Nothing beats the mouthwatering flavor and pull-apart tenderness of smoked meat. From beef brisket and pork chops to steaks, ribs and fish, smoking cooks meat at a low temperature while exposing it to flavorful compounds. Although it takes longer than grilling, the end result is well worth your time. After your meat has finished smoking, it will have an out-of-this-world flavor that's guaranteed to draw compliments from anyone who tries it.
For the best smoking experience, though, you need to choose the right wood chunks for smoking. Some home chefs assume that any type of wood can be used to smoke meat, but this isn't true. Unless it comes from the right species or variety of tree, it won't enhance the flavor of your meat. In fact, some types of wood can actually leave a bitter flavor behind. To prevent this from happening with your smoked, meat, consider one of the following types of flavorful smoking chunks.
White Oak Smoking Chunks
Harvested from white oak trees (Quercus alba), white oak smoking chunks are an excellent choice for first-time smoking chefs. They offer a mild flavor that's not too overbearing yet able to compliment most meats and even veggies. And because white oak is a hardwood, white oak smoking chunks are also dry and easy to light. If this is your first time attempting to smoke meats or veggies, white oak smoking chunks are a safe choice.
Hickory Smoking Chunks
For a stronger flavor, consider using hickory smoking chunks. Harvested from hickory trees (genus Carya), they offer a stronger flavor than their white oak counterparts. One of the great things about hickory smoking chunks is the fact that you can mix them with other, milder types of smoking chunks. Using a 50-50 combination of white oak and hickory smoking chunks, for example, offers the best of both worlds. While the exact flavor of hickory smoking chunks varies depending on the food with which you use them, they typically taste sweet and with a hint of bacon.
Pecan Smoking Chunks
Another deliciously flavorful type of smoking chunks is pecan. Harvested from pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis), it yields a nutty flavor that compliments beef, chicken, pork, fish and nearly all other meats. Keep in mind that pecan smoking chunks are pretty sweet, so you may want to mix them with other, less sweet smoking chunks. Some people prefer the strong sweet flavor of pecan smoking chunks, but others prefer a less sweet flavor. If you fall under the latter category, you can mix pecan smoking chunks with white oak to lower the sweetness of your meat. Alternatively, you can start with a small pile of pecan smoking chunks and gradually add more as needed.
Cherry Smoking Chunks
Harvested from cherry trees (subgenus Cerasus), cherry smoking chunks have been around for decades. And during that time, they've consistently ranked as one of the top choices among home chefs. So, what type of flavor do cherry smoking chunks offer? They typically produce a mild fruity flavor that's, not surprisingly, similar to cherries. While you can use cherry smoking chunks for any type of meat or veggie, they work particularly well with chicken, turkey, ham and pork.
Whiskey Smoking Chunks
Finally, whiskey smoking chunks take a different approach than the other types of smoking chunks listed here. The term "whiskey smoking chunks" doesn't refer to a specific species or variety of tree. Instead, it refers to smoking chunks made of wood from aged whiskey barrels. The whiskey barrels themselves are usually made of oak wood. Because they are used to store whiskey, though, the wood is infused with a delicious whiskey flavor. As a result, using whiskey smoking chunks will add a semi-sweet whiskey flavor to your meats or veggies. Keep in mind that whiskey smoking chunks have a strong flavor, so you should use them with caution. As with other strong-flavored smoking chunks, start with a small pile of whiskey smoking chunks and add more as needed.
Tips to Get the Most Flavor From Your Smoking Chunks
- Thoroughly clean the inside of your grill or smoker before adding smoking chunks.
- Avoid using lighter fluid to start your smoking chunks.
- Contrary to popular belief, soaking your smoking chunks in water won't increase their flavor, so don't worry about them soaking them.
- Place smoking chunks next to your charcoal.
- Keep the lid on your grill or smoker closed to prevent the flavorful smoke from escaping.
- When your smoking chunks have burned down to ash, add new smoking chunks to replace them.
- Experiment by combining different types of smoking chunks.
- Choose a flavorful variety of smoking chunks that compliments your meats or veggies.
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