Cottonwood is a very mild wood; it can be used for campfire cooking, and within a smoker. Those that have used it report it provides a very mild flavor that will not produce smoke that overwhelms the flavor of the food. When mixed with other long burning woods, it can provide even heat to avoid burning food.
Benefits of Cooking With Cottonwood
Cottonwood produces less smoke than other woods, so you don’t have to worry about your meal becoming overpowered by smoky flavors or smells. Stronger woods such as mesquite and/or hickory can create an almost acidic taste if not used in moderation.
Another benefit, Cottonwood is a quick-growing tree, so once you get the hang of cooking with it, you should be able to find it pretty easy to restock your supply. Being so plentiful, Cottonwood is also very inexpensive, which if you have bought other firewood for cooking, they could cost a lot more. This is especially true for other more common smoking wood such as cherry or mesquite.
Negatives of Cooking With Cottonwood
Cottonwood can also burn faster than other types of wood, making cooking difficult in windy conditions. A fast burn can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the situation.
If you cook a dish that requires long periods to cook, such as a pork shoulder, Cottonwood might not be your best option because it could burn out long before the meat reaches the desired temperature. On the other hand, if all that’s required is a quick sear for say a steak, having a quick-burning fire that generates a good amount of coals may be ideal.
Can Hold Moisture, Creating Acidic Smoke
If there’s too much smoke from your fire, try using kindling and wood chunks that are exceptionally dry. Moisture within the firewood can cause the fire to produce additional smoke that would otherwise be avoided.
Can Extend Cooking Time
Cottonwood produces less heat than some higher BTU woods such as Oak; this can be positive or negative depending on what you are cooking and your expectations. The slower cook time can be ideal for low and slow-type cooking, but if you are grilling and looking for high heat output, you may want to use Oak or some other high BTU firewood.
If you’re not careful, Cottonwood can burn too fast and turn into a pile of ashes; therefore, you need to keep an eye on your cooking fires to ensure you do not lose the fire, thus negatively impacting your cook. Maintaining a nice steady fire that generates enough coals will provide an even temperature that is important to having a successful over the fire cook.
Can Cottonwood Be Used to Smoke Meat In a Smoker, and Does it Burn Clean?
Being a very mild wood, it doesn’t produce much smoke; this is perfect when you are smoking delicate or thin meat where you need to be careful that you do not want to over-smoke the meat.
For thicker cuts of meat (say a pork shoulder), you may be better off using stronger wood or mixing the Cottonwood with a stronger wood to add more smoke flavor.
Cottonwood does produce less heat than many other kinds of wood, which means you can cook at lower temperatures without worrying about cooking meat too quickly and drying it out.
Cooking at a low temperature will give that smoked taste but still keep moisture, making sure everything stays tender.
How To Get The Best Results Cooking With Cottonwood?
Fire Preparation – Also An Important Factor
Now that you have your wood processed and ready to go, you should have your fire pit cleaned out and prepared to optimize your cook time.
If you or someone else has burnt anything other than wood in the fire pit, clean trash and wood remnants out of the hole and discard them into the garbage. Cleaning all of the debris out from inside allows you to get a nice even burn. If your fire pit has wood ashes in it, they could be holding moisture, making your fire hard to start or burn slow.
Wood Preparation – Dryness, Splitting, and More
Having dry firewood is essential for cooking with any wood. The drier, the better, and Cottonwood is no exception to this rule of thumb for successful fire cooking. This is an essential step to prep before your first cook.
When you start your fire, and it gets going, if you notice a lot of cracking and popping sounds, this indicates moisture within the wood.
The wood should be split into smaller pieces; large chunks of wood will often smolder and not produce a good fire.
This will help make it easier for fire management and give you an even cooking temperature, which helps keep moist food while still providing that smoked taste we’re looking for.
The more surface area of a log or branch exposed will help the wood burn cleaner and ensure a steady temperature.
This last step is optional; bark can add many impurities to the cooking fire, such as dirt and/or mud. Removal of the bark will help produce a cleaner burn and better long-term results.
Some Common Questions About Cooking With Cottonwood
Is Cottonwood better than Oak For Cooking?
Cottonwood versus Oak for cooking is a question that has been debated for centuries. Oak is denser and heavier, which means it will produce more heat than Cottonwood, while Cottonwood being less dense, will burn faster.
This is a question of personal preference; some people prefer the taste and texture that Oak provides over Cottonwood, while others enjoy cooking with Cottonwood for its fast burn rate.
Where Are The Best places to find Cottonwood?
Where does Cottonwood grow? Cottonwood trees are found in the Western United States, but they can also be grown as shade trees in landscapes across the United States.
Cottonwoods grow best when planted near water sources and have shallow roots that make them susceptible to drought conditions. If you are looking for Cottonwood you will often find them near streams and rivers and other lower-lying areas.
The best time to find Cottonwood is in the Spring when they are sprouting leaves. The Fall can also be a good season for seeing them as their leaf colors change from orange to gold color, so it is easy to scan for these colors quickly before analyzing up close.
How To Store Cottonwood To Ensure Quality Cooks?
Cottonwood should be kept dry and in an enclosed area if possible. It is best to keep the wood off concrete or other surfaces that can cause moisture and mold to form on the logs.
If you have to store Cottonwood outside and plan to use it for cooking, it should be stored with its bark facing up, so it has less chance to become moistened by rain or snow.
In my opinion, the best way to store Cottonwood is in a dry place.