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BBQ wood explained and explored!

BBQ wood burning in a drum grill with illustrated wood logs

BBQ is hybrid. Art and science fuse creating a nuanced world of culinary chemistry and artistic expression. We can pull on any thread of the BBQ tapestry and lose ourselves in a most wonderous rabbit hole of detail. Today we’re unravelling the world of BBQ wood. Sure we’re all charcoal obsessed, but wood can be just as prolific within the fiery alchemy. Jump into the vortex of knowledge and enjoy the fall.

Freshly lit BBQ wood begins to catch and burn in an open grill

Why is BBQ wood good for cooking?

Many would say that charcoal is the natural evolution of BBQ fuel. Wood had its time. Sure charcoal is incredible. But that doesn’t mean that we put BBQ wood out to pasture. You can’t touch a classic – meaning BBQ wood still has a key role on the grilling and smoking stage . Let’s go a little further.  

First let’s start with the obvious.When we burn BBQ logs, chunks or chips, we obtain heat for cooking, as well as smoke from the combustion process. This smoke contains trillions of microscopic particles, from water vapour and gases, to organic matter. In fact, many of these particles are the natural chemical compounds found within the wood. These compounds, such as lignin and cellulose, create that smoky flavour and taste. How?  Well, as we burn the wood, these chemical compounds engage with, and penetrate within, the food on the grill. This is known as the flavour infusion process. And it occurs whether we use BBQ wood as the main fuel source, or as a fuel for smoking

A close up shot of BBQ wood burning in an open drum

A quick word on the Maillard reaction

Don’t worry; we may be obsessive about the granular detail of BBQ, but we know others just need some topline info. So the Maillard reaction takes place when the heat from your BBQ wood sears your food and caramelises the surface. The reaction creates a rich and robust secondary level of flavour. Just for the grill geeks –  the Maillard reaction is the chemical reaction that occurs between amino acids and reducing sugars. These types of reactions produce melanoidins, AKA the chemical compounds which give browned meats a deliciously distinct flavour. 

So many choices. So many flavours.

The variety of BBQ wood is truly mind boggling. Each one has its own personality and flavour infusion. So it’s really a case of figuring out what you want to grill and then finding the right wood to compliment the dish. If you’re already  scratching your head, don’t panic. We’ll give you some basic pointers to help you on your way. 

Hickory 

Hickory  is one of the most popular BBQ woods used for smoking and grilling. It has a deep, sweet and bacon-like flavour profile. Hickory is a perfect match for ribs, pork, red meat, chicken, turkey or goose.

Oak wood 

If you’re looking for something a little more subtle, then oak wood is defo the BBQ wood for you. Oak is a mild smoking wood, infusing a lighter and more neutral smokiness to dishes. Think of it more as a smoky foundation upon which you can build your flavours. Oak wood goes well with seafood and fish. It’s also ideal for meats like lamb, brisket, pork and sausages.

Apple wood 

Apple wood brings a fruity, sweet and slightly tangy taste into the BBQ mix.  It’s fab for smoking – but give it a little extra time to really fuse with your dishes. Low n’ slow is for sure the way to go with this BBQ wood. Apple wood blends seamlessly with pork butt, ribs, chicken and wildfowl.

Mesquite

Some like to go big and bold. Mesquite will rock your BBQ world. It is one of the main  players in Texas-style BBQ, delivering a potent, deep and savoury flavour. Mesquite is the perfect partner for red meats, ribs and other strongly flavoured meats

Pecan 

Pecan adds a nutty and earthy smokiness to proceeding. As it burns very slowly, it is best for some low n’ slow smoking. Looking to mix and match? Break out the pork, beef, poultry and cheese. Side note – Pecan is powerful stuff, so don’t use too much. You can also mix Pecan with some oak or maple to lighten up the flavour profile.

We could go on but you get the picture. Other BBQ woods include, walnut, black walnut, alder, maple, mulberry, cherry, lemon, citrus and whiskey. 

Wood chips or chunks?

There is no right or wrong answer here peeps. It all boils down to preference and culinary objective. BBQ wood chips and chunks work in the same way. So the variance comes in mass, size and how these two points determine performance, We would say that chips rea slightly more popular than chunks. Why? Well it’s mostly a convenience thing. Due to their smaller size, chips are even easier to use.  Often it’s as simple as adding a handful to your grill base or firebox – job done. Craving to know more? Check out our chunks blog. More into chips? Fill your boots with some additional wood chip knowledge

BBQ wood smouldering in an open grill

Wood you should avoid

While there are so many BBQ woods to choose from, you should avoid pine, fir, spruce, redwood, cedar, elm, sweet gum, sycamore, eucalyptus, liquid amber, cypress and elderberry. This is due to their bitter flavour profile or inefficient burn characteristics.

Buy all your BBQ wood direct from Big K

A shot of Big K BBQ wood chips packet in a BBQ shack

Before you go scampering off to the nearest wood with axe in hand, there’s an easier way. You can order direct from bigkproducts.co.uk. We have a dedicated smoking section with all the BBQ wood you could possibly need. Chips? Check. Chunks? Certainly. Logs? Without question. Cherry, applewood, oak, whiskey, grape, citrus, hickory…the list goes on. Go online and see for yourself.

With these BBQ wood basics, you’ll be adding even more flavour-filled awesomeness to your BBQ dishes. Until the next time; stay grilling and stay chilling!  

 

Big K

Wishing you all a Happy Easter from Big K

In order to get your charcoal before the Easter Holidays, please order before Midnight Sunday 24th March for pallets and Midnight Monday 25th March for parcels.