What Wood Do I Use for Smoking BBQ?

There are many different woods that work well with all sorts of meats. Whether you’re cooking brisket, pork, chicken, ribs, ham or sausage, the possibilities are varied! Some of these woods are more widely available than others. Woods like hickory, apple, pecan, cherry, oak and maple can be purchased anywhere that grilling and barbecue supplies are sold. The rest on this list may require a little work to locate or check with barbecue specialty stores in your area.

You can typically find these woods in many sizes, ranging from good sized split logs like fireplace wood and fist-sized chunks to small, coin-sized chips that burn too fast and should be soaked in water before placing on the coals.

Always use caution with your smoke – too much of even the most mild wood can ruin your food. Because it’s all a matter of personal preference, it’s often a trial and error process to find out what woods you prefer and how much to use.

Almond give a nutty, sweet flavor that is good with all meats. Almond is similar to Pecan but not as widely available.

Apple has a very mild and gives food a slight sweetness. Use with poultry and pork.

Apricot works well with poultry and pork. It’s similar to hickory but sweeter and milder in flavor.

Ash has a light, unique flavor. This wood burns fast. I’ve never tried it personally and don’t know anyone who has.

Black Walnut has a heavy flavor that should be mixed with other wood because of the bitterness it gives food.

Birch has a similar flavor to maple. Pairs well with pork and poultry.

Cherry has a sweet, mild flavor that goes great with virtually everything. It’s readily available and highly popular.

Chokecherry has a bitter flavor and is not highly recommended.

Citrus woods like lemon or orange have a moderate smoke that gives a light fruity flavor that is more mild than apple or cherry.

Cottonwood is very mild in flavor and should be used with stronger flavored woods. Avoid green wood.

Crabapple is very similar to apple wood and can be used in the same manner and with the same meats.

Grapevines make a lot of tart smoke and gives a fruity but sometimes heavy flavor. Use it sparingly with poultry or lamb.

Hickory adds a strong flavor to meats, so be careful not to use too much. It’s especially good with beef and lamb.

Lilac produces a good supply of mild, sweet smoke. A popular wood for smoked cheese, but also good for poultry and pork.

Maple gives a sweet flavor that is excellent with poultry and ham.

Mesquite has been very popular of late and is good for grilling, but since it burns hot and fast, it’s not recommended for long barbecues. Mesquite is probably the strongest flavored wood and should be used in very small amounts.

Mulberry is sweet and very similar to apple.

Oak is strong but not overpowering and is a very good wood for beef or lamb. Oak is probably the most versatile of the hard woods. I prefer white oak over red and use it mainly for heat with other woods mixed in for flavor.

Peach is great for poultry and pork. This wood is similar to hickory but is sweeter and milder in flavor.

Pear is similar to apple and produces a sweet, mild flavor.

Pecan burns relatively cool and provides a delicate flavor. It’s a more subtle wood than hickory, although characteristics are similar..

Plum is great for poultry and pork. This wood is similar to hickory but is sweeter and milder in flavor.

Earth Day Recycling

ARY VacMaster cares about the environment and we’re doing things this whole week to promote it leading up to Earth Day on Monday. Each day has a designated type of item to bring in to either donate or recycle. Employees are bringing in shoes, household items, small electronics, toys, clothes, glass and paper items.

Earth Day Recycling

Earth Day

Recycling or reusing VacMaster bags and pouches is another great way to be “green” this Earth Day and every day. We always get questions about reusing VacMaster bags and the answer is they can be reused in some situations. Never reuse a storage bag or chamber pouch that has previously been used to store raw meats, seafood or any other food that has a high oil content. Also, do not reuse a bag that has been boiled or microwaved in order to heat the food stored inside. Most other types of stored foods are fine for reuse of the bag.

In order to safely reuse these bags, be sure to wash with warm water and a mild dish detergent or use the dishwasher and turn the bags inside out. Make sure they are placed in the top rack only and thoroughly dry before reuse.

Simplify Your Life

Simply your life with a kitchen appliance? Sure! You can definitely do it with VacMaster’s line of vacuum packaging machines and accessories! The possibilities are endless when it comes to putting VacMaster machines to use every day, not just in the kitchen but around the house and outdoors too. Have more time and money to spend watching a movie, going out on the town or taking in a ballgame!

Here are some examples …

  • Vacuum packaging off season clothing to keep fresh and clean while stored.
  • Vacuum package individual servings of your pet’s food to make it simple for the neighbors to feed them while you’re out of town.
  • Seal your first-aid items so they stay dry and sterile during camping or canoeing trips.
  • Make a row of small pouches and seal your daily medication or supplements for convenience and less bulk than those pill boxes.
  • Stock up on food sales and buy bulk at a cheaper price. Vacuum package into meal-sized portions and freeze with no worries about freezer burn
  • Don’t toss food! Save leftovers for re-heating. Leftovers will stay fresh five times longer than if you just placed in a plastic dish.
  • Eat healthier by purchasing and freezing fresh vegetables and fruits from roadside stands and farmers markets.
  • Freeze quick meals to place in the slow-cooker and save time that is better spent with the family rather than cooking. Add more time by using a slow-cooker liner to lessen the messy clean up.
  • I’ve used many of these tips and others over the past months to make my life easier. How has your vacuum packaging machine helped simplify your life? Please share your tips and suggestions below and take a look at out “Tips and Uses” page at www.ARYVacMaster.com.

Learning the Ropes

If you cook some awesome barbecue, no doubt you’ve had friends, family and neighbors urge you to enter a barbecue competition. They’re quite sure you could win awards with your fantastic ribs and melt-in-your mouth brisket. The thought has crossed your mind, hasn’t it? If you have been thinking about giving competitions a try, you aren’t alone. Barbecue competitions are springing up everywhere these days – and with good reason. They are fun and exciting events and most are family-friendly. You won’t have to travel far to find one in the United States either. My family and I have been competing in professionally sanctioned barbecue contests for nine years and have enjoyed some pretty positive results. With eight grand championship titles since 2009, numerous category wins, two perfect scores and an invitation to the Jack Daniel’s World BBQ Championship in Lynchburg, Tennessee, I can safely say we have done well. But back in 2004, I was where you might be right now – my friends loved my barbecue and often said I should enter contests. I decided this was a great idea but didn’t know where to start. It took me awhile to find all the details I needed to get involved. The goal of this blog post is to help you to shorten that learning curve about how to get started in competition barbecue.

Before you start buying equipment and perfecting recipes, I highly recommend that you find a sanctioned contest near you and go visit. You can locate one in most states by going to www.kcbs.us. Click on the “Events” tab and start searching. Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctions over 400 contests across the United States each year. You’re very likely to find a contest fairly close to you. Use some caution about when you actually go. You most definitely do not want to approach teams during the window of time when they’re finalizing their entries and getting them to the judges. This could be Saturday or Sunday, depending on the contest, and is most commonly from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. If you’re there during these times, watch from a distance but do not approach and ask teams any questions. This is a highly stressful time and all teams are extremely busy as the contest reaches its culmination. Instead, I recommend you visit on Friday afternoon and evening (or Saturday if the contest is judged on Sunday). Don’t hesitate to approach a team during this time and introduce yourself. Let them know that you’re considering getting into competition barbecue yourself and would like to ask a few questions. Most barbecue competitors are extremely friendly and more than happy to talk to new teams or people wanting to find out how to get started. You may even be offered a few samples and a cold beverage. If you’re lucky, you might even be invited to come back during the turn-in time to watch what goes on. If you are, go and watch and listen and be as out of the way as possible. I recommend offering to help the team clean up and tear down their site in return for their hospitality and shared information. You’re likely to learn something more during this time. Most teams discuss their entries with each other and friends on other teams who stop by. Then go to the awards ceremony and see how your new friends do. The excitement you observe among those who win will no doubt spur your desire to start even sooner.

Now what? Well, there are many places to learn barbecue techniques but fewer places to learn how to compete. That’s the big thing – you already know how to cook pretty good food. Now you need to learn things like what judges are looking for, flavor profiles to impress them and how to turn in your food. I recommend taking a class in your area or even traveling to another location to take a good class from a successful pitmaster. Most of the people who hold classes have enjoyed multiple championships in barbecue and know their stuff. They’re “figured it out” and now share what they know for multiple reasons. One of the bigger reasons is to fund their continued participation in this addiction we all have. Most people – ok NO ONE gets rich competing in barbecue events. And it’s not cheap. Depending on where you live, between fuel to get there, meats, seasonings, entry fees, etc., you may spend $500 to $750 per contest. Some pitmasters cook over 20 per year with some of the busier teams cooking in excess of 30 contests!

In addition to taking classes, I recommend getting into some of the online barbecue communities out there. When I first started thinking about competing, I joined the forum known as the BBQ Brethren. This is a very popular forum. You’re likely to see some of the teams out there who participate at the Brethren site and you’ll know them by their banners containing the smoking pig from the website. This is a great place to learn and ask questions. Just be forewarned – you will love the place and once you learn the ropes of competition barbecue, you should return the favor and answer questions from other new folks too.

While you do not have to be a member to compete in the sanctioned contests, I highly recommend becoming a member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS). The site lists several member benefits and discounts and you’ll be supporting an organization that provides certified judges, a consistent scoring system and a fair and level playing field for all competitors. In short, regardless of where you are in the country, you’ll know what to expect when it comes to the rules for the contest you’re cooking.

When you’ve come this far and still want to compete, it’s time to start purchasing your equipment. There are many items you’ll see that really aren’t necessary. Others are, at least in my opinion, essential to a successful contest. Some of these are a good quality smoker; instant pop-up canopies (I use two 10′ x 10′ EZ Up brand canopies and recommend the heavier ones – it gets windy and sometimes stormy out there!); two or three 6′ plastic tables (and cut some PVC pipe to put on the legs to raise them to counter height – it’ll save your back!); insulated coolers with old towels to keep food hot (if your budget permits, consider a Cambro or a Carlisle instead); a Coleman Hot Water Heater; a Thermapen (I have literally turned around to go home and get it when I have forgotten this item) and a good quality meat slicer knife. I like the Wüstof 12 inch slicers. There are numerous places online where teams have published their lists of contest equipment. Some are over the top and others may skimp on some things. Just Google it – you’ll find plenty of suggestions. I would be less than honest if I did not recommend purchasing a quality vacuum packaging machine as well. I carry the portable VacMaster VP112 chamber machine. This unit uses chamber technology that enables you to vacuum package all foods, including liquids. This makes marinating easier and packaging meat leftovers after a competition is a breeze.

Finally, you’ll need to practice – a LOT. Perfect your methods and recipes for each meat and then put it all together in your driveway. Set up like you were at a competition and work through it all on your timetable. See where you’re lacking. Find out of there was anything else you needed. What did you not use that you can leave home when you go compete? I have found that competing in barbecue requires precise timing for everything. The better you get that down, the more successful you’ll be. So if you’re considering competing in barbecue, give it a shot – but be prepared first – then step up to the plate and hit it out of the park! Believe it or not, there are teams who have done their homework well and won contests their first time out. Maybe that’ll be you. Let me know if it is … I want to take a lesson from you!