We do a good deal of smoking food at Columbia County Brewing, we use exclusively Alder and Vine Maple, in our custom smoker. Alder and Vine Maple are the smoke woods of the original peoples from our area here in NW Oregon, used primarily on Salmon, Sturgeon, or Eels from the Columbia River. We have embraced this tradition and apply it to all we smoke, 10 years in I’m still learning the nuances of the Alder given it’s size or seasoning and the flavor that produces. People have often gifted me fruit wood over the years, I won’t use it, most fruit trees in our area have been sprayed at some point in their history with God knows what. I’m not going to be the guy who atomizes toxic shit from fruit tree chemo spray in my smoker.
Folks (mostly men) like to chat about smoking with either me or my son Tyger, generally to extol the benefits of pellet smokers. Pellet smokers to me are like microwave ovens, very convenient, simple to use, and do very well on a limited number of products. One of our goals in “stick burning” BBQ is to develop a rich bark and smoke ring on our meats, difficult to achieve on a pellet smoker. I get the convenience of turn the dial to get the temperature where you want it and then go mow the lawn, and for the multi tasking weekend warrior it is possibly the best option. For me to be comfortable selling BBQ to the public I need to do it the old way, anything else feels like buying Costco muffins and reselling them at a little league game.
Unfortunately so much of food prep these days is based on how easy it is to prepare as opposed to how good it can be. Restaurants, Carts, and Food Trucks suffer from the same affliction, “What can I produce with the least labor and maximum profit”. What is lost is the passion and craft of producing food that is better than good enough. It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings “Mediocrity is it’s own reward”. We are blessed to be so close to Portland where any number of chefs are pushing the envelope in terms of creativity and processes.
If you’d like to get back to the past and you have a charcoal grill at home you can introduce wood to your grill outs. The Weber style grills are great for this, just push your coals to one side and add wood atop of that and you’re cooking with wood in your own backyard. If you happen to have a fire pit even better, throw a grill over the fire and you’re camp cooking. Cast iron pots and pans are another way to utilize heat from your wood fire to cook. Nothing compares to the aroma real wood imparts on your food and I encourage you to experiment with wood this summer and get back to those flavors of bygone days.