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When the Chips Are Down, Aroma's Up

May 31, 1990|JOAN DRAKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Aromatic wood chips provide an easy way to enhance the flavor of grilled foods. Use sparingly at first--one or two handfuls--then increase if more smoked flavor is desired.

When soaked in water at least 30 minutes before using, the chips create intense smoke. For a lighter, more delicate flavor, use dry chips and replenish as needed.

If charcoal is the cooking fuel, place the chips directly on the hot coals just before beginning to cook the food.

For gas grills, place the soaked or dry wood chips in a foil pouch pierced with holes or a foil cylinder open at the ends. When the chips have been soaked, position the pouch or cylinder directly on the lava rocks; for dry chips, clear a small area of lava rocks and place in contact with or near the flame.

Metal boxes designed for holding chips are also available at stores specializing in grilling equipment. Follow directions on the packaging.

All food should be smoked in a covered grill over low heat. This keeps it moist and allows the smoke to be concentrated around the food.

Which wood to choose? Use the following information as a guide:

Alder--Northwest Indians originated the use of this local wood to cook salmon. Its mild, delicate flavor is excellent for all types of fish, but Alder may also be used with chicken, lamb and pork.

Fruitwoods (Apple, Cherry, Peach, Pear, Pecan)--Use with veal, poultry, game birds and pork. Also good with shellfish such as lobster and shrimp. The flavor of these woods is enhanced when a side dish featuring the matching fruit is part of the menu.

Hickory--The most popular hardwood flavoring. Imparts a pungent, bacon-like flavor. Best used with ham, pork, beef and poultry.

Kiawe--An extremely hard wood from Hawaii that botanists claim is identical to mesquite.

Maple--A favorite in the Northeast. The strong, pungent aroma suits ham, pork, beef and poultry.

Mesquite--This Southwest wood is one of the hardest known; it also burns hotter than other hardwoods. The flavor is sweeter and more delicate than hickory but is still hearty and robust. Mesquite complements richly flavored meats such as duck and lamb, but may also be used for beef, poultry and fish.

Oak--Native to Southern Missouri and most parts of the South. Used for beef, pork, ham, game and poultry.

Grapevine Cuttings--Imparts a more delicate flavor than hardwoods. Recommended for most meats, fish and poultry.

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