Have the Best Barbecue: Learn How to Cook with Wood

Nothing tastes better than food fresh off the grill. Now that the warm weather has set in, it’s time to fire up the grill and perfect your barbecuing skills. If you’re looking to try something a little different this year—something that adds more flavor to your food—then you should learn how to grill with wood.

fire flames over burning wood in brazier

Cooking with wood can be tricky to master because the temperature of wood is more difficult to control than propane and even charcoal. It may take some practice to correctly cook your meats with wood, but once you get the hang of it, the results are worth the time and effort you put in. Cooking with wood gives off a delectable aroma and the gases from its smoke gives the meat unique and distinct flavors.

Type of Wood

Knowing the type of wood needed to cook your meat is important. Dried hardwoods, fruitwoods, and nut woods, are the best for cooking. Softwoods such as pine, redwood, fir, cedar and cypress are not ideal for cooking because they contain terpenes and sap. This gives the meat a bad flavor.

Each wood produces a different flavor. The climate and soil in which it grows greatly impacts the flavor. Oak grown in Massachusetts may have a different flavor than oak grown in Texas. Also, the amount of bark it has, how long it has dried, and the percent of water left in the wood will impact the flavor. The fun part about cooking with wood is experimenting and finding what tastes and aromas you enjoy the most.

For your safety, it is important that you don’t use any wood that is moldy, painted, or from lumber scraps. Lumber scraps may be treated with chemicals that are poisonous to ingest.

Size of Wood

The variations in wood size depend on one’s skill set, length of time cooking the food, and type of cooker.

  • Logs – Cooking with logs requires the right pit and skill set, because it is difficult to control heat and the flavor. Logs are cut from hardwoods, nut woods, and fruit woods. It is common to pre-burn the logs to embers before cooking with them, and they need to be smoked at a higher temperature of 275°F in order to produce clean smoke. Logs are great for open flame cooking.
  • Chunks – Chunks are the most desirable size when cooking with wood. They range from golf ball to baseball size, and only a few chunks are necessary for cooking a good amount of food. Since they are slow, steady sources of smoke, you’ll only need to add one or two at the beginning of the cooking cycle and leave the unit be. You can add chunks to your grill to get that smoky flavor, or use them in a smoker.
  • Chips – Chips are smaller and they burn quickly. Since they burn quickly, they are better for shorter cooks like steak, chicken, and fish. You may need to add them more than once to the cooking cycle. Chips can be used on top of charcoal in your grill to give your food the wood flavor.
  • Pellets – Pellets are made from compressed wet sawdust to make little, thick rods. To cook with them you’ll need food grade pellets, which contain no binders, glue, or adhesives. Pellets for household heaters should not be used for cooking. The temperature in pellet-fueled cookers can be much more easily maintained.

Cooking with Wood

Using wood creates a distinct flavor for the food you cook, but it is also difficult to control. You can cook with wood on a charcoal or gas grill to help enhance the food’s flavor. The different sources of heat give off different combustion gases, which create varying flavors. The combustion gases from the heat source plus the smoke from the wood is what gives the food its smoky taste.

Once you have chosen your type and size of the wood, it is time to prepare your grill and meat. You’ll want to make sure that the embers have some oxygen. The amount of oxygen needed may take some time to figure out, because not enough oxygen will cause the embers to burn incompletely, covering the meat in gray soot, and too much oxygen will cause them to burst into flames.

Use cold meat, because smoke is more attracted to it than meat that is at room temperature. You’ll also want to keep it moist. If you’re using a smoker, then you should add a water pan to keep things moist. You could also manually add moisture by using a spray-bottle full of water to spritz the meat.

If you haven’t yet mastered cooking with wood but still want to have a great meal, consider stopping by Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield, MA. Our lunch and dinner menus consist of fresh and locally grown food that will make you glad you stepped away from your grill and allowed us to show off our expertise.