You can add smoke flavor to everything you smoke, grill or bake. There are different ways to do that, just as there are many different types of wood smoke to choose depending on your food. Here are 10 tips to make sure your food tastes as good as it smells.
Whatever kind of smoke you want for today’s cook, it all starts the same way. Remove ash from the previous barbecue by shaking the leftover coals and then using the Big Green Egg ash removal tool and matching ash pan. This ensures that you will have max airflow for your BBQ and therefore the incredible taste in your meats and veggies.
1. Start With Natural Lump Charcoal
Your first action toward great smoke actually happens when you build a pile natural lump charcoal. Begin with a bag of B&B Mesquite Lump Charcoal or Big Green Egg Natural Oak and Hickory Lump Charcoal, never briquettes. Starting with some larger pieces, fill to the top of the fire box if you’re smoking or a little less if it’s a shorter grill session. Insert 2-3 pieces of starter cubes and ignite. If you do nothing else you’ll still be cooking with flavorful smoke, but now’s where it gets really fun.
2. Use Natural Wood Chunks For Smoking
Straight out of Fort Worth, home of that good ol’ Texas style beef brisket, comes a box of Gourmet Wood pecan chunks that chefs use around the world. Or go to Home Depot and buy a box of Jealous Devil cherry wood blocks. If you’re smoking low and slow, sit a few of your chosen wood chunks on top of the charcoal pile (no briquettes) after the coals are glowing and you’re ready to cook. Then insert the convEGGtor with the legs up for indirect cooking, wrapping the top of it with aluminum foil in advance to help keep it looking nice in the future. Keep the lid closed as you gradually bring up the heat to 235-245 and rely on good thermometers.
3. A Few Wood Chunks Is All You Need
You don’t need more than those two or three wood chunks during a long cook. The smoke flavor is all going to come out and bless your BBQ food with delicious flavor in the first three hours of that long cooking session. It will take everything in your power not to lift the lid and just breathe it in like spring rain, but resist the temptation. You’re on your way.
4. Wood Chunks For High-Temperature Grilling
I prefer to use wood chips for higher temperatures and chunks for smoking. But if you want to get high heat fast for direct grilling and searing, then leave the lid open for 7-10 minutes after you start the fire. THEN add the wood chunks, but no convEGGtor.
5. The Best Way to Use Wood Chips
Wood chips are a popular alternative to larger wood chunks, especially if you are grilling. I bought a bag of B&B Championship Blend at my local Ace Hardware. Smoking chips are great for bursts of smoke instead of slow release like the hardwood BBQ chunks. If you use chips, either sprinkle them around the outside of the charcoal ring and try to avoid blocking the valuable air flow holes in the fire box. A better option, as long as you have room on your cooking surface (think EGGspander), is a vented smoker box or loosely wrapping the chips in aluminum foil so the top is open to emit the flavor smoke.
6. Soaking Is Optional
The more Big Green Egg experts you ask on this, the more the answers are all over the place. If you want to soak wood chunks in advance, go for it. If you want to soak wood chips, have fun. Be aware that if you soak wood chips, it will result in a slight drop in the EGG temperature, it will yield a more intense smoky flavor, and you will see initial steam development instead of initial smoke development. If you are in the dry wood camp on chunks or chips, that’s the best place for you. For decades I have always soaked my wood chips, whether it’s on a charcoal grill, gas grill, Weber grill, Traeger pellet grill or a hibachi on the back of a boat. And I didn’t just soak them, but most often it was in the same beer I’m drinking during the cook. Tradition wins!
7. Smoke Your Fish on Soaked Grilling Planks
There’s another great way to infuse wonderful wood flavoring into your food, and that’s right underneath your next salmon filet. Or duck breast. You don’t need a convEGGtor if you’re using a grilling plank because it’s a natural heat shield. The underside of the plank should smolder and release a refined smoky flavor. Cedar and alder are softer woods that release a more mild smoke. Be sure to soak any wood grill planks for at least one hour, or it could catch fire.
8. Blue Smoke Means Go
When your EGG has risen to the target temperature for your cook, monitor the top vent and wait until the bitter, heavy white smoke has disappeared. It should be replaced by the clear, thin blue smoke stream, and then you’re good to go.
9. How About Some Canned Smoke?
For tip No. 9, here’s another smoke option to consider. Just don’t confuse these cans with your BBQ beer! During a recent visit to Lodge Cast Iron in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, I came across this display of Dr. K’s Tenn Cans from nearby Chattanooga. These “double barrel shotgun smokers” are primarily made to turn your gas grill into a smoker, but the company says its cans are used on kamado cookers as well. Place the can(s) along the outer edge directly on the coals, and note that it takes about 10-15 minutes faster to start smoking on charcoal then on gas. The can might get too hot during the process according to the manufacturer, and if so, “reduce the air flow on your grill and the can will cool and begin to smoke again.” I’m not sure what happens when an aluminum can actually burns on flaming charcoal, but it might be worth a try, and the longtime company has a good cause helping a local food bank.
10. Try New Smoke Flavors And Pair Them With The Right Food
We may have saved the most important tip for last. Apple, cherry, pecan, hickory, mesquite, cedar, alder, oak, beech and whisky are 10 most popular smoke flavors. Each of them imparts a different taste to what your culinary masterpiece, so play with all the flavors and learn which ones work best with the barbecue food you are cooking. This page has a super helpful chart showing the most desirable pairings for each of those woods. Some have a stronger flavor and go with heavier cuts, and some work better with more mild-flavored meats, fish and veggies.
You may think the average BBQ pitmaster is radically different than the average wine connoisseur around the world. But the truth is, they’re a lot alike. You will gradually develop a palate and olfactory expertise for whatever wood smoke flavor you add to your Big Green Egg, and your guests will be amazed at your savvy ability to combine the smell and taste.