Barbecue, cuts of meat cooked slowly over low heat, has a taste like no other food. Along with the sauces and spices used to flavor the meat, much of its distinctive taste comes from wood smoke. Placing a handful of wood chips on the heat source of your grill not only helps cook the meat, but also imparts a savory, smoky, or even fruity flavor—one of the secrets of great barbecue.
There are a variety of flavorings and woods from which to choose. Hickory, the traditional wood for Southern barbecue, is a popular choice for cookouts. Rich and savory, it’s perfect for pork—especially ribs and shoulder—but can mask the flavor of other types of meat. A more versatile wood is oak, which adds a clean but savory note to all types of meat, poultry, and seafood. Fruitwoods such as apple and cherry impart a slightly sweet flavor that complements pork and game, such as venison, duck, and pheasant.
Wood Chips How-To
To prepare your grill for smoking, soak the chips in water for half an hour. (Soaking ensures that the chips will smoke and not ignite. Apple or pineapple juice can be used instead of water, if you want a sweeter taste.) Wrap the soaked wood chips in foil packets, poke holes in the foil, and carefully lay the packets on the charcoal or other heat source before placing food on the grate. Each packet of wood chips usually lasts a half hour, so be sure to add more as you barbecue.