The Basics of BBQ Food: Smoking

Written by Bunga

First test shot. #galaxynote
food basics
Image by jfingas
Taken with picplz at Food Basics – Heron Gate Mall in Ottawa.

One of the most celebrated American foods is barbecue, but what is it exactly? Well this answer to this question is not necessarily a simple one. To different people in different regions BBQ is different, whether it is the cut of the meat or the presence of sauce or not, people around the country look at this great American masterpiece from many different perspectives.

There is one thing that BBQ enthusiasts around the United States seem to agree and that is that the food you are cooking is not BBQ unless it is smoked. Yes, smoke means burning wood to flavor the meat. Methods and types of wood use, however, do vary greatly from person to person and region to region. Texas barbecue is known for being cooked with mesquite wood whereas many North Carolina BBQ chefs do not have as strong of a preference. Most agree, however, that simply cooking food over a grill without wood smoke is “grilling,” and not the same as barbecue. While it may be interpreted as opinion, it is true that smoked food has a distinct taste that cannot be derived simply from the char applied to meat by grilling.

While there are many different types of wood that can be used for smoking, there are a few guidelines to go by. Wood containing sap can be poisonous when burned. The easiest rule of thumb to use when selecting a wood is to make sure it comes from a tree that produces edible food like fruits or nuts. Examples of tasty and acceptable types of wood include: oak, hickory, pecan, apple, cherry and maple. One of the best ways to BBQ is by using what is around you. Many people cut down trees and place them in their front yard. Besides using this excess wood to build fires in your house, you can use it to BBQ. One could also try local online message boards in the “Free” section. Not only is this source of wood free but it is the environmentally friendly choice since the wood you are using had been cut down anyway.

The way you light and smoke your wood matters too. A very popular method is to use wood chips. After lighting a charcoal fire, place wood chips that have been soaking for at least 30 minutes on the top. This will instantly turn into a plethora of smoke.

Another way to smoke is by starting a fire from wood. Whether you bought them or cut them on your own, start a fire from scratch using wood chunks. Once the fire is low, cut the oxygen supply enough so that the fire retains heat but the flame die down: this produces the maximum smoke.

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