Wood info for smoking

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Ed Pawlowski

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Jul 28, 2021, 4:23:24 PM7/28/21
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On 28 May 1997 01:37:32 GMT, "Gary Sidgreaves"
<gsidg...@cyberportal.net> wrote:

I have some ? on wood that perhaps someone can help with.

I'll take a stab at this. This information is from (1) my experience,
and (2) an adult education course I once took about outdoor cooking.

First of all, grilling is done over coals, not direct flame. Not that
you can't cook over flame because you can certainly do that, in fact you
do that on a gas grill, but most food would char on the outside before
it would cook on the inside because it is difficult to control the flame
of a wood fire. So, if you are using real wood instead of charcoal, you
let it burn down to a red ember before cooking your food over it, just
as you would let charcoal starter burn off before using charcoal. You
do that so that your food cooks slowly and gets done in the middle
before it burns on the outside, and you do that for your convenience so
you can walk around and drink beer and BS with your friends without
worrying about your food burning. Also, I use coals in my smoker, and a
steady stream is required, so I burn the wood in a number 2 washtub on
the side and replenish the coals in my smoker as needed from those in
the washtub. Same concept.

Secondly, the flavor from grilling comes from two primary sources:
the flavor imparted by the natural oils in the wood and the flavor
imparted by the meat fats dropping into the coals as the meat cooks.
Each source imparts its own unique flavor to the meat. You get a great
barbecue flavor from a gas grill, without any wood, because the meat
fats themselves have that unique barbecue taste that makes all this
worthwhile. You use wood if you want that additional essence that
different woods such as hickory, oak, alder, mesquite, apple, etc. can
impart to the meat. There is also a third source of flavor, one that is
undesirable, and that is the flavor imparted by wood ash that is thrown
up on the meat.

The important point is that all of these flavors are carried to the
cooking meat in the form of smoke. If you don't have smoke, you have
only heat, and you are roasting, not barbecueing, and you will get that
flat flavor characteristic of roasted meat. You can roast in your oven,
but you barbecue outside to keep from smoking up your house, because you
must make smoke to barbecue.

With those things in mind:

Are small branches/sticks suitable for producing smoke while cooking?
If not what would you suggest as a min diameter of a branch?

In my experience, they are not, because the small branches don't contain
enough oils to make it worth your trouble. I use them as kindling to
start the fire which will be used to make the coals, but I don't think
the small stuff is good to make smoke. Bark, should it be removed from
wood before throwing on the fire?

The bark protects the pulp which contains the oil which contains the
flavor you are seeking. It also contains lots of other things, like
bugs and larvae and pollution filtered from the air, that you might not
want to use as food flavoring. If you are making coals, the bark will
burn off. If you want wood chips for flavor, take a hatchet and strip
as much bark as you care to and use it for kindling. I always do. It's
like a banana: the peeling is edible, but it's the stuff inside that
you're after. green wood - is green wood ok to use or should it be dry-
I see alot of advice to soak wood, is wet seasoned wood diff.
than unseasoned geen wood?

There are two differences between green wood and seasoned wood. The
first is water. Wet wood won't burn. Period. Seasoned wood is wood
that has set around long enough that the water has evaporated, and it
consists of fiber and oil, and these will burn. So with regards to
water content, wet seasoned wood is the same as unseasoned green wood.

The second difference is the oil. Oil ages. To prove that to yourself,
open a bottle of vegetable oil and set it in your cabinet and smell of
it once a month for a year. The aroma will change gradually until
finally it will smell rancid. But oils have a mellow stage between
fresh and rancid, and it is this mellow stage at which you would like
your wood to be when you use it for cooking. Food cooked over green
wood will taste differently than food cooked over aged wood.
Specifically, food cooked over green wood will have a raw, pungent taste
of varying strength depending on the type of wood.
In this respect, wet seasoned wood is not the same as aged wood. To
cook food over wood coals, you choose dry, seasoned wood because the oil
has mellowed, and the wood will burn, and the coals will remain hot for
the length of time required to cook your food. Or you use commercial
charcoal which has had most of its oils burned away so that only the
fiber remains in a highly compressed form (you have to add oil, in the
form of commercial starter, to get the fiber to start burning.)

To impart a wood-smoked taste to food, you soak dry seasoned wood chips
in water, because you don't want them to flash burn. You want them to
burn slowly and release their oil over a period of time into the air.
The point here is that the wood chips themselves cannot sustain a flame,
their water content prevents that, but they must be burned by another
source of heat such as the flame in the gas grill or the coals of a wood
fire. I shouldn't see smoke when cooking/smoking?
that smoke coming off the cooker should be nearly transparent.

Ah, that's the secret of grilling and smoking. Not enough smoke and you
have bland food. Too much smoke and it will overpower the food and the
food will taste strong or bitter. I can tell when I've overdone it
because it will upset my stomach. Successful grilling and smoking is
the successful management of heat and smoke. Too much or not enough of
one or the other or both will ruin your day. Yes, you should see smoke,
that's why you are grilling outside. Yes, the smoke should be nearly
transparent because a dark, heavy smoke contains too much wood ash and
unburnt impurities which will impart an undesirable look and taste to
your food.

I see advice that smoldering wood is not good - so if I throw some
wet/green wood chunks on the fire isn't this a contradiction?

No, just bad advice. If you throw wet, seasoned wood chunks on the fire
they will smolder and produce the smoke you want. Just don't overdo it,
and don't use green wood.


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