Applewood-smoked foods have become increasingly popular in recent years. From pork ribs and beef brisket to fish, chicken and steak, it offers a delicious flavor that's simply not found elsewhere. But what exactly does "applewood smoked" mean? If you're trying to grasp the concept of this culinary term, keep reading for an in-depth explanation of applewood smoked and how it can compliment your backyard barbecuing skills.
Applewood Smoked: The Basics
The term "applewood smoked" is used to describe any food -- meat or vegetable -- that's been cooked over an applewood-burning fire. Food is placed on a grill or smoker in which applewood chunks, splits, or logs are being used. Once lit, the applewood will release smoke that injects the food with a semi-sweet, apple-like flavor. Cooking food over wood has been a tradition for thousands of years, and recently it has been growing in popularity. Applewood is an extremely popular wood for cooking because it excels in its ability to create delicious, flavorful food.
What Is Applewood?
Applewood is wood harvested from the apple-bearing tree Malus pumila. The apple tree is believed to have originated from Central Asia, but today they are grown and cultivated in regions throughout the world. Most regions cultivate the apple tree for its fruit. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the global production of apples in 2014 was more than 84 million tons, with China producing almost half of this amount. And while most regions continue to cultivate apple trees for its fruit, some harvest them for wood.
Apple wood shares several properties with other fruit-bearing trees. The apple tree is a hardwood that sheds its leaves once a year in the fall season to prepare for winter. Because it's a hardwood, it's also stronger and denser than softwoods like cedar, pine and fir. This makes applewood an excellent source of fuel for wood-burning fires, as it burns hot and stays lit for a long period of time. The same sweet flavor that you get when you bite into an apple can be absorbed into your food when you cook over an applewood fire.
What Is Smoking?
Smoking, when used in context of cooking, refers to the process of slow-cooking food over wood so that it's exposed to flavorful smoke. According to The Herald, smoking has origins dating all the way back to the primitive cavemen, during which cavemen would smoke large amounts of meat to preserve it from bacteria and pests. Today, it's still used by millions of people throughout the world to cook meats and vegetables.
The defining characteristic of smoking is that it exposes food to smoke from burning wood (hence the name). Different types of wood provide different flavors. For instance, hickory cooking wood produces a bold flavor, pecan creates a mild nutty flavor, and smoking with apple wood produces a mild, sweet flavor that is delicious on pork, chicken, and a wide variety of other foods.
When it comes to flavor, the quality of wood is also extremely important. If you cook with wood that is wet and moldy, it will create lots of black smoke that leaves your food smelling and tasting musty. Nobody wants that! For the best results, you should always cook over wood that has gone through a rigorous kiln drying process. That will ensure the wood is dry, dense, and clean. You'll get nothing but the apple flavor when you cook with premium applewood, so don't settle for anything except the best quality!
Benefits of Applewood-Smoked Foods
Why should you smoke food with applewood instead of other types of wood? For starters, applewood contains very little resin. This is important because many softwoods, including pine and fir, are filled with resin. When burned, this resin produces harsh soot that leaches onto the food. Applewood doesn't suffer from this problem thanks to its low concentration of resin.
Unless you've tried applewood-smoked food before, you might be surprised to learn just how delicious it is. Applewood contains a high concentration of sugar molecules that essentially caramelize the outside of meats and vegetables. Furthermore, the smoke produced by burning applewood injects a sweet, savory flavor into food.
If apple flavor isn't your thing, then it's worth giving other woods a try like cherry, maple, pecan, or hickory. All of these hardwoods are great cooking woods because they are resin-free and provide great flavors. Each flavor is unique and can complement different foods nicely. The best way to find out what you like is to get started trying!
Applewood Smoking Tips
Whether this is your first time attempting to smoke food with applewood, or if you've been doing it for years, there are a few things you should know. When smoking food with applewood (or any wood), you'll want to keep the heat low. The best results come when you cook your food "low and slow." This provides the smoke with plenty of time to be absorbed by your food and helps keep food juicy the whole time. Depending on your smoker or grill set-up, there are different methods for keeping your food cooking at a consistently low and slow temperature. One tool we highly recommend is the Flame Boss 500, which monitors your smoker's temperature and can keep it consistent for hours at a time.
In the video below, you can watch how Evan smoked his first pork butt. He used cherry smoking chunks, but if you're cooking in a kamado/ceramic style grill you would use the applewood chunks the exact same way. It's a great introduction to the process of cooking low and slow for great results.
If you're cooking with applewood chunks, then you do not need to soak them. A popular misconception is that you should soak your wood before cooking with it, but this only slows your fire and adds steam. It doesn't add flavor and is an unnecessary waste of time.
What size Applewood do I need?
There is a wide variety of sizes when it comes to smoking with applewood. If you're trying to decide which size wood to cook with, then you basically need to consider the size of your smoker.
If you're cooking inside a kamado/ceramic style grill like a Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, or Primo then apple chunks are the perfect size. You can use charcoal as your primary heat source, and then add 2-3 large applewood chunks to your cook. You'll want to add the applewood just before you add the food your smoking for maximum flavor. Many people talk about cooking with wood chips, but we have found that wood chunks are superior to chips in every possible way.
If you're using an offset or vertical smoker, then apple cooking wood splits are a great option. Our cooking splits are 8" long (half the length of our logs) and 1-2" in thickness. These can be used exclusively or you can mix them with charcoal in a smoker box.
And lastly, if you're cooking over an open fire or inside a large smoker, then nothing beats apple cooking wood logs. These large pieces of wood are 16" in length and 3-5" in thickness. They can provide lots of flavor and an incredible experience when you're looking to give lots of food that applewood smoked flavor.
Where Can I get the best Apple Cooking Wood?
There are countless places you can look for to source applewood. You could try your neighbor's tree that fell over or you could pick something up at the local hardware store. If you want the best, however, then you should look no further than Cutting Edge Firewood.
Most applewood on the market has started to decay, contains too much moisture, and even contains mold or fungus. You don't want to cook with that. We put our applewood through the most rigorous drying process in the industry - it spends 48 hours inside a 250 degree kiln. The wood is fresh when it enters the kiln, so it has not started to decay. It remains dense and hard, but also comes out extremely dry and clean. This gives you an incredible smoking experience that you need to try yourself to believe.
You can shop all of our firewood for cooking in our online store, or view our popular applewood options below: