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Can I Use Firewood to Smoke Meat?

can i use firewood to smoke meat

Firewood is safe to use in smoking meat. Additionally, some types of wood can impart different flavors and effects into the meat giving it a unique and robust flavor.

However, avoid using some kind of wood like softwoods, treated wood, and lumber scraps, as these will make your food inedible or harmful. 

Smoking has been, and still, one of the best ways to cook a chunk of meat. It adds flavor and tenderness that is not possible in other cooking or grilling methods. If you want to get better at making your barbeques, cooking with wood is a must-have skill. 

Flavors and Smells Associated With Firewood Cooking

A lot of people use gas and charcoal for barbeque and grilling because these fuels are convenient and cheap. But when it comes to real flavor and tenderness, wood-cooked meals are still considered the best.

If you know what you’re doing, you can make a delicious meal for your friends and family. How does adding firewood make a difference when smoking your meat? Let’s find out. 

Why Does Food Cooked in Firewood Tastes Better?

With the advances in technology, tons of new devices can be used to cook food. A good example of this is the sous vide, which cooks almost anything in your desired doneness without fail. But why is the primitive firewood still considered the best option for flavor during a barbeque session? 

According to Michelin, wood gives both heat (to cook the meat) and flavor. With the right temperature, the smoke gives additional flavor. This distinct flavor imbued to the meat taste more natural and flavorful than cooking with gas or charcoal. Each wood has its flavor profile, and only a few types of wood are suitable for smoking protein. 

What makes the wood ideal for a good barbeque is also why it’s hard to master. Using the wood in the most effective way (right amount, the right temperature, and proper meat paring) can be challenging. It can take a lot of experimentation and many failures to master using wood in your smoker. 

How to Use Firewood to Smoke Meat

First thing first, learn what kind of wood works well with your protein. Hickory and oak are both traditional barbeque fuels and works well with almost any type of meat. But the sweet flavor profile of fruitwoods (like Apple and Maple) or the strong flavor of hardwoods (like mesquite) can offer intriguingly good barbeques. For starters, hickory and oak are the most versatile. 

Using wood straight up is not recommended for beginners. Wood is pretty slow to burn and produces quite a lot of smoke. What most people do is use charcoal as the “heat’ element to cook the meat. Wait for the charcoal to heat up and spread it in your grill as usual. 

Before smoking, add a few pieces of your preferred wood to the firebox along with the charcoal. The amount of wood depends on your meat and the kind of barbeque you’re planning to cook. Take note: the setup might be different depending on what type of smoker is in use. Offset smokers would work well with wood chunks, while a charcoal grill might require wood chips. 

And lastly, maintain your smoker temperature as you keep on cooking the meat. Don’t use wood in your smoker longer than needed. The additional smoke can make your food combust (a.k.a., get burnt) if the temperature becomes too high. If the meat doesn’t get burnt, it can turn into an over-smoked, dry, and flavorless chunk of meat instead. 

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Should I Use Wood Chunks Or Chip? 

Wood chunks and wood chips are both wood. So what’s the difference when you use these types of wood in smoking? Aren’t both chunks or chips serve the purpose of cooking the food and adding flavor to it? As it turns out, there are appropriate times in using both kinds of wood when smoking your food. 

When To Use Wood Chips

Wood chips are high-heat, low-duration fuel sources. These can produce short bursts of flame that help create flavor and cook the meat. Wood chips are recommended if you’re grilling poultry or seafood or if you’re only trying to add a small amount of smoky flavor to your barbeque. Chips can also work wonderfully on a gas grill. 

When to Use Wood Chunks

Wood chunks are pieces of wood larger than wood chips. Chunks are often wood splits cut by at least two inches. These chunks are often cube-shaped, which makes them long to burn and produce more smoke. If you’re cooking a chewy slice of meat or preparing a gamey one, wood chunks are the way to go. 

One chunk would usually take about 30 minutes to run out. Split logs can be used as a substitute if you need a longer cooking time. If not available, just replace the wood chunks as soon as they run out.

What Wood to Avoid?

Although all woods can burn and produce smoke, not all are suitable for cooking your barbeque. Some kind of wood makes your barbeque inedible real quick, while some can bring health unwanted health hazards. 

  • Softwoods – these woods grow with conifers and can produce nasty flavors. Examples of this wood type are spruce, cypress, cedar, redwood, and pine. 
  • Treated/Painted Wood – any chemically treated or painted wood can add toxins and nastier flavors than softwood. 
  • Lumber Scraps – similar to treated wood, lumber scraps are often applied with an assorted mix of chemicals. Take note: any materials in your wood will get smoked to the meat. 
  • Moldy Or Poisonous Wood – these are wood known for poisoning humans when in contact with skin, such as yew, laburnum, and oleander. 

When using wood for smoking, the general rule is not to use any wood that you cannot identify. A better option is to buy manufactured wood which is intended for smoking purposes. It’s better safe than sorry when it comes to all food matters. 

Best Firewood for Your Smoker

For Poultry And Seafood

Wood which adds a sweet-tasting flavor, is the best choice for both poultry and seafood. These mild woods doesn’t leave intense flavors, which is perfect for lighter meat. Some of the best fruit woods are apple, pear, cherry, and peach. You can use maple for both poultry and veggies. If nothing works, the good old oak will do the trick. 

For Pork 

Pork is the middle ground between light and gamey meat. These can offer heat in a time long enough to cook the pork. It is not as subtle as fruit woods but not as strong as heavyweight wood. Some examples of suitable wood for pork are hickory, pecan, and maple. As mentioned before, oak and hickory can do the trick if you don’t know how to mix and match. 

For Beef

And lastly, the longest-burning and most flavor-intense wood are best for beef and other gamey animals. One of the best examples of this type of wood is the mesquite, which also adds good color to the smoked meat.

Mesquite gives quite a strong earthy flavor. If you’re going to use this wood, only use a small portion of it. Combinations of mid and light wood is also suitable for beef, but you might have to use log splits.

Final Thoughts

Using firewood to smoke meat is definitely a great way to cook food. Smoking meat with firewood has been around for a very long time and can add some unique flavor to your dishes.

Hickory and oak are two of the most popular types of wood to use to smoke meat, especially when barbequing. The smoke will infuse into the meats during cooking which will give them a robust flavor.

Smoking meat has been one of the best way to cook meat. It adds a ton of flavor, tenderizes the meat which other forms of cooking or grilling cannot replicate.

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