Alder wood is not one of the woods you typically hear mentioned in arguments about smoking woods. Usually, the debate is reserved for hickory, mesquite, and sometimes apple wood. Best known for its use as a furniture wood, alder wood is classified as a hardwood. As a hardwood, it has the ideal characteristics for smoking foods. Like all hardwoods, it provides long lasting smoke without much soot. Soft woods contain resin, which means that they create a denser smoke along with soot that will coat foods and that may cause illness. The smoke from hardwoods like alder is pale and bluish.
Which tree do alder wood chips come from?
Alder wood chips are made from alder trees, which belong to the birch family. Birch trees grow mostly in northern climes with a few growing as far south as South America. The red alder variety is the most popular type for smoking and red alder trees grow mainly in the Pacific Northwest and can reach up to 75 feet in height. As an indigenous tree, it is a favorite wood among barbecue fans from the Pacific Northwest.
Alder wood chip flavor—how does it affect taste? How is it unique?
The flavor of alder wood chips is mild and sweet compared to other smoking woods like mesquite and hickory. It is even milder than pecan and has a more neutral taste. Alder wood is ideal for situations where a heavy smoke flavor would overpower foods with a subtle flavor. The wood itself has a look and smell that is similar to that of cedar.
Alder wood shines when combined with other woods like hickory, pecan, and apple.
Which foods does the alder wood smoke flavor complement best?
The mildness of alder wood makes it a great all-purpose smoking wood; however, many barbecue chefs reserve its use for fish due to its mild flavor. One of the more common uses for this wood is for smoking king salmon where it provides a rich smoke flavor without masking or distracting from the flavor of the fish. This is one of the principal uses for it in the Pacific Northwest. It is often combined with cedar, another popular wood for smoking salmon.
Alder wood chips are versatile enough to be used on any food that requires only a hint of smoke flavor. It will stay in the background without overtaking all the other nuances. Consider using it for smoking cheeses and vegetables as well as for poultry and pork.
How do you select alder wood chips?
How do you use alder wood smoking chips?
You can soak alder wood chips in water, beer, or cider vinegar if you want but most experts do not believe that this provides any benefit. While many who do this claim that soaking slows the rate of burning, it merely delays it. The wood will dry out and then burn at the same rate that it would have if you had used dry chips instead.
Put your alder wood chips in a smoke box that you place on the coals or you can simply throw them directly onto the coals.