Does the Wood used to Smoke Meat Make a Difference?

Different types of wood are commonly used when smoking meats to add enhanced levels of taste, smell, and color, as well as flavors like cherry, oak, peach, hickory, apple to the meat. Wood can also add bitter, more savory, rich hints to the meat with using mesquite.  

The wood used to generate any smoke should be a hardwood such as post Oak, Hickory, Apple, Cherry or Mesquite. Pine,Cider,Cypress or any other resinous wood or sawdust are not recommended because the smoke from these woods will be sooty and strong-smelling.

Hardwoods are made up mostly of three materials: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Cellulose and hemicellulose are the basic structural material of the wood cells; lignin acts as a kind of cell-bonding glue. Some soft woods, especially pines and firs, hold significant quantities of resin, which produces a harsh-tasting soot when burned; these woods are not often used for smoking.

Cellulose and hemicellulose are aggregate sugar molecules; when burnt, they effectively caramelize, producing carbonyls, which provide most of the color components and sweet, flowery, and fruity aromas. Lignin, a highly complex arrangement of interlocked phenolic molecules, also produces a number of distinctive aromatic elements when burnt, including smoky, spicy, and pungent compounds such as guaiacol, phenol, and syringol, and sweeter scents such as the vanilla-scented vanillin and clove-like isoeugenol. Guaiacol is the phenolic compound most responsible for the “smoky” taste, while syringol is the primary contributor to smoky aroma. Wood also contains small quantities of proteins, which contribute roasted flavors. Many of the odor compounds in wood smoke, especially the phenolic compounds, are unstable, dissipating after a few weeks or months.

Since different species of trees have different ratios of components, various types of wood do impart a different flavor to food. Another important factor is the temperature at which the wood burns. High-temperature fires see the flavor molecules broken down further into unpleasant or flavorless compounds. The optimal conditions for smoke flavor are low, smoldering temperatures between 570 and 750°F. This is the temperature of the burning wood itself, not of the smoking environment, which uses much lower temperatures. Woods that are high in lignin content tend to burn hot; to keep them smoldering requires restricted oxygen supplies or a high moisture content.

Smoking Woods (FAQ’s) Frequently Asked Questions

What wood should you not smoke with?

Avoid wood from conifers such as pine, redwood, fir, spruce, cypress, or cedar. These trees contain high levels of sap and turpentine’s which results in a funny taste and can make people sick. Cedar planks are popular for cooking salmon, but do not burn the wood for smoke

Should you soak wood chunks before smoking?

In truth, soaking your wood chips and chunks is not necessary and here is why. Wood chips and chunks that have been soaked have to get rid of any moisture before they can produce smoke. There is not enough moisture to produce significant steam or smoke, however, it will produce flavor on your food.

What is the Best Wood for Smoking Meat?

Why does my smoked meat taste bitter?

Identifying Creosote, the Bitter Flavor on Smoked Meats. The secret of barbecue is heat, time, and smoke. … You need to bring smoke to the meat, but you cannot hold it there for too long. Smoke that becomes too heavy or stays for too long creates a substance called creosote.

What color should my smoke be when smoking meat?

The first bit of smoke coming out of the exhaust will be dark gray, then it will become white as the fire progresses, and eventually it will move to the desired blue smoke stage. This is the smoke color you want to maintain throughout the cooking process

At what temperature does meat no longer absorb smoke?

Depending on the meat and how hot your fire is, most will stop absorbing smoke anywhere between 140–150 degrees

Should bark be removed from wood for smoking meat?

I personally do not waste a lot of time with trying to remove the bark. Bark being left on your stored wood increases the chances of a good home for bugs and will also hold moisture and can cause the wood to start rotting quicker if not stored in a dry place.

Can you use fresh cut green wood in a smoker?

Conventional wisdom says that walnut, elm, eucalyptus, and sycamore are also unfit for smoking. Likewise, any green wood — that is, freshly cut wood that has not been properly seasoned (dried) — will contain too much moisture and sap, making it burn unevenly and sometimes imparting an unpleasant flavor.

Chris Marks CBBQE (Chief BBQ Expert) Three Little Pig’s Rubs & Sauces and Good-One Smoker/Grills

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