Duck portions roasted on the BBQ
Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas

How To Get That Authentic BBQ Smokiness With Flavoured Wood Chips, Chunks And Pellets

Enhance your BBQ food with the subtle taste of apple, cherry and oak

Once you have mastered the basics of barbecuing the next step is to add another level of flavour to your food by using wood chips from specific trees which will all give a subtly different taste and aroma to your food. Start by just adding a little and increasing or decreasing as you become more experienced. Stronger flavoured foods can take a strong flavoured wood chip, whereas a more delicate food will be overwhelmed with a strong wood smoke. A large piece of meat on a long, slow cook will need more wood chips than a steak which is cooked quickly.

If you prefer the convenience of having a gas BBQ but love the smokiness of the charcoal then why not try using the flavoured wood chips to give you that authentic BBQ flavour. Remember to make sure the barbecue is situated outdoors in a well-ventilated area and that the vents are open to allow the smoke to escape.

Equipment required

A lot of modern top-of-the-range barbecues have a smoker box included as part of the BBQ but if you don’t have this there are a number of alternative ways you can use flavoured chips. Weber do a Smoker Box for their barbecues which sits either on the Flavorizor Bars or directly on the grill. You can simply and cheaply make your own by placing the chips in a foil tray and covering with a piece of pierced tin foil, or simply make an envelope with tin foil, spread the chips out in a single layer, close the top and ends and pierce some holes in the top. Place on the grate or the Flavorizor Bars.

Chicken in white wine and tarragon cooked on the BBQ

Chicken in white wine and tarragon (click here to watch the video showing how to cook this dish)

Types of smoking wood

Chips

These are small pieces or shavings and are the most readily available. They ignite quickly and burn out fairly fast, so are ideal for a short cook or small pieces of meat, cheese or vegetables.

Chunks

These a quite a bit larger than the chips, take longer to ignite but will burn for longer so are more suited to a low and slow cook with larger pieces of meat.

Logs

These have no place on the BBQ but are ideal for a fire pit or the Alfa pizza ovens. They take a long time to come to the point where they are suitable to grill over and they also tend to produce quite a lot of smoke. Always buy from a reputable supplier and make sure they are kiln dried hardwood as soft woods produce a lot of dark, unpleasant sooty smoke. Make sure the logs are dry as wet timber can give off nasty tasting smoke.

Pellets

These are produced by Traeger for their appliances and are sourced from their own sustainably managed forests. They contain absolutely no other components other than the timber which is compressed under extreme high pressure, resulting in the trees’ natural glutens acting as a binder.

How to use

Soak the chips first for 30 – 60 minutes; you can just use water or add another layer of flavour by using fruit juice, cider, beer, wine or water infused with garlic or herbs. If the chips aren’t soaked they will ignite and burn out too quickly before they have a chance to impart any flavour into the food. The moisture in the chips also helps to keep your food moist. There is no need to soak the chunks otherwise they will take too long to come to the point where you can cook over them.

Place the chips over an area of indirect heat; don’t place over the direct heat otherwise they will burn out too quickly before they are able to impart any flavour. Close the lid and allow the chips to smoke before trying to cook, this could take up to 20 minutes. Make sure they are smoking properly before you start to cook, there should be some smoke coming out of the top of the barbecue.

Don’t let the temperature rise above 399C (750F) otherwise the chips will just give off a bitter, acrid smoke. Don’t be tempted to start cooking until the smoke is correct as the meat will absorb most of the flavour early on in the process before the outside becomes caramelised. The aim of smoking is to achieve a pink ring around the outside of the meat. You can also impart extra taste into certain foods by grilling them on a flavoured wooden plank.

Pink smoke ring around pork cooked on the BBQ

Pink smoke ring around pork

Flavours

Sometimes the same flavoured wood, even from the same supplier can differ owing to the growing conditions of the tree, such as climate and soil type. Make sure they are from a reputable supplier as some of the cheap brands can include bark, which imparts a nasty acrid taste and can contain all sorts of impurities. You want nice clean timber which has not been treated with any pesticides or cut with a chainsaw which could have been lubricated with oil, which will give off black acrid smoke.

Also make sure your grill is kept clean as any residual grease will give off foul tasting black smoke. When the smoke is ready to cook it should be a bluish colour, not black or grey. Make sure the vents are opened far enough for the wood to burn efficiently.

  • Alder

Mild and delicate. Beef, poultry, pork, fish, bread, fruit.

  • Apple

Mild, slightly fruity and sweet. Poultry, pork, game birds, ham, bread, fruit.

  • Beech

Mild. Good with seafood and milder flavoured meat.

  • Ceder (use only Western Red)

Strong. Spicy. Traditionally used in the Pacific Northwest, USA, for cooking planked salmon. Use as a plank for poultry, pork, fish, vegetables and baking Camembert and Brie.

  • Cherry

Mild. Beef, poultry, pork, game birds, bread.

  • Grape vine.

Moderate. Rich, fruit flavour. Poultry, red meat, lamb, game birds.

  • Hickory

Moderate. Smokey bacon flavour. Pungent if used on its own so best mixed with another flavoured wood. Beef, poultry, pork, game birds, cheese.

  • Maple

Moderate. Mildly smoky and sweetish. Beef, pork, ham, poultry, bread, fruit, vegetables.

  • Mesquite

Strong. Can be pungent and bitter so use a small amount and mix with another wood, such as alder, apple, cherry or pecan. Beef, poultry, strong tasting fish.

  • Oak

Moderate. Can be acidic so mix with a sweeter wood. Beef, fish, pork, poultry, bread.

  • Peach and pear

Mild, slightly sweet and woody. Poultry, game birds, pork.

  • Pecan

Moderate. Sweet and tangy. Beef, poultry, pork, bread, fruit.

  • Silver Birch

Similar to maple. Poultry and pork.

  • Whisky oak

Strong with good whisky flavour. Beef, chicken, lamb, pork, cheese, vegetables.

For more hints and tips on getting the most out of your BBQ just click the link to read the blog article: 'How to cook Sunday lunch(roast rib of beef and Yorkshire puddings) on the Weber Genesis II BBQ', 'How to master marinades, rubs and sauces' and 'How to master the 3 simple cooking methods on the Weber barbecue'.