Up in Smoke: What about the wood?
The distinction between hard and soft woods is critical. Soft woods, like pine, tend to burn quickly with a lot of heat and produce an acrid smoke. Hard woods on the other hand, burn slowly with a consistent heat, and produce smoke that contains flavour-enhancing characteristics. Hard woods commonly used in barbecuing are apple, maple, oak, alder, pecan, hickory, and mesquite. Each lends a complimentary smoke profile to whatever the user is cooking, and many recipes will be specific with what wood to use. Examples are pork and apple wood, brisket and hickory, or cherry and fish… all matches made in heaven.
Here’s the Rub: Spices, Injections and Marinades and Sauces
Just like building a flavour profile in a pasta sauce, barbecuing also requires some alchemy. Taking the five pillars of barbecue meat into consideration, we basically have the whole barn yard of characters involved. Each taste unique on its own, and each pairs well with certain other flavours. You know where this is going… spices, marinades, injections and sauces. It is here where the first bit of magic happens. Spice rubs and marinades add flavour to barbecue, while also using chemistry to help produce tender products. Salt, acids, oils and spice assist to break down connective tissues and render fat while adding flavour. Injections (yes you need an injector!) apply flavour to the center of the food where the spice rubs and marinades cannot penetrate. Any pit master will tell you that pulled pork and brisket do not want injections – they need them. Finally, we have sauces. All food, let me repeat, ALL food, is a vessel for sauce delivery, and barbecue it is the king of them all. Sticky sweet sauces, vinegar-based sauces, mustard, or even spicy sauces make up the pit master’s arsenal of secrets. The trick is, find the combination that works best for the barbecue you want to make. Match the ingredient with the right type of wood, marinade and/or inject with the right stuff, rub down with the right spices, and sauce with the right sauce… and you have the recipe for a winning outcome. What’s “right” all depends on your personal tastes. Experiment! Even the misses tend to be delicious.
Respect the ingredients, respect the tradition, and eat well my friends.