Selecting the right smoking wood can be tricky, not least because there are so many options. Do you choose apple or cherry, hickory or mesquite? Each one has distinctive characteristics—and some can produce unwanted results when used to excess.
This guide will focus on using ash wood for smoking. Is it a good idea, and if not, what might you use instead? We’re here to cover these questions, plus a few more.
Ash Wood For Smoking
When ash wood is burned, it gives off a noticeable yet mellow-tasting smoke that provides a nice introduction to the world of smoked foods. Some people are put off by the unique flavor, which is different from popular woods like hickory and oak. Others find that it brings a welcome complexity to their smoked meats, particularly beef and pork.
Characteristics of Ash Wood
Do you have a woodstove or working fireplace? If so, you might have used ash wood in the past, because it’s a popular firewood. However, it has qualities that make it less than ideal for these purposes.
Unlike some woods like hickory and oak, ash doesn’t crank out a lot of BTUs. It also burns quickly, which is bad news if you’re using the wood to produce heat—or smoke, for that matter.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t use ash wood for smoking. But if you do, you should plan to have a lot of it on hand. That’s true especially if you use it to smoke large cuts of meat like whole packer briskets.
In terms of flavor, ash wood is mild yet distinctive. That’s one of the reasons it’s so popular, especially for beginners. While it won’t overwhelm the ingredients, it will give them a smoky taste that’s unlike any other.
Some people think they don’t like smoked food because they sampled a product that tasted way too smoky. These folks would do themselves a favor if they were to smoke their own meat using ash wood. If they did, they would probably change their tune in a hurry.
Which Woods Have The Boldest Smoke Flavor?
By contrast, you might find that ash isn’t strong enough for your palate. In that case, you should select one of these woods, all of which offer a more robust flavor profile.
Oak sits in the middle of the spectrum in terms of intensity. You can tell that the food has been exposed to smoke, but the flavor is clean and rich. It’s a great all-purpose smoking wood that can be used for everything from fish to filet mignon.
With a bold, earthy flavor reminiscent of bacon, hickory is one of the most popular smoking woods. It’s best with meats that can hold their own against the richness, such as pork and beef. Be careful when using it by itself—the flavor can take on a bitter edge.
Mesquite is the king of authentic barbecue, but it’s another wood that should be used sparingly. The flavor is slightly sweet but very intense. Save the mesquite for large and hearty cuts of beef, like brisket and chuck roast.
In a later section, we’ll provide more basic information on some of the milder smoking woods. But these are the ones you should consider if you find ash to be too mellow for you.
Woods To Avoid
There are certain types of wood that you should never use for cooking. It’s not just because the smoke is inferior, although that’s certainly the case. Some wood types aren’t suitable for the smoker because the smoke might actually contaminate your ingredients.
Softwoods such as fir, cedar, and pine won’t work in the smoker. These contain a lot of sap and/or pitch, which will vaporize when the wood is burned. In addition to making the food taste bad, these vapors can be toxic when consumed.
You won’t have to worry about that with ash wood, because as a hardwood, it doesn’t produce as many resinous compounds. But you will need to make sure that the wood is actually ash, and not just something that looks like it.
Which Foods Should You Smoke With Ash Wood?
The distinctive taste of ash might be mellow, but when paired with light meats like poultry, it can still take center stage. That’s because the poultry doesn’t have a ton of flavor on its own, and the smoke masks what little taste it does have.
You can still use ash for poultry, but given the plethora of choices available, it’s better to choose a light fruit wood to pair with chicken and turkey. You might also consider blending ash with one of these woods to create a new flavor combination.
We would suggest using ash to smoke ribs and hearty cuts of beef. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy the unique flavor of the smoke while still enjoying the natural sweetness of the rich meat.
Tips on Smoking With Ash Wood
The key to smoking with real wood is to make sure that it’s very dry. If the wood is wet, it won’t burn as well, and the smoke flavor will be inferior, too. That’s because wet wood tends to smoke too much, which produces a bitter taste.
The process of drying out wood for the fireplace or smoker is called seasoning. All you have to do is leave the freshly cut wood in a cool, dry place for a while. In the case of ash wood, the process may take only a few months.
Once the moisture content of the wood has reduced to 20 percent or below, it will catch fire and burn easily. While you can’t tell what the moisture content is just by looking at the wood, there are other ways to test whether it’s ready.
You can test the wood for seasoning by burning just a small piece to start. If it produces a moderate amount of clean-looking smoke, the wood is ready. But if the smoke is heavy and pea-green in color, you should give it another month or so.
Alternatives to Ash Wood
If you give ash wood a try and it doesn’t suit your taste, you have plenty of other options. These are some of the most common woods used for smoking meat, fish, and vegetables.
- Alder: very light and mild, pairs well with most meats
- Apple: produces a crisp, sweet-tasting smoke
- Maple: uniquely sweet and excellent for smoking veggies
- Mulberry: mellow and tangy, a superb partner for poultry and game meats
- Peach: very sweet, a good match for pork and poultry
- Pear: similar to apple wood
- Pecan: nutty and rich, great for cold-smoking cheese
Again, it’s imperative to be sure that the wood you’ve chosen is suitable for use in cooking. If you purchase chips, chunks, or pellets from a reputable source, you can rely on it. Harvesting your own wood or buying it from friends is a trickier prospect.
Also, make sure to get the right type of wood for the smoker you have. Since wood chips can be used in most smokers, they’re usually a good bet. If your unit is fueled by wood pellets, though, that’s the only kind of wood you can use.
Ash wood might not be one of the first wood types that springs to mind when you’re thinking about firing up the smoker. If you’re able to procure some, though, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.