Package labeling. It is the key to drawing attention to a product, to reduce interest in other similar products, and to make someone buy a specific product. Let’s be honest. Not everything printed on a label necessarily provides ALL the information. Use certain words and an “implied” thought will occur.
When it comes to packaging wood for smoking and grilling purposes, there are a lot of terms floating out there that certainly can be deceiving. Let’s see if I can provide clarity on what specific terms and wording mean when it comes to purchasing wood for cooking, smoking, and grilling. SMOKING-GRILLING WOOD SELLING TERMS
The intended meaning of 100% natural implies that it has not been touched by human hands. As such, with wood, this would refer to the fact that a tree is a plant designed by nature and other than cutting the tree down, it is not modified in any way.
However, we do know that trees, like flowers, can be manipulated when it comes to their genetics. Genetically modified trees are quite common in the growth of orchard woods, especially those seeking to develop dwarf varieties or specific blossom colors or hybrids. Keep in mind, genetically modified trees will have a reduction in the lignin compound which is responsible for the flavor the wood gives when it burns and gives off smoke vapor.
Currently, it is not legal to genetically modify forest trees but there is a lot of allowances when it comes to plantation and orchard/nursery trees, which often have chemicals applied to make up for the weak lignin which makes the wood susceptible to decay and pest infestation.
Wood that is dried in a closed chamber in which the temperature and relative humidity of the circulated air can be controlled is called “kiln drying”. There are three types of Kiln Drying methods: low-temperature drying which is below 130° F, conventional electric dehumidification drying, and conventional steam-heated drying which have temperatures up to 180° F.
For the most part, when a smoking or grilling wood product lists “kiln-dried” on the packaging, it does not state the type of method being employed. Also, many that use this term do so without providing any information on what compliance record keeping is in place to attest that they are doing what they say.
There is one company who states that they adhere to the protocol designed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) but quote a core temperature and length in minutes of the heating process that is not the standard written by the USDA. Their compliance agreement is provided by the state in which the business is located, which may have a different standard in place than the USDA.
The process of drying green wood by exposure to prevailing natural atmospheric conditions outdoors or in an unheated shed is known as air drying. There are three dominate Air Drying methods: open yard, shed, and forced-air shed. The first is not held in high regard as the wood is exposed to all the elements making it the longest method of depleting moisture content from the wood. The second has the addition of a roof covering to maintain a precipitation-free environment, while the third option is mostly used by traditional lumber companies as it produces quicker results meaning products can be sold quicker.
Here’s the issue when you see “Air-Dried” on package labeling of grilling and smoking woods: you don’t know what method is used and no one is saying how long the wood was air-dried for. You don’t know how old the wood is, what method of air drying was employed, how long it took to “dry” it, and you likely won’t know what moisture content is left in the wood. Remember, dry out a piece of wood too far, and it is simply firewood designed for heat output only.
This is another term that floats out on the packaging that implies it is different from air drying techniques. It is not different.
Naturally curing wood means the wood is stacked in a manner that allows air to flow around the wood pieces usually in an outdoor setting. It may be left exposed, covered with a tarp or have a roof structure overhead. Naturally curing wood for fireplace use is recommend for 365 days but there is no benchmark for the timing used to dry the wood for the use of smoking or grilling. Some suppliers will use moisture levels of 20-30% as their benchmark but 10% is a large variable in moisture when it comes to wood.
Here is the biggest challenge with a natural curing method: dry the wood too quickly and you will find cracks, splitting, honeycombing, and/or warping. Dry too slowly and the wood will stain and suffer decay. Remember, decay attracts pests as that is what they feed on. SMOKING-GRILLING WOOD SELLING TERMS
I won’t lie to you – there are a lot of choices out there for wood. How do you go about selecting from the limited information on the packaging?
Some decisions you’ll have to make on your own: do you want to cook with bark or do you find that bark indeed fluctuates the temperature of your equipment too much? Do you want to use a kiln-dried product even if you don’t know what temperature and for how long that product was heated? Would you want to use a product that hasn’t had any heat application applied to it meaning there may be pests, larvae, mold, and spores that haven’t been eliminated by a heat process? Do you want to use a product from a supplier that provides no information on the moisture of the wood? Do you want to go with a “natural”, “air dried” product that may have been exposed to anything that could access the wood: animal feces and urine, insects, chemical contaminants from the ground or another source?
In the end, I think the selection can be easy by simply looking at the wood for purity and cleanliness, looking at the packaging for evidence of air exchange meaning its likely not completely dried out and looking at the packaging information for claims that don’t seem to match the product that is packaged inside.
Most of all, you should be able to gain valuable information from any supplier’s website on the wood they are selling to you. If not, be cautious that they may not know anything about the manufacturing process of the wood and/or what is needed in wood to qualify it as cooking ingredient. We hope that our discussion of smoking & Grilling Wood Selling Terms adds clarity to your selection process.
Follow our 6 tips for a healthy outdoor cooking season in 2018!
6 TIPS FOR A HEALTHY OUTDOOR COOKING SEASON
Everyone seems to be so much happier during the seasons that allow for outdoor cooking and entertaining. Whether it’s a planned cooking event or spur of the moment decision, these cooking events turn into an opportunity to relax, kick back and truly enjoy life.
There are steps you should take to ensure that the foods you enjoy outdoors remain safe. What follows are the top tips for making this your best outdoor cooking season ever, no matter what you elect to cook.
There are times when you want to marinate meats and poultry before cooking on your grill or smoker. Know that foods will only remain safe if you marinate in the refrigerator in a covered container, not with the marinated foods laying out on the kitchen counter. Also, if you plan to incorporate some of the marinades into a sauce, be sure to reserve some before it is applied to the raw foods. If there is marinade leftover from the raw food marination, be sure you boil it before using as anything that has contact with the raw food can carry bacteria.
You can grill a variety of foods on the same equipment but to know when everything is cooked, you will need to have thermometers. It’s best to use a different thermometer, marked by color, for each type of food: beef, pork, chicken, fish. The thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the meat or poultry to get an accurate internal temperature reading. Here is a guide on temperatures:
Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145°F/62°C
Remember, thicker cut meats and poultry will need to be placed closer to the fire or heat. Utilize the upper grill grate for those items that are more fragile like thinner fillets of fish, vegetables, fruit, or for heating sauces.
You cannot partially cook meats and poultry by parboiling or microwaving and then placing in the refrigerator for grilling the next day. Although you may think this will lessen the cooking time on the grill, what you’re doing is introducing the potential for everyone to become sick. The reason? Partial cooking does not eliminate all bacteria growth. The reality is, you would be allowing bacteria to continue to grow.
Take the time to properly clean your grill or smoker at the start of the outdoor cooking season. It’s common to close vents on the grill or smoker when you cover it up for the winter season but these aides in stimulating mold growth on the grill grate and/or inside cover and walls. For that reason, it’s important to scrub down the interior of the grill or smoker using a cleaning mixture; 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water or a bleach to water blend if you’re not opposed to the more toxic bleach.
Be sure you start with a hot grill or to cooking temperature smoker. That means, preheat. Preheat your grill 15 to 25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature to ensure all bacteria is killed. Your grill should be 400-450°F for high, 350-400°F for medium-high, 300-350°F for medium and 250-300°F for low heat. By having a properly heated grill, you will guarantee a moist outcome for your meat and poultry.
There are many of us we prefer a good charcoal grill versus gas. It is important that you understand that there are many more influencers to altering the flavor of what you’re cooking when you cook over charcoal. Be sure to use an additive-free lump charcoal, which is charred wood. Conventional briquettes, which are easy to find, may contain wood scraps and sawdust as well as coal dust, sodium nitrate, borax and additives like paraffin or lighter fluid. As for lighter fluid, NO! Lighter fluid can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, leave an unpleasant flavor to foods, and pose a serious danger if used improperly. Skip it altogether.
Without question, our 6 TIPS FOR A HEALTHY OUTDOOR COOKING SEASON should help you on your way to a healthy, memorable outdoor cooking season. Likely, the best ever!
WHEN YOU COOKING WITH WOOD YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO THINK
ABOUT YOUR SAFETY
I’m going, to be frank. When having an opportunity to search through social media photos of various foods cooked by fire and smoke and seeing a reference to the wood, I get uncomfortable. There doesn’t appear to be the same concern for the choice of wood as there is for the rub, cut of meat, quality of meat, choice of equipment, and sauce.
Why is it that the wood used to flavor the foods grilled and smoked is an afterthought?
Recently, I ran across an article in Reader’s Digest that focused on the dangers of wildfire smoke, especially for those living in areas of the United States that are hit repeatedly by these events. What struck me the most was the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index: good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy, and hazardous. This guide is used to recommend evacuations of locations, use of HEPA filtration to allow people to remain in an affected area, and as a method of gaining valuable data post-fire on the effects, smoke has on plant life. There is considerable data available from tree bark which has long been known to absorb pollutants.
This got me thinking about hardwoods used for smoking, grilling, and overall cooking of foods. There is no regulatory agency that oversees wood used for cooking. Despite efforts to get the Food Safety and Inspection Services division to recognize the risks associated with cooking with wood, no governmental agency has stepped up to offer regulations in this area such as established inspections of equipment and wood.
As the manufacturer of all the products sold under the brand SmokinLicious®, we struggled with what steps to take that would demonstrate our commitment to only offer hardwoods that are considered safe for cooking. Although we stressed that we are bark-free (an important step to reduce the exposure to toxins locked in the bark layers), that we only manufacture from the heartwood (an area of the tree that is known to be resistant to insects and decay), and that we manufacture each cut to the wood for the end cooking product, we simply desired some validation of these steps.
Since we’ve always considered the wood another ingredient to cooking, we decided to explore the options from the food perspective. What certification could we apply for that would demonstrate that we are a food-related item? Kosher certification was the perfect place to start!
For us, the steps we’ve taken to obtain Kosher certification via VA’AD HAKASHRUS OF BUFFALO verified our commitment to keep our manufacturing facility at the highest standard possible. People are drawn to kosher food for various reasons including quality, a healthy lifestyle, food safety, and allergy security. By securing this certification, we can demonstrate to the public that our products satisfy the food quality and safety requirements they should strive for daily. As such, our customers don’t have to settle for an unregulated product that frankly, could contain pretty much anything in the package because, as pointed out, there is no system of check on wood cooking and smoking products.
The SmokinLicious® Index
Taking a page from the Environmental Protection Agency, I thought it would be helpful to develop an index to use for hardwood intended for cooking. Our grading system is based on toxicity factors of a wood, ease of lighting, sustained burn, coal formation, smoke production, and heat level. Our index is: Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, Unhealthy.
Excellent: Alder, American Beech, Ash, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan, Maple, Apple
We hope you will find this guide useful. Use it as a means of sorting through all the types of wood offerings to make an educated decision, to look for key information on the packaging that will confirm you are making a safe decision. After all, why take any additional risks when it comes to the health and safety of your family.
Making you an informed consumer through valuable articles like this one. Hope you enjoyed this blog about cooking with wood! Leave us a comment and subscribe for more great recipes, techniques, tips, and the science behind the flavor, that’s SmokinLicious®.