostly reveals itself as a fuzzy or discolored layer on the surface of the wood.  Molds are a type of fungus and they grow on wood when the three conditions mentioned above combine.  Molds feed on the wood nutrients (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin compounds) without weakening the wood itself.

Why is Mold a Risk

Molds produce millions of microscopic spores that can be carried in the air.  Mold spores are around us everywhere.  They search for the ideal surfaces to land on and grow.  When they increase in concentration, allergic reactions are triggered in sensitive individuals.   Expand this concentration to multiple locations and you can become highly sick.

Cooking with Moldy Wood

You now know the 3 parameters needed for mold spores to concentrate and thrive.  Why would cooking with moldy wood be of concern if you’re simply throwing them into hot coals or exposing them to gas fueled heating elements?

Because mold spores can survive combustion!

Molds can produce mycotoxins, toxic chemicals that are present on spores and small fragments of mold and fungus that are released in the air.  When moldy wood is introduced to fire, these toxins are released into the air and can cause anyone around the equipment to experience coughing, sneezing, eye and throat irritation.  If a preexisting condition like asthma is present, symptoms will be worse.  This can lead to a compromised lung health and disease.

Remember, mold looks for moisture environments so if you are cooking with moldy wood, you take the risk of the airborne spores taking harbor on the food being cooked over that wood.  The moist surface of the food is a perfect visiting ground.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

The biggest challenge is it is almost impossible to distinguish toxic molds from non-toxic which is why I recommend that you never use moldy woods for cooking.  Some types of molds won’t reveal themselves on the outside of the wood but will be present within the interior wood cells.  It is always best to err on the side of caution and dispose of moldy wood or burn it in an outdoor setting not being used for cooking.

Get Rid of Ash

I highly recommend that you safely dispose of all ash from previous wood-fired cooking to decrease the risk of mold spores and fragments.  As mentioned above, mold spores can survive combustion and so they can remain active in ashes.  Don’t leave old ash laying around and certainly not within the equipment.

Finding hardwoods at the ideal moisture level, storing the woods in a well ventilated area, and rotating wood to circulate air exchange are good practices to help you stay safe during the outdoor cooking season and maintain healthy lung function for life.

Learn 10 Things to Consider Before You Purchase Wood For Cooking

Dr Smoke- “Only use pristine bark-free wood from Smokinlicious®.”

showing how to add smoking wood chunks over the difusser will add wood flavor to any LP grill

Gas grill technique for adding smoking wood chunks to develop a smoke flavor to your cooking.

HOW TO TURN YOUR LP/GAS GRILL INTO A SMOKER

This is the year!  You made a promise to yourself, family and friends that this outdoor cooking season, you were going to bring more flavor to meals cooked on the grill by incorporating smoking wood and grilling wood.  All you need to know is, what are the options for setting up the grill for this type of cooking without purchasing a smoker?

We have the answer and lots of options to utilize your existing equipment!

LP/Gas Grills of All Types

There is a great deal of variation in LP/Gas Grilling equipment in terms of grilling surface space, number of burners, BTU rating, etc.  Know up front, that this will play into how frequently you need to replenish grilling or smoking wood or even to monitor the foods being smoked on the grill.  Essentially, these tips will work on any brand/model that you may own.

How To Add Grilling Woods to the LP/Gas Grill

Heat diffusers are commonly found on newer models of grills.  They are made of high heat tolerant metal and cover the actual burners of the unit.  Their purpose is to ensure even heat distribution throughout the grill so both radiant and conductive heat are maximized.

Wood Chunks On The Diffusers

If you have a grill model that has heat diffusers (remember, they may go by other names like flavorizer bars, flame tamers, heat plates, burner shields and heat distributors) then you’re ready to use smoking wood chunks on your unit!  Yes, I said smoking chunks.  This is by far the easiest method of getting true smoke flavor to the foods being cooked.  Plus, you can set up an indirect method of cooking using smoking chunks.

You will need 3-4 wood chunks sized to fit over your heat diffusers and under the grill grate when set in place.  A 2x2x3-inch size fits most units and these should have some measurable moisture level; at least 20% moisture is ideal meaning you won’t need to presoak the wood.  If you have an old grill model before heat diffusers were standard, you can still use smoking wood chunks by placing them in a smoker box.  These boxes will generally fit 3-4 chunks of the size referenced above but be sure to use a good quality box.  My preference is cast iron.  Insert the chunks into the smoker box and leave the lid off!

 Indirect Cooking Method

What truly makes for barbecue and not just grilling or smoking on an LP/Gas unit is using the indirect method of cooking.  The smoking wood chunks will be set on a burner that is turned on to medium or medium-high heat depending on the BTU level of your unit.  The higher the BTU level, use a medium setting.  Overall, you want the grill’s temperature to average 225-250° F for cooking traditional BBQ items like ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, and poultry.  If using the smoker box, you will place the box on the grill grate of the side with the burner lit.  My preference is, if doing very large cuts of meat, to turn on two burners if you have a 3-burner or more unit.  The foods will be placed on the unlit side of the grill.

Water Keeps Everything Moist

To ensure that any meat or poultry cooked on the grill remains moist and tender, include a water pan or two in your set up.  This is easily done by purchasing readily available disposable pie tins from the discount store.  I like to add warm to hot water so the grill does not have to exert much energy to heat up the water, which takes heat away from the unit.  Remember, the water will be evaporating during the cooking or smoking process so have additional water available if it depletes before the cooking is complete.  Water pans are set on the unlit burner side of the grill, directly under the food.  This will also act as a drip pan, catching all those juices.

Moist Cold Surfaces Attract Smoke Vapor

You have your smoking wood chunks on the lit burner, your water pans on the unlit burner, the grill’s temperature is holding steady, the grill grate has been in place taking on heat – we’re now ready for the meat.  Always take the prepared meat directly from the refrigerator to the grill COLD!  Cold foods will attract smoke vapor faster, allowing the vapor to condense on the food’s surface.  A moist surface also help attract the smoke so feel free to keep a spray bottle of water to spritz your meat’s surface as needed, though this often is not needed.

Leave the Lid Alone!

Remember, this isn’t traditional grilling on the grill.  We are doing barbecue smoking using an indirect method of cooking.  Keep the lid closed!  Every time you do so, you release heat, smoke, and moisture.  What you do need to watch closely is the temperature of your unit as the consistent temperature is what ensures an evenly cooked food item, as well as a tender, moist outcome.

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Recommended Additional Reading:

Boost Up The Flavor Of Your Smoker Box

Can Hardwood Be Too Dry For Cooking?

Dr Smoke- “Get the most out of your LP gas grill by adding smoking wood.”

The different cooking methods with wood chips versus chunks

Smoking wood chips burn up too fast, while the smoking wood chunks last

 

WHY WON’T MY WOOD CHIPS SMOKE??

We’ve all been there!  You purposely made a list of all the things you would need for the weekend BBQ.  Carefully selected the meat, cleaned the grill or smoker the weekend before, and purchased the wood chips to impart that great flavoring you can only get from hardwood!  You marinated the meat 24 hours ahead and woke up on grill day full of excitement.

So, what happened?

Instead of having the best, most flavorful meal you had to settle for an ordinary grill day with no special flare.

Why?

The wood chips failed to smoke.  Or, worse yet, they just burned up in minutes.

It’s time you learned exactly what to do with those wood chips so this never happens again!

Tip #1: Understand the basics of hardwood

Wood is loaded with water.  It’s only after the tree is cut that a loss of water or moisture occurs as there are two types of moisture content in wood: free water which is water in the cell cavities and bound water which is water held in the cell walls.

Try to cook or grill with a wood that has been fresh cut and you’ll likely have a very bad meal; acrid undertones and black, sooty color.   Wet wood stimulates acrid smoke vapor.

Now, go the opposite direction.  Take a wood that is dry, as in it’s too low to register on a moisture meter, and you have a full heat generator.  This is what we want in the fireplace or fire pit to keep us warm, not in the grill, as it will simply generate too much heat and produce overdone, dry foods.

Tip #2: Understand Oxygen Flow

Even when using equipment with fuel assist like LP, gas or electric, you still need to be aware of air flow.  Quality equipment is always designed with insulation in mind to keep heat from escaping but all equipment has some level of venting built in.  Whenever you use grilling or smoking woods with equipment, you need to find the balance between air intake (oxygen) and exhaust damper or vent.

Some manufacturers will build in the ideal location for the wood chips by incorporating a drawer.  Even if you don’t have this option on your grill, you can still provide the perfect spot for producing combustion to the wood by simply placing your wood chip container on or above the heat source.  That’s it!  Often this can be accomplished by putting your container right on the heat diffuser or bar that is under the grill grate.

Tip #3: Understand What the Lid is For

Have you ever wondered why charcoal grills have a completely removable lid while LP/Gas and Infrared grills always have a hinged lid that is permanently attached?

The reason is very basic; grill grates, regardless of material construction, are designed to absorb heat and produce conduction heat where they contact the food items (conducting heat from the grate to the food).  The lid of the grill reflects the heat back to the food grates in what is termed convection heat (transferring heat by air flow or through a liquid medium like water (think boiling eggs).  These grills maintain vents somewhere on or near the lid to vent out the gases from the LP or natural gas used to operate the grill.  Remember, LP needs to be mixed with air to burn, thus, the reason for all those vents on LP grills!

Here’s the thing – if you keep opening the lid while using wood chips, you change the dynamic of the heat absorption forcing the unit to work harder to produce both conductive and convection heat.  Plus, you will keep altering the stages of combustion of the wood chips.  Leave the lid alone!

Tip #4: Don’t Wet the Wood Chips

I hear this all the time that the worry with wood chip use on a grill is that they will burn too fast.  Let’s break this down so you understand just what happens when smoke vapor is produced from wood material.

The drier the wood the faster it will go through the stages of combustion and the more heat it will produce.  If you have wood that is without measurable moisture, you will get limited or no smoke production, just heat.  You need to purchase wood chips that have some measurable moisture to work effectively.  Chips labeled as kiln dried are likely too dry for producing smoke vapor.

Tip #5: Step Up from Chips to Chunks

Maybe it’s time to abandon wood chips all together in favor of bigger pieces of wood.  Here’s how to know what would work better:

If you’re cooking one item and it is a short cook time, then chips will serve you well.  If, however, you are planning on loading the grill with an assortment of foods say sausage, chicken, corn, peppers, ribs, etc., then you may want to consider using wood chunks either directly on the grill’s diffusers or in a wood chip metal box (learn how to do this).  These pieces, being large and dense, will burn longer giving off more smoke, which means less work for you to replenish.  Plus, you can do different types of wood chunks all at the same time (one cherry, one maple, one hickory … you get the point).

Success with wood chips can be had if you learn to purchase wood with some moisture, use the wood dry (no pre-soaking), keep the wood over the heat source of the equipment so it can combust, and use the right type of wood product – chips versus chunks – for the length of cook time.

Then get ready to truly have the best grill day ever!

10 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PURCHASING WOOD FOR COOKING, GRILLING & SMOKING

Dr Smoke- “Our moisture controlled manufacturing process enables the generation of great smoke.”

Descriptive guide for women maning the grill

Woman ‘Man’-ing the Grill- Tools are Essential

 

Part one of the Audio:

Part two of the the Audio:

It’s long been the equipment associated with the guys.  Perhaps it’s due to the primal start of cooking over live fire which initially was a man’s skill.  Hunt the animal and cook it on fire and hot coals.

Recently, the trend has begun to turn around in favor of more women grilling components of a meal on the grill.  In fact, it’s not just the traditional LP/gas grill but charcoal grills as well, as women take their new recipe and technique finds out of the traditional indoor kitchen and to the outdoors.

Just Because It’s Outside Doesn’t Change The Purpose

There is no question that outdoor grilling equipment has evolved into something of fantasy.  We now have choices beyond the standard LP, natural gas, charcoal, and electric grills.  Many brands are now featuring dual fuel cooking, meaning they may have gas or electric assist but use wood and/or charcoal for heat and flavor!

What does this mean for the ladies who want to do more outdoor cooking on the grill?

 Versatility!  It is so easy to cook an entire meal on the grill without it taking several hours or more.

Accessorize!

The key to ensuring that an entire meal can be cooked on the grill is to have the right tools and that includes some accessory items.  Let’s look at each recommended item and answer the question why it’s important to the woman’s full meal grill event.

#1 Grill Grate Accessories:

First up, the grill pan, grill basket or grill topper.  These are perfect for vegetables and fruits making it so easy to ensure that the food doesn’t stick to the grill grates and that every piece gets cooked evenly.  Plus, since many grills are now sold with a side burner, you can always steam or par boil tougher vegetables first, then transfer to the grill pan/basket/topper.  Or, use that side burner to make rice for a healthy starch side.  Don’t have a side burner on your grill or are using a charcoal grill?  Then buy a butane burner!  These are so inexpensive yet give you another cooking option to get everything ready at the same time.

#2 Easy Charcoal Lighting:

If you don’t know what a chimney starter is, time to learn.  The charcoal chimney starter is the best way to light a charcoal fire.  Although these traditionally use newspaper at the bottom (for ignition) and load charcoal chunks (can be briquettes or lump) into the body of the unit, I take a simple method of lighting my chimney.  I load with my favorite charcoal and use a butane torch under the unit to light – no newspaper needed.  This allows me to leave the butane on auto fire for a few minutes to ensure the lower coals are lit.  Simply pull the torch out, shake the chimney while wearing fire gloves, and return to a heat safe surface until the top coals turn white-gray.  Oh, and you can always light the chimney off that side burner too!

#3 Purchase 2 Thermometers

Stop guessing at when things are done!  You need to invest in 2 quality thermometers; one for the grill/smoker and one instant-read for the food.  Be sure the thermometers you invest in can take a reading in 5 seconds or less, have at least a 4-inch probe for thicker cuts of meat, and have cables that are durable (if you don’t go with a wireless), especially for equipment thermometers that are placed through venting holes or under lids.

#4 Silicone

Anything made from silicone will become a lifesaver at the grill.  Silicone pot handle covers, spatulas, heat resistant tongs – you get the idea.  This material can handle the high heat of grills so stock up on those items you’ll need and use the most.  Suggestions? Tongs, pot handle covers, spatulas, spoons, mat.

Diversify!

Grilling does not necessarily mean you must put all foods on the grill grates.  Use high heat cookware to help you out.  Think cast iron or high heat clay and enamels meant for the grill.  These are perfect for starting one pot wonders like legumes, pasta dishes, even sauces.  With a roomy enough grill, you can fit many different items – grill pan/basket, Dutch oven, and rib racks.  Don’t forget most grills come equipped with a lower and upper grill rack so more fragile items that need less heat can go to the top.  Here’s some tips on food to cooking equipment match:

Tip #1: Cast Iron and Charcoal

Cast iron is, without question, the best material for cooking directly in the coals.  Here’s a tip – if you have an outdoor fireplace or even a fire pit that uses wood, you can do this method of cooking by placing your cast iron skillet or Dutch oven directly in the coals.  Keep in mind, I said coals, not flame.  Coals have a very high BTU rating and can cook foods within cast iron as if they are in the oven.  Just be sure to pack the hot coals around the cast iron after placing the pan in the coal bed.  Perfect items to try: vegetable medley, roasted potato, curry dishes, au gratin dishes.

Tip #2: Cast Iron and LP/Gas Grill

Just like having the side burner on a grill, cast iron on the grill is like having an extra pot on the stove.  Cast iron comes in lots of sizes and cookware type: saucepan, skillet, Dutch oven.  Anything you would traditionally make in cookware on the stove can be done on the grill.  The key is to ensure that you have this on a section of the grill that isn’t set to “high”, as cast iron holds heat.

Tip #3: The Upper Grill Rack

Though small in overall size, the upper grill rack is designed for those fragile items or for items that require simple warming.  Think melting butter for vegetables, heating sauces, warming bread and rolls.  Use it!  It can be of great value to keep you from needing anything indoors.

Tip #4: The Rotisserie

If you have a grill with a rotisserie, use it!  Keep in mind, as that item turns on that rod, the meat or poultry renders some fantastic juices.  Catch them!  Put a high heat pan under the food item with some great vegetables and use the drippings to add superb flavor to the cooking process.

Flavor It Up!

Now, let’s be clear!  Unless you’ve invested in a dual fuel or hybrid grill, one that allows you to use charcoal and/or smoking wood, most standard LP grills are just that: grills not smokers.  If you don’t have a hybrid but want to get some smoking woods flavoring to your foods, then start thinking of adding charcoal and wood chunks!  Yes, you heard me right.  Wood Chunks vs. woodchips which was the product of choice for years with LP grills.

Why Smoking Wood Chunks?

Most grills today are designed with covers for the gas burners to diffuse the heat more evenly.  They go by a lot of names: heat distributors, flame tamers, heat plates, burner shields, flavorizer bars.  The addition to the traditional LP grill is the reason why you can use smoking wood chunks.  Simply place a few small wood chunks under the grill grate right on top of the heat diffuser.  Be sure you only put chunks on a burner you will ignite.  Replace the grill grate and you’re ready to go!  And, yes, you will get real wood smoke vapor to flavor whatever you’re cooking on the grill.  I promise!

Final Points

“Man”-ing the grill is no different than planning a meal in your conventional kitchen.  Pick out the components of the meal and decide what needs to cook where on the grill: directly on the grate, on the rotisserie, in cast iron, on the coals.  If doing a meat, be sure to marinate 6 hours or best, overnight, to ensure a moist outcome and to reduce cooking time.

Have everything prepped including the grilling tools you will need and this is a walk in the park for the woman that is use to planning daily meals for her family.  The best part, you can enjoy more of those great warm days and not sweat in the confines of the hot summer kitchen!

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Dr Smoke

Dr. Smoke- “Behind every good grill is a woman.”

Showing the technique on how to add wood chips over charcoal to enhance the flavor of any meat, fish, or vegetable being cooked

Adding grill wood chips to charcoal brings added flavor to any cooking category

The questions are quite frequent: “Since (the equipment) uses lump charcoal, do you need to add wood for smoke flavor?” “Do wood chips or chunks work best if they are needed or desired?”  “Generally, how much lump charcoal does equipment use for 10 hours of smoke?”

Learn What To Do

The intent today is to give you a comfort with cooking fuel woods.  That includes charwood, charcoal, smoking wood chunks, and charcoal wood chips in all shapes and sizes.  Know that all these products are made from wood – hardwood to be specific since you never want to cook with any other type.  But, differences do exist between products.

Product Differences

Although the products listed above have their beginnings as hardwood trees, there are some noted differences between the products.

Charcoals:  Yes, charcoal starts out as wood but not all charcoals are created equally.  There are 2 distinct types of charcoal: briquettes and lump hardwood.  The key difference?

Briquettes are not pure charcoal but rather a combination of charcoal, coal, starch used as a binder, sawdust, and sodium nitrate for ease of lighting.  And, yes, that means they are not a “natural, organic” product.  In fact, some brands are manufactured with lighter fluid as an ingredient.

Lump hardwood charcoal is 100% hardwood that is sourced from flooring, building material, saw mill, and furniture manufacturers as a scrap wood or bye product.  With the use of these materials, a great deal of variation in the size of the charcoal is generated which translates to variation in carbonization of the wood.  Often, there is more carbon ash in this type of charcoal but as a 100% wood product, it is viewed as a “natural” product.  Keep in mind, many lump hardwood charcoals cannot be sold as a single wood type charcoal due to the production from scrap and bye product woods, so “mixed” hardwood is the general product.

Charcoals do not produce smoke or flavor.  They are intended strictly for heat with the output level dependent on the brand.

Charwood: Often described as possessing the consistency of briquettes and the organic benefits of lump charcoal, charwood is a term reserved for those products that have a higher carbonization level which makes them much more efficient as a fuel source.

Smoking Wood Chunks & Smoking Wood Chips: These are pure hardwood that can be used for both heat and flavor.  The difficulty?  Moisture.  All hardwood contains water and, depending on the level, ease of lighting and ability to burn or combust will vary.  This is the primary reason why most people do not use only wood when cooking but a combination of charcoal and wood.  The bigger reason?  Wood is the flavor producer!

So now that you know charcoal is for heat and hardwood is for flavor, how to you use both together for perfection in outdoor cooking?

 If you have a piece of equipment that can use both charcoal and wood, you’re on your way to absolute fantastic flavor.

Tips For Combining Charcoal and Hardwood

  • When adding both charcoal and hardwood, be sure to include a water pan to the equipment as humidity increases the smoky flavoring, helps to tenderize meat by breaking down collagen, and can give a better meat yield
  • A little wood goes a long way in terms of flavor so put only a few pieces to start – you can always add more
  • If you intended to cook for a long time, say a muscle meat like pork shoulder, then it’s important to have unlit charcoal within the equipment so that the few pounds of lit charcoal will gradually ignite the unlit and maintain the cooking temperature
  • Just like the unlit charcoal, you can place wood pieces (just a few now) along the unlit charcoal path so flavor is also time released
  • If meat/poultry juice will drip directly into the charcoal area (you have no drip pan in place) then note that this will stimulate smoke vapor off the hot coals as drippings contain sugars, proteins, oils and the ingredients used directly on the food item, meaning you may not need to use as much wood for smoky flavors
  • The choice of smoking wood chunks or charcoal wood chips is total up to the cook – chunks will combust longer than charcoal chips but if you’re looking for faster combustion for smoke vapor, chips can fit that need
  • Select a hardwood with a moisture level of 20-25% for maximum flavor infusion
  • Amount of coals needed for the heat/temperature is dependent on the brand of charcoal, method of cooking, and equipment. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 10 lbs. available for a full day cook

 Now your armed with the basics on cooking fuels and why a combination of products often is the best choice!

Learn 10 Things To Consider Before Purchasing Wood For Cooking, Grilling & Smoking

As always, we’d love to start a conversation so leave a comment.

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Dr Smoke “A grill is just a grill until you add SmokinLicious® smoking wood chips.”

The sign is the entrance to the allegheny national forest which includes 513,175 acres or 801.8 square acres and includes the allegheny reservoir natural habitat

This Forest Covers 513,175 acres (801.8 square miles) and includes the Allegheny Reservoir Natural Habitat.

THE PRECIOUS FOREST

It is likely when you have your heart set on some wood-fired cooked foods that you give little attention to the wood that will be required for that cooking event.  You may have seen wood smoker chips or chunks available in your local box store and decided that you can always pick those up last minute, to be assured your plans aren’t foiled. Or, you simply plan to go with charcoal chips without considering that this product is made from wood as well.

STOP and ponder this for a moment – Do you realize where exactly those wood products come from?

Unless you are in a direct county of involvement, you likely haven not realized the invasions that are occurring readily to our forests, woodlots, and home landscapes.

To date, here are some of the diseases and infestations we are battling in the United States:

  • Emerald Ash Borer
  • Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
  • Whitebark Pine Beatle
  • Beech Bark Disease
  • Dutch Elm Disease
  • Butternut Canker
  • Asian Longhorn Beetle
  • Dogwood Anthracnose
  • Gypsy Moth
  • Balsam Woolly Adelgid
  • Laurel Wilt disease
  • Sirex Wood Wasp
  • Sudden Oak Death
  • Polyphagous & Kuroshio Shot Hole Borer affecting sycamores, willows, oaks, maples (including Boxelder), and commercial avocado trees.

EVERY state in the US has battled imported forest pests with the hardest hit being New York State followed closely by MA, WI, IL, VA, MI, NJ, OH, and CA.  Every decade, 25 new insect pests are established in the US which can lead for potential decimate of an entire tree species in just decades.

So why if you are a lover of BBQ smoking chips or BBQ wood chunks (smoking using woodchunks or woodchips) or other wood fired foods, should issues with bugs be of concern?  Because cooking by fire is the oldest known cooking method for human kind.  Right now, you may simply enjoy 3 benefits of trees: for shade, for beauty (viewing), and for flavor to foods cooked on your grill/smoker.

But there are many other benefits:

  • Decrease atmospheric carbon by capturing and storing CO2
  • Improve air quality by filtering pollutants and releasing oxygen
  • Reduce storm water runoff and pollutants entering local water bodies
  • Increase property values by 3-7%

The pollutant removal alone that trees are responsible for provides a human health benefit worth $6.8 billion per year!  Trees keep us alive!

As of December 2016, NYS DEC has detected increased prevalence of Oak Wilt in the state which has no known treatment to contain and kill this fungus.  Oak is one of the most popular hardwoods for wood-fired cooking methods.

Please, take the time to source wood for cooking from reputable sources and follow the laws in place in your specific state to ensure we can limit the spread of these pests and diseases, and continue to enjoy the oldest method of cooking: by fire!

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Dr Smoke- “Appreciate our renewable resource.”

Example of the layers that form a tree

Cross section of a harvested hard wood tree

 

Heartwood

By now you’ve come to recognize SmokinLicious® Gourmet Wood Products as the Company that produces it’s cooking wood products from only heartwood.  Yet, there are still many questions out there as to what that means for the individual using our products.  Is heartwood where all the life forces of the tree thrive?

 The short answer is, no, but there are benefits to using woods derived from the heartwood of the tree for cooking.  Let’s explore!

Mini molecular-biology course: wood is an organic material that is porous and fibrous.  It contains hundreds of organic compounds but there are three primary compounds responsible for the cell construction in trees: Cellulose which is a glucose that is tasteless and odorless but comprises 40-50% of the cell.  It is crystalline so it provides for the strength of the cell wall.  Hemicellulose is also a glucose and carbohydrate but unlike cellulose, it has little strength and makes up 15-25% of the tree’s cell structure.  Lignin is the cell compound that is responsible for the structural materials in the support tissues of wood and bark, and makes up 15-30% of wood cells.  Lignin is what fills the cell wall spaces between the cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin components and is crucial for conducting water.  Lignin yields more energy than cellulose when burned.  Most importantly, lignin is what gives wood-fired cooked foods their flavor and aroma.

Now, on to the heartwood.  All wood starts life as sapwood, the living, outermost portion of the tree that is just under the bark.  Sapwood is where water and dissolved minerals are transported from the roots to the crown of the tree.  Essentially, it is where energy for the tree is stored.  As older sapwood cells age and die, they become heartwood, which plays no role with transport of essential nutrients for the tree.  Then what are the benefits to heartwood?

Heartwood is known to be resistive to insects and decay.  An additional benefit is heartwood tends to be darker in color than the sapwood.  Because the cells die off, the moisture level is less difficult to manage than sapwood, meaning it can be dialed in with greater ease.  That’s why traditional firewood can take so long to season (up to a year) as it will contain bark, sapwood and heartwood due to the splitting of the harvested tree.  The combination of these three distinct components can alter the aroma and flavor when used together in cooking, producing a more muddled flavor profile.  This is where the risks for toxicity in cooking reveal themselves.

One of the reasons that SmokinLicious® has specific hardwood species in our product offerings is because the hardwoods we’ve selected tend to have a healthier heartwood to sapwood ratio, are known to have less risk of heartwood rot, and have lignin percentages that are more complimenting to cooking.  We’ve done the hard thinking for you so go ahead and select one of our hardwoods with confidence that you will get a super aroma and taste to your wood-fired menu items!

Dr Smoke

Dr. Smoke- “A little biology knowledge can help your cooking!”

 

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Savory Smoked/Grilled Potatoes

Savory Smoked/Grilled Potatoes

As the #1 crop in the world, available all year, potatoes are a favorite for a variety of reasons.  Get the nutritional benefit of this abundant vegetable by adding flavor in a different way – cooking it over charcoal and hardwood!

Ingredients:

Simple Preparation For a Simple Vegetable

I’m using small red and white potatoes.  You’ll need a knife and cutting board, as I like to cut these small potatoes in half to allow for maximum wood fire flavoring.  I’m going to use a vegetable grill pan but you can use any heat safe pan whether foil, glass, heat safe ceramic, or cast iron.  Cut each potato in half, and place in the grill pan.

Seasoning and Oil Bring Out the Best

Just 3 simple ingredients are needed before the pan is placed on the grill.  Drizzle three tablespoons of oil over the halved potatoes, then add coarse salt and fresh pepper.  The oil can be grapeseed, walnut, almond, vegetable, or canola, anything you have and prefer.  Mix well to ensure each potato is coated, then let rest to allow the seasonings to penetrate before adding to the hot grill.

Charcoal Grill Set Up

Time to get the grill ready.  I’ll be using a combination of charcoal and wood – charcoal as the fuel for heat and wood chunks and chips for flavor.  Keeping my intake vents open on the kettle grill, I start a chimney full of charcoal.  Just one chimney will be needed for the actual cooking.  I lay a small line of unlit coals down both the right and left side of the charcoal grate to keep my temperature stable through the cook.  I pour the hot coals in the middle then add two Sugar Maple wood chunks and a handful of Wild Cherry Grande Sapore® wood chips on top of the hot coals.  On goes the food grate and then my vegetable pan of halved seasoned potatoes.

Depth of Flavor Through Smoke

Once the wood is set up and the food grate is on, the pan of potatoes is added.  Put the grill cover on and adjust the lid outtake vent to 1/3 open position.  Now, adjust the lower intake vent to ½ open position.    Let the potatoes cook for about 25 minutes prior to stirring.  You’ll see the golden hue from the maple and cherry smoke vapor.  Be sure to rotate the potatoes on the bottom to the top so that there is even color and flavor to each piece.  The total cook time will be close to an hour but each grill and charcoal will perform differently so be sure to watch closely after the first 35 minutes.  Remove when the potatoes can be pierced easily with a toothpick or knife tip.

Full Flavor With All the Nutrition Intact

With all the nutritional value still intake, these golden, smoky potatoes are ready to eat as is or you can include them in your favorite potato recipes.  I’ll be giving a smoky edge to my interpretation of a potato curry in our next recipe feature.  Take advantage of this popular comfort vegetable and the ease of using a charcoal/wood grill for cooking and give your meals a memorable flavor enhancement.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our feature so start the conversation with a comment!

Dr Smoke

Dr. Smoke “This is a great easy barbecue recipe!”

 

 

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Picking the proper cooking wood can only lead to success versus a flop

Menu board found in most restaurants

WHEN A FLOP COULD HAVE BEEN A SUCCESS!

There is no question that being in the franchise restaurant business is a challenge especially given that there is a national menu dictated by the brand you partnered with.  I am amazed at the risks brands will take when it comes to making major capital investment in marketing strategies, equipment upgrades, and personnel training for single concepts.  Case in point: the obsession with wood-fired grilling to get customers in or coming back!

Here are just a few brands that took the leap of faith into the wood-fired grill market:

  1. Carrabba’s Italian Grill
  2. Applebee’s Grill & Bar
  3. Outback Steakhouse
  4. Red Lobster
  5. Logan’s Roadhouse
  6. Bonefish Grill

Certainly, not all these efforts have resulted in 100% failure as often the addition of a wood-fired oven or grill was added for other menus items that had an established following or existed from the conception of the franchise.  For instance, Carrabba’s Italian Grill offers wood-fired pizza in their brick oven so it is not a giant leap for them to do wood-fired chicken.  The same can be said for Bonefish Grill  whose focus is fresh fish.  Logan’s Roadhouse and Outback Steakhouse bring diners in for mostly steak and that is a protein accustomed to being cooked by fire.  

What happens when a decision is made by a brand to go into this unchartered area?

 There are two franchises that standout on this topic: Red Lobster and Applebee’s Grill & BarMore than 6 years ago, Red Lobster began a major marketing campaign on their newly launched “wood-fired assisted grills”.  The brand stated a commitment to using oak wood for their wood-fired menu items. At some locations, though not all, you would find a log holder with firewood logs outside or just inside the front door.  In 2016, Applebee’s Grill & Bar attempted a major menu change with the introduction of wood-fired steaks, pork, chicken, and salmon which required the purchase and installation of wood-fired grills to its nearly 2000 locations.  Why don’t you see these two brands focused on wood-fired menus any longer?  The short answer is, they didn’t study the market on wood-fired cooking with the help of a wood expert!

What should have been done to make this capital venture, this leap-of-faith, successful? By far, the most pivotal mistake made was not understanding the roll the wood plays in food flavor.  Both Red Lobster and Applebee’s Grill & Bar defaulted to using oak, an extremely strong wood to use in cooking.  Also, they elected to use firewood meaning that the variety of oak, if not sourced by one supplier, would vary by region or state, if indeed they received oak exclusively.  Most firewood suppliers do not sell one type of wood.  In fact, firewood could be a mix of softwood and hardwood which should be of great concern when you are targeting cooking.

Understand, that most franchise brands do not come up with a concept and immediately put it in place.  There is a testing period, usually two, whereby they take a small sampling of their locations and put the new menu items in place.  Then they collect feedback and data.  The catastrophic failure that occurred for Applebee’s Grill & Bar is that they did not stay true to the procedures set in place during the testing period when they rolled this out to nearly 2000 locations.  The result: they will turn in the worse 2016 sales numbers for a franchise restaurant.

What is the lesson to take away?

If you are considering adding wood-fired menu items to your business, do your research!  Don’t get enamored with the idea of this style of cooking.  Learn from an expert what occurs to foods exposed to live fire, what changes result flavor wise, and what to avoid in wood choices based on the equipment.  Most of all, start out by understanding not all wood is appropriate for cooking and not all suppliers have great wood.  Then take advice from the expert rather than risking not only the success of your business but the health and experience of your guests who dine with you.

Dr Smoke

Dr. Smoke

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