Gas is convenient, and there are bags of charcoal in every supermarket, but nothing can give your thick-cut steaks, beef briskets, and sausages such a great aroma and rich flavor as wood.
Take my advice and try cooking over wood sometime. Once you and your family bite into the meat, I guarantee the taste will make you want to use only wood for fuel for the rest of your life. Hallelujah!
At least that’s what happened to me and my kids a long time ago.
When grilling or smoking meat over wood, the golden rule is always to cook over hardwoods. Softwoods contain more air and sap, so not only do they burn more quickly, but their smoke gives a bad flavor to the meat. The smoke can even be toxic and, in some cases, make you sick.
In contrast, hardwood is a consistent heat source that burns slowly, just the way you want it. Hardwood also gives your meat a mild, pleasant flavor that varies depending on the type of wood you use (more on this below).
There are a good dozen hardwoods that can be used for this purpose, but fig tree wood is one of my undisputed favorites—and as it turns out, I’m not the only one.
Fig wood is great for grilling and smoking meats. It’s so sweet and cinnamony that its smoke alone makes you hungry. Use it to cook pork, poultry, and seafood. Avoid cooking beef or lamb with it; their flavors don’t meld well.
One of the best pieces of grilling advice I’ve received over the years is to choose your firewood the way you’d choose your spices.
Armed with that knowledge, it becomes easy to understand why fig’s sugary smoke melds well with pork, chicken, and fish, all of which benefit from being imparted with a subtly sweet taste.
Don’t try smoking brisket or lamb shoulder over fig wood. Oak, maple and hickory go much better with these strongly flavored meats than any wood from a fruit tree.
Fig trees are native to the coastal countries along the Mediterranean sea, and, over there, they’re a go-to choice of firewood for grill cooks and local restaurateurs.
Stateside, fig trees can be kinda hard to find. Most fig trees in the United States are grown in California since their fruit can’t tolerate cold climates.
Fig wood isn’t the most popular firewood among meat smokers, that’s for sure.
If you Google it—which is probably how you came across this article—you won’t find many barbecue masters raving about it, nor many forum users discussing it.
However, if you can prune the fig tree in your backyard, or for some reason scrounge up a lot of fig wood, you should give it a try for smoking pork or bird meat. Chances are you won’t be disappointed.
Other Good Woods for Smoking Meat
Once again, always grill with hardwoods. Not only are they non-toxic, which is the be-all and end-all of food safety, but they also burn more evenly and therefore last longer.
Softwoods, which burn quickly and produce unpleasant-tasting smoke, and sappy hardwoods, which also have an unpleasant taste, should never be used to grill or smoke meat.
Most of the pitmasters I follow smoke beef with oak or mesquite, pig’s meat with hickory or pecan, and birds with maple.
Apart from fig, other woods you can smoke meats with include, in alphabetical order, alder, apple, cherry, and, mostly on the vineyards in France, grapevine trimmings.
This is an extensive but not exhaustive list. For fruit trees, for example, the general rule is that “if a tree bears fruit, the meat smoked over it tastes good.”