In the Bark or Not debate this Diagram shows the two key elements of the tree that can effect your Barbecue results. Smokinlicious® only harvest wood from the heartwood of the tree.
This Diagram shows the two key elements of the tree that can affect your Barbecue results. Smokinlicious® only harvest wood from the heartwood of the tree.
TO BARK OR NOT
Listen to the audio of this blog about Bark or Not
This is one of my favorite debates:
Should I cook with bark on woods or go bark-free?
I’ve heard all kinds of reasoning for leaving the bark on: it burns up right away so you don’t need to worry. It’s what gives the flavor to foods. It’s what gives the color to smoked and grilled foods. It is the essence of BBQ!
Well, my intention is to simply provide you with more detail about what is in the bark and then you can decide for yourself if you want to include it in your wood-fired cooking method.
What Is Bark?
There are two types of bark in every tree: living bark which is called phloem and dead bark called rhytidome. For today’s discussion, I am only focusing on the rhytidome or dead bark which is the outer bark layer.
Outer bark’s main purpose is to protect the wood tissues against mechanical damage and preserve the wood tissues from temperature and humidity variations. Bark chemistry is much more complicated than wood tissue chemistry but let’s cover the basics.
Chemistry of Bark
Outer bark has high concentrations of pectin, phenolic compounds, and minerals. Although the exact chemical levels vary by species, the location of the tree, the age of the tree, and growth conditions of the tree let me list some of the common extractives:
ethyl ether – a common laboratory solvent as well as a starter fluid component
dichloromethane – common compound used in paint strippers and degreasers as well as to decaffeinate coffees and teas
calcium oxalate crystals – a calcium salt found in plant materials with a link to kidney stones in humans
Air Pollutant Meter
For many years, university and research facilities around the world have used tree bark as a bioindicator of air pollutant levels as the bark is highly porous, rough, and high in lipids making its surface ideal for absorption. It’s been proven that tree bark soaks up airborne gases and particles. In fact, in my own home state of New York, the Niagara Falls area trees have been noted to have significantly higher levels of Dechlorane Plus, a flame retardant chemical that is produced by a factory in that city. How much higher? Several thousand times higher!
After many decades of non-regulated chemical use in various products – think pesticides, flame retardants, building material preservatives, etc. – and with the subsequent halting of production of many of these highly toxic chemicals in the 1980s and 90s, research now shows that as those chemicals evaporated, they became airborne particles. Those particles landed and were absorbed by the outer tree bark.
My experience with bark-on woods used for the intended purpose of cooking has been that bark results in temperature control issues. Often, when the bark combusts it does so in variable levels, producing a short burst of elevated temperature. This is likely due in part, to the chemical air pollutant particles that have settled into the outer bark layer. Knowing that bark harbors impurities that the tree is exposed to, I hypothesize that there likely are other particles, likely transferred via air as well as direct contact from the carrier (think animals, humans, etc.), that are absorbed by the tree’s bark.
Change of Taste
Just as lighter fluid can add unpleasant or at the very least a distinct taste difference in foods cooked over product lit with lighter fluid, I caution that some of you will also find an off taste to foods cooked over bark-on woods.
If you are lucky enough to have a source of wood within your own property, that has no neighborly contact with chemical industry, and you feel confident that the bark-on wood is safe, then the choice to cook with it may be easy. If, however, you rely on an outside source say a firewood supplier, you may want to rethink cooking over that bark-on product or at the very least, take the time to rid the bark.
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Dr. Smoke- “Dr. Smoke is very biased over this topic. After years of cooking, the inclusion of bark in a smoker adds impurities trapped in the bark to your food. We are a NO bark propendents in the Bark or not debate”
Charcoal that produces 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 the 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 is 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, a wood packaging manufacturer, the flooring manufacturer, 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, the 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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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.
How Much Wood to Add to 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.
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.
How Much Wood to Add to 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.
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:
smoker wood chips in a foil pouch placed over a hot burner or directly on a heat bar/diffuser
smoking wood chips in a smoker box placed on the grill grate with the heat under it
smoking 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
smoker 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.
8 ounces with replenishment needed as they reduce to ash
8 ounces with replenishment needed multiple times
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. Hope you can use our blog HOW MUCH WOOD TO ADD WHEN SMOKING!
Dr Smoke- “With our moisture controlled products, you need a lot less wood then you think. Please follow our guide on HOW MUCH WOOD TO ADD 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 hardwood adds a very European flavor to smoked foods, especially sausage style products.
BEECH HARDWOOD 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 are some differences in its performance as a fuelwood 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.
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 a 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.
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 a 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.
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Dr. Smoke- “Beech hardwood adds a European flavor while also imparting a unique ember glow.”