Smoking food is an age-old tradition that has enjoyed a resurgence by cooking aficionados around the world, and smoking with apple woods adds a deliciously subtle flavor to smoked meat. Originally used as a method of preserving food in times when refrigeration was not an option, smoking has become a way of life for those who love meat. The depth of flavor that comes from smoking meat over low heat for multiple hours cannot be matched by any other cooking method, and with so many high-quality smokers available, it’s no wonder why the public has embraced this cooking method so thoroughly.
The most important flavor-influencing factor in the smoking process is the type of wood that is used to smoke the food. There are a variety of different types of hardwoods that lend themselves well to the smoking process; cherry, hickory and maple are all staples, and are used quite commonly. Aside from these, apple wood is one of the most popular hardwoods used for smoking food. Apple wood is not only readily available and inexpensive, but can impart a unique flavor to anything from meat to cheese.
Apple wood differs from other hardwoods in a variety of ways. One of the most important factors that separates apple wood is that it is extremely subtle. Those who say they don’t like smoked foods often cite the intense smokiness as being a turnoff; a hallmark factor when woods such as hickory or oak are used. The smoke from these woods is extremely pungent and can literally saturate food to the point where smoke is the only noticeable flavor. Apple wood, on the other hand, lends a far lighter smoke to food, and is often described as being extremely subtle and fruity. Foods that are smoked with apple wood retain their inherent flavors, while benefiting from the accents lent by the smoke rather than becoming overpowered by them.
Learning how to smoke food isn’t necessarily difficult, but there is a learning curve present that can only be diminished with experience. Those who work to perfect their smoking techniques often find that one of the most important things to learn early on is what woods match up well with specific types of food. For example, hickory may be ideal for certain foods like pork ribs, but may not lend itself well to other types of meat, such as beef brisket. The same can be said for apple wood; while perfect in some situations, it simply doesn’t translate well to some foods.
When choosing foods to smoke with apple wood, it is best to first think about how the smoke will affect the food. Apple wood is fruity and subtle, and thus can be matched with foods that will benefit from this type of flavor. Meats that pair well with apple wood smoke include pork and poultry. Fish such as salmon and even some cheeses (especially cheddar) can benefit from the fruitiness that apple wood imparts.
For some people, the smoke provided by apple wood simply isn’t strong enough to impart enough flavor to the meats they’re trying to smoke. In such a case, apple wood can be combined with small amounts of oak and cherry wood in order to provide a more powerful, strong tasting smoke. When combining woods, it is usually wise to use a small amount the first time you do it in order to ensure you’re happy with the results. This is especially true of using powerful woods like oak and cherry, as a little bit will almost always go a long way. Depending upon how much food you are smoking, 2-6 chunks of hard wood are usually sufficient, as any more might impart too strong of a flavor.
Another difficult aspect of the smoking process for beginners to understand is how long to actually smoke the food. Generally, this is almost always a matter of choice. The most important thing is to ensure that the food has been cooked long enough to come to temperature; this will vary depending upon the type of meat, fish or cheese you are smoking. Once the target temperature has been reached, you can choose to stop smoking the food or continue. The longer you smoke the food, the more flavor the smoke will impart. There is a fine line between food that is smoked perfectly and food that is simply smoked to the point of no return, at which point the subtle flavor of the food has all but disappeared in lieu of the smoke. Since ideal smoking times vary depending upon the type and quantity of food, the only way to perfect the process is practice.