Smoke Before Fire: Cooking With Wood

Smoke Before Fire: Cooking With Wood

I have been cooking with wood for a large part of my career. Over the past 7 years I have really gone into the nuances of smoking meat with our partner restaurant Pecos Pit.  Smoke is an ancient technique that was used for preservation, tenderizing and flavor. Smoking is also a regional sport using local woods and meats to smoke.  This month I give my stance on different ways to smoke different products. I also give you the dos and don’ts to smoking.

Wood Basics

Pellet smokers are very famous around the country and are great for the novice smoker. I do not like pellet smokers because if you aren’t chopping the wood then it doesn’t seem real. Pellet smokers also do not have moisture in the wood like a natural smoke.

Green Wood is VERY important to proper smoking. This means fresh wood not fire wood. Fresh wood gives off a clean burning white smoke. It also keeps the temperature low for low and slow cooking.

The Beginning Smoke is crucial to your satisfaction in the end. You only have the first couple hours to really penetrate the product with the smoke. After the products outside is cooked the smoke is not getting in any more.

Air Flow is another key element. You have to make sure your smoker has proper flow of air or else the smoke will sit in the chamber and foul up your meat. Some smokers have fans but if you do not then just make sure you have a steady stream of smoke coming out of the chimney.

Fire management is key to create not have blowback of ash always use green wood and make sure you are burning clean (not a tone of ash) or else the ash will land on the food! We call this a dirty fire!

Types of Wood

I like to pair my wood with the time and temperature I am cooking my meat, fish or veggies. Here is my personal guide.


Salmon| Cedar Wood | 20-25 minutes | 145°
Cure fish before smoking. It helps the smoke penetrate the fish.

White fish | Fruit Wood | 20-25 minutes | 145°
Smoke quick with fruit woods. I always recommend curing all fish before smoking.

Shellfish | Cherry or Apple | 20-25 minutes | 145°
Use a quick cook on any clams to open before smoking. Prawns and scallops love seasoning before smoking.

Beef Brisket | Alder or Post Oak | 12-16 Hours | 195°
Trim and season then wrap in parchment paper after dark color is achieved.

Pork Butt | Hickory or Mesquite | 8-10 Hours | 195°
No need for seasoning the pork butt. Season after smoking, any rub will get pulled off when cleaning. Remove cartilage and fat cap before pulling.

Ribs | Alder Wood | 2-4 Hours | 170°
A good rub of paprika and then a cure of salt, pepper and brown sugar. Make sure you let the ribs cure overnight before smoking.  Smoke until tender. No rest needed.

Chicken | Apple Wood | 2-4 Hours | 165°
Always brine your chicken in simple salt water with a touch of sugar. More spices can be added if you like. You just need to brine for 2 hours and then smoke.