BBQ smoking market evolves while Texas trees provide smokey flavor for all
Last updated 12/19/2023 at 7:40pm
For many, the smell of sweet, peppery BBQ smoke evokes many memories, traditions and flavors. Whether smoking for a tailgate or family and friends, BBQ never ceases to provide the inviting comradery of cooking.
Originating from leftover meat at meat markets smoked in the ground with hot coals, BBQ and meat smoking methods have evolved over centuries while never losing their value, only expanding it. More importantly, the tradition of meat smoking has made itself a staple in Texas, supporting thousands of farmers, ranchers, businesses and timber and lumber operations throughout the state.
Most essential to the meat smoking process is the source of the smoke— wood. Traditionally, meat smoking utilized hot coals underground. As smoking methods continued to evolve, the use of split woods and wood chips, such as hickory and pecan woods, were introduced. These new methods invited the expansion of flavorful meats and a higher demand for the delicacy.
Now, the meat-smoking tradition has taken a new step with the introduction of processed wood pellets.
“The introduction of wood pellets into the BBQ market has allowed greater access to even the most novice smokers,” said Shane Harrington, Texas A&M Forest Service Senior Project Manager and Texas BBQ catering business owner. “The world of BBQ has exponentially grown in the last 10 years due to greater access to woods and with the creation of wood pellets and pellet smokers.”
Smoking pellets, often a byproduct of lumber production, offer sustainable forest management solutions by ensuring that every part of a tree is used in the secondary stages of production.
“The evolution of and higher demand for BBQ smoking products means that lumber producers have a new avenue for wood byproduct usage that they didn’t have before,” said Harrington.
Wood pellets are a product of chipped logs, branches and excess lumber that are processed into wood fiber. The fiber is then passed under a magnet to ensure it contains no metal before it is dried, leaving only 6% of its original moisture, locking in powerful, earthy flavors. Last, the dried wood fiber is then pressed in a pellet mill under intense pressure to form the pellets made available to consumers.
Choosing a specific pellet group can be a difficult task when accounting for the flavor and heat given off by the pellets. This is why, after many creative tests, BBQ enthusiasts will blend together different wood pellet groups to ensure optimal flavor and consistent heat is present.
Among the most popular Texas woods to smoke with are hickory, oak, pecan and mesquite.
Hickory wood is one of the hardest domestic hardwoods in Texas meaning that the temperature will be lower and will last longer. With hardwood comes lower smoking temperatures. To combat the lower temperatures of hickory wood, softer hardwoods like oak or mesquite can be added to add bursts of higher temperatures.
Hickory wood is known for its sweet, powerful smoke flavor. It is among the most popular when smoking pork, especially ribs and pork belly used for bacon.
With a lifespan that can span centuries and is known for its abundant production of acorns, oak trees serve as a staple of Central Texas.
Oak wood is a versatile wood for smoking. Due to its milder smoke flavor compared to hickory wood, oak wood can be paired with other woods such as apple or cherry. Many smokers combine hickory and oak woods when in search of a tamed-down hickory flavor.
Serving as the Texas state tree, pecan trees provide many economic benefits to the Texas forestry industry. Pecan trees, either naturally produced or planted in a production orchard, can be found throughout the state.
Pecan wood is most widely used to smoke poultry. Adding a reddish tint to the meat, pecan wood locks in a mild sweet and nutty flavor.
For red meat lovers, mesquite wood offers a strong, earthy flavor that is sure to complement the natural flavors of the beef. Of the hardwood smoking options, mesquite provides one of the highest volumes of smoke.
Most often, mesquite wood is only used as a heat and flavor aid to other woods, as using it alone may result in a more bitter taste. Mesquite is best used to add color to meat and for times when you need a direct, quick smoke.
As Texans maintain the tradition of meat smoking, the forestry industry continues to embrace the sustainable technological advancements of wood production to provide flavorful wood and pellets for all to enjoy.