Opinions on Good Woods for Barbecue

Opinions on Good Woods for Barbecue

In the last issue, Rob talked about gathering some mesquite wood during his recent trip to Texas, with intentions to turn it – or, if that doesn’t work out, to use it in his smoker.

We heard from some readers who had things to say about woodworking with mesquite. – Editor

“Just wanted to show you a couple of pens made with mesquite and our great room with walls and floor of mesquite. Took two years to do this room and you’re right, whatever is left over goes to the barbeque pit.” – Mario Barrera

“In Texas, mesquite wood is a large pain in the rear as it grows everywhere you don’t want it to grow, but it is as beautiful to work in projects as it is to cook with on the grill or smoker. It has lovely red grain and is hard but easy to work. The only thing that I don’t like is how the red color loses the color as it ages into a brown but still beautiful finish. The crotch wood is the best grain.” – Wes Barton

“That mesquite you are using for small projects will twist and crack as it dries just like eucalyptus wood. Whether a small project or a large project, work it early and seal it completely, or let it dry so it can be trued, worked and sealed. I have a live-edge mantel that dried for three years before final sawing, planing and sealing–still true but requires maintenance since it is mounted on an outside fireplace with UV exposure. And yup, mesquite is a smoking favorite, except for tea-smoked duck or any seafood — too strong for delicate flavors for my taste.” – John Wurtz

“Use a good dust mask when you work with mesquite or ironwood . I lived in Arizona and worked both of them. I had been warned about them beforehand so wore good masks. They both have some bad stuff in them. I also made myself a carbide turning tool out of a brake drum turning tool. That was back in the 80’s before we could buy them.” Lowell Taylor

“If you plan on working your mesquite, also plan on sharpening your tools. Mesquite holds a lot of sand and other foreign stuff as it grows. I have worked quite a bit of the nasty stuff. It is pretty but very bad on edges. Best use for it is in your barbecue.” – Robert Moniasque

One who criticized Rob’s geography. – Editor

“I do not know who Rob’s Texas host was, but the Hill Country of Texas is not South Texas. It is Central Texs. As far I am concerned, south Texas begins on a line below Corpus Christi, Texas to Laredo,Texas.” – Ken Steed

And many who had a lot to say about what woods are good to barbecue with. Several were in favor of mesquite. – Editor

“Having grown up in West Texas, I am very familiar with using mesquite to grill steaks.  I live in Las Vegas now, but my friends back home still use it. You have to let it burn down to a bed of coals if you’re using mesquite alone (it burns very hot), or use a few chips or chunks added to regular charcoal. I suppose the non-purists have even found ways to use it with gas grills. Oak is another excellent choice, along with the ash and cherry you mentioned. Hickory, obviously. I think pretty much any fruitwood should work. Nothing oily or exotic.” – Steve Dragg

In regards to your question about leftover wood for grilling, being from Texas, the mesquite is a great choice for cooking and woodworking. Along with your other choices, pecan is another great flavoring choice as well as a woodworking choice. I turned a small mallet for chisels and such and it is hard enough to hold up.” – Jim Sanders

“I enjoyed reading your article about your visit to south Texas. I live in north Texas and love to cook and eat Texas barbecue — any barbecue, for that matter. Mesquite is a good cooking wood for steak, chicken and fajitas. But my favorite woods for smoking have to be oak, pecan and hickory. As for turning mesquite. I have turned some pens in mesquite. They turn out pretty good, but the wood I had just didn’t have much character. Nice nevertheless. Keep up the great work!” – David Moore

“Being from Texas, I totally agree with you. I save all my mesquite, maple, cherry, pecan, and red oak scraps for my smoker. Of course, mesquite is my favorite. A word of caution: mesquite burns hot and too much of it will impart a bitter flavor into your meat. That will only happen if you use it as your primary heat source.  I don’t believe that’s what you are planning on doing. Keep using these woods and before long you will season your grill to give you that wonderful wood flavor. That’s why I never clean the inside of the lid.” – Norm Nichols

“Smoking: Mesquite is by far the best all-around wood for smoking, especially for beef and poultry. I occasionally use apple or cherry for pork to add a little ‘sweetness.’” – Carey P. Page, M.D.

While others disdain it as an inferior wood for barbecue. – Editor

“Live oak is often the preferred smoking wood in the Texas Hill Country. I once asked a barbecue restaurateur in Medina, Texas, if he uses mesquite and he seemed insulted and quick to tell me he uses nothing but live oak. I learned something that day. I just researched this on a Texas barbecue blog and saw an entry saying the Salt Lick (Driftwood, Texas) uses nothing but live oak also. Been there, very good, very popular! Luckily I have several live oaks here, but I infrequently trim a lower branch from one of my pecan trees (southeast Louisiana location) and only use it as a flavoring wood, not as my main source of coals.” – Curlie Jay

“I have never been one to burn up construction grade wood in a smoker. Larger pieces of wood left over from my projects stay on the shelf awaiting later use in building. I vaguely remember that I have them, and when the opportunity presents itself they often get hunted up and actually used. Mesquite is one of those woods grossly overrated for barbecue cooking. The only good smoke woods for meat are oak and cherry.” – Moh Clark

Several readers also suggested a variety of woods for use in the smoker. – Editor

“Pecan is a cousin of hickory and is good in the smoker. I’ve used a lot of cutoffs in the smoker. Still have some left over from this butler pantry, but my supply is running short.” – Paul Saladin

“In response to your question of smoking wood scraps, I have done this for years. A friend also gets a lot of the scrap to use in his Green Egg. Woods I have used are oak, walnut (sparingly), ash, cherry, and mesquite. I avoid using any with glue or finish on them. Why not use them? They are probably ‘safer’ than many of the bagged smoking wood sold at the local store.” – Bob Ebbeson

“I use leftover cherry and oak all the time to add good smoke flavor to meat. If I make the trip to my daughter’s place in Astoria, I will grab small pieces of alder branches with the bark still on and use that as well. Alder is great with steaks. Doesn’t take much. While I’ve tried maple, it doesn’t seem to add as much flavor. But it does make nice coals. Mesquite, if I could get it from the ground, would be awesome, but up here in the Pacific Northwest, I have to buy it in a bag, as coals.” – Steve Kendall

“I like pecan to smoke with.”  – Mike Perry

“I always save cherry for barbeque. Hickory, oak, even walnut works well. Don’t forget the cedar for grilling a salmon.” – Steven First

“Pecan shells soaked in water.” – Stuart Baker

“I haven’t purchased smoking chips in years. I had the ‘good fortune’ of losing a cherry tree to a storm a few years ago. All of it has gone to the lathe, to boxes or to the smoker. I’m now carefully watching an old apple tree that’s splitting and leaning.” – Milton Davis

“Just about any fruitwood. Whenever I turn fruit or some nut woods, I put the cutoffs and shavings in a bag for the smoker.  Apple, cherry, pecan, mesquite, hickory, even did a little peach once. Typically fruit for pork and others for beef.” – Bill Neff

“I save the shavings and sprinkle them when I grill.” – John Carpenter

“I will never have to buy wood for my smoker again. I don’t throw away any wood scraps from deciduous trees as long as they don’t have any type of finish on them. I’ll cut them down to pieces that will lay on the heating coil of my electric smoker. My favorites are cherry for poultry and red oak for just about everything else. I kept the scraps from the hickory wood floor that I put down in my den. Hickory is a good wood for ribs and most pork. I built a cabinet a few years ago from alder and saved the scraps. Alder is a must for seafood, especially salmon. Walnut adds a bit of a bitter taste to roasts and large pieces of meat. It’s pretty strong. It’s fun to experiment with other woods also. To each his own. I’ll also take a variety of woods and put them into plastic bags and share them with friends who also smoke foods. Living in New Mexico assures me that I’ll never run out of mesquite.” – Jack Dobrian


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