When you barbecue at home, it doesn’t have to be the same old boring flavor every time. One of the great advantages of grilling out versus cooking indoors, in fact, is that you can add different types of wood to your heat source in order to create smoke that adds distinctive flavors to your meats. Next time you barbecue at home, follow some of these expert tips, and play around until you find your perfect flavor.
The first thing to think about when you barbecue at home with wood smoke is whether you’re going to use chips, chunks or logs. Obviously, the difference between the three is simply size. Chips are scraps and shavings that are easily available in stores; they light quickly and burn out quickly. Chunks are about the size of a fist and take longer to ignite, but they burn for a full hour. Logs are, well, logs. They’re great if you’re barbecuing in a pit or with an offset smoker, but aren’t practical for grilling.
Once you’ve decided which size of wood you want to use, it’s time to consider flavor. It all comes down to three categories, really: mild woods, medium woods or heavy woods.
- Mild woods include alder and fruit woods. Think apple or cherry woods that are mild with hints of fruity sweetness. These woods are a good option for delicate meats such as chicken or fish.
- Oak and hickory are the most popular medium woods. Hickory is heavier than oak, but both are great for pork or beef.
- When you say “heavy woods,” you’re probably talking about mesquite. Really, this is such a strong flavor that only meats such as brisket can stand up to it.
Once you’ve decided on size and flavor, it’s time to get down to business. Some people prefer to soak the wood in water before lighting it, while other experts only do this for wood chips. This will make the wood more difficult to light, but it will burn longer, so it makes sense to do this for wood chips, but might not work for you if you want to light chunks or logs, which already burn for a long time, quickly. Soak wood chips for at least 30 minutes before putting them into the heat.
Speaking of heat, you can use wood chips in both a charcoal grill and a gas grill. To use them with charcoal, let them drip dry a little bit before adding them to the coals; you can then scatter them over the burning coals directly, or enclosing them in a sheet of foil, with some holes poked in it to let the smoke escape. Set this packet off to the side, where it won’t be in the path of drips from the meat. You can close a charcoal grill for stronger flavor.
With a gas grill, the technique is a little bit different. Many gas grills have a smoker box built in, with its own dedicated burner. In that case, you’ll just add your chips to the box, turn the burner on high, and then adjust it when the wood starts to smoke. If there’s no such box on your grill, use the same foil technique mentioned above, placing the packet under the cooking grid of one of the hot burners, and adjust the heat accordingly. Again, for a stronger flavor, leave the grill lid shut for longer.
Does this all seem like too much effort? We’ll let you in on a little secret for the next time you barbecue at home: when you buy Tony Roma’s pre-cooked ribs, they come already cooked and full of flavor! This makes them the perfect choice for when you want to make it easier on yourself, or when you don’t have time to smoke the meat. Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram for more barbecue tips!