Cooking real slow and low is the secret to a perfectly smoked meat. But when adding flavour and enhancing taste and aroma, there are a number of things to consider. From fire control to cooking temperature, types of wood to rubs and sauces, these all affect the end result of your cooking. So before you get smoking and barbecuing, read our guide to help you choose the right type of charcoal, hardwood, and rubs to pack as much flavour into your food as possible.
Charcoal vs wood
Charcoal and wood play essential roles in getting control of the cooking temperature and providing the right amount of smoke to cook succulent and tender meats on the barbie. Being charred or carbonated wood, charcoal is used for heat while hardwood is for smoke and flavouring. Mix together the right amount and you’ll be perfecting that classic smoky barbecue flavour.
Types of charcoal
Briquettes are basically pressed sawdust formed with a natural, sugar-based binding agent that burns clean when lit. They come in small and even sizes which are a good choice for your dedicated smoker or standard grill.
Pros and cons: Briquettes maintain a steady temperature and typically burn longer than lump charcoal. However, they take longer to ignite.
Lump charcoal are actual pieces of hardwood that have been fired to make charcoal. They are the most popular among different types of charcoal as they are deemed more natural and burn hotter than briquettes.
Pros and cons: Lump charcoal are easily accessible in the market. They typically burn cleaner than briquettes and produce much less ash. However, lump charcoal come in different sizes so they don’t char evenly when cooking. Most of the time, large pieces are to blame for this. They also produce a large amount of smoke which you may not want for your meat.
Types of wood
There are many types of wood you can choose from to impart different flavours and aroma to your choice of meat. With the right kind of pairing and a little bit of experimenting, you can further enhance the taste of your barbecued food. Here’s a handy cheat sheet for you.
|Wood||Smoke strength||Paired best with|
|Apple||Mild||Poultry or pork|
|Pecan||Beef, poultry, or pork|
|Maple||Poultry or pork|
|Hickory||Medium||Beef or pork|
|Oak||Pork or beef|
But more than the type, the size of the wood is actually what matters when cooking meats that differ in type and thickness. There are three readily available and ideal sizes you have to remember. Here is the list.
For cooking delicate meats such as steak, fish or chicken, using wood chips is your best option. Wood chips are typically small pieces of wood that ignite quickly but burn out pretty fast. So you may need to add more to the firebox or if you’re lucky, you’ll get just enough to finish a round. You also have the option of soaking them in water to delay burning time.
Now, if you’re planning to do a long, slow smoke for barbecue brisket, ribs, or pork butt, then chunks are a better choice. Wood chunks are fist-sized pieces that burn steadily for hours in a standard smoker so you can spend less time monitoring your food and more time relaxing.
But if you are into barbecuing in a pit or using an offset smoker, you must definitely use logs. These full-sized pieces of wood are not only perfect for larger areas, but also produce smoke and fuel source, creating good heat from burning.
Dry rub vs. wet rub
A dry rub, also known as a spice rub, is a blend of various herbs and crushed spices, typically six to 10 ingredients. Most dry rub recipes include paprika as base, with garlic salt, celery salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar. The purpose of a dry rub is to create a crust on your meat and enhance the flavour without adding moisture. Dry rubs are best used on ribs or foods that are cooked faster or do not tenderise easily. It’s also a great way to add a little something extra to the original flavour of your meat.
Wet rub, on the other hand, is basically dry seasoning that has a liquid base pre-rubbed on meat. Most popularly used ingredients for this are olive oil, vinegar, beer, pepper, and brown sugar. A good wet rub should have a paste consistency so it sticks on your meat better. Wet rubs are best used for ribs to retain moisture when cooking low and slow.
However you prefer to do it, just remember that the key to good barbecue is to control the cooking temperature. If this is your first time, you may need to allot time monitoring your firebox. The goal is to hit a target temperature for your meat and hold it there, nice and steady. As the old saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.”