MAPLE SPRING-SUMMERIf you paid attention to our previous article on the Maple tree (“Oh, The Mighty Maple”) then you know that this hardwood is a great addition to any wood-fired cooking technique whether you want to hot smoke, grill or ember cook.  But let’s take a closer look at how this hardwood actually flavours the foods you cook.

Wood contains a variety of complex organic compounds with two that tend to be more contributory to actual flavour – lignin and cellulose. The short of it is, these compounds are sugars (cellulose is an indigestible carbohydrate).  Here’s the kicker, – wood, regardless of species, burns incompletely and unevenly.  It is directly dependent on oxygen as well as the percentage of water it contains.  The four stages of combustion actually occur simultaneously (thus, variation in temperature of the actual fire).

That being said, woods do have different percentages of lignin and cellulose and so we tend to lean towards certain hardwoods over others for specific cooking techniques.

Which leads us to one of our favorite hardwoods – the mighty maple.  With over 100 varieties and just as many sub-varieties, just about every one of them is ideal for any type of wood-fired cooking technique.  Maple, in general, is known to infuse mild, smooth, sweet components to foods cooked in or over it.

We do, however, stand firm on using this wood bark-free as we’ve found that the bark causes too much variation in temperature and only contributes to the ash build up.  Plus, being the driest part of the tree, it will burn up quickly and then cause the fire to stall when it reaches the more moisture rich wood cores.

Keep in mind, you can do any cooking technique (baking, grilling, roasting, braising, pit roasting, hot smoking, cold smoking) with maple.  Know that baking is generally done in some type of cookware (my preference is cast iron) that is placed either within an outdoor oven, on the grilling grate of an LP grill, or right in the hardwood coals of a charcoal unit.  With grilling, you can add chunks of wood to the diffuser or use wood chips either in a smoker box, foil pouch, smoking tube/pipe, or again, contained within a pan.  Roasting is done in similar fashion to baking.  Pit roasting should be self-explanatory.  Hot smoking will be a temperature generally below 275 degrees F.  And, cold smoking done at temperatures below 80 degrees F.

When you use maple you can be sure of getting a nicely balanced flavour but keep in mind, smoke is a vapor.  What is released is very dependent on the amount of airflow stimulating the wood and the amount of water still held in the wood.  Most of all, using a clean, bark-free wood will ensure that you don’t get an abundance of bitter flavonoids.

Here’s another piece of advice – we view the hardwood as a flavour or an ingredient.  Thus, you need to be sure you balance the wood’s flavour with the other ingredients you are using, especially with regard to any rub, sauce, glaze or brine ingredients.  With maple, because it already offers a sweet undertone, you would not necessarily want to use an overly sweet sauce or glaze, meaning one that has sugar (weather brown or white) or corn syrup or fructose as one of the first ingredients.  Rather, one that balances a sugary component say, fruit based sauce with a bit of heat (chiles, hot sauce, etc.).  When done correctly, the outcome is spectacular.

There are no rules – simply use the basics of balancing the 4 flavor levels: bitter, sour, sweet, salty with all the ingredients included with the food item.  This is the main reason why you can’t go wrong when you choose Maple as your primary cooking wood.

 

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