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Jul 8, 2014 04:10 PM

Proper way to get tree branches for grilling, smoking

Some recipes that emphasize using local ingredients sometimes call for fresh branches/leaves from pine, fir, and cedar trees. Is there an easy and safe way of getting, say, a ziploc bag full of these for, say, grilling and smoking salmon? Or to make a spruce-flavored ice cream?

Mainly I'm wary of trees in urban areas because of potential pesticides, roadside pollutants, and possibly that it's inconsiderate/not permitted. If I forage a small handful of material from a tree in Stanley park, or otherwise lower-populated but accessible area, is that reasonable? Or not?

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  1. Trees are dirty things as any adult who's ever climbed one knows however using dishwashing detergent on branches should work fairly well as long as you rinse it half to death.

    1. For grilling or smoking salmon, I would advise you to avoid using the softwoods that you mentioned, as they tend to contain a lot of sap which will impart a bitter, creosote flavour into your food. You would be better off to use a milder smoking hardwood such as alder or oak for fish.
      Also, if you do acquire some fresh, unadulterated wood, remember it still needs to be left to season until the moisture content is reduced before you can smoke with it. For this reason, most people find it easier to just buy a bag of wood chips or chunks from the local BBQ shop or hardware store. You can also buy untreated cedar planks there if you like to cook your salmon that way.
      Sorry I can't help you on the spruce-flavoured ice cream, perhaps Vince at La Casa Gelato can help you out there.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Scoffier

        Sam - I wouldn't worry about dirt if you're just throwing it on the coals.

        OP - for an infused flavor like the ice cream, wouldn't you have to distill it into an essence or liquor?

      2. For spruce-flavoured ice cream you'd probably want to use the new tips,picked early in the growing season, and infused.

        I don't think green branches of conifers are going to be good for grilling and smoking. Alder smoked maybe but you'd still want to season the wood.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Anne M

          An easy 'rule of thumb' is only use wood from trees that have leaves. Do not use wood from trees that have 'needles'.
          Unless you are going to be doing A LOT of grilling/smoking just buy some ready to use grilling /smoking chips/cubes. Follow the instructions and you'll get a decent far as the actual grilling/smoking part goes. The flavour/texture/doneness are different matters.
          When I smoke salmon or trout I use chopped up ranches of wild apple trees. But plain old alder works fine too. (If I'm using alder I just put a couple of chopped apples in the brine. "Wow! This is tasty! I can even taste the apple smoke". LOLOL!)