Smoking your seafood is an excellent way to impart flavor. There are many choices when it comes to suitable wood for your meal preparation. If you are looking to try your hand at smoking, you may be wondering what the best wood to use is.
Alder wood is the best choice for smoking seafood. It works well with a variety of fish, shrimp, and even oysters. Other alternatives exist based on preference, but the general rule is Alder is the best.
From Whitefish to Bluefish to shellfish, you should consider specific criteria when choosing the best wood for smoking seafood. In this article, you will learn why Alder wood is the best for smoking seafood. The strength of the smoky flavor, the intensity it burns, and the sweetness imparted by the wood is important as well. If you want to learn more about the perfect wood for your seafood, then keep reading.
Best Wood for Smoking Seafood: Alder Wood
Alder wood is widely accepted as the best wood for seafood, but you may want something more specific if you deal with whitefish or bluefish. Other things you will need to consider when smoking seafood are:
- The leanness of the fish
- How strong of a smoke flavor you want
- What intensity the wood needs to burn
Although Alder wood is the best for seafood, these three things will influence how effectively you can prepare seafood.
Leanness of the Fish
The leaner the fish, the less smoke will be absorbed by the fish—conversely, the fattier the fish, the more smoke gets absorbed by the meat.
Lean fish such as Cod or Sole are whitefish and tend to be more difficult for smoking. Whitefish contains less fat and therefore absorbs the least amount of smoke. Stick with the more mild woods such as alder or applewood.
Fattier fish, or bluefish, include tuna, mackerel or salmon. These fish tend to have a higher oil and fat content than whitefish, and because of this, they hold on to the smoke better. If you are smoking these kinds of fish, you are better off sticking with the milder woods such as alder, cherry or applewood, but you could get away with a mixture of those and a medium wood like oak or maple.
Less is always more when smoking seafood, at least when you are starting. It is effortless to over-smoke fish, which covers up the original flavor.
The Strength of the Smoke Flavor
Not all woods are created equal, and not all woods taste the same. For this reason, the terms light or mild as well as medium and strong will be used when referring to the strength of the smoke flavor imparted to the meat.
Mild woods are what you are after when it comes to seafood. Fish are incredibly delicate, and heavier woods will overpower the flavor of your meal. Alder and fruit woods, cherry and applewood, are the preferred mild woods when smoking seafood. You will have a slightly smoky flavor with faint notes of sweetness.
Medium woods are not ideal for seafood, while not overpowering in most cases, will significantly diminish the flavor of the fish and be left with a very apparent smoke flavor. These woods, hickory, maple and oak, are typically used when smoking poultry and pork. If you are looking for an unmistakable smoke flavor in your fish, a mixture of mild and a little medium wood could work for you.
Strong woods should be wholly avoided when smoking fish and seafood in general. Typically, these woods are reserved for hearty meats in barbecues and not the more delicate kinds of seafood. Mesquite and sometimes hickory are considered the strongest of woods when imparting the smoke flavor to your dish. Using mesquite sparingly in combination with mild woods can be used for a distinct flavor in your seafood.
The Intensity the Wood Needs to Burn
Since all wood chips begin smoking at the same temperature, between 570-750 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to look at their intensity or burn rate.
- Mild woods are going to burn the fastest and may require you to use more. Since they smolder faster, they will impart the smoke faster.
- Medium woods are going to burn at a moderate rate. They are the middle ground between mild and strong woods.
- Strong woods will burn the slowest and require your food to be exposed to the smoke for the longest.
You will need to keep the type of wood you are using in mind to ensure that you do not overcook or undercook seafood or other meat you are preparing.
Smoking Seafood with Alder Wood: Shellfish
Smoking shellfish should be approached slightly differently than that of fish when selecting your wood. Shellfish require less time to smoke, so there are a couple of wood types you could choose. As mentioned previously, Alder wood is an excellent choice, but there are other options and variations of Alder wood worth considering.
One route is to smoke them using the mild woods; they work well for all seafood and will not overpower your food, adding a light sweetness to the smoke. You will still have the woodsy flavor while still maintaining the character of the shrimp, oysters, or your choice of shellfish.
Alternatively, you can use a blend of mild woods with hickory or oak for a more robust smokey flavor. Remember that if you choose to go with a medium wood to minimize the smoke time as much as possible, these are much stronger woods.
Cold smoking shellfish is the preferred method and, as such, will require a pellet smoker. Pellets are going to allow you to control the temperature in a precise manner. Remember, cold smoking does not thoroughly cook the meat and will have to be finished through other means.
Consider Using Alder Wood Chips, Pellets or Logs
Now that you know the best wood for your smoking needs, you can visit Amazon and consider various forms of Alder Wood:
- Wood Chips
Wood chips are going to be the most readily available option at your local store and relatively inexpensive. The majority of smokers can utilize this medium without special hoppers or other apparatus. Out of the three we are covering, wood chips are going to burn the fastest.
Frequently, wood chips are soaked in water or whiskey up to 24 hours in advance to allow them to burn slower and convey additional notes from the liquid used. These Alder Wood Smoker chips on Amazon are a great choice if you choose to use wood chips for smoking seafood.
Pellets will be your choice if you are cold smoking or want to control the temperature more precisely. They will require a pellet smoker or an offset smoker to be used, do not try using them in a traditional charcoal or propane grill. Pellet smokers use electricity to operate the auger within the hopper and allow the user to control the flow more precisely.
Logs are going to be the most impractical for smoking any seafood. They are generally not found at your local store and tend to be bought online. The burn time on logs is much longer than your other options, which is not generally needed for fish or shellfish. Wooden logs are used when smoking over long periods, like a brisket or ribs. This should be your last choice when it comes to smoking your seafood.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are only a handful of woods that are considered acceptable for smoking. Stay away from any of the conifer varieties of wood like your pines. Anything that contains sap will also contain terpenes that will not only burn erratically but may even be poisonous.
Choosing the best wood for smoking seafood is a subjective and personal decision for you to make. However, alder wood is generally considered the best for cooking any type of fish or shellfish in a smoker. The imparting of a light smoke flavor coupled with a hint of sweetness is going to be just the thing to spice up your next meal
Everyone has a different palette when it comes to food, and you may want a more robust flavor from your wood. Sometimes wood chips will be the best medium for smoking; other times, pellets will work better if you have that option. Experiment with different kinds and combinations of wood to find the right balance that is best for you.