While it is technically possible to use any wood for cooking, it doesn’t necessarily mean your food will come out tasting good. There is a practice for finding the correct wood for burning fires and cooking food.
Moisture content is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing your fuel, second only to wood species. To be safe, oak, hickory, mesquite, and pecan are all good choices. But what is the best moisture content for cooking wood? Learn more about why moisture content is essential, what happens when you have too much or too little moisture, and the perfect amount needed for cooking, depending on your preferred cooking method.
Why Is Moisture Content Important?
The moisture content of your wood matters for cooking because it will determine how much smoke is produced and how easy it is to light. The amount of moisture in the wood could also influence what is in the smoke. Moisture content is one of the most essential components to finding the perfect cooking wood.
Moisture Contents for Different Applications
To identify the correct moisture content needed for your cooking application, you first need to understand if you will be using the wood for grilling or smoking. Moisture content directly correlates to how much smoke is produced. Grilling takes place over an open flame or the coals and embers of the wood that is being burnt. Smoking uses indirect heat from wood being burnt in a separate chamber. In an offset smoker or a vertical smoker, this creates an indirect path from the burning wood to the cooking area. Both applications require different moisture contents. Typically, grilling uses a product with a lower moisture content. This allows for ease of lighting and less smoke.
What Happens if the Moisture Content Is Too High?
The term “green wood” is used to refer to a freshly cut tree. The moisture within this wood has not had time to evaporate or dry. Green wood will smolder and create more smoke when lit. This wood can be more difficult to light. If you’re having a problem lighting the wood, the moisture content could be too high.
What Happens if the Moisture Content Is Too Low?
On the other hand, wood that has been seasoned or dried excessively is also not a viable option for smoking. Dry woods function better for grilling, as they produce less smoke and impart less of their natural flavor profile into the foods. When grilling, it is better to use a drier wood over green wood. However, for smoking, the level of moisture should be chosen based on how much of the natural flavor profile you would like to impart into your food.
How High Should Your Cooking Wood Moisture Content Be?
To ensure your firewood supplier properly seasoned the wood, check that it sounds hollow, is light in weight, and shows signs of cracking—this all means it was adequately dried beforehand.