There is misinformation out there that you may have been victim to. When cooking with hardwood, you may have been under the impression that only certain woods can be used with certain foods. For instance, hickory is reserved only for pork shoulder and brisket. Cherry for chicken, etc.
But that is hardly the truth.
Hardwood used for cooking must be viewed as another ingredient. As a key ingredient, it needs to be balanced with the food item and other ingredients used in preparation before grilling and smoking.
The intent today is to provide a guide on combinations of hardwood that work well for specific foods. Essentially, the ingredients of a rub, glaze, sauce or marinade will dictate what hardwoods will maximize all the flavors to become a finished masterpiece.
Hardwood Selection as a Compatible Ingredient
The goal when using hardwood is balance of the flavor outcome. You never want the hardwood to produce an ashy or burnt flavor. The essence of the wood should simply add to the beautiful flavor outcome for a memorable eating experience.
Here is SmokinLicious® rating on boldness of flavor for the hardwoods we offer:
When I design wood recipes for specific foods, I like to think about balancing out a medium or bolder flavor with one that is lighter. For lighter fare items like vegetables and fish, two wood combinations are generally used while longer cooked animal proteins can tolerate three hardwoods well.
In the chart that follows, reference is provided to various foods that benefit from exposure to the specified hardwoods. Use the color blocks indicated under each food group to guide you on combinations. Find the same color blocks in that group, and you have the balanced combination of hardwood. For instance, under Fruit, there are two red squares for an alder and cherry combination. Under the Fish column, there are 3 options: Alder and Maple represented by the pink square, Beech and Cherry represented by the orange square, and Ash and Maple represented by the gray square. These combinations are balanced by the essence they produce in the smoke vapor. Just use equal parts of each wood and remember, always start with a small quantity of hardwood as it does not take much to produce great flavor.
TIP: if you are using a spicy rub, default to combinations that includes mild to moderate flavor intensity. Using sweet ingredients, include a bolder hardwood flavor.
Experiment to find your favorite combinations of hardwood and soon you’ll have your own personal, detailed guide!
Do you have a favorite combination of hardwood? Leave us a comment and subscribe to get our latest tips, techniques, recipes and the science behind the fire and smoke, for all live fire cooking methods. That’s SmokinLicious!