Pick up a piece of charcoal from Argentina, particularly the lump kind, and there is a good chance you’ll find yourself holding a piece of carbonized white quebracho. Sure other woods are used for charcoal, such as algarrobo (carob tree) and quebracho rojo, but quebracho blanco is probably the most popular. Indigenous to the northern parts of Argentina, Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco is an evergreen tree that not only provides great hard wood for roasting meats but is also used for medicinal purposes and various forms of woodwork. The bark, in particular, has been used for ages by native indians of the region as an herbal remedy. Whether or not they have concocted special beverages to exploit the bark’s supposed aphrodisiac properties and thus partied into the wee hours, I am not really sure. I can say that Aspidosperma quebracho-blanco is used as an herbal remedy to improve blood circulation and treat asthma.
Quebracho Blanco is perfect in its natural dry-cured form or as charcoal-preferably lump-for roasting tasty asado meats. Dry-cured quebracho offers a nice long-lasting burn while releasing an intense amount of heat. Like all dried woods used for roasting it impregnates the meat with a unique smoky flavor. In lump form, the charcoal releases a fantastic amount of heat while producing a low amount of ash, yet as with all lump charcoal it burns much faster than briquettes.
Smoking With Quebracho Blanco:
Since my smoking wood options are quite limited, I’ve been playing around with chunks of quebracho blanco along with lump charcoal in the smoker. As with all smoking woods each tends to shine better with a particular type or group of foods than others. Although now I find it early to offer a good judgment, I’d say overall quebracho blanco gives off hints of oak and hickory. For cheese I find this wood to be perfect for such use and the end result is a deep rich smoky flavor that permeates everywhere. With pork, flavors of bacon and cured ham that have been slowly cold smoked come to mind. However, there was something in the background–when I really focused on the flavors–that I still can’t quite put my finger on. Much more noticeable in the pork than cheese. I wouldn’t call what I noticed to be a bad taste–nothing bitter or sour–just a sort of wood-that’s-been-wet-for-too-long-smell kind of flavor. Like I said the taste was hardly noticeable and even then it moved along rather quickly. I’ve been using branch wood that is all covered in bark so maybe that’s the problem (no adverse aphrodisiac-like reactions after eating the meat by the way.) Perhaps the wood itself is to blame, who knows, there could be a thousand reasons.
Quebracho comes from the Spanish words quebrar and hacha, or quiebra hacha, which basically translates into axe breaker. Quebracho blanco is just one of a few trees that receives the quebracho name. There are two other “quebracho” trees that come from a different family named Anacardiaceae. These are quebracho colorado santiagueÃ±o and quebracho colorado chaqueÃ±o. Both of which are also used as fire wood and charcoal but are more widely used for their tannin.
Let me tell you that I would not be surprised if quite a few axe handles were broken in the process of working with these woods. Look at any cross section that has been cleanly cut against the grain and you’ll notice the texture quite glossy and smooth. The wood is dense. I mean you hit it with a hatchet against the grain and you’ll be lucky if nothing more than a minor dent appears. Ok that’s an exaggeration but believe me when I say the stuff is tough. Due to their density, you really have build and start a fire properly to ensure success in having an abundant amount of hot coals when time arrives for cooking. Me, I just douse the stuff with pure-grain alcohol and WHOOSH!