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So other than toxic burning wood, which types of wood are safe to use for cooking fires but will just make my food taste bad? I live in the Southwest, and all types of woods that I have cooked over have been delicious (well, okay at least). An answer on another question brought my attention that some might not taste okay, though:

Make sure you know your wood. Some woods produce toxic fumes. Others will produce a very unpleasant taste.

So which woods make food taste bad when that food is cooked over the wood?

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I'm personally not a fan of the flavors imparted by burning red oak, or white oak for that matter. –  manoftheson Nov 18 at 17:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted
  • Many pine woods will leave your food tasting of turpentine. Depending on the wood, it won't be enough to be toxic, but will still (imo) be a very unpleasant flavor. Generally, due to my experience (in the southeast) this has developed into "don't use evergreens."
  • Avoid woods with much rot.
  • Avoid wood with mosses, fungus, etc.
  • Burn larger diameter wood when possible. The dense wood is the best for cooking, the bark, inner bark, leaves, etc will all produce more smoke than is desirable.
  • Standing dead wood is best (less rot), and generally avoid green wood. Green woods will have more flavor imparting saps. Unless you are intentionally imparting flavor this will most likely result in an undesired flavor.

Bad taste is of course, very subjective.

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There's no safe wood I've found that's made food taste really bad - generally if it does taste absolutely foul I'd be wary that something else was up.

In the grand scheme of things though, it depends what you class as "bad". Different people prefer different flavours, and in that sense using different types of wood can definitely make foods taste different. Some people I know for instance really don't like food cooked over conifers (pine, spruce, etc.), it gives it quite a distinctive taste. Wood from fruit trees can also give a bit of a "sweet" smoky taste to the food (quite hard to describe!)

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