Never Make This Grilling Mistake, According To Ray 'Dr. BBQ' Lampe

If there was one cooking technique we could rank above all others, it just might be grilling. There's something about cooking food over a blazing flame that really gets our juices flowing. It could be the primal sensation of this primitive method of preparing food; it could be the sweet feeling of cooking under the sun; or it just might be the convivial atmosphere encouraged by grilling, one in which you can nurse a beer alongside your friends.

That being said, as fun as grilling is, it can also be fraught with pitfalls. From a grill that's too cold (or too hot) to excessive flipping, common grilling mistakes can result in steaks, burgers, and drumsticks that run the gamut from charred-on-the-outside and raw-on-the-inside to bone-dry — and everything in between.

That's where Ray Lampe, aka "Dr. BBQ," comes in. The good doctor is a cookbook author, barbecue expert, and one of the most revered pitmasters in the United States. Lampe is dedicated to making grilling approachable and foolproof, and he recently shared one of his top tips with Food & Wine.

Never use unseasoned wood to smoke your meat

Have you ever tried smoking? Smoking requires a bit more preparation and know-how than grilling but provides big payoffs: meat that's extra-tender on the inside, with a chewy exterior "bark" (via Hotbox London). If you love pastrami and bacon, then you're already a smoked meat fan. Want to try smoking at home? First, you'll need a grill. And of course, the most important element in smoking is the wood. Common woods used to smoke include milder choices such as apple and cherry and stronger woods such as hickory and oak (via Bon Appétit). But one factor you'll want to keep in mind, as pointed out by BBQ expert Ray Lampe, is that you need to use seasoned wood — not fresh.

Seasoned wood is simply firewood (or wood for smoking) that has been left to dry out, which burns faster and cleaner than fresh (or green) wood (via Direct Stoves). As Lampe recalled in an interview with Food & Wine, the first time he ever smoked meat, he used green hickory — and it did not turn out well. "It didn't take long for me to realize you should never use unseasoned wood, and on top of that, hickory is very strong," Lampe said. "My food was over-smoked to the point that it tasted acrid and metallic."

So there you have it, folks: Make sure your wood is seasoned before setting up the smoker. Your tastebuds will thank you.