Top Wood Choices When Smoking Meat

What is the best wood to use? That’s a question I get asked often! Well, it is really all about your personal choice in most cases and in some cases there are some woods you should avoid. For me, my all time favorite to use across the board despite what meat I am cooking is oak, but it can be a bit strong on some meats so it is important to know what you are doing when using wood.

Wood comes a variety of ways from logs, log splits, chunks, chips, wood pellets and some are even using sawdust.

  • Logs are full pieces of wood, like you would use in a fireplace or to build a campfire. These are best reserved for barbecuing in a pit or with an offset smoker.
  • Log Splits are logs that have been split into halves or quarters.
  • Chunks are usually about fist-size pieces of wood. They take longer to fully ignite than chips, but burn for a good hour in a grill, and hours in a smoker.
  • Chips are scraps and shavings of wood that ignite quickly, but also burn out pretty fast.
  • Wood Pellets are a form of wood fuel, wood pellets are generally made from compacted sawdust or other wood scraps from sawmilling and other wood products manufactures.
  • Sawdust is a by-product of cutting, grinding, drilling, sanding, or otherwise pulverizing wood with a saw or other tools.

Depending on the type of smoker or grill you have, that will determine what style you should use. You have smokers called “stick burners” that logs and log splits will word best in. You have offset or vertical smokers for residential use, like the ones you would find at Home Depot, they work best with log splits and chunks. Gas grills, excuse me for cussing, utilize wood chips but you need to make smoke packets. The new craze in the barbeque world are pellet smokers, these are electric smokers that burn wood pellets as fuel to create smoke and heat. I have never used sawdust but I have seen some commercial smoker systems that only use the stuff.

To answer the question “what is the best wood to use,” I will cover several wood choices and the meats it works best with.

 

Alder Wood:

alder wood

 

 

 

 

 

Alder wood is really light and mildly sweet. It burns at cooler temps and burns somewhat fast.

Best Used On: salmon is the top choice, seafood, poultry, pork.

Wood Type: light

 

Apple Wood:

apple wood

 

 

 

 

Apple wood is mild, fruity, sweet and mellow. It burns hot and slow. Apple smoke takes several hours to permeate the food.

Best used On: poultry, pork, seafood.

Wood Type: light

 

Cherry Wood:

cherry wood

 

 

 

Cherry wood is mild and fruity, the smoke flavor is light, sweet and delicate. It burns hot temp and slow.

Best Used On: Chicken, turkey, fish, ham.

Wood Type: light

 

Maple Wood:

maple wood

 

 

 

 

Maple wood is mildly smoky, somewhat sweet flavor, it adds a sweet, subtle flavor that enhances the flavor of what you are cooking. It burns hot and slow.

Best Used On: pork, poultry.

Wood Type: heavy

 

Peach Wood:

peach wood

 

 

 

Peach wood can impart a uniquely light and sweet flavor to your barbecue. It burns hot and for a long time.

Best Used On: poultry, pork, seafood.

Wood Type: mild

 

Pecan Wood:

pecan wood

 

 

 

 

Pecan wood has a sweet, rich, nutty character. it produces medium smoke and burns cooler for a long time.

Best Used On: brisket, pork, poultry.

Wood Type: mild

 

Hickory Wood:

hickory wood

 

 

 

 

Hickory wood is sweet to strong and has a bacony flavor. It burns hot and slow.

Best Used On: ribs, everything.

Wood Type: strong

 

Mesquite Wood:

mesquite wood

 

 

 

 

Mesquite wood has a potent flavor. It is best used in small doses or mixed with other woods. It produces lots of smoke and strong flavor. It burns hot and fast.

Best Used On: beef, duck, lamb

Wood Type: strong

 

Oak Wood:

oak wood

 

 

 

There are two types of oak for meat smoking, White and Red Oak. White oak burns longer, Red oak is sweeter. Oak wood is my personal favorite. One of the better woods to start your meat smoking with. it has a medium to heavy flavor, but can be overpowering if you use too much. It burns hot for a long time.

Best Used On: lamb, beef, brisket, pork and sausages.

Wood Type: medium to strong

 

There are some woods you should not use and avoid at all costs. DO NOT USE pine, fir, spruce, redwood (not red oak), cedar, elm, eucalyptus, sycamore, liquid amber, cypress, elderberry, or sweet gum trees. Cooking salmon on a cedar plank is not the same as using chunks of cedar to smoke meat as the plank doesn’t inundate the fish with smoke for hours at a time. DO NOT USE wood that has been painted or stained. Do not use wood scraps from a furniture manufacturer. DO NOT USE wood from old pallets. Many pallets are treated with chemicals that can be hazardous to your health and the pallet may have been used to carry chemicals or poison. DO NOT USE old wood that is covered with mold or fungus.

I hope this gives you a better understanding on which wood to use depending on the meat you are smoking. This is a guide to start with as there are many more types of wood you can use. Also, try mixing woods when smoking and see the difference in flavor profile it produces in your meat.

Here is a quick list of some of the wood mixing I put to use.

  • Chicken – oak and apple
  • Ribs – oak and cherry
  • Pork Shoulder – pecan and hickory
  • Brisket – hickory and mesquite

If you have any questions about smoking woods please feel free to comment below or shoot me an email.

About Pigskin Barbeque 80 Articles
Just a regular guy who loves to barbeque. Married father of two. I developed a love for grilling as a child watching my dad grill. My love for BBQ, using wood and the "low & slow" method came after I purchased my first horizontal smoker in my 20's.

11 Comments

    • Mulberry is amazing with chicken but generally too weak for pig or cow IMO. Beware, you may not want to cook chicken any other way. It is also hard to buy in my area despite being very common. Have taken to sourcing it myself.

Leave a Reply to Slim Cancel reply