Any outdoor chef – whether they’re a professional or a home cook – will tell you that the right spices are one of the most important components of cooking a great dish. Even if you cook the perfect rack of ribs or fry up the consummate chicken breast, without the right combination of spices, the result is probably going to taste bland and boring. 

Cooking, after all, is a skill that requires the right tools for the job. This includes everything from the firewood for cooking to the right knives to slice like a pro,  to the proper ingredients to help you nail the flavors.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best spices available to compliment your favorite meat dishes.

General Tips on Herbs and Spices

Before we get into specific combinations of spices and meat, here are a few general tips:

  1. Try everything: The best way to find out which combination of herbs, spices, and meat you like best is to simply try different things! 

    Start with online guides like the ones in Cooking with Wood and try your hand at finding the flavor combinations that work best for you.
  2. Write it down: Whatever you decide to try, make sure to write it down. The last thing you want is to achieve perfection and then not be able to remember how you did it next time! 

    You might also realize you used too much or too little of a particular ingredient – note that in your recipe and next time you’ll know what to increase or decrease to achieve perfection.
  3. Edit recipes to your liking: Just because some online chef loves cumin doesn’t mean you have to love it too. 

    Don’t be afraid to edit things to your own personal preferences and tastes. Even if a spice or herb is “perfectly suited” to a dish, you might find someone (including yourself!) that doesn’t like it that way. 

    That’s part of learning what works for you.
  4. Try multiple things at once: Smoking 6 chicken breasts or a bunch of chicken wings? Try different seasoning combinations on each one! 

    If that seems a little too extreme, go half and half. Trying different combinations in the same cook can help you find your ideal combination much faster.

    Remember: Wood is an ingredient too: When you cook with wood, the wood will provide flavor. Quality wood can provide quality flavor, but wet or musty wood can infuse an off-putting flavor that will ruin your food (even with the perfect balance of herbs and spices). 

    Fortunately, Cutting Edge Firewood makes it easy to source firewood for cooking.

Recommended Herbs and Spices for Beef

When considering beef, you have plenty of options. 

For instance, if you’re using dried herbs, options like oregano, thyme, rosemary, and tarragon are great paired with beef.  If you’re using beef in the form of a stew, casserole, or even a curry, you should try adding bay leaves to your recipe while you’re cooking. 

A good rule of thumb to remember is that dried herbs are usually used at a ratio of three times as much as you would use for the same herbs if they were fresh.

When using fresh herbs, add them closer to when your dish is ready to serve. You can opt for mixed herbs but when it comes to individual options, chives, parsley, and basil are great choices. 

While it can be a controversial choice, cilantro also pairs well with beef…if you’re the type of person who likes it!

As for spices, you can add options such as cumin, dark chilis, red pepper flakes, mustard powder, or, for a spicy kick, you can add some cayenne. Want to take an unexpected turn? Add a dash of cinnamon!

If you want advice on the perfect wood for cooking beef, then you can’t really go wrong with the “big three”. Hickory and Pecan will add stronger flavor, while oak is perfect for a more subtle taste.

For steaks our favorite is simply salt, pepper and olive oil.  If you get a good piece of meat and use the correct cooking wood, you have all the flavor you need.

Recommended Herbs and Spices for Chicken

Chicken is one of the most popular and all-around pleasing options when it comes to meat. It’s a blank canvas that you can do a lot with so long as you have the right tools in your arsenal. You’ll be able to please even the pickiest eaters around you with chicken.

Some of the spices and herbs you should use with chicken are similar to the compatible options for beef. For example, basil, bay leaves, parsley, rosemary, and tarragon are all great choices for chicken

Of course, you’ll never go wrong adding a little salt and pepper and you can even experiment with different pepper types.

Chicken is an especially great choice when you want to experiment with a variety of different spices because it complements so many different flavors. So, don’t be afraid to test a few different ideas as you try out more chicken dishes.

As far as wood goes, you can use apple or cherry if you want to add some sweet flavor to your chicken, or pecan if you want to add a nutty flavor. A hickory-smoked chicken will provide the strongest wood flavor available (use hickory wood sparingly as it can be overpowerful).

Recommended Herbs and Spices for Pork

Pork has risen in popularity as a tasty option that’s often a little less  expensive than other meats like beef. 

Luckily, it’s also a meat that takes to spices and herbs well, meaning you have a lot of options when it comes to making sure your pork dishes come out flavorful and tasty.

There are some common spices that you should have handy in your kitchen for pork as well as some of the other options we’ve looked at here. Again, choices such as basil, oregano, garlic, parsley, and thyme are common and delicious choices.

You can also add a bit of a twist by incorporating spices like cloves, allspice, and ginger in your recipes.

For pork, we love using applewood or cherry wood. There’s just something perfect about the marriage of fruitwoods and pork. 

Of course, hickory or pecan work great too.

Ready to get cooking?

Cooking outdoors and around a fire doesn’t have to be a scary process. With Cutting Edge Firewood, we love to make it easy to cook amazing food outside.