The right firewood can make a world of difference in the flavor of your cooked meats and vegetables. All types of firewood produce heat and smoke when burned. Some, however, produce more than others. And the flavor created by the smoke varies depending on the type of firewood used. Whether you're cooking steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, vegetable kebabs or anything else, you should select the right type of firewood to achieve the perfect flavor.
Where Firewood Flavor Comes From
The flavor created by firewood comes from the smoke it produces when burned. Burning firewood creates smoke as a byproduct. As the fire breaks down the wood's cellulose and other organic compounds, it creates smoke that seeps into the food to inject it with new flavors. If you're a seasoned backyard chef, though, you may have noticed that certain types of firewood add different flavors to food. This is because each type of firewood has its own unique organic composition, so the flavor of their smoke is also unique.
Most firewood used for cooking is hardwood, meaning it's harvested from a deciduous tree that sheds its leaves once a year. Hardwood is both denser and drier than softwood. When used for cooking, it creates a rich smoke that's superior to that of softwood. You can still use softwood to cook with, but you'll create a stronger, more delicious flavor by burning hardwood instead.
Alder Firewood Flavor
A preferred choice among backyard chefs when cooking fish and chicken, alder firewood creates a sweet but subtle wood-like flavor. It burns relatively slow while producing a fair amount of heat in the process. Alder wood is an excellent choice if you want to add a touch of sweetness to your food but without overdoing it.
Ash Firewood Flavor
You can also cook food with ash firewood. Harvested from the broad-leaved tree of its namesake, ash firewood creates a mild maple-like flavor. Thanks to its mild properties, it's great for grilling or smoking just about any meat or vegetable. Keep in mind, however, that ash firewood burns hotter and faster than many other types of firewood. Therefore, you'll need to regularly check your grill or smoker to add more wood chunks when necessary.
Cherry Firewood Flavor
Harvested from the fruit-bearing cherry tree, cherry firewood consistently ranks as one of the most popular types of firewood for cooking. It has a semi-sweet, cherry-like flavor that compliments most meats and vegetables. When cooking with cherry firewood, you may also discover that it turns your food to a pink or light red color. This is a telltale sign that your food has absorbed the cherry firewood's flavor-rich smoke.
Apple Firewood Flavor
Apple firewood, or what's more commonly known as applewood, creates a similar but slightly stronger flavor than cherry firewood. This makes it ideal for meats that require heavy seasoning, such as tough cuts of beef or pork, as well as chicken. As it burns, apple firewood produces thick smoke that turns otherwise bland foods into mouthwatering, delicious dishes.
Oak Firewood Flavor
Perhaps the most common type of firewood used for cooking is oak. It's an inexpensive and readily available type of hardwood, making it ideal for grilling and smoking foods. Oak firewood creates a mild musky flavor that's not overbearing or otherwise hard on your taste buds. And like cherry firewood, it also gives meats and vegetables a distinct color. There are different types of oak firewood, however, some of which are better suited for cooking than others. White oak is often recommended for cooking, as it burns hot, produces decent smoke and has minimal moisture when properly seasoned.
Maple Firewood Flavor
Maple firewood is well known for it sweet, syrup-like flavor. Maple trees produce clear, thin sap that contains about 2% sugar content. As a result, maple firewood contains some of this sap -- maple syrup -- that enhances the flavor of foods. It's often used to cook chicken, turkey and fish. Like all other types of firewood, however, you can use maple to cook any meat or vegetable.
Hickory Firewood Flavor
Among the most versatile types of firewood for cooking is hickory. It creates a rich and savory bacon-like flavor that bodes well with all nearly all foods. If you're planning to cook using hickory firewood, though, you should use caution not to overdo it. Grilling or smoking food for too long over hickory firewood flavor can leave your food tasting bitter. To prevent this from happening, use more coals in your grill or smoker so that it produces more heat and cooks your food more quickly.
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