Thanksgiving Ingredients: Wood
I hear you, "WTF? Wood is an ingredient?" You bet your sweet bippie wood is an ingredient. When I started cooking with live fire, way back in my Boy Scout days, I was told not to cook with pine. "It makes food bitter," said my Scoutmaster. I didn't really believe him and thought it was just his way of keeping the kids out of his hair. You see, the campgrounds of Long Island were littered with pine branches and finding hard woods for the fire was a most time consuming job. But, we were kids and trying to earn merit badges, so we sought out the hard wood.
Fast forward a few years and I'm camping with some high school buddies. We were hungry after a day of hiking and I built a fire out of pine and whatever other woods that were easily available in this Long Island campground. I wanted a fire. I wanted to eat. I didn't care about the old Boy Scout advice.
So why am I telling you all this tale of woe? Because I'm expecting you to cook your bird over a live fire this Thanksgiving and I'm going to tell you which wood to use. Each wood listed here reacts with the meat differently and injects its unique flavors. Each wood on this list was specifically chosen because it works well with poultry.
ALDER - Very delicate with a hint of sweetness. Good with fish, pork, poultry, and light-meat game birds.
ALMOND - A sweet smoke flavor, light ash. Good with all meats.
APPLE - Very mild with a subtle fruity flavor, slightly sweet. Good with poultry (turns the skin dark brown) and pork.
BIRCH - Medium-hard wood with a flavor similar to maple. Good with pork and poultry.
CHERRY - Mild and fruity. Good with poultry, pork and beef. Some List members say the cherry wood is the best wood for smoking. Wood from chokecherry trees may produce a bitter flavor. Cherry is my absolute favorite for smoking pork and imparts a beautiful red color to the finished product.
CRABAPPLE - Similar to apple wood.
GRAPEVINES - Tart. Provides a lot of smoke. Rich and fruity. Good with poultry, red meats, game and lamb.
MAPLE - Smoky, mellow and slightly sweet. Good with pork, poultry, cheese, and small game birds.
MULBERRY - The smell is sweet and reminds one of apple. My friend Phil calls this "cotton candy" wood because the smoke smells a lot like cotton candy.
ORANGE, LEMON and GRAPEFRUIT - Produces a nice mild smoky flavor. Excellent with beef, pork, fish and poultry.
PEAR - A nice subtle smoke flavor. Much like apple. Excellent with chicken and pork.
PECAN - Sweet and mild with a flavor similar to hickory. Tasty with a subtle character. Good with poultry, beef, pork and cheese. Pecan is an all-around superior smoking wood.
SWEET FRUIT WOODS - APRICOT, PLUM, PEACH, NECTARINE - Great on most white or pink meats, including chicken, turkey, pork and fish. The flavor is milder and sweeter than hickory.