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Grilling with Flavor

by Karen Ansel, registered dietitian nutritionist

If you’ve experimented with rubs and marinades, and want to add even more depth to your grilling, it’s time for the next smoker for the grillfrontier: wood chips. Barbecuing with wood chips infuses foods with a rich, smoky flavor. But if you’ve never used wood chips before, they can seem intimidating. This foolproof guide makes it a cinch.
Step 1: Get to know your woods
Just like different marinades have distinct flavors, so do wood chips. While wood from fruit and nut trees has mild undertones, hickory, maple, mesquite and oak deliver a more pungent kick.
  • Alder: Its subtle flavors are perfect for fish, especially salmon or swordfish.
  • Apple, Cherry, Peach or Pear: These sweet, fruity woods work especially well with poultry. Apple also pairs nicely with ham.
  • Hickory: The most popular smoking wood, hickory is ideal for adding bacony flavor to beef, pork, game or poultry. It can be somewhat overpowering, so combine it with gentler pecan or fruit chips.
  • Maple: Its sweet-smoky notes makes it a natural for vegetables.
  • Mesquite: For an assertive smoke that stands up to the meaty taste of beef or pork.
  • Oak: Less pungent than hickory, oak is an ideal partner for brisket, pork or poultry. For added sweetness, mix it with fruit chips.
  • Pecan: Like hickory but milder. Try it with chicken, fish or ribs.
Step 2: Add water
Soak your chips for two hours before you plan to use them.
Step 3: Start smokin’
You’ll want to create smoke before you start to grill. If you have a smoking box, add soaked wood chips to the box, place on a heated grill rack and cover. If not, use a drip pan by adding chips and covering with foil with holes punched in it. Once smoke starts to seep out of the grill, you’re ready to start cooking.

Learn more about safe cooking temperatures and how to stay safe at any grilling get-together. 

Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, is a nutrition consultant, journalist and author based in Long Island, NY.