Summer is here, which means bar-b-que season is open for business. For serious grill masters, this means a large assortment of meat, slathered with various special sauces and smoked to perfection. Smoke is a crescendo of the bar-b-que experience, the third leg of the flavor journey, and it is the single thing that adds the most flavor. The smoke that enhances the taste of that succulent meat can come from a wide variety of wood. These wood types have different consistency, resin, and source. If you are using a bag of wood chips, the choice in the type of wood used means everything. For the back-yard smoker just getting their BBQ legs, here is a breakdown of the different woods available for your meats.
Acacia: A wood that burns very hot. Needs to be used sparingly in tiny amounts. Has a very strong flavor.
Alder: Bears a light flavor which is ideal for poultry or fish. The traditional wood of smoked salmon.
Almond: Has a sweet, nutty flavor that compliments all meats.
Apple: Very mild when it comes to flavor. Works well with either poultry or pork as it bears a sweetness to its taste. Using apple wood discolors the skin of the meat.
Apricot: Another great flavor for poultry or pork. Bears a mildly sweet taste.
Ash: Another fast burner. Needs to be used in moderation. Known for its unique flavor.
Black Walnut: Gifted with a hearty flavor that may turn bitter unless combined with other woods.
Birch: Has a nice sweet flavor which compliments pork and chicken.
Cherry: Universal in application, cooking on cherry wood gives meat a mild, sweet flavor. It is one of the most popular smoking woods out there.
Grapefruit: A mild wood with a smoky flavor ideal for any meat.
Grapevines: Produces a tart smoke that grants a fruity flavor. Very good with lamb or chicken.
Hickory: Has a strong flavor that requires moderation. Great for beef and lamb.
Lilac: Produces a mildly sweet smoke. While good for poultry and pork, this wood is great for smoked cheeses.
Mesquite: Another fast burner that runs hot. Mesquite has the strongest flavor, so it is popular with the restaurant set. It should be used sparingly for a short time.
Oak: Although it is strong it does not overpower. Great with lamb and beef. A very versatile hardwood.
Orange: Creates good, smoky flavor that compliment any type of meat.
Pecan: This wood burns cool. Its flavor is very delicate and subtle.
Persimmon: Another of the fruit woods, has mild but slightly sweet taste to it.
Plum: A great wood to smoke poultry or pork in, it has a milder flavor.
Other great woods not mentioned here include: bay, avocado, bay, butternut, beech, carrotwood, chestnut, fig, guava, hackberry, madrone, manzita, olive, and willow. Some foods also taste great when smoked with a combination of woods. Be careful that the woods you mix all complement each other.