God gave us animals for eating. He gave us plants for burning underneath the animals we eat.
I find it interesting that it is only very recently, probably the last couple centuries or so, that we have had alternative cooking fuel sources such as electricity, charcoal, propane, and natural gas. Most of these (charcoal, a derivative of wood, to a lesser extent) impart a flavour-neutral heat to food. However, every time I cook over a wood fire, I don't know, but somehow the woodsmoke and meat combine to form something greater than the sum of the two parts. Centuries ago this is how most food was cooked in many cultures worldwide: roasted or grilled over wood fires. I'll admit, it is much, much too cold to be sitting outside tending a cooking fire these days, but I still find an excuse to cook outside once a week or so.
And as I've mentioned before, to please the hippies: wood is a renewable resource. Especially mesquite, which grows like a weed in Texas. Hickory I'm less certain about, but it is certainly easier to replenish than, say, natural gas.
Some might want to amend my definition of God's purpose for plants (combustion and smoke production below animal meat) by adding the smoking of certain plant leaves (no, not THAT plant leaf!), but I'd have to say, tobacco smoke, even tobacco from an excellent cigar, holds little appeal to me personally, based on my very minimal experimentation. I use the word "experimentation" and it probably brings to mind the idea of pre-teens huddling behind the shed and hacking their way through a stolen pack of auntie's Camels, but in actuality it was more like a confused adult sitting in his dining room, muttering curses and grievous pronouncements at an overly priced cigar that haughtily refused to stay lit.
No, as for me, the best smoke is the smoke of the classic American hardwoods. Oak, apple, cherry, mesquite, hickory, and pecan. I've used about half of these in my cooking, and those three (apple, mesquite, and hickory) all seem to impart a different flavour. Hickory was the most conventional, and some would say ideal for BBQ smoking. Mesquite has a sharper flavour and burns hot, great for searing steaks and general direct cooking (on Monday I cooked "lamburgers" over mesquite wood, which was very good). Apple wood was interesting; the smoke was thick and instead of the expected "fruity" smoke flavour I've read about it seemed to me to be slightly more "buttery" than the other woods.
You might ask what prompted this blog entry ("not get your eggs and b. this morning, eh, 'Feld?"), and while I did enjoy a rather fun grilling session last evening, the main catalyst was when I walked into work this morning, our corporate neighbors (some sort of manufacturing or machine shop) had as usual a plume of smoke rising from their chimney. Apparently they use lumber scraps such as old wooden pallets to fire their industrial oven. Even as low quality as that lumber may be, the smell was great. I wanted to hang a slab of spare ribs in their chimney and come back at lunch time.
And I'll leave you with this. Another comic song from the Jeeves and Wooster series, it is stuck in my head, and so now I'm attempting to stick it in yours. Avoid the comments section, unless you desire to be thoroughly nauseated by descriptions of Mr. Laurie as a "cutie" and other even more ghastly epithets:
Nagasaki, as performed by B.W.W.