Smoking meat and poultry with wood delights and challenges many a cook. While the most appetizing flavor can be obtained from wood such as hickory, apple and maple, devotees of smoked food are always on the lookout for new tastes imparted by using different kinds of wood. Unfortunately, sweet gum wood isn't recommended for smoking because of the same quality that makes it good for other uses -- its resin.
Gives a Taste Like Tar
Sweet gum wood resembles other woods like pine, spruce, fir and other conifers. These trees secrete resin that can be used to produce aromatic products such as incense. While sweet gum can be attractive as a scent, its resin gives food a distinctly unpalatable taste, much like tasting the tar from a cigarette. Other woods to avoid for smoking because of a similar "tarry" taste include cypress, elderberry, elm, eucalyptus, liquid amber and sycamore trees.
Gives Off Less Heat
Besides its foul taste, sweet gum wood is difficult to ignite and doesn't give off as much heat as other hardwoods. Smoking relies on consistent temperatures of both heat and smoke to avoid letting food fall into the "danger zone" between 40 and 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria can grow in food in this "danger zone" and cause food poisoning. Smoking food with sweet gum wood, with its lower heat rate, increases the hazard that the food could enter the "danger zone" and become contaminated.
Kinds of Wood to Avoid
In addition to avoiding sweet gum and other resinous woods, smoking experts caution cooks to avoid using lumber scraps because there's no way to tell if the wood has been treated with chemicals hazardous to human health. Lumber scraps also are unsafe for smoking because the wood's type and its source are unknown. Painted or stained wood, scraps from furniture manufacturing, wood covered in mold or fungus and wood from pallets likewise are dangerous to use for smoking food.
How to Smoke Food Safely
To smoke meat and poultry properly, use a covered grill or smoker that has been built specifically for cooking. Don't use a galvanized steel drum or similar container because of the possibility of chemical contamination. To assure that food is kept safe during smoking, use two thermometers, one on the smoker to register the temperature of the smoke and the other to check the food temperature. Smoke temperature should register between 225 and 300 F throughout the cooking time. Cook beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts in a smoker to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F. Ground meats including beef, pork, lamb, and veal should cook to an internal temperature of 160 F, while poultry should cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F.
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