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With a charcoal barbecue grill, you already get the smoky flavor from the charcoal alone. But you can enhance that flavor with a liberal scattering of woodchips. Different types of wood chip impart different flavors to the food.
When it comes to gas cooking, the news is even better, because you can use the wood chips to get the smoky flavor that is lacking from gas alone. (See our Tips and Tricks article: Getting that smoky flavor from a gas Barbecue.) But to use wood chips on a gas barbecue, you must either wrap the wood chips in foil and poke holes in the foil or else get a proper metal wood chip box (reviewed in the Part II of this article).
But first, let’s take a look at some of the marvelous wood chips and wood chunks that are available. We’ve tried to come up with the best for many types of wood, both chunks and chips. Indeed, our reviews include not only traditional smoking woods, but also some more exotic varieties, including from whisky barrels and French vines.
Hickory is almost certainly the single most popular wood for use in outdoor cooking - whether it be a hickory fire, scattering hickory wood chips on top of smoldering charcoal or putting them in a wood chip box in a closed gas barbecue for half an hour.
These untreated hickory wood chips, from BBQ titans Weber, came in a 700-gram bag. That’s about more than enough for one biggish barbecue with maybe six to ten family and friends. In our case, we stretched it to eleven.
We soaked some of the chips in warm water for 60 minutes. Because this was out of doors, the water didn’t get cold, although obviously it cooled somewhat. We let them drain, put them in the wood box together with some dry chips (in our experience, it’s the mixture of soaked and dry that ensures continuous smoke throughout) and put them in a closed gas barbecue. We found that that after about the first 20 minutes, the chips were giving off a lot of smoke which lasted for about an hour after that.
Because we were in a mood for experimenting, we decided to cook a mixture of meat, poultry and vegetables. So, we cooked a joint of silverside beef and a marinated (and regularly basted) turkey crown for over an hour. We also cooked some baby potatoes in their skins for about 45 minutes and some vegetables in the last 15 minutes. We found that they all benefited from the fruity, smoky flavor. This was especially true of the corn cobbettes, but also the beef and turkey.
We also found that the meat - and also the corn, whole shallots and baby potatoes - absorbed plenty of smoke, which made a big difference to the flavor. And when we say “difference” we mean a POSITIVE difference - in a big way.
Weber is the big name in the barbecue world, so one would expect anything that comes from their camp to be of the best quality. That is usually, if not always, the case, and these wood chips are definitely the rule rather than the exception.
We soaked about a third of the packet for about 45 minutes (they recommend at least 30, but it can be more) drained them, added them to an equal portion of dry wood chips and put them to work on a gas barbecue grill. The results? In a word: perfect. We cooked a large-ish spatchcocked chicken, charlotte potatoes sliced down the middle, whole onions, corn-on-the-cob and large broccoli florets.
Before I tell you the results, I should explain that then - as we still had some wood chips left over (a third of the packet more or less) - we decided to cook a 3½ pound rainbow trout that one of guests had brought along. We had refrigerated it at first, thinking we didn’t really need it with all this other food. But the guest was right and hunger got the better of us.
In both cases - chicken and trout - the results were delicious. The apple wood imparted a wonderful sweet, smoky flavor and when it came to the fish (which is more delicate by nature) we could actually discern a fruity taste in parallel with the fishy taste.
The wood chips came in a 700-gram resealable gram. But as we were hungry and anxious to get the most out of them, the re-sealability was wasted on us. But then again, there were seven of us (four adults) and we were mouthwateringly starving to begin with. In other circumstances, the ability to reseal the bag would have been an asset.
Although one tends to think of American wood when it comes to smoking or barbecuing - because of their “wide open spaces” - one shouldn’t write off British wood. This may be a small island but it’s a…
Sorry, I was getting carried away there. The fact of the matter is, these wood chips prove that British wood can hold its own in the face of the most intense competition, when it comes to flavoring the food that comes off the ole barbie. This 3-liter resealable tub of natural, untreated British wood, will last you a long time. And with their post-coding system, you have only to look on the tub to see exactly where your wood is coming from.
We chose the hazel because of its known strength… and my my is it strong! We tried it on venison, which is not exactly devoid of flavors of its own, and found that it added an intense smoky flavor without masking the natural gamy flavor of the meat itself. This was seriously impressive to the adults present, even though the children were not too happy, preferring their burgers and sausages instead. (But that’s children for you!)
The makers screen the wood to 10mm and over, claiming that the size varies between 10 and 40 mm. This means that they release their smoke slowly. We didn’t use a box this time because we were cooking on lump wood charcoal in a closed barbecue. This made it particularly important that we use soaked chips which take different amounts of time to start smoking.
One of the reasons why these chips added so much flavor was that some of them have bark on. There is debate about whether this makes them more or less smoky. Some people associate bark with green wood. However, when the wood is dry, the bark makes it less combustible. And because smoke is just the result of incomplete combustion, less combustion means more smoke.
Mesquite wood is probably the strongest of all in terms of flavor, so we were expecting a lot from this.
We tried these wood chips on both a gas barbecue and a closed charcoal barbecue - and on the same day too! And in both cases, we can safely say that this was indeed the most powerful of all the wood chips we tried. There is nothing subtle about mesquite.
First on the gas burner we cooked T-Bone steaks. Because we couldn’t wait 20 minutes for the smoke, we put the wood chips, almost dry, in the box, closed the hood and left it for about seven or eight minutes. By then, the box was already smoking. So we rubbed sea salt and cracked pepper on the steaks, brushed them on both sides with olive oil.
Then we threw them on and closed the hood again, letting the mesquite chips do the work. We flipped them after about four minutes and left them for a similar time on the other. They came out a perfect medium rare, and they came out tasting so smoky, you would hardly believe they’d been cooked on gas.
While that was going on, we lit the charcoal barbecue (or rather lit the coals in a chimney) and by the time we’d finished devouring the steaks, we were just about ready to cook on the charcoal barbecue. Wearing a thick heat-resistant glove, we poured the glowing charcoal onto the brazier of the barbecue and threw on a generous mixture of long-soaked, short soaked and un-soaked mesquite chips.
Then we put the food racks on, brushed some sunflower oil onto the food rack and put on a leg of lamb that had been marinated for three hours in our lamb marinade (see our Tips and Tricks: Making the best marinade in the world). We had also injected the leg with some of the marinade using a ShineDesign 304 Stainless Steel Seasoning Meat Injector Kit (see our comparison and review article Things for your BBQ that you didn't even know you needed).
Then we closed the hood and let it cook. We had to turn it a couple of times - and when we did, we also took the trouble to brush on more marinade onto the surface and to inject some more too. Between two and a half and three hours later, it was ready to eat and so were we. Again, the powerful taste of the mesquite smoke was present in every mouthful, even though it was in competition with the equally powerful flavor of the marinade.
We can highly recommend these chips which come in a 2.3-liter bag.
At first glance, it might look like you’re paying a lot for a relatively small quantity. But what you have to understand is that a little goes a long way. There are, maybe, 20 chunks per 1.5 kg bag, so that works out at about £1.50 for three chunks. But that’s all you need to add great flavor to a meal for five or six. You wouldn’t think twice about paying that much for an excellent marinade. So why should it be different for these cherry wood chunks that impart such flavor?
We tried it on an open grill cooking boneless chicken thighs and butterflied chicken breasts. In both cases, they had been marinated for three hours in our chicken marinades. (Please note: we use honey and mustard in our chicken breast marinade, whereas we use date syrup, mustard and hot paprika in our boneless thigh fillet. See our Tips and Tricks: Making the best marinade in the world.)
Because we were using an open grill, that didn’t trap the smoke, we were able to cook some of each (breast and thigh) on the side that had the wood chunks and other pieces of chicken on the side that had only charcoal. We were all agreed (that is those of us who tried both) that the ones that sat directly above the wood chunks were by far the best. Although needless to say, with the marinade it was all tasty. The consensus was that the blue smoke from the cherry wood made a noticeable - and favorable - difference.
The sellers say that cherry wood is good with beef, fish, lamb and vegetables as well as chicken and pork. In our opinion, however, it’s sweet flavor would be overpowering with fish, whilst its relative mildness would leave it somewhat underwhelming in the case of beef and lamb. We didn’t try it with vegetables, so we can’t say. But it goes well with chicken. Next time we’ll try it with pork and let you know.
These are kiln dried, natural wood chips imported from the USA. The price becomes quite steep when you consider the delivery costs, but it is fully justified. You can also get Orange wood chips from Western - something you can’t get in the UK.
To try these out, we smoked two racks of pork ribs on the closed charcoal barbecue. We removed the silver skin and rubbed in a mixture of hot paprika, ground black pepper, table salt, celery salt, cayenne, garlic granules, mustard powder, and turmeric that we had combined in advance. We then flipped the racks of ribs over and rubbed in a whole lot for on the other side. (If you’re going to do this, don’t be afraid to be generous with the rub.)
We let it sit for an hour and a bit before lighting the barbecue, making sure to light the fire in the middle of the coal bed. Then we waited another half hour, sprinkled wood chips over the charcoal and then put the racks at the sides, so that we would be cooking with indirect heat.
Because we at mybbq.life are firm believes in cooking flavor into the food instead of using sauces to add flavor and moisture at the end, we used our own ingenious method to stop the ribs drying out: we juiced some peaches (yes the actual fruit!), put it in a spray bottle and sprayed it onto the upward facing side of the ribs every 20 to 30 minutes!
Just over three hours later, the ribs were ready. We lifted them from the center with tongs and the ribs hung down bent in an arch. But the rack of ribs didn’t break - proof that they were done.
Despite the trick with the peach juice spray, that some of us (i.e. one of us) thought was so clever, because they were only rubbed with a dry rub at the beginning instead of a marinade, some of the tasters felt that the ribs needed some sauce at the end.
But everyone agreed that the results were great and that peach wood chips add one heck of a flavor to pork ribs. In fact, the results were so good, that we felt really sorry for those who don’t eat pork!
This was a large (5 kg) box of natural, untreated orange wood. I counted over 30 chunks, which goes a long way because you only need about three for an average size meal.
Wood from fruit trees, as distinct from nut trees, is always good for pork and usually also for fish. We tried this with trout, dispensing with the food grate altogether and using our Fish in Newspaper recipe (see our Tips and Tricks article: Fish on Fire).
We used five of these orange wood chunks, which was probably overkill, and we also drizzled the juice of a freshly squeezed orange onto the fish beforehand. We even went overboard with the orange flavor by adding some grated orange zest to the fish. The zest more or less burned (next to the skin of the fish) but we like to think that it added to the flavor, although it’s hard to tell as there were so many factors contributing to the overall flavor.
The results were excellent with a combined fruity and smoky taste. This was good wood for cooking fish, well worth a try.
Alder is a great wood for barbecuing poultry and pork. But it is also one of the best woods for smoking fish - if not the best. So, we decided to try it, using one of these 25-liter boxes, cold-smoking three whole salmon (about 3½ pounds each) in the smoker.
We cured the salmon for forty-eight hours with rock salt before smoking them. (Yes, most people say it needs much less than that, but patience is a virtue and we wanted to do a real job on this.) Then we dried it for another 24 hours in the fridge. Finally, it was a case of cold-smoking it, using an offset smoker, for a further 24 hours... and the deed was done.
We sliced and froze most of the salmon in sealable plastic bags, so as to divide it into manageable proportions. Then we had some for breakfast and were amazed at how much better it was then the rubbish you buy in the supermarket. It was like that taste you get when you discover smoked salmon for the first time as a child. (Some of us are old enough to remember when it was a luxury food.)
Our conclusion was that these alder wood chunks are just as good as oak for smoking salmon and well worth a try if you like something different.
Pecan is stronger than fruit woods, but obviously can’t match mesquite in the strength department. This lot comes in a 170-cubic inch bag that weighed 800 grams and can be resealed. We tried it with chicken pieces both on and off the bone (closing the barbecue hood for the on-the-bone pieces) and found that the sweet, nutty flavor permeated the chicken very well.
We also tried it with cheese (in the cold smoker) mixing it with other wood and were quite surprised at how good the results were.
Another 5kg box for £20, this time olive wood. The wood is natural and untreated and you get a lot in the box. We decided to try it out turkey breasts and leg skewers. We also decided, somewhat recklessly, to actually cook with the wood and not just use it for added flavor. This meant using just kindling and the wood chunks themselves, even if it meant waiting longer.
But as we wanted to speed up the cooking process, we also decided to cook with the hood down. This also reduced the amount of wood we needed to use. In fact, we were able to get by with only four chunks despite the fact that there was no charcoal. We did nevertheless turn the breasts over after two and a half minutes and give them maybe three on the other side. The skewers took a bit longer and even though we were cooking them in a closed barbecue with trapped heat, we had to turn them a couple of times.
To stop the food drying out, we used our chicken breast marinade on the breasts and the thigh fillet on the red turkey skewers This also imparted an added flavor that combined soy sauce, garlic and mustard, with an added dash of honey on the breasts and date syrup on the legs. We actually cheated slightly by replacing the small quantity of hot paprika in the leg marinade with a rather more generous quantity of turmeric, giving it a nice, far-eastern flavor.
The results combined the spiciness of the marinades with the smokiness of the wood. There was no bitter taste from the olive wood - as some of us had feared. In any case, the marinade included olive oil too, so if there had been any bitterness, we would have argued over whether it was olive wood smoke or the olive oil in the marinade. In the event there was no bitterness - and no recriminations either.
As walnut (along with hazel) is one of the woods that “works” really well with venison, we decided to try venison again, despite the fact that it proved to be a very “grown up” meat last time - with the children not liking it one bit. As a precaution, we also got some burgers. As walnut can also be slightly bitter and overpowering, we mixed it with some apple wood chips as another precaution.
Also - as a concession to the children - we also cooked a side order of mashed potatoes (or “smashed potatoes” as they called them). Because we were all hungry (even the adults) and not looking for a long wait, we cut the venison joint into steaks and grilled them on a closed gas grill using the barely-soaked wood chips in a steel box. The results were remarkable even though we were cooking in haste and on gas. The chips smoked like mad giving the food the smoky flavor that we wanted.
The burgers went down well too. So, these chips have the ultimate seal of approval: the kids liked the results!
Beech wood is not as strong as mesquite, but adds a nice bouquet - to borrow a word from the wine industry. It is good for adding flavor to fish, pork and poultry, lamb and even vegetables. But we decided to try something more adventurous - sea bass in salt dough cooked directly on the fire without the comfort and safety of the food grate. (See our Tips and Tricks article: Fish on Fire.)
As it these were Weber wood chips, we decided to use a Weber kettle barbecue for this afternoon delight. But as some of us prefer meat to fish (who needs brain food when there’s muscle food available?) we decided to do a three thick lamb steaks (on the bone) as well. This proved rather tricky as we weren’t using the food grate. However, we solved the problem by wrapping two of the steaks in corn husks. This meant that the corn-on-the-cob we were planning on grilling or barbecuing too, had to be cooked in a saucepan of water in the kitchen, instead. Pity. But sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.
The third lamb steak sat directly in the hot coals (see our Tips and Tricks article: Cooking directly on hot coals). This too was a matter of supply and logistics: there wasn’t enough corn husk to cover all three!
Naturally, the men ate the lamb steaks and the women and children devoured the fish. The steak cooked directly on the coals proved to be a bit of a test of macho for the man who had taken up the challenge (not Yours Truly, I have to confess). But the other two lamb steaks - the ones that were cooked in the corn husk wrapping - were superb.
As this was a tasting session for this review, we all had a bite of everything, And it was the fish that was the real stunning revelation of the afternoon. We can heartily recommend these Weber beech wood chips.
One of the things we like about wood chunks from Grilling Wood is that - like their wood chips - they are post-coded, so you know exactly where they come from.
This 25-liter box of kiln-cured split, fist-size oak wood provides plenty of fuel for several sessions with the barbecue or smoker. As there is so much of it in the box, we decided to give it a go for a slow-smoked beef brisket. When I say slow, I mean slow as in 16½ hours. That is to say, we put the well-rubbed brisket in the offset smoker at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday and left it there on a cold smoke till 12:00 Sunday. Then we let it rest for an hour before serving.
We won’t bore you with the details of the recipe (i.e. secrets of the rub we used on the beef). Suffice it to say that the flavor came as much from the oak wood smoke as from the green herbs and red spices.
Although it is more usual to smoke brisket with hickory - and one traditionally associates oak wood with smoked salmon - the fact is that the brisket turned out so succulent and tender that we even though we were sated and bloated at the end, we wished there was more. Hickory may have been better, but we’ll find that out another time.
It just goes to show that sometimes it pays to think outside the box.
The price may seem high, but look at the quantity: 80 kilograms. That’s about 175 lbs! And it’ll last you a long time - even if you use the wood on its own rather than as an additive to charcoal!
Furthermore, these wood chunks are the real McCoy! They come direct from vineyards in the south of France. After they have served their purpose and yielded their grapes to the winemakers, these vines are gathered up and stored in our open barns when they are allowed to dry naturally in the warm dry air of a southern French summer. Then, when they are ready, they are cut into 3"chunks for you to use on the BBQ.
We recommend using these chunks alone (sans charcoal), ignited with natural wooden twigs as kindling - and NO FIRE LIGHTER FUEL!!!! Or to quote their words:
“When you take the time to select good produce for the BBQ and a quality wine it makes sense to not taint the flavors. Vine wood allows you the BBQ/Smoking experience while still enjoying the flavors of your meal and your wine as the wine makers intended. Untainted.”
A sentiment that we heartily second!
The chunks tend to be slightly larger than the ones from Grilling Wood. This may have something to do with the shape (many of these were unsplit). It may even have been an optical illusion. But that, at least, was our impression. However, the shape is immaterial. It’s the flavor they impart to the food that counts.
As the wood is somewhat unconventional, we decided to make the extra effort and try something that we hadn’t tried before. We settled on veal, maybe just because we had the letter V stuck in our collective brain. (Vine, Veal, very hungry!)
Because we were two couples, and we (i.e. the men) knew that we would inevitably be hungry, we bought four veal fillets. These fillets were not of the Lilliputian variety - more like the diet that Goliath might have eaten. About four inches wide and ten inches long, they were also almost half an inch thick. With all four of them you could probably feed an army and in hindsight we probably bought too much food. Still, the leftovers tasted great in sandwiches.
We didn’t want to overpower the veal, which can after all be quite delicate. But neither did we wish to leave it totally bland. Wood smoke can impart flavor, but a prime cut of meat needs more than that. So, while the fire on the open-brick grill was building up (using only vine wood chunks - no charcoal) we decided to make a quick marinade.
Into the bowl went extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, cracked black pepper, freshly squeezed lemon juice, crushed garlic, chopped coriander leaves and a dash of Grenache rosé wine. A quick whisk to mix it all together, while someone pounded the veal with a metal-headed mallet, and the marinade was ready to play temporary host to our four juicy veal fillets.
So, with the kindling all burnt up and the vine wood chunks still burning but not yet glowing red, the veal went into the marinade and sat there at room temperature, while we waited half an hour (40 minutes actually) for the fire to subside to those hot glowing embers that wanted. We filled the time with chatter about our collectively mis-spent youth and an out-of-tune rendition of Those were the days!
By this stage the vine wood was no no longer aflame and had settled down to a restful slumber of glowing crimson embers. It felt good that we were doing this so close to sunset. It would have been even better at dusk. But we couldn’t wait till then - let alone until the shorter days of Autumn!
So, onto the grill went the veal fillets, on an oil-brushed food grate that we hoped we had set at the right height above the coal bed and then it was just a case of keeping an eye on them, turning them once, testing the thickest fillet at the thickest point and then taking them off and feasting our bellies the same way we had been patiently feasting our eyes.
We had been planning something simple to accompany the veal, like mashed or creamed potatoes. But we decided on a last-minute whim to roast some yams, shallots and beetroot. We have one of those outdoor ovens that sits below the brick grill, so even though we were all scrambling around like chickens with our heads cut off, it was relatively easy to peel the shallots and put them into the oven. The beetroot was a bit harder because they had to be peeled and quartered, but nobody wanted to be caught red-handed - literally!
The women were dressed in their Sunday finery (honestly, who dresses up for a barbecue!) so it was settled between the men by way of a game of scissors, paper stone. Anyway, the results were amazing! That is to say, the creamy mashed potatoes were good. The yams, shallots and beetroot were excellent. But the veal was absolutely FANTASTIC!!!!!!!
This was a case of ALL the right ingredients coming together - the veal, the vine wood… even the weather. As we settled down and tucked into the feast at our garden table - shielded from the flies by a gazebo with mesh netting on one side - we watched the dusk descend around us and the smoldering embers of the wood, still glowing red, as if waiting for more food to be placed upon them.
If only we could. If only we could have eaten more of what we had cooked already! As it was, there were leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
On the many things that the Jack Daniel’s distillery boasts is that it doesn’t reuse its barrels. Indeed, a recent law in the State of Tennessee says that whiskey can only be called “Tennessee Whiskey” if it is aged in new barrels.
So, what do they do with the old ones? Well according to their own advertisements, some of those old barrels are sold on to Scottish distilleries where they are used to make Scotch whisky. But not all of them. Jack Daniel's is, after all, in competition with the Bourbon whiskey stills of Kentucky that also use their barrels only once. Since there’s only a finite amount of whiskey/whisky being distilled (unfortunately), some of the barrels have to find other homes.
And those homes are sometimes the braziers of barbecues and smokers! That’s because these barrels - with all their wonderful history (and oh what tales they could tell!) are then broken up and made into wood chunks or wood chips. That was the source of these wood chips in this bag of just under three liters. And if the price seemed steep, I should tell you that Jack Daniel’s has earned its good reputation through decades of hard work.
So, we decided to try out these chips on the smoker, together with some lump wood charcoal. We smoked a shoulder of lamb for five hours, after rubbing it in za’atar, cumin, turmeric, garlic, dried chopped coriander (cilantro) leaf, fine black pepper and sea salt. As there were six of us, all adults, and we were still hungry, we also grilled three beef steaks at the end. (The reason we cooked too little this time, was because we were probably still reeling from last week’s debacle when we cooked too much.)
Anyway, we soaked the chips beforehand, because we wanted them to give off their smoke slowly rather than burn up in the first twenty minutes. But to make sure that we didn’t lose any of that whiskey flavor, we soaked them in Jack Daniel’s! This may seem like an act of sacrilege, to true aficionados of Tennessee’s finest contribution to mankind, but we’re sure that uncle Jack (we hope he doesn’t mind us calling him that) would understand.
And just for good measure, we even marinated the steaks in Jack Daniel’s marinade! So, this was very much a tribute lunch to our absent friend!
Anyway, the wood chips added great smoke and we were mighty glad we’d started the process right after an early breakfast, because by lunchtime we were famished and the food was ready not a moment too soon. We could really taste the smoky flavor in both the lamb and the steaks at the end. And of course, the whiskey flavor.
Pear wood, like other fruit tree woods, is good for a wide variety of foods: beef, lamb, pork, poultry and even vegetables. And although these are chunks rather than chips, the sellers say they can be used with gas barbecues as well as charcoal and smokers.
They come in a 1.5 kg resealable bag which is very convenient and practical. But what do they add to the taste of the food?
We decided to be a little bit adventurous (again!) and use them to cook duck in a closed barbecue. Duck is always tricky to cook because it can take twice as long as chicken, but it has to be cooked at a lower temperature - 325℉ (163℃) compared to 400 - 450℉ (200 - 225℃) for chicken. If you try to cook it like a chicken, it’ll end up burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.
The same problems apply to cooking it on the barbecue, especially as duck has a lot of fat which tends to drip onto the fire and flare up. But there are solutions too. Even though we wanted to roast it rather than smoke it, we used indirect heat. Basically, we lit a fire on one side of the barbecue using nothing but kindling and these wood chunks and when it was hot enough we put the seasoned duck on the other side.
I say “put” - what we actually did, was jury-rig a structure with three thick steel kebab skewers to hold the duck standing upright on its end - cavity downwards. This was to make it easy for the melted fat to drip away. The fat always falls to the lowest point it can reach, but we didn’t want that point to be on the duck or for the duck to be sitting in the melted fat. Instead, we put a small enameled oven tray under the food grate, on the brazier, underneath the duck - i.e. on the side where there was no burning wood. This was to act as a drip tray to catch the fat as it fell from the duck.
This ensured that none of the melted fat would flow to the fire and flare up. But it also meant that after an hour we already had a nice supply of duck fat to be used for other purposes. That called for some deft maneuvering, removing the food grate on the side of the coal and carefully reaching in with charcoal tongs (while wearing heat-protection gloves) to get some traction on the enamel “drip tray”. We used this duck fat to roast some whole baby potatoes in the oven in the kitchen while the duck continued to cook on the outdoor barbecue.
There would of course be more duck fat drippings before the afternoon was over. But we had enough for the baby potatoes and the rest would put in the fridge afterwards, when it cooled down, to use on another occasion.
But, I digress. Back to the duck in the barbecue and the test of the pear wood. Well, it was a long wait but it was, as they say, well worth it. We had used the right method, avoiding the direct heat and the flare-ups that inevitably come with it. Every 20 minutes we sprayed the outer skin of the duck with a mixture of the juices of several fruits (orange, pear, apple, lemon). This was to add flavor and stop the skin from drying out. But be careful, It is just a quick “schpritz” as they say in Yiddish. Duck may be a water bird, but you don’t want drown it!
We started testing the internal temperature after it had been on for two hours and thereafter every ten minutes. At 2 hours 40 minutes, it had reached the required 165℉ (73℃). We gave it a few more minutes on the grill anyway, just to be sure, and then took it off. We even displayed great self-discipline by leaving it to rest for 20 minutes.
And then all there was to do was eat. As we had been careful not to over-spice it, one of the ladies had very kindly made a sweet jelly to go with it. We’re not sure what went into it - and she steadfastly refused to tell the rest of us - but it was red and went very well with the duck.
The roast potatoes were great too!
This was a half kilo bag of maple wood chips. The experts say that maple is best for smoking chicken, turkey and pork. We decided to try a simple whole chicken. But just to be a bit different - and because we lurrrrrve a challenge - we decided to stuff the chicken and roast it whole with the BBQ hood down.
We made the stuffing with mashed apricot, chopped coriander (cilantro), grated celery and horseradish, salt and pepper. After stuffing the chicken, we injected the thickest parts (breasts and thighs) with our chicken marinade and brushed the chicken surface too. We set the fire going using a lump wood charcoal and these maple wood chips, which we had previously soaked for an hour in apricot juice that we’d poured off from the apricots we used in the stuffing. (We also love mixing flavors!)
When the fire subsided to embers, we used charcoal tongs to move both the charcoal and maple chips to the sides of the brazier, forming an empty circle in the middle. We set a small drip tray in the circle, with a little water to stop it overheating. The idea was to catch any fat drippings without getting a flare up. We would have liked to save the chickens fat, but we needed the water to stop the tray heating up. (On a previous occasion we had to write-off a tray that we had used for this purpose.)
Anyway, then we just put the stuffed chicken on the food rack, face up, and gave it an hour and a half, basting it every 20 minutes with its own juices (plus water) from the drip tray. Chicken does not have too much fat, so this was perfectly acceptable and prevented drying out.
At the end, we let the chicken rest for 15 minutes, then removed the stuffing into a separate bowl and gave it all an extra five. After that it was time for stuffing ourselves, which we did with gusto and enthusiasm. There were a lot of OOOs and AAAhhh’s for the next fifteen minutes as the exciting mix of flavors found its way from the table to the taste buds and the plate to the palate. And we all agreed that the smoky flavor not only enhanced the chicken but also added that little extra “something” to the stuffing.
These chips are dried and so need to be soaked if you want to slow down the release of the smoke, all the more so as ash is a fast-burning wood.
Ash is said to be a good all-rounder, when it comes to smoking and BBQing, being equally good with fish, poultry and red meat. However, we think that it is not strong enough for red meat. It probably is for poultry, but we thought this was a golden opportunity to have another go at cooking fish directly on the coals, this time using the salt crust method (see our Tips and Tricks article: Fish on Fire).
We used a 3-pound sea bass and prepared the salty paste from whisked egg whites and sea salt while the fire was getting started, as well as a buttery brush-on overlay. When the fire was nearly ready, we plastered it with the salt-egg paste and brushed on the melted butter overlay. Then we flipped the fish over and did the same on the other side.
The prep work ready, into the fire went the fish, for an obligatory 30 minutes plus “stoppage time”. Actually, there was no stoppage time because the fish doesn’t come out of the fire until it’s ready. There is however a margin for error of a few minutes just to make sure. Although one can eat raw fish, we prefer a little overdone to a little underdone. In the event, the bass was in the goldilocks zone - just right - and tasted perfect.
Even though the salt crust and skin protects the fish from burning, it does not protect it from the smoky flavor of the fire and wood chips. We were very pleased by these ash wood chips.
We’ve already reviewed several of these 3 liter tubs of wood chips from Grilling Wood, so we weren’t expecting anything unusual here. And sure enough, there were no surprises when we tried the sweet chestnut. And we mean that in a good way. We’ve read comments elsewhere that sweet chestnut is a little too sweet and it is best to mix it with other woods of the more savory varieties. However, we decided to try it on its own with a variety of different foods instead, just to see what results we came up with.
We used a pretty diverse mixture, including pork sausages, beef frankfurters, lamb koftes, beef burgers, chicken breast and thigh and even turkey skewers. We also tried some on the open grill and others with the hood down, just to get a feel for the whole range. We also tried a couple of sirloin steaks to separate the men from the boys. And because we were cooking so much, we also made sure we had enough “tasters” - old and young - to guarantee that not much was left over.
We found that there was little difference between the red meats and the white meats, but there was a big difference between the food cooked on the open grill and the food cooked with the hood closed. We wouldn’t go as far as to call it a huge difference, but it was noticeable without even to the food Philistines among us. The flavor was sweet and nutty, but discernibly more when the food was cooked under the hood.
There was also a difference in who liked what. The older children liked the sweeter, nuttier offerings that emerged from the closed barbecue where the smoke had been trapped. The younger children, on the other hand, actually preferred the milder taste of the open cooked food. That may be because the open grilled food was more of the sausages and burgers that children go for. Or it may be that their sensitive palates were overpowered by the smokier food. Then again, maybe it’s just that young children don’t like to mix their sweet and their savory.
The grownups tended to be equally divided, but not on any obvious lines, neither age nor gender seemed to play much part in the battle-lines.
But all agreed that the overall results were good.
Coming in a nice “wheel” held together by strong nylon (?) bands, this hard silver birch wood is kiln dried to under 20% moisture. It has been cut to 25 cm lengths and is intended mainly for chimeneas, fire pits and camping fires. However, it can also be used for cooking.
We tried it with two small chickens cut into quarters with no marinade, just a light rub of salt, pepper, garlic, hot paprika and turmeric. The wood was very smoky, which actually worried us, as we were wondering if the wood was too moist or had some sort of gum or resin. But our fears proved to be unfounded and the taste was good to excellent, depending on which of the guests you ask.
There is a HUGE selection of woods to choose from when it comes to smoking food or livening up a barbecue or even an open grill. We have sampled a cross-section and found the ones recommend here to range from good to excellent. But we would be the first to admit that we have barely scratched the surface or seen the tip of the iceberg.
You can try our suggestions here or strike out on your own path and experiment. If you go for the latter - or if you are experienced and already have your own strong opinions about types of wood, and their sources, please feel free to share your views and knowledge with us. We are always looking for great ideas - and the best source of knowledge is personal experience.
Check out Part 2 of this article: Flavor from the Fire II - smoker boxes, lava rocks and charcoal.
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