Barring the convenience of microwaves, nothing beats old-fashioned wood-fired cooking. The best wood for grilling cooks meat effectively and provides a lot of flavor.
Many cooks might try to get away with wood chips or pellets to influence a dish, but only certain varieties of wood are fit for a master chef’s arsenal. Different woods have different flavors, and to cook with wood is to temper a dish’s flavor with that of the wood.
Certainly, you can’t cook with fresh wood, as it contains too much moisture, isn’t dense enough and doesn’t provide a good flavor. As a general rule, aromatic firewood that provides long-term, high heat while limiting smoke is the best wood to grill with. Keep reading to find out why.
Why Does Grilling Wood Need to Be Dry?
The driest wood is easiest to start. Removing virtually all moisture makes firewood much more flammable and much less likely to ruin food with excess creosote. The two major ways of removing moisture are “seasoning” and kiln-drying.
“Seasoning” is a popular, inexpensive way of drying firewood. To season firewood, vendors simply leave it outside, usually over the summer. During this 6-month process, a loose tarp or awning protects the firewood from the elements.
Kiln-drying is an infinitely more effective process, requiring about 48 hours to generate significantly drier firewood. Seasoning reduces firewood’s moisture content to about 30%, but the moisture content of kiln-dried firewood effortlessly sinks below 20%. With this low amount of moisture, firewood can cook food much more thoroughly without bringing about excess smoke and creosote.
Why Does Grilling Wood Need to Be Dense?
Another important factor to consider is density, which determines how hot fires will be and how long they’ll persist. But how do you know which wood is densest? For starters, hardwoods are always denser than softwoods.
Fire made with dense wood, like oak or hickory, is substantially hotter than fire made with pine. Also, hardwood is much less likely to contain bitter sap that can ruin food.
Which Grilling Wood Offers the Best Flavor?
When you use firewood for grilling, you’re essentially seasoning food with wood, and you should let that analogy inform the wood you use: Which flavor of wood is going to pair best with this type of food?
Depending on the climate, different woods absorb different nutrients from soil. On top of this, the subtle flavor of a tree’s fruit may be present.
Oak might be the best wood for grilling steak.
A solid bed of coals is the foundation for any carnivorous smorgasbord, and oak wood is an effective option for such a task. This dense hardwood provides the most heat for the most time, so it’s perfect for making a coal bed, especially if you’re a beginner.
Also, because oak doesn’t have a lot of flavor in the first place, it’s versatile. You can use it to cook red meat and white meat, alike. It might even be the best wood for grilling pizza. However, if you’re cooking red meat, oak is ideal for a nice sear.
If you’re feeling bold, you can try hickory or mesquite for stronger, barbecue flavors. Still, it’s easier for these woods to overwhelm meat with too much smoke, so be sure to use each sparingly and pay close attention to whatever you cook. They may not be easy to cook with, but they’re great complements to spice and pure sweetness. Both flavors are perfect for fatty cuts of beef and lean cuts of pork as well as burgers.
For grilling chicken among other types of poultry, you might benefit from a combination of oak and cherry.
You can rely on the oak most heavily for cooking, but you can add cherry as the meat cooks to let in a bit of smoky fruit flavor that’s not too sweet. Besides, cherry smells even better than cedar!
Using other fruitwoods, like apple, apricot and peach, might present sweeter or tangier notes, but none should overpower the inherent flavors of most birds.
In particular, applewood is the most popular fruitwood, owing its popularity to a high amount of sweetness and tang that make it versatile enough for all poultry or even pork.
Finally, peach contrasts against other wood by being effective primarily for shellfish or other seafood. It doesn’t overwhelm food with heat, and its mild flavor makes it the best wood for grilling shrimp or scallops. Peach can cook poultry and pork, but it’s best for seafood.
The Other White Meat
Pork is also a good fit for hotter, denser wood like oak and hickory, but it’s also light and sweet enough by itself to be a good match for maple. Sugar maple is good for making all forms of pork fall right off the bone.
The signature sweetness of maple wood is hardly replicable. Whether you’re working with ground pork, sausages or whole chops, maple is your best bet.
How Can I Store Leftovers?
If you have any leftovers, save the food for tomorrow, and stack extra firewood appropriately. Extra firewood needs to maintain dryness to be effective in the future.
Keeping firewood outside is a good start. You should leave it under either an awning or a loose tarp to protect it without reducing airflow among individual pieces of wood. And as you stack them, make sure there’s a lot of space among the logs, as this will also allow for greater airflow.
Finally, keep your firewood off the ground. Leaving it on a pallet or concrete is most effective.
Where Can I Restock on the Good Stuff?
As wood-fired cooking becomes more popular among restaurant owners and home cooks across the country, we know you’ll enjoy using premium cooking wood in your grill. The social aspect of gathering around a fire is just as important as what you’re cooking.
Whether you’re a long-term veteran of wood-fired cooking or you’re just starting out, we hope you’ll enjoy your own wood-fired cooking sometime this season.
If you want to know where to buy wood for grilling, Lumberjacks is proud to offer an impeccably dry and dense selection among apple, cherry, oak and hickory. Please call, email or fill our online form to score some killer cooking wood.