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FAQ Subject: I need pointers on using alderwood
I live in Western Washington, and it has been a tradition around here (for longer than white people have been in the picture) to cook/ smoke with alder. Problem is, I live in a white neighborhood, and nobody around here knows diddly about it.
I have seen conflicting opinions as to how well aged wood should be, and I have seen no information on the web at all about cooking with alder. I would like to get some pointers on using this type of wood; it grows like a weed around here.
I have a New Braunfels cooker with an offset firebox. I've been using it avidly since about May of '99, and have used everything from mesquite wood to conventional charcoal. As I write this, I have some beef back ribs in the cooker with "natural" mesquite charcoal. (Charred wood, and not hot enough for my current purpose) I'm also Blackfeet. I guess this means I'm a Mid-western Indian living in the Northwest, cooking on a Texas cooker, with "foreign" wood, to boot. Can you give me any pointers?
Alder has a very mild (tasteless?) smoke. As you say it is as common as weed in that area and its availability and mildness may be why it was used for smoking fish by the inhabitants.
If you are using it to smoke, green wood is actually best. If you want to cook with it, it is better to dry it for a few months until the moisture content drops. Then you burn it to coals, just like mesquite, and cook with it.
You might want to click into "According to Smoky" at www.barbecuen.com and read the "Glossary" then read "Burning Wood & Blowing Smoke." The "natural charcoal" is plenty hot. The problem is in the design of your pit. If you lower the entrance to the exhaust, you will get better use out of the BTUs.