With the price of a gallon of gas
licking $4, it might come as a surprise that the concept of fuel
economy has been around since that flammable gold could splash into
your tank for less than a dime. As he was the first one to start
rolling automobiles off the assembly line in 1903, Henry Ford was
always forward thinking—but the combustible engine was not the only
source powering his innovations.
Sporting wood: The Hot Shoppe in Armory Square has a variety of wood chips that will ignite your grill like never before. Michael Davis photos.
From the first wave of Model-Ts right
through the post-World War II “woodie” wagons, lumber played a major
role in the production of Ford’s automobiles. Realizing he was losing
money with the leftover scrap wood and sawdust in his factories, Ford’s
brainstorming led to another fire-powered invention utilizing the wood
refuse, the charcoal briquette—those little black blocks that have been
igniting the grills that all picnics, clambakes and barbecues revolve
Since it came out this past April and has conversely
disappeared in May, you can assume you won’t be waiting for the warm
sun to show up for good much longer. So any day now, it’s just about
time to roll the grills out of storage and christen them with lighter
fluid if you didn’t already for Memorial Day weekend. And if you’ve
ever bought a bag of Kingsford charcoal, you’re purchasing the same
brand that Henry Ford first purveyed, as well as sold in his
dealerships along with portable grills that could be transported in the
cars puttering off the lot.
What burns below will directly influence the flavor of
what’s being grilled above. Kingsford and subsequent related charcoal
brands like Duraflame can be purchased in nearly every grocery store
across the country and the difference in taste of the charred course
from using those igniters is virtually indistinguishable to the palate.
But like slathering a rack of ribs or a slab of steak with your
favorite barbecue sauce or marinade, there is a spice you can add to
the top of the charcoal during the cooking process that will add
another layer of flavor.
Sprinkle flavored wood chips on top of your simmering
charcoal so the fire rising up filters through the wood, transmitting
the flavor into whatever is searing on the barbie. This is referred to
as smoking—with no surgeon general’s warning. If you take a trip to the
Hot Shoppe, 311 S. Clinton St., you will find every type of wood you
need to enhance your barbecue rendezvous.
“The wood chips are not a substitute for charcoal and are
not used to actually cook the meat,” says Al Rossino, who along with
his wife, own the Hot Shoppe. “The chips are meant to be set atop the
charcoal toward the end of the cooking session. An example would be
that anything that you turn over, like steak, it would be recommended
that the wood be added at that time so as to not suffocate the meat
with the wood’s flavor.”
Rossino adds that there are three categories of wood to
smoke out specific types of meats. The first category, the “neutrals,”
features heavier woods like hickory, oak, pear and pecan that give the
food a stronger hint of wood without leaving too much of its scent or
flavor behind. “South of the Mason-Dixon Line, pear is used like
hickory and it is unusual to see and find up here,” he says. “Its
regularity in the two territories is the difference between hearing the
phrases y’all and you’se guys.”
A hodgepodge of fruitwoods comprise the “sweets,” with
apple, cherry, grape and peach providing the saccharine zing. The
sweetest of all, however, is grape, and it is recommended for use with
chicken and seafood. Cherry, on the other hand, will rock your rack of
ribs with the same thunderous stomp as a Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
“Although sweetwoods are best for cooking pork,” Rossino
notes, “each individual flavor brings out the best in specific meats.
One exotic sweet called persimmon goes really well with whitefish like
flounder and haddock—just depends on what you’re really in the mood
If you’ve ever been so focused on boozing that you’ve
just plain forgot to eat, or intentionally ingest fewer solids than
potent potables in your recommended daily caloric intake, the Jack
Daniels wood chips that highlight the novelty category will allow you
to have your sour mash cake—and eat it, too. “They are made from the
wood of Jack Daniels barrels,” says Rossino. “The chips still contain
the liquor, so if you’ve got a still and you’re that adventurous, you
can extract the liquor from the chips.” The other novelty sold at the
Hot Shoppe, Tabasco chips made from the barrels the pepper mash is aged
in, is a sure-fire hit with the spicy-food crowd.
Nice ass!: While you’re at the Hot
Shoppe, be sure to pick up one of the rare seasonings, sauces or
marinades from the thousands in stock, like Bad Byron’s “Butt Rub” to
top your barbecue.
If you use gas, instead of a charcoal grill, you can
still get in on the fun. Many grill models come standard with a “smoker
box,” which is a long sleek drawer that you can put wood chips into for
smoking positioned directly over the burner. If your grill is thus
equipped, simply add the chips and run the burner on high until you see
smoke, then reduce the heat to the desired temperature.
For gas grills devoid of the box, you’ll have to set
aside some time for arts and crafts and make a smoker pouch. First,
wrap the chips in heavy-duty foil to make a pillow-shaped pouch. Poke a
few holes in the top and place the pouch under the grate over one of
the burners. Preheat on high until you see smoke.
Rossino notes that you don’t need a whole lot of chips to
add to the mix, just a couple of handfuls for a regular four- to
five-person cookout. All of the chips come in 3-pound bags and Rossino
estimates that each will last you 10 family-size grillings. Bags of
sweet and neutral wood chips cost $2.99 and the novelties cost up to
All of the wood comes from a factory in Syracuse. . .
Missouri, that is. “People see the labels on the bags and ask all the
time if it’s a misprint,” says Rossino with a laugh. “But it’s just
The Hot Shoppe carries thousands of
sauces—hot sauce, barbecue sauce, marinades, mustards and more—from
across America that you can’t get anywhere else in town. Stop by the
store Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 4 p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m.
to 4 p.m.; or, you can place an order anytime on their Web site at