When choosing cooking wood, you should consider whether it’s a hardwood or softwood variety. According to NPR, there are approximately 60,065 identified species of trees in the world. While no two species are exactly the same, they can all be classified as either a hardwood or softwood variety. So, which of these varieties offers the best flavor and performance when used for grilling or smoking foods?
Softwood vs Hardwood Trees: What You Should Know
Upon hearing the terms “softwood” and “hardwood,” many people assume they refer to the physical hardness of a tree. Although this would make sense, the terms actually refer to the way in which a tree reproduces. Hardwood trees are deciduous, meaning they produce flowers — typically during the spring season — that require pollination in order for the tree to reproduce. In comparison, softwood trees are coniferous, meaning they reproduce by growing and dropping cones or fruit.
Hardwood trees are usually harder, physically, than softwood trees, but this rule doesn’t apply for all tree species. Some hardwood trees are less dense than softwood trees and vise versa. Regardless, the terms “softwood” and “hardwood” refer specifically to the way in which a tree reproduces, with hardwoods reproducing via flowers and softwoods reproducing via cones or fruit. Additionally, softwood trees are considered evergreen because, unlike hardwood trees, they don’t shed their leaves each year.
Most Cooking Wood Is Made of Hardwood Trees
Whether you’re searching for cooking wood logs, smoking chunks or smoking chunks, you’ll probably discover that most cooking wood is made of hardwood trees. Popular varieties of hardwood cooking wood include oak, cherry, hickory and pecan. Unfortunately, some people unknowingly use softwood cooking wood, believing it offers the same flavor and performance as hardwood cooking wood. While certain types of softwood can be used to grill or smoke foods, hardwood is typically a better choice for the following reasons.
Hardwood Cooking Wood Burns Hotter
You can build hotter fires in your grill or smoker using hardwood cooking wood rather than softwood. As previously mentioned, most — though not all — softwood trees are less dense than hardwoods. With less organic matter, softwoods produce less heat than hardwoods when burned. So, if you’re struggling to achieve a desirable temperature in your grill or smoker, you should start using hardwood cooking wood.
Hardwood Cooking Wood Burns Longer
Not only does it burn hotter, but hardwood cooking wood burns longer than its softwood counterpart. No cooking wood lasts forever. As it burns, it will turn to coal and then ash, at which point you’ll have to add more logs, smoking chunks or smoking chips to keep your fire going. With that said, hardwood cooking wood almost always burns for a longer period of time than softwood. With its long burn time, you won’t have to continuously open your grill or smoker to add more wood.
Keep in mind that the size of your cooking wood will affect its burn time as well. Larger pieces of cooking wood tend to burn longer than smaller pieces, even if they are the same variety.
Hardwood Cooking Wood Offers a Better Flavor
The flavor provided by hardwood cooking wood is simply incomparable to that of softwood cooking wood. The problem with grilling or smoking foods with softwood cooking wood is that it exposes your foods to resin-saturated smoke. Many softwood trees, such as pines, contain high concentrations of resin. When used as a fuel inside a grill or smoker, the wood’s resin will be released as smoke, which is absorbed into your foods to create a bitter and unpleasant flavor. Hardwood cooking wood has little or no resin, so you can avoid this headache by choosing it instead of softwood cooking wood for your grilling and smoking cookouts.
Hardwood Cooking Wood Is Safer to Use
Because it has little or no resin, hardwood cooking wood is less likely to pop and shoot embers when burned than softwood cooking wood. The high resin content of softwood cooking could result in stray embers popping out of your grill or smoker. For a safer and more enjoying cooking experience, choose hardwood cooking wood instead of softwood cooking wood.
Hardwood Cooking Woods Can Caramelize Foods
Grilling or smoking foods with hardwood cooking wood can create a deliciously caramelized exterior. This is because hardwood trees are comprised of three main compounds: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. When burned, cellulose and hemicellulose are converted into organic compounds known as carbonyls that form a sweet caramelized exterior. You can cook delicious chicken, beef, pork, fish or pretty much any other meat using hardwood cooking wood.
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