As the grilling season ignites, you can infuse even more flavor into your meat.

Toss a few wood chips on the heat or into the smoker box, watch and smell. Those wisps of smoke are bringing new flavor dimensions from woods such as apple, hickory and mesquite.

Where there is fire, there should be smoke, and it’s definitely heating up the barbecue scene as avid outdoor cooks experiment with woods, said Jamie Purviance, author of the new “Weber’s Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill” (Sunset, $21.95).

Purviance says students in his grilling classes are particularly interested in how to use wood when grilling such things as chicken and pork tenderloin for shorter periods, not the traditional “low and slow.”

His book covers that plus all of the basics, from the type of charcoal to use to which wood chips go best with certain foods to wood smoking with a gas grill.

There are more than 80 recipes, too. Some for the beginner include Hickory-Barbecued Chicken and Mesquite-Grilled Cheeseburgers. More ambitious grillers might try Brined and Maple-Smoked Bacon and Beer-Braised and Mesquite-Smoked Short Ribs.

“It’s actually very simple,” Purviance says about using wood smoke. “It’s the way we’ve been cooking since man has been cooking. We just found ways to control it.”

Best-on-the-block Baby Back Ribs

Serves: 8. Preparation time: 30 minutes. Total time: 3 hours, 30 minutes.

Use a gas or charcoal grill. You will also need a spray bottle and, if you have one, a rib rack.

Rub (see directions)

4 racks baby back ribs, 2½-3 pounds each

4 large handfuls hickory wood chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes, divided

For sauce:

4 slices bacon

1 cup ketchup

½ cup unsweetened apple juice

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon molasses

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Hot pepper sauce (optional)

For mop:

½ cup unsweetened apple juice

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

To make the rub, combine 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons mustard powder, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon celery seed and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper.

Remove the membrane covering the back of each rack of ribs. Lift and loosen the membrane, then grab a corner of it with a paper towel and pull it off. Season the racks evenly with the rub. Arrange in the rib rack, standing each rack up and facing in the same direction. Let the racks stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking. Soak the wood chips during this time.

Prepare the grill for indirect cooking over low heat, 300-350 degrees.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Drain and add two handfuls of the wood chips to the smoker box of a gas grill (or add chips to the charcoal that has been prepared for indirect heat) following manufacturer’s instructions, place it over the heat and close the lid. When the wood begins to smoke, cook the ribs over indirect low heat, with the lid closed, for 1 hour. Maintain the above temperature.

Meanwhile, for the sauce, in a medium skillet over low heat, cook the bacon until brown and crispy, turning occasionally. Drain the bacon on paper towels and eat the bacon whenever you like, but reserve 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the skillet and let it cool to room temperature.

In a medium saucepan, combine all the remaining sauce ingredients except the hot pepper sauce. Whisk in the 3 tablespoons of bacon fat and cook sauce over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add hot pepper sauce, if desired. Remove the sauce from the heat.

In a small spray bottle or bowl, combine the mop ingredients. After the first hour of cooking, drain and add the remaining wood chips to the smoker box. Lightly spray or brush the ribs with the mop, particularly areas that are looking a little dry. Close the lid and cook for a second hour, maintaining the same temperature.

After the second hour of cooking, lightly spray or brush the ribs with the mop, particularly areas that are looking dry. If any racks are cooking faster than the others or look much darker, swap their positions for even cooking. Cook for another 30 minutes or so.

After 2½ hours, the meat will shrink back some from most of the bones. If it has not, continue to cook until it does. Remove the rib rack from the grill. Close the lid of the grill to maintain the heat. Remove the ribs rack and lightly brush on both sides with some of the sauce.

Return the ribs to the grill over indirect low heat.

Continue to cook with the lid closed, until tender and succulent, about 15 to 30 minutes more. The ribs are done when you can lift one end with tongs, bone side up, and the rack bends so much in the middle that the meat tears easily. Just before serving, lightly brush the racks with sauce again. Cut the racks into individual ribs and serve warm.

From “Weber’s Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill” by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, $21.95).

Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutritional analysis based on 6 ounces of meat with sauce and seasoning: 732 calories (69 percent from fat), 56 grams fat (21 grams sat. fat), 14 grams carbohydrates, 43 grams protein, 1,865 mg sodium, 205 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

Hickory-barbecued Chicken

Serves: 4. Preparation time: 20 minutes. Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Using a gas grill is ideal, but you can also use a charcoal grill.

For rub:

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon granulated garlic

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

4 whole chicken legs, each 10-12 ounces, cut into thighs and drumsticks

For sauce:

1 cup ketchup

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

2 large handfuls hickory wood chips, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes

In a small bowl, mix the rub ingredients. Season the chicken thighs and drumsticks all over with the rub.

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat, 350-400 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Brush the cooking grates clean. Cook the chicken, skin side down first, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until golden brown, 6-10 minutes, turning occasionally. Move the chicken over indirect medium heat.

Drain the wood chips and add them to the smoker box of a gas grill, following manufacturer’s instructions. Place the smoker box over direct heat. Close the lid and continue cooking until the juices run clear and the meat is opaque all the way to the bone, about 35 minutes, basting with the sauce and turning several times during the last 20 minutes of cooking time. Remove from the grill and let rest for 3-5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with any remaining sauce on the side.

From “Weber’s Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill” by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, $21.95).

Tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutritional analysis per 2 pieces with skin and sauce: 607 calories (47 percent from fat), 31 grams fat (9 grams sat. fat), 20 grams carbohydrates, 61 grams protein, 1,516 mg sodium, 210 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

Smoking Basics

Here are five must-know smoking tips from “Weber’s Smoked: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill.”

Go low and slow (most of the time). True barbecue is cooked low and slow over indirect heat with wood smoke. It’s the traditional way “to make sinewy meats so moist and tender that you hardly need teeth.” But, author Jamie Purviance advises, don’t miss out on adding wood smoke to foods that cook more quickly over direct heat.

Don’t peek. Each time you open the grill, you lose heat and, more importantly, smoke. Open the lid only when you must.

Keep the air moving. If using a charcoal grill, keep the vents open and position the vent lid away from where the coals are. Having the vents open draws smoke from the charcoal and swirls it around the food.

White smoke is good; black smoke is bad. White smoke indicates smoldering wood. Black smoke can mean the juices are burning and tainting your food.

Let the bark get dark. This is especially true with ribs and large chunks of beef and pork that should have a “dark mahogany, borderline black crust called ‘bark.’”

Holy smoke!

If you’re trying your hand at smoking (on the grill, of course), Jamie Purviance, author of the new “Weber’s Smoke: A Guide to Smoke Cooking for Everyone and Any Grill” (Sunset, $21.95), has answers to some frequently asked questions.

Q: What is smoking all about?

A: It’s basically about a little bit of heat, a little bit of wood and some food.

Q: Doesn’t it require hours of cooking time?

A: No. It’s as simple as when you’re making your steak or pork tenderloin. Soak some wood chips and add a handful or two to the charcoal. Witness the difference it can make. It provides a wonderful background to the food. So many people think it requires hours of cooking and clouds of smoke.

Q: What type of wood is best, and how should you prepare it?

A: A mild, moderate-strength wood on something like chicken would be apple, oak or hickory. Mesquite would become too intense — almost turning the chicken bitter. I think hickory is the most useful for a variety of foods. It’s nice and people are familiar with it.

Wood chips need to be soaked in water at least 30 minutes so they will not ignite or burn. Wood chunks should be about the size of your fist and don’t require soaking. They tend not to ignite.

Q: Should you use a rub or marinate foods before smoking?

A: Some form of seasoning is always helpful. The barbecue classics, like ribs and pork shoulder and brisket, they all usually involve some sort of spice rub. Smokers are trying to achieve the bark, or the outer crust. The bark is the melding of the spice rub and the fat in the meat and the smoke. That’s the part people treasure the most.

Q: What food should a first-timer try?

A: Start out with something like chicken thighs with the bone in. They tend to stay juicier for however long it takes. Brown them over direct heat for a few minutes. Move them to indirect heat and add some wood at that point.

It’s a … good opportunity to play with the smoke and get comfortable with how easy it is. The yard smells beautiful, and everything is done in a short period of time.

Q: What mistake do people make most often?

A: I think they use too much smoke. Smoke is a wonderful thing and wonderful seasoning. Too much is too much, and it can dominate everything else in the food if you let it. They think you need to apply smoke for as long as you cook. Smoking the food for half the cooking time is the rule.

Q: What’s one thing to watch out for?

A: Pay attention to the color of the smoke. If using charcoal, if the color of smoke is gray turning toward black, that means the wood is not smoldering properly and that it is starved of oxygen. Shuffle the coals to get more air around the wood. You will then get this white, almost blu ish smoke, which is aromatic and delicious.

Q: Why shouldn’t you peek (lift the lid) when smoking?

A: You’re creating wild fluctuations in temperature. It’s worse when smoking because you’re losing heat and that smoke, which you want to keep under the hood.

Q: What is your main message about using wood smoke when grilling?

A: I want people to understand smoke as a form of seasoning. It’s actually a real easy way to make a delicious difference to their food. Often smoke can be an easier way to create deep, interesting flavors, and it doesn’t always have to take hours. Very often it works in minutes.

©2012 the Detroit Free Press

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