Holy smoke! Woods add flavor to grilled foods

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

As the grilling season ignites, you can infuse even more flavor into your meat.

Toss a few wood chips on the heat or into the smoker box, watch and smell. Those wisps of smoke are bringing new flavor dimensions from woods like apple, hickory and mesquite.

Where there is fire, there should be smoke, and it’s definitely heating up the barbecue scene as avid outdoor cooks experiment with woods, says Jamie Purviance, author of the new “Weber’s Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill” (Sunset, $21.95).

Purviance says students in his grilling classes are particularly interested in how to use wood when grilling such things as chicken and pork tenderloin for shorter periods, not the traditional “low and slow.”

His book covers that plus all of the basics, from the type of charcoal to use to which wood chips go best with certain foods to wood smoking with a gas grill.

There are more than 80 recipes, too. Some for the beginner include Hickory-Barbecued Chicken and Mesquite-Grilled Cheeseburgers. More ambitious grillers might try Brined and Maple-Smoked Bacon and Beer-Braised and Mesquite-Smoked Short Ribs.

“It’s actually very simple,” Purviance says about using wood smoke. “It’s the way we’ve been cooking since man has been cooking. We just found ways to control it.”

Smoking Basics

Here are five must-know smoking tips from “Weber’s Smoked: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill.”

• Go low and slow (most of the time). True barbecue is cooked low and slow over indirect heat with wood smoke. It’s the traditional way “to make sinewy meats so moist and tender that you hardly need teeth.” But, author Jamie Purviance advises, don’t miss out on adding wood smoke to foods that cook more quickly over direct heat.

• Don’t peek. Each time you open the grill, you lose heat and, more importantly, smoke. Open the lid only when you must.

• Keep the air moving. If using a charcoal grill, keep the vents open and position the vent lid away from where the coals are. Having the vents open draws smoke from the charcoal and swirls it around the food.

• White smoke is good; black smoke is bad. White smoke indicates smoldering wood. Black smoke can mean the juices are burning and tainting your food.

• Let the bark get dark. This is especially true with ribs and large chunks of beef and pork that should have a “dark mahogany, borderline black crust called ‘bark.’”

Hickory-Barbecued Chicken

Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 20 minutes / Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Using a gas grill is ideal, but you can also use a charcoal grill.

For rub

For sauce

  1. In a small bowl, mix the rub ingredients. Season the chicken thighs and drumsticks all over with the rub.
  2. Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat, 350 to 400 degrees.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Brush the cooking grates clean. Cook the chicken, skin side down first, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until golden brown, 6 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Move the chicken over indirect medium heat.
  4. Drain the wood chips and add them to the smoker box of a gas grill, following manufacturer’s instructions. Place the smoker box over direct heat. Close the lid and continue cooking until the juices run clear and the meat is opaque all the way to the bone, about 35 minutes, basting with the sauce and turning several times during the last 20 minutes of cooking time. Remove from the grill and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with any remaining sauce on the side.

Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 2 pieces with skin and sauce: 607 calories (47 percent from fat), 31 grams fat (9 grams sat. fat), 20 grams carbohydrates, 61 grams protein, 1,516 mg sodium, 210 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

From “Weber’s Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill” by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, $21.95).