Wood chunks for smoking: what to look for when choosing the best one?
Smoking is a process that involves slow-cooking the food in a closed chamber, using smoke generated by burning wood and other organic matter. It’s a pretty old technique, originating around 7000 years ago, but was popularized in the Western world towards the end of the 19th century when steel smokers started to appear. People primarily use this method to cook meat for consumption. Wood chunks are typically used to create “smoke flavoring” when smoking food, as they provide more flavor than charcoal (which lacks what some people refer to as “smoke”) from its higher moisture content. They can also be used as fuel for stoves and grills.
What makes a good smoking wood?
The smoke that comes from the burning of organic matter (usually wood) has a lot of flavor compounds in it. These flavor compounds, called “pyrolysis oils,” will vaporize through the smoke and into our food, giving us different flavors. When smoking food, it is essential to have a variety of flavors because we are targeting different taste buds when smoking.
What to look for in wood chunks:
When looking for wood chunks for smoking, we generally want to find dense and complex pieces. We don’t want to end up with sawdust pieces because they will fall apart quickly. We also do not want small pieces because they will burn up too rapidly and likely leave us wanting more smoke flavor by the time we get some. Stay away from softwoods like pine or spruce.
- Look for wood chunks that are 8″ inches or longer. They need to have a lot of surface area so that you can get a fire started quickly and have it burn for a long time.
- Fruit tree wood chunks work well with fish & poultry.
- Hardwoods are best suited for smoking meat, fish, and poultry.
- Chunks of pine are typically too small to use effectively as smoke fuel, but they can be used as kindling to start your fire.
- Light the fire early (before putting on the food), let it burn through its initial stages, then place some of the chunks in their legs into the coals. The smoke will slowly infuse into the meat while cooking. After the chunk has heated up, place it on the rack.
- If you have a Weber grill and want to use wood chunks as your fuel source, you will need one charcoal basket to hold them. They are placed on top of the grill grates to keep them out of direct contact with the flames and allow them to burn longer and more evenly. I would advise against using wood chunks in other types of grills unless it is designed for that purpose or you have made some kind of metal basket.
- Cleanup is easy because all you have to do is throw away the wood chunks once they run out of fuel.
As far as storing the wood chunks, I prefer to keep them outside in the corner of my yard (under a canopy or some type of cover) because we use them often, and it keeps the rain off of them. But if you want to store them inside, make sure you keep them in the garage or some other dry place so they don’t become moldy.
What types of hardwoods are best?
Generally, hardwoods are best suited for smoking due to their higher density and resiliency. The wood should be dense and not brittle to burn longer than softer woods like pine or spruce.
Hardwoods, especially the fruit trees mentioned above, work well for smoking because they have an intoxicating blend of sweet and savory.
In my opinion, fruit tree wood chunks are the best option for smoking meat because they impart minimal flavor. We tend to focus on the meat when eating a good steak or another type of meat, so we only want to enhance its natural flavors.
Softwood chunks like cedar, pine, and spruce are not recommended because they will burn up quicker than hardwoods, and you may be left wanting more smoke flavor.
One thing to note with any type of wood is that some species are better at producing certain types of smoke. You will want to experiment with various styles to see which one you like best.
Smoking is a great way to add flavor to the meat you’re planning on cooking. It’s a complicated process, but once you have your practice down, you will be able to cook any type of food.
Wood chunks are one of the least expensive ways to smoke food because they require minimal fuel and can be used repeatedly. They also provide a little extra smoke flavoring to don’t replace them each time you cook something.
There are many types of wood, but some of the best are fruit tree wood chunks, hickory chunks, and applewood chunks.