Utilizing smoking wood in addition to your natural lump charcoal is an excellent way to develop an extra layer of flavor to your cooking, and its a signature of true barbecue. To truly master your Big Green Egg techniques you must have a good grasp on how to properly smoke your meats.
The Color of the Smoke Matters
I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but black smoke is bad. But one of the most common mistakes is thinking white/gray smoke means better tasting barbecue. Wrong! White/gray smoke is caused by incomplete combustion in your fire, sending ash and creosote flying around your Egg and onto your meat. The result is a bitter product that looks dark and charred. The image below shows white smoke pouring out of my Egg; this is NOT time to put meat on the grill!
Achieving “Sweet Blue”
What we’re looking for is thin, wispy, smoke that almost looks blue (called “sweet blue”). “Sweet blue” is sign that your fire has complete combustion and is leaving pure smoke flavor on your meat (not ash and creosote). We get “sweet blue” because our fire is hot and our smoking wood has been preheated. So do NOT soak your wood prior to putting it in your Egg! One thing a wet chunk of wood will do is immediately lower the temperature of your fire. When we want complete combustion we need a hot fire to do that, so keep your chunks & chips dry.
So how do we get rid of the white/gray smoke to see that “sweet blue?”
There are two ways to get to “sweet blue.” The first is to start your Egg, with you dry wood chunks already mixed in with the lump. This will preheat the wood along with your coals, and everything will get up to temp together.
You can also stabilize your Egg at your desired temperature, then add your dry chips/chunks, waiting for “sweet blue” before adding your meat to the Egg.
Either way allows the wood chunks to heat up with the lump, first releasing white smoke then “sweet blue” when the fire is ready. Once you see the thin, almost bluish smoke THEN you can put your meat on the Egg. The image below is exactly what you are looking for.
The End Result
Done correctly a delicate, smokiness will tickle your taste buds when you finally get to sink your teeth into your labor of love. Additionally, a nice smoke ring will greet you when you slice into the final product. Remember, barbecue is not a science. Take your time, be patient, and practice! Everyone’s rig is different, and everyone has their own tastes. Be sure to do what you like and what works for you, not what some “expert” says.
Types of Wood for Smoking
Here are a few of the many types of wood you can use to smoke meat. Don’t be afraid to mix an match to find your perfect flavor.
Alder – Very delicate with a hint of sweetness. Good with pork, poultry, and light-meat game birds. Alder is the smoke of choice for salmon, they pair absolutely perfectly.
Apple – Very mild with a subtle fruity flavor, slightly sweet. Apple wood is good with poultry (turns skin dark brown) and pork. I use apple wood on all my pork shoulders and most of my chickens. It’s a traditional flavor that the majority seems to enjoy. Apple wood is commonly available as big box stores as well.
Cherry – Mild and fruity. Good with poultry, pork and beef. Some people say the cherry wood is the best wood for smoking. Wood from chokecherry trees may produce a bitter flavor
Hickory – The most popular wood for smoking–the King of smoking woods. With a sweet to strong smoky flavor, hickory is immediately associated with barbecue. You can basically smoke anything with hickory and get a good result. I most commonly use hickory wood for ribs and brisket.
Maple – Smoky, mellow and slightly sweet. Good with pork, poultry, cheese, and small game birds.
Mesquite – Strong earthy flavor, but can be bitter. The taste of mesquite is strong, so use sparingly. Good with beef, fish, chicken, and game. I don’t use mesquite too often, but when I do it is usually on brisket and ribs.
Oak – Heavy smoke flavor–the Queen of smoking wood. Red oak is good on ribs, White oak makes the best coals for longer burning. All oak varieties reported as suitable for smoking. Good with red meat, pork, fish and heavy game.
Peach – A nice mild sweet, fruity smoke. Much like other fruitwoods, peach wood is great on chicken and pork.
Pear – A nice subtle smoke flavor. Much like apple wood and is excellent with chicken and pork.
Pecan – Sweet and mild with a flavor similar to hickory. Pecan wood is tasty with a subtle character. Good with just about anything you care to smoke. Pecan is an all-around superior smoking wood and is fairly popular among the competition BBQ pit masters.