Alder Wood For Smoking
Summer is practically here and people are already pulling out their smokers and grills. Heck, if you are a dedicated smoker it is likely that you never put yours away, as this is something that you can do all year round with the right equipment.
That aside, whether you are seasonal or not, the summertime offers the best time for smoking. There is nothing like getting out there under the hot sun and smoking an entire evening away. While smoking is a practice that is enjoyed by many, it does pose some unique problems for newer practitioners.
One of those biggest problems is choosing the right wood. There are tons of different options available on the market, and you likely already know that they all don’t produce the same flavors and benefits. Below, you are going to learn everything that you could possibly need to know about smoking with alder wood.
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A Bit Of History On The Wood
Before you just delve right into smoking your favorite meats with alder wood, it is important to understand a bit of history about the wood. Understanding its origins and how it came about can give you a better understanding of how it produces the flavor profile that it generates.
It might also give you a bit of a better all-around appreciation for the wood. That being said, alder is the common name of a genus of flowering plants that belongs to the birch family Betulaceae.
The genus is literally comprised of right around 25 different species of monoecious trees and shrubs. Some can reach extraordinary sizes and are usually located throughout the north temperature zone with a few species extending into Central America, as well as the northern and southern Andes.
The name alder is one that actually comes for the old English word alor, which is derived from Proto-Germanic root aliso. The generic name Alnus in Latin is equivalent to the Spanish term for tree. There are some rare exceptions, but for the most part, alders are deciduous, meaning that the tree is seasonal. During the right times of the year, it will shed its leaves.
The leaves offer a basic and traditional design with their alternate, simple, and serrated shapes. The flowers are catkins with elongate male catkins on the same plant, and they oftentimes appear much earlier than the leaves when developing.
The largest species of the alder family is without a doubt the red alder. It is one that can be found on the west coast of North America. The black alder would weigh in at second and can be found scattered throughout most of Europe.
Both have the potential to reach nearly 30 meters in stature, while it is the red alders that usually make it to this extended size. By unique contrast, the widespread Alnus or green alder rarely grows to be more than 5 meters tall. It is nothing more than a traditional shrub.
Alders usually like to grow near streams, rivers, and wetlands. There are some exceptions to this though. And, one of those exceptions would be the white alder. Unlike the northwest alders, it has an affinity for warm, dry climates, but still like to grow alongside the lower part of the Columbia River east of the Cascades and the Snake River.
The leaves from all different species of alders are oftentimes used as food for various insects like butterflies and moths.
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The Profile For Alder
Most people that smoke like strong, bold flavors on their food. And, there is nothing wrong with this. It can be great when paired with the right meats. However, there are those occasions when such individuals do prefer something a little lighter. Maybe you are just new to the whole smoking game and want to start with something light and simple just to get your broke into the industry.
Whatever the situation is, this is exactly where alder wood is going to come in handy. Alder wood will provide your food with a flavor profile that is balanced and delicate. Nothing too overpowering. You’ll still be able to enjoy the natural flavors of your favorite foods, but it’ll be backed with hints of alder.
Alder wood is nowhere as near as popular as cedar or hickory, but many would put it right there at the top as a top contender. And, this is in part all thanks to its unique profile. It offers a great flavor profile that is delicate, subtle, and slightly sweet. Cedar and hickory are both very strong with smokey flavors and can be a bit overpowering at times. This is not the case at all with alder thanks to its subtle and versatile profile.
Alder is not only perfect for individuals looking for something a little lighter on the palette, but it is excellent for novice smokers. And, this is because it is extremely forgiving. What exactly does this mean? If you are new to the smoking time, you might not know that timing is crucial when it comes to smoking meats. You smoke certain meats too long and the final taste will just completely overpower what you were going for. You don’t cook them long enough and you barely end up tasting that smokey flavor. Timing is simply crucial. This is just another area where alder excels. Thanks to its delicate and light profile, you never really have to worry about overcooking.
When cooking with alder, you’ll notice that it has a similar structure to that of ash. When freshly chopped into pieces, it will give off a white texture, but when exposed to air, it will quickly turn a yellow or reddish hue. It is fairly straight-grained like ash with a uniform texture and burns relatively fast. Just know that it is capable of creating a hot fire with a lot of decent coals and smoke, but will leave a lot of ash behind.
The Best Foods For Alder
At the end of the day, you can use alder with any type of meat of your choosing. However, if you want to get the most out of the delicate sweetness offered by the wood, you’ll use it to smoke salmon or other fish products. It is also a wood that goes extremely well with poultry products. You can’t go wrong mixing the wood with vegetables, pork, shrimp, or fruit either, so don’t be afraid to get out there and experiment around a bit.