Is it safe to use plum wood for smoking? And even if it is, would you want to use it? Choosing the right wood is about more than safety, although that’s very important. You’re also trying to create a certain flavor profile. Read on to learn more.
Plum Wood For Smoking
You can expect plum wood to give off a smoke that’s reminiscent of the fruit itself. Its sweet, mellow flavor is like a less intense version of hickory, which can turn bitter when used in large quantities. Plum wood pellets are pretty easy to find, but it’s not as widely available in chip or chunk form.
About Plum Wood
The wood of the plum tree is tough and durable, with a reddish hue. Since it’s classified as hardwood, it’s safe to use in the smoker (see Woods To Avoid, below).
When you burn plum wood chips, chunks, or pellets in your smoker, you’re rewarded with a mild, fruit-tinged smoke. It can be compared to other fruit woods like cherry and peach in that the wood imparts a flavor that’s similar to the fruit it bears.
Some people also liken the flavor of plum smoke to hickory. It’s not quite as strong-tasting as hickory smoke, which has a medium-to-bold intensity. So if you enjoy the taste of hickory but prefer a mellower flavor, plum might be the answer.
Woods To Avoid
You should never use softwood in the smoker. This list includes (but is not necessarily limited to) the following:
- Liquid Amber
What makes these woods unsuitable for smoking?
First of all, they contain oils and resins that create a thick, dense smoke when burned. When you put wood in the smoker, you want the resulting smoke to be flavorful but clean.
Even more upsetting is the fact that the resins usually contain chemicals and toxins that can be transmitted to the food. Cedar, for example, contains oils that cause skin irritation and respiratory problems when the wood is exposed to heat.
Even if there were no health risks involved, softwoods wouldn’t be ideal for the smoker. They contain more air than hardwoods, which means they burn faster and aren’t well-suited to long, slow cooking applications.
What’s more, the resins give off an unpleasantly bitter taste. So to recap, softwoods don’t burn well, don’t taste good, and can even make you sick. With all that in mind, there’s no reason to even consider using them to smoke your food.
While we’re on the subject, be sure to avoid wood that’s been treated in any way. There shouldn’t be any stain or paint on the wood at all. Also, don’t use the wood if you notice any mold or fungus growth on it.
Which Foods Go Best With Plum Wood?
If you’re planning on smoking pork, poultry, or seafood, plum wood is a good bet.
Spare ribs pair well with fruit woods, as they have a rich flavor that benefits from a hint of sweetness. The same is true of pork butt and pork shoulder. If you’re planning to smoke a whole ham for a special occasion, consider using plum wood as your base.
We like to use plum wood when smoking whole chickens and turkeys as well. Poultry is relatively mild-tasting, so there’s no need to use a robust wood for smoking.
Since heartier woods like hickory and walnut can overpower smoked seafood, we prefer to stick with a mellow wood like plum when fish is on the menu. Use plum wood to smoke whole fish, shrimp, or mussels.
Which Form of Wood Should I Buy?
Wood for smoking comes in a few different forms. Pellets, chips, and chunks are the most prevalent, and each form has its own pros and cons.
Pellets are your only option if you have a unit that uses them as fuel. You can put pellets in a charcoal smoker too, but they’ll be there solely to provide flavor—you still have to use charcoal as he main fuel source.
Wood chips are the most versatile choice, as they can be used in any type of grill or smoker except pellet-fueled units. These are readily available in a variety of flavors and give off short, intense bursts of smoke.
We like to use wood chunks for long cooking applications. Because of their size, they take longer to burn and produce more consistent smoke. They work best on charcoal smokers, but your gas or electric unit might also be able to accommodate wood chunks.
Where To Buy Plum Wood For Smoking
Although plum makes a great smoking wood, it’s not that easy to find. You’ll have more luck procuring apple or cherry wood chips if you’re looking for fruit wood in general.
We’ve found that plum wood is more widely available in pellet form. If you have a pellet or charcoal smoker, that’s good news. But those of you who use gas or electric smokers won’t benefit much from it.
There’s always the option of harvesting your own wood or buying it from a friend. However, you want to be careful in these cases.
First of all, you’ll need to be absolutely sure that the wood came from a plum tree and not one of the hazardous woods we listed above. This will be easier if you harvest the wood yourself, but if you get it from someone else, it has to be someone you trust.
Also, wood needs to be seasoned before you can use it for cooking When the wood is “green,” it doesn’t burn as effectively and the flavor will be off. At minimum, wood should dry out for 6 to 12 months before it goes in the smoker.
We’ve seen plum wood chunks available for sale on websites such as eBay. Although it might be possible to get a good deal on the wood, we’re leery of taking advantage of these offers, mainly because it’s impossible to be sure about the provenance of the wood.
Other Popular Smoking Woods
- Alder: light flavor that pairs well with poultry and fish, particularly salmon
- Almond: nutty, mild flavor
- Apple: clean and sweet, goes great with pork
- Ash: mellow yet uniquely flavored, burns quickly
- Cherry: sweet and fruity, will impart a reddish color to smoked food
- Hickory: earthy and rich, makes excellent bacon
- Lilac: very mild and sweet, great for smoked cheese
- Maple: distinctive sweet taste, works well with ham and poultry
- Mesquite: very strong, earthy flavor that can turn bitter, best for beef
- Oak: moderate in intensity with a hearty universal flavor, goes well with everything
- Pecan: nutty and richer than almond, with a sweet edge
- Walnut: produces a heavy smoke flavor, best when paired with mellower woods
The only thing that gives us pause when it comes to using plum wood for smoking is the lack of availability.
If you have the option of using a pellet smoker, then you probably won’t have a hard time getting your hands on plum wood. On the other hand, those of you who need to rely on charcoal, gas, and electric-powered units might not be able to find what you need.
In this case, we would recommend combining another fruit wood like cherry with a small amount of hickory. The flavor profile might not be a perfect match, but it should be in the ballpark.