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Becoming a Sommelier of Wood

B&B Charcoal

I was having dinner recently at a local restaurant when I noticed something I’d seen many times before at many restaurants. But, for whatever reason on this visit, it just hit me: there was a wine recommendation for each dish. The sommelier looked at each of the chef’s offerings then decided this wine or that wine would be the best accent to this particular dish. “Try this Rosé with your seafood paella which is rich with flavor. You’ll get the more abundant freshness of a wine that acts like a white along with the more generous fruit flavors of a wine that might have otherwise been made into a red.” What this particular dinner date taught me was, at this restaurant everything from the appetizer to the dessert and all in-between was a well-thought out ingredient for the perfect meal.

B&B Charcoal
Cooking with B&B Charcoal

But how does this translate into outdoor cooking? When we put a pork butt or brisket on the smoker for 10 hours we put a great deal of thought into it. The seasonings we use are crucial to a nice crust, so we are very careful to choose the best ones (check out B&B’s line of rubs for great results). “Are we going to inject or not” is a question most easily answered with a “Yes” because we want to infuse those flavors deep into the meat for the best succulent results (many Team B&B Ambassadors have great injections from which to choose). What happens now with a lot of outdoor cooks is they toss in whatever wood is handy which may be a mistake.

Taking our cue from the sommelier pairing the wine with a dish, we can do the same when choosing our wood for the low and slow cook. Each wood carries with it different components which may work for any meat but will work better when you understand what the wood does for the meat. As in a restaurant, you can certainly have your red wine with your paella but it will leave a metallic taste, so the Rosé would be a better choice. Any wood will deliver the smoke, but depending on the protein you’re cooking there is a wood or combination of woods that will be best.

B&B Charcoal
Cooking with B&B Charcoal

My favorite go-to wood is B&B kiln dried Cherry because of the mild flavor but deep mahogany color it delivers. It pairs well with the hard woods like hickory and oak. I’ll also mingle it with apple or maple for added flavors. Recently I was cooking an exotic meat for the first time and Team B&B Ambassador Dylan Lipe offered advice of using apple because the cherry would make the delicate meat too dark. Taking his advice resulted in a dish which was the hit of the party.

B&B has listed here a great guide to choosing just the right wood for your next cook. Using this chart, you are well on your way to becoming a “sommelier of wood” or what I like to call, a pitmaster.

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