The wood you use for barbecuing your meat can add a tantalizing and unique flavor to your food, and it all happens naturally during the cooking process. Knowing the type of wood that you use for smoking meat is an art, and one that you should master if you want your meat smoked perfectly.
In a hurry? Scroll down to see our table which will show you the best wood chips for your chosen meat.
Different Types of Wood Chips
There are two main types of woods. Smoking woods can either be mild like fruit woods, or very strong like mesquite. The mild woods can add a subtle flavor to your meat, while the strong woods act like chili peppers, adding the right amount of spiciness to your food.
A general rule of thumb is that milder hardwoods such as maple, alder and fruit and nut type woods are better for smoking “lighter” meats such as poultry and fish. Heavier hardwoods like hickory and oak are better suited to “heavier” meats such as beef and pork.
The way these woods burn is also different. Some burn hot while some burn cold. When smoking your meat with hot wood chips, it is necessary to be careful so that you do not end up burning your meat. The following are ten of the most popular woods for meat smoking:
Wood Smoking Guide
This is a just a guide - tastes are subjective so don't be afraid to experiment!
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Nutty & sweet flavor
Sweet & mild flavor
Sweet & mild flavor
Sweet & delicate flavor
Subtle, musky flavor
Bold, spicy flavor
Light sweet flavor
Sweet to strong bacon flavor
Medium to heavy flavor
Ash Wood Chips
This is one of the light wood versions and it adds a slightly sweet but distinctive flavor to the meat. It burns fast and hot and is good for all types of meat, poultry or fish. Since it burns quickly, it can add a quick infusion of flavor.
Cherry Wood Chips
Cherry wood is the lightest of all woods and it burns delicate, sweet and light. It burns for a long period of time under a relatively hot temperature. Cherry can be mixed with a heavier wood to create a beautiful flavor combination – try it with a stronger flavor like hickory or mesquite. It is best for smoking ham, fish, turkey and chicken.
Peach Wood Chips
Peach wood imparts a sweet and mild flavor to smoked meats. Like cherry, it also burns delicate, sweet and light and it also burns for a long period of time under a hot temperature. When using peach wood, fresh wood chips are better than processed wood chips to get the best flavor. Peach is good for smoking pork, poultry and fish.
Alder Wood Chips
Alder is mostly used for smoking fish, particularly salmon, however it is also good for pork and poultry. The flavor is quite light and sweet. This wood burns at a medium strength under cool temperatures.
Apple Wood Chips
Apple wood is the sweetest of all wood chips and gives a deliciously mild, fruity flavor. Like heavier woods, apple wood burns slow and at a high temperature. Due to its mildness, the smoke can take hours to permeate the food
Apple is best used for smoking poultry, pork, quail and chicken.
Pecan Wood Chips
Pecan wood gives a rich, sweet and nutty flavor to smoked meats. It burns cool and slow. It is a perfect complement for mesquite’s bitter flavor and works well when combined with stronger flavor woods (on its own, pecan can be quite sweet.) It is good for smoking ribs, roasts and briskets but is suitable for most meats and fish.
Mesquite Wood Chips
Mesquite is the Frank’s Hot Sauce when compared to other woods chips. This is the heaviest wood with the strongest flavor. If you’re new to smoking it’s a good idea to use this sparingly until you know how smoky you like your meat. It can be mixed with lighter fruit type wood chips (like cherry or apple) to dilute the flavor a bit as it can be quite bitter on its own. Burning mesquite wood chips introduces a lot of smoke and the wood chips burn fast and hot. Mesquite is usually used for smoking “heavier” meats like beef or pork and is also a good option for grilling.
Maple Wood Chips
Maple wood is slightly lighter in flavor when it comes to hard woods. It is mildly smoky, giving a light and sweet flavor to the meat. Sugar maple is the sweetest type of these. It is best used for smoking game birds, pork and poultry. As maple is light in flavor it is good for combining with stronger flavored woods such as hickory.
Hickory Wood Chips
Hickory wood is a wood that is used on a daily basis by many as it’s one of the most popular. It can either be sweet or strong, depending on the amount of hickory used. It burns slow and hot, and almost tastes bacon-like. Too much hickory smoke can turn your meat bitter, therefore start small until you know how much to use to suit your taste. Hickory is used best for pork shoulders, ribs and other larger cuts of meat.
Oak Wood Chips
Oak wood gives a medium to heavy smoking flavor to meat and is particularly popular with many fans of smoked meats. It burns slowly and gives hot smoke. There are two types of oak wood – Red oak gives a sweeter flavor as compared to white. It is best for smoking sausages, briskets, beef and lamb.
When you start cooking, make sure that you play around with the different types of meat and wood chips and pick the ones that you find best. Although the above are some of the most popular wood chip flavors there are many more available, and there are so many different combinations you can use to suit your tastes. The following are some of the different wood chips available on Amazon: