Spending a weekend stoking BBQ flames is officially at the top of our list of good times. And we know you’re as keen on the smokin lifestyle as we are, so we thought we’d put finger to keyboard and offer up some hints and tips on one of our favourite subjects – wood.

A prized piece of protein can taste radically different each time you cook, depending on the cooking method you choose. Braising, grilling and smoking all develop the protein in different ways, cultivating degrees of flavour, each different to the other. Since we’re talking all things wood and smoking, let’s focus on what the smoke does and how it turns a piece of meat into an irresistible life-time pursuit.

In the words of noted Food Scientist, Harold McGee in this post by Saveur – The Science of Smoke, the smoke particles literally infiltrate the food:
“In combustion, very large molecules break down into lots of very small ones. Those tiny aromatic products fly through the air and end up in our noses and on the surface of food. Just the same way moisture condenses on a cold glass in summertime, the volatile molecules of the smoke vapour condense on the food.”

So. With the knowledge of how the smoke transfers flavour to your protein, let’s look at ways you can add your own spin on it and enhance it, using specific types of woods and techniques.

As a rule, different woods work better with different meats. Lighter proteins like chicken and pork work well with a lighter wood option, giving a more subtle result. Lamb and beef can both handle the moderate and heavier woods. But as we all know, rules are meant to be broken, so don’t be afraid to try things out for yourself. What about combining wood? You never know what custom flavours you might come up with. Sure…you might have some duds in there, but at least you’ll know for certain. And you never know what you might discover in the process!

One of our favourite ways to really get the flavour in there is to add flavour to the wood itself. Soaking your wood for a couple of hours in wine, beer or spirits not only slows the burn process, but also adds to the final flavour of the protein. Try it next time you’re smoking. Just remember to compensate for the slower burn with the soaked chunks or chips by keeping the fire stoked and at temperature.

We’ve done a lot of experimenting of our own, and we’ve done some poking around the internet to find the best advise for protein/timber combinations and this is what we’ve found:
Thanks to our friends at Prime Cut Meats for this quick guide on wood, flavour and cut type:

Wood Type – Oak or Hickory
Rubs – As a general rule, beef is delicious with just liberally applied salt and pepper. If you want to get a bit fancier, try a mustard rub.
Sauces – Beef is always paired well with a really good BBQ sauce.
Best Cuts – Point End Brisket, Short or Chuck Ribs, Tri tip (sometimes called the bottom sirloin), Bolar Blade, Chuck Roll, Top Side, Knuckle.

Wood Type – Apple, Peach or Hickory
Rubs – Dry rubs are the bomb with pork. Try rubs with some sweetness. Use dark sugars with spices such as paprika, cayenne, juniper, garlic powder, thyme or oregano.
Sauces – Wet sauces and sweet barbecue mops and jam based bastes are your best bet here. Pork, if pulled, is often matched with a Carolina style BBQ sauce that is sweet, mustardy and vinegar based.
Best Cuts – Pork Collar Butt / Boston Butt, Pork Shoulder, St Louis Pork Ribs, Pork Ribs USA Style, Baby Back Ribs.

And to the folk at Smoked & Cured for their thoughts on the best use for woods:
"As a rule of thumb, you would use fruit and nut woods for white to pink meat, i.e. chicken, fish and pork. For red meats, you would choose a hard smoking wood, such as hickory or mesquite. If you get stuck, consider the material that the tree produces – that will offer some clue as to the strength of the smoke that you will receive. Please note that you should never use pine wood – the sap will create a bitter and acrid smoke. Painted or treated wood should also be avoided, as should sawdust created using a chainsaw. Eucalyptus is loved by some and loathed by others, while walnut is used by some to create a bitter and unusual smoky flavour. Ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule – choose a smoking wood that suits your personal taste."

Want to start your own smoking journey? Check out our brand new Billy The Kid, reverse flow smoker, or the very popular Kamado. Call Bron on 0414 863 444 or drop a line to howdy@wildwestsmokers.com.au for more information.