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SMOKE 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM | Treat your wood right and it'll return the favor

Not green wood. - Courtesy Photo
Not green wood.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

What's Up columnist, boucanier extraordinaire, Patrick Momany gives the wisdom on proper wood-smoked BBQ.

There’s a proper way to stack wood

Once the wood has been split, it should be stacked to dry or season off the ground. Drying occurs more rapidly along the grain. So don’t stack the wood for drying until it is split. Stay away from damp places or depressions where water will collect after a rainfall. The pile should be free-standing with maximum exposure to air and sunlight.

A tarp over the wood pile in rainy season helps keep it dry.

What to look for when buying wood

The delivery of wood is not yet a regulated business. Whether you are actually “taken” or not, you probably will think so. One delivery won’t appear as large as the next, will be piled differently if at all, and may have assumed another name by the time it arrives. Wood is sold by the truck load, by weight, in cords, ricks, runs, or units. All this is as confusing to the wood-burner as it is to many dealers. Others simply take advantage of the fact that most homeowners don’t know the difference between wood species or understand wood measurements. Wood usually is sold in divisions of a standard cord, which is a neatly stacked pile eight feet long by four feet wide by four feet high covering 128 cubic feet. Because wood can’t be stacked without air space, only 60-110 cubic feet of the 128 may be solid wood. (Usually it runs between 80-90 cubic feet with more solid wood content in round wood than split.) A face cord is also called a rick or a pallet and is half a standard cord. There is a considerable difference in weight between woods; a standard cord of air-dried hardwood weighs 4,000 pounds while a standard cord of softwood will weigh half that.

Green Wood gives meat a sweet flavor

Green wood can be as much as 65 percent water. Much of this moisture evaporates very quickly. In three months of reasonable weather (evaporation depends on temperature and humidity), the seasoning is half complete and the fuel value is 90 percent of what it will be when thoroughly dry; in two years the wood is as dry as it will get. When smoking meat with green wood you get a thick, sweet flavor not attainable from dry wood. You do have to be careful not to allow the wood to create creosote, which will ruin your day.

There is a significant difference in BTU rating for woods burned green or air-dried. Completely dry wood has about 7,850 BTU’s per pound whereas green wood, when burned, loses more than 1,200 BTU’s per pound in evaporating the moisture. Green wood is almost twice as heavy as seasoned wood and will make a dull thud when two green sticks are hit together. It is hard to handle, hard to light, and burns slowly. Much of its energy is lost in heating, then evaporating the excess moisture.

It requires no work to let the wood sit for at least a year. In the process you are increasing the heat value, the wood will be lighter, ignite better, and produce less smoke and fewer sparks. Wood will dry faster if it is split. Much depends on the humidity and the weather in your area. In some areas in May and June, wood will dry rapidly, it will reabsorb water in July and August, dry out again in September, reabsorb water in October. Wood can increase its moisture content if not properly stored.

Drying can be hastened if the pile is stacked crisscross for three months, then stacked in the normal parallel way we are accustomed to. Green wood is easy to identify. Just split a piece. The core will look wet and shiny; dry wood looks dull and the saw marks are less pronounced. As wood dries, the moisture evaporates naturally and the wood begins to shrink. Wood, even when air-dried, still has 20-25 percent moisture content. Since wood shrinks unevenly, cracking and checking of the wood occurs. Dried wood can be recognized by the weathered ends, and by the cracks which will radiate like spokes out on the ends.

PATRICK MOMANY is the owner/operator of Tatu BBQ, located at 11133 NE Maine Ave. in Kingston, a chef for the troops and all-around boucanier extraordinaire. For more, go to www.tatubbq.com.

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