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Grilling wood refers to various wood chips or blocks that can be used along with briquettes to grill or even smoke meat. Some barbecue and grill enthusiasts insist that grilling wood beats charcoal or propane alone easily, since the different types of wood you use can impart great flavor to meat. Most often, you want to buy wood, or harvest it yourself, that is particularly suited to grilling. You should not use scrap wood, which can contain glue and nasty chemicals that should not be burned. It’s also best to stick with woods that are hard, as opposed to soft or more flexible wood. Pine, for instance, isn’t a great choice because of its high sap content.
Mesquite is probably the most familiar grilling wood, and it will impart a very strong flavor to the meat you cook with it. It can also get extremely hot, so it may not be suited to foods that are not slow cooked. Many chefs suggest mesquite works best with meats that have an equally strong flavor. Beef on mesquite grilling wood is a particularly good pairing. Wild game, especially venison, boar, or rabbit, tends to lend itself well to mesquite too.
If you like your salmon grilled, you might try using alder, which is considered the best grilling wood for fish. Also use alder for lightly flavored meats, like pork or chicken. Pork or chicken over apple wood can be particularly delicious because it gives the meat a sweet but not overpowering flavor. Similarly you might consider maple, mahogany, and most nut tree woods like pecan for the more delicate meats and fish.
If you want to use strong red meats or game, don’t just think mesquite for grilling wood—consider oak, hickory and grapevine. You can use cherry wood for just about any thing you’d like to grill.
You may have to look pretty hard to find more exotic types of grilling wood. Some stores devoted to outdoor grilling may have them, or you may need to Internet order them. Check gourmet stores too, and of course, if one of the trees on your property falls down, you can cure the wood and use it for grilling.
Note that most purchased grilling wood chips have to be soaked in water for about an hour, but your best bet is to consult the bag for any special instructions. You can buy attachments for gas grills to utilize wood grilling with most of them. When you use grilling wood on a standard no frills barbecue, you do still need charcoal to mix with the wood. Grilling with wood on the whole can be a great way to experiment with barbecuing and to enhance the flavors of food.
In South America I ate some llama cooked using balsa. The taste was bad - I'm not sure whether I don't like llama meat or balsa wood. Either way balsa grilling is practiced.
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