Before charcoal there was wood.It stoked the home fires and cooked deliciously flavored meats.Now it's coming back thanks to a new generation of home grillers. They 're discovering that a few chips or sticks can make a big difference in a barbecue's success.
Steven Raichlen, the host of the shows Primal Grill and Project Smoke and the guru on anything smoked wrote this in depth article for yesterday's New York Times Food section.As he points out this new trend is nothing new. Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters have been using wood fuel for decades.This new generation of chefs are embracing it with an almost religious zeal. A growing number of home cooks are also making the switch. Grilling over wood is healthier and won't raise the risk of getting cancer.The other plus is the taste.It comes from the high dry heat of a wood fire which caramelizes proteins in meat and the plants sugars in fruits and vegetables. Another plus is wood smoke contains more than a thousand flavor producing compounds., according to Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, once a Microsoft executive and now promotes modernist cooking. The list of chemicals include creosol which gives Scotch whiskey it's smoky peaty taste , syringol, responsible for the clovelike flavors and vanillin - the source of the vanilla sweetness in smoke. It's much more effective than charcoal in flavoring meats, However, he warns avoid evergreens like spruces and pines which emit a black, sooty smoke that has the repulsive taste of turpentine.
Before home chefs get on the wood bandwagon, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to another grilling expert, Aaron Franklin, use one kind of wood When you mix wood, you really can't pinpoint the flavor. Keep in mind that different regions of this country use different woods that actually define then. Southerners use hickory, which is always associated with their outdoor cooking. The Southwest along with Hawaii and Northern Mexico uses mesquite which not only gives grilled meat a distinctive flavor but also provides the added fun of pyrotechnic sparks. The Pacific Northwest has a fondness for cherry and alder. Any fruit tree will do. Home grillers should use split seasoned, appropriate logs (or hearty sticks). They should be between ten and twelve inches long and two to three inches wide. Use seasoned, older wood instead of younger or green wood because it burns more effeciently. Also make sure it's split because it burns quicker. Grill affectionados may also want to get a parilla grill, This is a huge investment but worth it .It's basically building an outdoor kitchen in the backyard. You can also buy a smaller version from Home Depot or Lowe's.Wood grilling is also versatile. You can grill over flaming logs, like cooking on a campfire or over glowing embers like with a charcoal grill.
Wood grilling is a popular method for creating tasty barbecues. Try cooking over a fragrant wood for a delicious spin .It may be old school but it has a decidedly modern flavor.