There are a variety of wood chips available on the market and purely a matter of your own taste and preferences. But there are ways to use those chips to bring out more flavor in your poultry, pork, wild game or beef as well as non traditional smoked foods such as salt, brown sugar and I do all types of vegetables including garlic and a variety of cheeses.
I prefer the fruit woods for almost any meats and other food types such as vegetables or cheese, whether smoking or grilling, because of their mild flavor enhancement, however, Oak, Nut Woods and Mesquite bring a bold flavor to beef in particular and can be combined with fruit wood for a sweet depth of flavor to other meats. When combined, I use a 3 to 1 ratio of the sweeter fruit woods to 1 part of the bolder woods. Of course your ratio can be different, but if you're just starting out with your grilling or smoking venture, you may want to experiment a bit before you settle on your preferred wood-smoked flavor. Oak is a preferred choice for many die-hard grill masters, but definitely do not limit your choices and miss out on other great flavor options.
I soak my wood chips in hot water, so that the water will penetrate best. But you are not limited to using water for soaking; consider using your favorite wine or hard liquor as your soaking medium. Soaking in wine or liquor works especially well with Oak wood or the milder fruit woods. In addition I have used pure Apple Cider as my soaking medium, which works especially well with Apple wood.
Very often I add fresh or dired herbs and spices to the soaking wood chips, to allow another depth of flavor to the smoked meats. Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Oregano are great choices to add to the grill even if you have previously seasoned the meats. For spices; especially if I'm using fruit wood, I will add whole cloves, whole cinnamon, whole allspice or even star anise.
Can you use wood you've cut and chipped yourself? Yes, with some exceptions. Fruit, and nut woods are fine, but avoid conifers, and especially pine and cedar. Pine is very resinous and Cedar when burned is very toxic to inhale or eat.
When making your choice of what wood to use, think about smoked meats you've tried and what wood they were smoked in. Did you enjoy that flavor? The milder flavored woods are Apple, Cherry and Pecan, and these work well with Chicken, Ham, Fish or Pork, vegetables and cheese. Hickory and Oak are a little bolder but not overwhelming and work well with all meats, and you may enjoy the deeper flavor in cheese smoked with these woods. Mesquite is quite strong and the choice of BBQ masters especially for Burgers, Beef Brisket, Baby Back Ribs and Chicken wings.
You do not need to use wood chips if you prefer, you can just toss some of your herbs onto the grill. Rosemary or Sage is especially good for this method of smoking.
Grilling or Smoking takes a little experimentation to find the flavor enhancements that work best for your own tastebuds, but also consider the side dishes that you will be preparing. If you have milder flavored side dishes you may opt for bolder flavored meats. If your side dishes are spicy or bolder in flavor, you may opt for the milder flavored wood smoke, to balance the over all flavor of the meal.
No matter which wood chips you choose, or soaking medium, suit to your own taste. We all have a little different taste preferences and definitely not limited to flavor choices when you understand that you can add a different soaking medium or herbs and spices to those wood chips, whether grilling or smoking your favorite meats.
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