I, like many of you, remember growing up when cookouts consisted of my dad going through a book of matches as he attempted to light charcoal in a $9 grill, as we eagerly awaited some burgers or hot dogs. Once it had some heat to it, the burgers would sizzle to a great well-doneness that taught many a kid the meaning of “char is flavor” and how to blend this flavor with mustard. No real thought was given to the grill and even less was given to the heat source. This is what it must have been like in the “olden days” where the frontiersmen would run down to the store to grab some wood, just like my dad, given it little thought.
Although I jest a bit about frontiersmen heading to the store, I’m not far off about the thought given to the choice of fuel source. I’m sure many a wagon train journey involved a lot of live fire cooking where the parents sent the kids out to wrangle some firewood with perhaps the only piece of advice being to make sure it’s well seasoned. Living in Florida, I’ve learned a lot about this state’s history. For instance, more cattle were shipped from central Florida than anywhere else east of the Mississippi River. On those cattle drives the cowboys had to eat, but how did they cook their food? Simply put, the ranch cook used what was handy to start the fires, which in Florida would primarily be oak, pecan or citrus woods, such as orange.
This has me thinking about how much thought is actually used today in seeking a cooking fuel. By fuel I’m not referencing propane, but rather the wood used in your smokers or grills. In this day and age, we truly can run to a store, such as Academy Sports, and pick up any flavor we would like. No longer are we confined to “whatever is handy,” but rather we can choose our fuel source as carefully as we choose our seasonings. Just like you wouldn’t necessarily use a poultry seasoning on a brisket, the same care should be given to the wood you choose. So I’m going to give you a some of my staples, some of my favorites and some I’m looking forward to trying.
My Staples – Those foundational woods many grab first when firing up their smokers. In my opinion, these woods are foundational because of their plentiful nature.
Hickory – A sturdy wood with a strong flavor suitable for just about any sturdy meats such as beef and pork. It isn’t any wonder this wood is a staple in the cooking world.
Oak – No matter where you are you can find oak, and where there’s oak there’s fire. This wood delivers a nice plume of smoke full of flavor suitable for beef, but can also aid in delivering a great pork dish.
Mesquite – Welcome to Texas. This strong, flavorful wood has been a long established go-to for many in the Longhorn state and the Western U.S. Because of its BBQ reputation, this was the first wood I cooked with. But, because of its strong flavor, you have to keep a close eye on it or it will overpower your meat.
My Favorites – I enjoy the color and flavor these woods deliver to the different meats I cook. To kick it up a bit, combine a couple different woods (i.e. Hickory and Cherry) and you’ll see a difference.
Cherry – Cherry pies were a favorite growing up so it isn’t any wonder I enjoy this wood in my cookers. It adds a mild flavor but a great mahogany color to your pork. I love it on my ribs, but it also is great for seafood.
Pecan – Here’s another item found in a pie, so are might be noticing a theme in my favorite wood choices! This isn’t an overpowering flavor of wood, but adds much to meats such as poultry and pork.
Apple – Everyone loves apples, so try this versatile wood on your next cookout regardless if it’s meat, seafood, poultry, pork or beef.
Maple – There’s nothing better than maple syrup over a stack of pancakes, so you’re going to love using this wood with your pork (sausage), poultry (think chicken and waffles) and of course it’s great for seafood.
My Future – In the spirit of learning, why not try new woods or add these to a “tried and true” choice to see what explosion of flavor we can find. This could become a winning combination, even if it’s only a winner with the family.
Peach – The official fruit of Georgia has long intrigued me in my BBQ goals. A mild, yet sweet smoke kissing some pork, poultry or seafood would make for some great family dinners.
Orange – Living in Florida, oranges are everywhere. I have at least three national orange juice processing and distributing plants within an hour drive. No wonder the early Florida cowboys would use this wood on their cooks. This mild citrus wood sounds great for seafood (Florida is a peninsula after all) and poultry (think Duck A l’Orange).
Pear – This is a soft and mild wood (much like the fruit it produces).
I know there’s plenty of other wood out there that y’all use and I would love to hear about your experiences. I hope this brief wood description has been helpful (and a bit entertaining) in your next wood selection. The cool thing is most of these can be acquired from your nearest B & B Charcoal distributor. So, what are you waiting for? Go get some, get to cooking and let me know what flavors you’ve been trying.