Written by Matt Slowey

How many times have you passed by that row of bags claiming flavors you’ve wanted to add to your recipes? Apple? Olive? Whisky Barrels? You’ve been cooking with charcoal and are ready to become a true Pit-Master and improve those Live Fire cooking skills, it’s time to develop YOUR signature taste profiles using aromatic wood! Let’s clear the smoke and get a few things straight. What do the different woods, and just as important, what does their size, shape, or technique bring to the flavor profile? A backyard gourmet experience awaits.

Chips

Chips

Chips are your most commonly found type of aromatic cooking wood. With that freshness matters; look for bags from aromatic wood companies, not necessarily major brands or grill companies. You are also going to find more exotic and wider selections from a specialty retailer compared to any big box seller. The fragrance from a local wild apple wood or the flavors from imported woods like pimento are worth seeking out.

Chips are used for short duration cooks; think less than one full hour. Two large handfuls of Chips are plenty for a Beer Can Chicken recipe lasting 60-80 minutes, but would fall short for a Rib cook of several hours. Small handfuls of dry chips added directly to the charcoal is a perfect way to add flavor to burgers, steaks, and any seafood item cooked over open fire. You want to use chips when you desire a quick flavor result, but a heavy chips layer can provide thick smoke, as needed for cold smoking cheeses and other items.

Chunks

Big Green Egg Wood Chunks

Got some time on your hands? Ready to build the ultimate competition BBQ setup with your current Backyard stable? Maybe you’re just looking to increase the smoky profiles in your cooks? Then you’re ready to bring in the CHUNKS!!

Chunks, as the name implies, means simply larger pieces of the selected wood. Chunks are used to prolong the exposure of the foods to the smoke or increase the intensity of the flavor enhancement. Because of their continuous and extended smoke production they should not typically be used for a standard backyard cookout as many people will be overcome with the smoke flavor. They are best used when the cooking temps are much lower and the cooking times longer requiring the long, slow release of the smoke flavors. You want to use chunks for Ribs, Brisket, Turkeys, Rack of Lamb and other longer duration traditional slow and low style BBQ cooks. Avoid using Chunks with shorter cooks, as the smoke may overwhelm. Use one or two chunks per pound of charcoal for the best results, not presoaking as it may prevent the fire from spreading throughout the charcoal.

Planks

Big Green Egg Wood Planks

You mean this was cooked ON an actual piece of wood, bark and all? Seriously?? YES!! And, Plank cooking may be the long lost art of Live Fire cooking. Plank cooking has evolved to offer more flavors and recipe possibilities and transformed its look to meet today’s culinary demands. Oval cut planks showing the tree rings and bark offer an exquisite presentation, but also impart intense flavor.

Plank cooking isn’t just for Salmon anymore either. Some great ideas include; Apple Planked pork chops, Mediterranean style scallops roasted on an Olive Plank, or Cherry Planks for steaks and burgers. Cooking on the wood plank protects the food from the intense heat and preserves juices, while adding distinct flavors sure to enhance your recipes and WOW your audience! Remember to soak the plank for several hours before use and keep a wet towel handy in case the edges of the plank flare-up. You may get multiple uses of the plank, especially with a gas grill and can simply discard it into the charcoal pit for additional flavor on your next cook. Plank cooking imparts a more subtle, sweeter variation of the wood flavor, perfect for someone not keen on smoked foods.

Flavors of Aromatic Cooking Woods

If you are going for top honors at a BBQ Comp, tailgating with 50,000 of your closest friends, or sharing an intimate night of fine cuisine, the flavor guidelines for cooking with Chunks, Chips, and Planks are based upon some basic food pairings.

  • Apple – great with pork recipes and Apple Planks are great for seafood
  • Cherry – excellent complement to beef and outstanding for smoking cheese
  • Olive - traditional Lamb; Mediterranean style seafood and poultry and even veggies
  • Jack Daniels Barrel Chips - oak with a hint of bourbon, great with burgers and steaks
  • Hickory/Mesquite – traditional BBQ flavors. Careful with Mesquite a little goes a long way
  • Maple/Pecan – gentle and sweet, great for Turkeys and group meals for a wide pallet range
  • Peach/Plum/Apricot – these fruit woods may be more difficult to find but add mild flavors
  • Pimento – imported from Jamaica no true Jerk-Chicken recipe can go without it



 

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Salesman Matt Slowey

Matt Slowey

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