We cut through the haze in our roundup of wood used for ’cue.
What you’re looking for is the flavor you might find at a place like Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, or Pecan Lodge in Dallas: protein that has been lovingly warmed by hours — sometimes days — of heavy-scented smoke. You can generally pick up some chunks or chips of smoking wood from your local hardware store, and you can order harder-to-find woods online. The trick, though, is deciding which kind of Western wood you want to smoke:
Easily the most common type of wood used for smoking, hickory works with every kind of meat, from pork to beef to lamb. It generally has a distinct bacon-y flavor, so you have to be careful to avoid excess.
This is the second most common wood used for smoking. Its taste is a bit more mild, and it will usually give whatever you’re cooking a solid, bright color. Oak is one of the most versatile woods, but it’s often used with red meats and big game.
It’s a scrubby little tree with big nasty thorns that grows throughout the Southwest. But smokers are diehard mesquite loyalists. It’s sweeter than other woods and especially popular for cooking steaks, fowl, and smoked vegetables.
It’s like a lighter, more subtle version of hickory. Pecan is good with anything, but it’s especially popular among the sauceless brisket crowd.
This provides a very mild, subtle flavor that is especially good with ribs and pork. Cottonwood is usually paired with other woods, often pecan, oak, or hickory. But you must never smoke the green wood.
From the May/June 2015 issue.