Biting into a hot, smoky bit of protein brings to mind the outdoors. Somewhere in the subconscious, a prehistoric memory is triggered of bringing down game and cooking it over a fire made from wood gathered in the forest after a long, hard hunt. Tearing into a hunk of smoked, tender meat with our teeth (no utensils required), makes us feel alive and human long after the meaty juices have been wiped from our chins. While plenty of meat will be grilled and smoked for barbecues everywhere this 4th of July, it’s also fun to experiment with the little guys (vegetables, fruit, etc). Escalivada (the Catalan equivalent of ratatouille) is an amazing way to impart maximum smokiness since the vegetables are nestled directly into the glowing embers.
While Francis Mallmann has perfected the art of beautifully barbecued meat, not all of us have access to the wilderness of Argentina where we can hang entire animal carcasses on iron stakes around a bonfire. In order to replicate this in a restaurant, we turn to wood chips and charcoal to get that sweet, smoky taste that makes you just want more. Procuring quality wood for this can be vital in getting some serious flavor.
Not many of us have the know-how or ability to fell a tree to use for cooking or smoking our meat (perhaps you do, which is awesome), so this is where a small family-owned company in Maine comes in. They’re committed to sustainability and quality product, so much so that none of their wood is mechanically harvested. It’s all done by hand by local woodcutters and farmers in the coastal and central part of Maine. The wood is then lugged over to the company in the family SUV or farm truck, and made into wood chips that we can then use to get that smoldering, outdoors-y taste.
Meanwhile, up in Québec, Basques Charcoal has been turning out hardwood charcoal made from sugar maple trees for over 30 years. Sugar maple charcoal burns clean and evenly without any of the chemical aftertaste that can be associated with briquettes. Sustainability is also part of the mantra of Basques Charcoal, and no new trees are cut down for their charcoal. Only those bits that can’t be used by a sawmill are turned into charcoal for our grilling pleasure.
Maine wood chips come in gallon bags, in flavors of wild apple, black cherry, and hickory. Basques charcoal comes in bags of 8 kg.
Photo by kowarski via Flickr.