How to Smoke Food Properly When Cooking

By Katie Conaway | cooking wood, Uncategorized
Jan. 52017

In a previous blog, we discussed how wood fired grilling provides depth of flavor that chefs in restaurants embrace to bring a multi-layered dining experience to patrons. When you smoke food at home, it provides the same results in a more informal setting. But just like any good cook will tell you, there are important considerations to adhere to when using cooking wood. It’s not enough to just know which species of wood is best when cooking particular foods. So take care to enhance the food and not overwhelm it with smoke.

Smoke Should Enhance, not Dominate

Ultimately it’s about the food and not the smoke, according to an article in bon appetit. When smoking food remember that the intent of the smoke is to make the taste richer, multilayered. If too much smoke is used it will dominate the food, therefore leaving only the taste of smoke behind.

To keep from “over smoking” your meat, a good rule of thumb is to smoke the food for no more than half the cooking time. This ensures that the flavor of the food, be it meat or vegetables, will not be masked by the smoke from the cooking wood. However, not only the length of time you smoke your food is important, the type of wood and the food itself (especially meat) should be carefully chosen so the smoke does not dominate the flavor.

Only Certain Woods Will Do

When it comes to smoking meat, Food & Wine magazine points out that the wood should match the meat. Heavy meats such as pork and beef require heavier hardwoods like oak and hickory. When wood fire cooking milder meats like fowl and fish, lighter woods like fruit and nut wood are a good choice. These lighter woods are also better for vegetables and fruits since they will not dominate the more subtle flavors.

Most knowledgeable wood fired cooks know that sometimes the best flavor comes from mixing various types of wood together when smoking. However, it is important to grasp which food pairs with which type of wood best before embarking on complex wood combinations. Below is a chart as reference when choosing cooking wood.

Wood Pairing Chart

Chart courtesy of

Choose Your Meat Wisely

Don’t get too caught up in the smoke. It is equally important to choose the right cuts of meat too. When using smoke, the best meats (i.e. beef brisket, pork butts) are usually more fatty and require more cooking. These meats tend to be tougher/cheaper cuts of meat that benefit from the additional layer of flavor that smoke provides. The longer these meat cook, the more tender they become as the smoke is incorporated throughout the cut of meat.

No matter what is smoked, be assured that the flavor of cooking wood will make the dining experience richer with the addition of more complex flavors that truly complement the food.

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