A defining part of barbecue is the burning of logs. Different types of woods can be used for barbecue, and each wood has a unique way of enhancing the flavor of specific meats. Walnut is a common wood used for smokers. It has a strong flavor, making it unsuitable for smoking some meats. It is an excellent wood, but the key is knowing which situations require its use and when you should avoid it.
Types of Wood for Smoking Meat
Hardwoods are the ideal type of wood for smoking meat. They include nut and fruit woods and don’t burn as fast as softwoods. These woods have different characteristics and add different flavors to specific meats. They are classified into mild, medium, and strong woods for smoking.
Cherry wood is a fruitwood that delivers mild smoke and is great for all kinds of meat. It is excellent for smoking lamb, pork, poultry, and beef. Its mild flavor mixes well with these meats, and the smoke turns beef and pork into a rich, mahogany color. Cherry wood may be balanced by mixing it with oak, hickory, alder, or pecan.
Oak wood is one of the most popular smoking woods. It is a mild-smoking wood that offers a sweet flavor. Although the wood is strong, it doesn’t tend to overpower the texture and taste of the meat. Oak wood is ideal for poultry, beef, pork, and every other type of meat.
This wood is similar to hickory, and both belong to the same family. Pecan wood burns slowly and has a nutty aroma, giving the meat a delicate flavor. The wood tends to be pungent and works well when it is used in moderation. It is an ideal smoking wood for pork, beef, fish, and poultry. We have a saying, “when in doubt, get the pecan out.”
Maple wood provides a more subtle, mild, and sweet flavor. The smoke gives the meat a dark appearance and works well with other woods such as alder and oak. When smoking pork, poultry, wild game birds, and cheese, maple wood is an excellent choice. Sugar maple is particularly great for smoking turkey.
Applewood is a fruit wood with a mild and fruity flavor. Ideal meats for this wood are poultry, beef, pork, lamb, and wild game. It is a blending wood for stronger woods like oak, walnut, or mesquite.
Walnut wood has an intense, slightly bitter flavor and creates a strong smoke. It is often used as a mixing wood. When mixed with milder wood types, its intense flavor is drowned. It is ideal for smoking red meats such as beef and pork and works well with wild game.
Hickory wood is a strong smoking wood that has a smoky and spicy flavor. The semi-sweet smoke can penetrate meat quickly and is loved by many. It is ideal for smoking pork, beef, fish, and wild game. However, over-smoking with hickory wood can result in bitter-tasting meats.
This wood has the most intense flavor, putting it in a class of its own. It provides spicy wood smoke and the wood burns hot and fast. Many pitmasters recommend blending this wood with milder ones. Mesquite wood works well with large cuts of pork and beef.
Walnut Wood and Its Characteristics
Walnut wood is obtained from the walnut tree. The walnut tree has two common species: Black walnut and Carpathian or English walnut. The former is mostly used for manufacturing furniture, not smoking. Smoking is mostly done using English walnut wood. Both types of walnut wood have a similar smoke profile and flavor. English walnut is slightly less bitter and has a milder smoke.
Walnut wood has a distinctive flavor and a peculiarly strong and bitter taste. Its smoke can also be distinguished by its acrid odor—the acidity and bitterness associated with the wood results from the tannic acid present in the tree.
The color of the smoke does not stand out and the smoke darkens meat the same way the smoke of other woods would. Walnut wood can burn for a long period, making it ideal for long smokes.
How to Use Walnut Wood
Walnut wood is usually bought in chunks, making it an ideal fit for electric and propane smokers. Split logs are also available for offset smokers.
Many pitmasters recommend mixing walnut wood with milder types of wood. Using walnut wood on its own will leave you with bitter-tasting meat you’ll probably not enjoy. Walnut has a strong and bitter taste, but mixing it with milder wood types will balance the flavor. Mixing walnut with other woods will also give you a milder and more flavorful smoke.
Walnut can be used with oak wood which has a mild smoke and is excellent for smoking all kinds of meat. To create a sweet and fruity taste, you may mix walnut wood with fruit woods such as apple and pear.
When mixing, it’s best to mix a smaller quantity of walnut wood with a larger quantity of another wood type. Walnut wood has an intense flavor and using it in a small quantity will give room for the flavor of the milder wood to be noticed. You should also pay attention to the smoker’s temperature, as walnut wood burns slightly hotter than other wood types.
What Meats Can you Smoke Using Walnut Wood?
It’s probably seeming like using walnut wood is a lot of trouble and the wood is bad for smoking. But it isn’t. When used appropriately, walnut wood can provide an excellent flavor profile for certain meats.
Walnut has a strong and bitter flavor making it a great fit for meats with strong flavors. Poultry lacks this flavor and would be overwhelmed if smoked using walnut wood. Walnut wood works well with red meats such as beef and pork. It also works well with wild game red meats. When mixed with milder woods, walnut wood can give a great taste to the right meat.
Although avoided by many, walnut wood in the right quantity may be what your red meat needs. Walnut wood on its own has an intense flavor that can be overwhelming. However, mixing it with a milder wood type will reduce the intensity and give you the unique flavor you’ll love.