The Science of Infusing Flavor by Slow Smoking with Hardwoods

For melt-in-your-mouth barbecue that is filled with flavor, slow smoking is one of the most popular cooking methods. By cooking low and slow over hardwoods, meats develop a rich, smoky flavor you can’t get with any other kind of preparation. How exactly does this method of cooking work? Here is what you need to know.


Fresh Hardwood vs. Dry Hardwood

When it is fresh, hardwood is typically made up of about 50% water. When cooking, this produces an excessive amount of steam, rather than smoke, and unpleasant flavors. As such, before cooking, hardwood is air-dried. When hardwood is air-dried, its water content is reduced to about 5%. The rest of the wood is made up of about 40% cellulose, 40% hemicelluloses, 19% lignin, and 1% minerals. The exact nature of these components depends on several different factors. Dried hardwood also contains oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen, as well as sulfur, heavy metals, chlorine, sodium, and potassium. The balance of all of these components determines the flavor that the hardwood imparts to the meat.


Location-Based Flavors

The mix of components in any kind of hardwood—and as such, the kinds of flavors it creates—is largely based on where the wood is grown. In fact, the climate and soil in which a piece of wood grows has more impact on the flavors it provides than the species of the wood. Different species of wood grown in the same location will taste more similar than the same species of wood grown in different locations. Knowing where your hardwood comes can help you predict the flavor you can expect from the slow smoking process.


Four Slow Smoking Steps

Four things happen when you are slow smoking meat. The first is the dehydration process, when the wood is lit by an external source and the remaining water dries out. The next is the gasification process, during which gases begin to appear from the wood. The third stage—the burning bush stage—occurs when the flames appear and a flavorful smoke ring develops. Last of all comes the charcoal stage, in which the wood becomes charred and gives off pure carbon.


Taste the delicious results of slow smoking at Steamboat Smokehouse. The popular restaurant serves up slow-smoked meat with dry rubs and wet mops. For more information about barbecue in Steamboat Springs, CO, call (970) 879-7427.