8 Different Types of Wood for Smokers - Home Stratosphere

8 Different Types of Wood for Smokers

Enrich the flavor of your food or create your own unique flavor with these various types of woods for smoking. In this article, you'll learn how to choose the right wood for smokers, its different types, and some tips for smoking meats with different woods.

Cooking meat on a barbecue grill.

If you love smoked meat, fish, fruit or vegetables like me, then I am sure that you also wonder about the wonderful process of smoking different food. We have different trees and vegetation on the farm where I live, which got me thinking about the types of wood for smokers.

Through trial and error, smoker enthusiasts have found that there are many different types of wood and varieties of these woods used for smokers. They come in various forms ranging from chunks to chips. Some smoker enthusiasts prefer using two or three types of wood together as it gives more flavor to whatever is in the smoker.

The most common wood used is hickory.

Choosing the correct type of wood for your smoker can be a daunting task, specifically if you are new to the process of smoking food or fruit. I still remember how awful my fish tasted when I smoked it with the wrong wood; I used pine wood instead of applewood. In this post, I am listing my favorite types of wood for a smoker.

Table of Contents

Choosing The Right Wood For Smokers

Texas Southern BBQ Brisket being smoked on a chamber smoker and grill using hicory wood.

It can be dangerous to use wood that was painted or treated with chemicals. Paint or chemicals may be toxic or give off fumes that will harm people or the environment. The suitable wood or fuel form, as it is also commonly known, would depend on the type of smoker you own. The type of fuel sources are as follow :

  • Wood chunks – this fuel form is perfect for small-sized smokers.
  • Wood logs – this is the most common fuel form for smokers with an offset.
  • Wood pellets – this fuel form is preferred for cold smoking.
  • Wood chips – Most electrical or propane gas smokers use wood chips as a fuel form.

Types Of Wood For Smokers

The type of wood and the amount used in a smoker will depend on the smoker that you are using and the kind of taste and flavor you want to get from the end product. Choosing the correct fuel from the four primary forms of smoker wood mentioned above is essential if you’re going to achieve your set outcomes.

Now that we have chosen the correct form of fuel for our smoker, it is time to select the correct kind of wood for your smoker. The type of wood in your smoker has a lot to do with the flavor you get with what you have in your smoker. Below is a list of the most common types of wood used for smokers :

  • Hickory wood – Hickory wood gives a deeper earth/nut flavor combination to whatever is in the smoker.
  • Oakwood – Oakwood gives a medium to strong smoky flavor to whatever is in the smoker.
  • Maple wood – Maple wood gives a sweetish smoke flavor to whatever is in the smoker.
  • Mesquite wood – Mesquite wood is one of the hottest burning woods and gives an earthly toned flavor to whatever is in the smoker.
  • Pecan nut wood – Pecan nut wood gives a sweet nuttish and rich, full flavor, pecan nuts themselves has a rich buttery taste, and the wood also provides a rich flavor to whatever is in the smoker
  • Applewood – Applewood gives a mild but very subtly sweet and fruitful flavor to whatever is in the smoker.
  • Cherry wood –  Cherry wood gives a mild but sweet fruity flavor to whatever is in the smoker.
  • Alder Wood – Alder wood gives a slightly sweet but very delicate rich flavor to whatever is in the smoker.

Using Different Types Of Wood In Smokers

Using different types of wood for smoking various types of food requires using the correct wood; for example, some wood types don’t mesh well with game meat, and others are too strong for fish.  Getting the right flavor to your meat cuts, fish, poultry, fruit and vegs, and even cheese is essential, and it does take some experimenting to get it to perfection.

Using Hickory Wood In A Smoker

Close-up of hickory wood chips.

Everyone I know loves hickory bacon, so it makes sense to use hickory wood in a smoker. However, it takes some skill to ensure that the correct amount of wood is used; too much hickory smoke gives off a bitter taste. It is a good idea to mix hickory wood and milder wood to get the desired outcome.

Hickory wood is suitable for use in a smoker for a lot more than just bacon; let’s look at some different options you can use hickory wood to smoke:

  • Hickory wood smoke goes well with poultry, like a whole turkey or whole chicken.
  • Wild game is complemented when smoked with hickory wood, and it gives the meat a rich flavor.
  • Salmon is also a very popular choice when smoking with hickory wood as it gives the fish a rich smoky taste.
  • There is no disputing the fact that hickory wood smoke goes well with pork. It is not bacon only though, think of the rich flavor of pulled pork with the sweet richness that only hickory wood smoke can give.
  • Another popular cut of meat used with hickory wood smoke is beef brisket. The color and flavor are very rich and earthy. It is a favorite in a lot of barbeque circles.
  • Hickory wood is also very popular when cold-smoking cheeses and nuts.

Using Oak Wood In A Smoker

Dry oak firewood stacked in a pile.

Oakwood is a popular choice for use in a smoker, and it is used even by novice smokers. You can use red oak wood or white oak wood when smoking. Oakwood is a safe source of wood as it gives a robust flavor.

Oakwood is used for a variety of different meats, including poultry, beef, pork, and lamb. Let’s look at the different options:

  • Oakwood smoke goes well with lamb. Oakwood is seldom overpowering, making it an excellent choice for most meats, but it goes best with lamb because it gives a great smoky taste and wonderful color.
  • Sausage is well complimented by smoke from oak wood; it makes for a lovely, tender but smoky sausage.
  • Brisket does very well when smoked with oak wood, even though many smoking experts prefer a mix of hickory and oak for brisket.
  • Other cuts of beef get a rich and tender finish when smoked with oak wood.
  • Fish is an excellent meat for smoking with oak wood because the wood smoke is not as overpowering as hickory wood.
  • Oakwood also works well with pork to follow a great pulled pork recipe.

Using Maple Wood In A Smoker

Close-up pf maple wood chips.

If you like the taste of maple syrup, then smoking with maple wood is definitely something that you have to try out. Maple wood has a sweet taste and also infuses everything with that sweet aroma. Smoking fruit with maple wood is a winner any day of the week.

Maple wood is excellent when mixed with other types of wood to give it a more sweet but smoky flavor; here are some great options for smoking with maple wood:

  • Hams are the number one option when it comes to smoking with maple wood. It gives it a sweet, smoky taste but does not give it a strong flavor like hickory wood; it also gives it a nice color.
  • Salmon and trout go very well with maple wood, especially when mixed with Alder wood. Smoking salmon or trout with a combination of maple and alder wood is extremely popular with smoking enthusiasts.
  • Maple wood is also a popular smoking wood for cheese. Smoking cheese gives it a smoky yet sweet flavor. Smoked cheese is a favorite for snacking with crackers or on its own.
  • Apples, figs, and bananas taste out of this world when smoked with maple wood. The smokey taste it brings to the already sweet fruit gives it a taste made for decadent desserts.

Using Mesquite Wood In A Smoker

Mesquite wood chips for smoking.

Mesquite wood is used widely in the smoking circles for ribs. It gives it a lovely sweet and tangy smoked taste and burns long enough to get ribs to perfection.

Mesquite wood is also a great companion to other types of wood; some of its uses are as follows:

  • The sweet and robust taste that comes from using Mesquite wood for smoking makes it the ideal choice for pulled pork or pork spareribs. If you love smoked ribs like I do, this is the wood you need to use for ribs. But pulled pork sandwiches are just as appetizing for a snack.
  • Beef ribs or short ribs are beef cuts that go very well in a smoker with Mesquite wood; it brings out the flavor of the meat and gives it a beautifully charred appearance. I just love the charred pieces of fat with these specific cuts of meaty goodness.
  • Game meat also goes well with mesquite wood, even though most smoking experts don’t recommend this type of wood for game meat because it burns out relatively fast. But if you are a hands-on smoker like myself, then it works very well.
  • Duck meat is another favorite when using mesquite wood for smoking, the color of the meat does not become so dark as when using hickory wood, but mesquite wood gives it a rich and smoky taste.
  • Steaks, fruit, vegetables, cheese, and other quick smoked items of deliciousness works well with Mesquite wood smoke, as mesquite wood does give a lovely taste. The problem is that it burns out so fast, so you need to make sure that you use enough wood from the start.

Using Pecan Nut Wood In A Smoker

Close-up of a pecan nut over a pecan tree branch.

Pecan nut wood gives poultry a lovely sweet and nutty flavor, making it easy to see why pecan nut wood is preferred by many in the smoking circles for smoking poultry.

The use of pecan nut wood for smoking is not limited to poultry only, though, so here is a list of the other yummy items you can smoke using pecan nut wood:

  • Fish and seafood need light but hearty flavors, and using pecan wood on its own would be too intense for fish and seafood. Applewood and pecan wood complement each other very well, and if you mix these two kinds of wood when smoking fish or seafood, you will end up with a rich, nutty but sweet and rich flavor.
  • Lamb and beef can be smoked using pecan wood, but because pecan wood has a lighter flavor than woods usually used for red meats, complement the pecan wood with the rich flavor of oak wood. You will get a cut of meat that is sweet, tangy, and rich with hints of nuttiness.
  • Baby Back or Spare Ribs are delicious when you smoke them with pecan wood. Pecan wood is more robust than most fruitwoods and is perfect for smoking and even BBQing pork ribs. With a tangy, subtle flavor, it makes your ribs taste fantastic.
  • Chicken and poultry are some of the best meats you can use pecan wood to smoke, and the flavor profile is just right because you need a lighter wood for light meats but not one without flavor. The rich nutty yet savory flavors of pecan wood in just the right amounts are perfect for poultry.

Using Applewood In A Smoker

Applewood chips for smoking.

Applewood is one of the classic woods used for smoking all kinds of foods. It gives whatever you put in the smoker a fruity sweet taste, making it one of the best woods to use when smoking fish, pork, and chicken.

Applewood doesn’t burn out quickly, so you will get a richer smoke on your food using applewood. Here are some types of foods that you can smoke using applewood:

  • Fish is one of the best meats to use applewood on, the rich and fruity taste of the applewood gives the fish a smokey flavor that is perfect for any occasion.
  • Try smoking vegetables with applewood; it compliments the taste of the veggies with hints of sweetness and fruity. It makes for great summertime snacks.
  • Some of the best pork ribs you will ever eat are smoked using applewood. Applewood works fantastic with pork meat, and the end result of infused fruity meat will taste great.
  • Poultry can be smoked using applewood, but you will need to complement it with a lighter wood-like alder for a light, sweet taste. Be careful not to leave it to smoke for too long, or it will overwhelm the poultry you are smoking.

Using Cherry Wood In A Smoker

Cherry wood chips soaked in water.

Cherry wood is one of the most versatile woods to use for smoking. It can be used as a solo wood for smoking or added with one or even multiple kinds of wood to get a unique flavored smoke.

Most fruitwoods, even the tart ones, produce a sweeter smoke, which compliments great when paired with wood like oak, apple, hickory, and maple. Here are some foods that taste amazing when using cherry wood to smoke:

  • You can smoke cheese like gouda with cherry wood, and you will have a rich cheese with sweet fruity notes to it.
  • Curing ham and other pork meats is one of the best uses of cherry wood, giving the sweet fruity smoke to bacon, hams ribs.
  • Using cherry wood to smoke or BBQ poultry is genius. It creates this rich dark color, and the meat is soft, light, and sweet.

Using Alder Wood In A Smoker

Alder wood chips for smoking.

Alder wood is a favorite wood to use in smoking fish like salmon, trout, and seafood. Because of the subtle flavors, it has become one of the favorite woods used in smoking for the sportsman.

Alder wood blends well with other woods and won’t overpower the other wood in taste. Here are some of the other foods you can use alder wood to smoke:

  • Alder wood is best known for being a great wood to smoke all kinds of seafood and fish like trout and salmon. It has a very mild, balanced flavor profile.
  • Alder wood can be mixed with some of the other woods that may have a too strong taste; it mellows out the flavor and gives an outstanding balance to these stronger woods.
  • Alder wood can also be used to smoke vegetables; it gives a balanced flavor with notes of richness.
  • When you use alder wood for smoking meats like beef and lamb, mix it with fruit woods like cherry and applewood to give it a delicious mix of flavors.

Tips For Smoking Meats With Different Woods

Cooking meat on a grill.

These days we smoke meats and other foods to have a delectable meal, but the origin of smoking food goes back thousands of years. It was primarily used as a way to preserve food like fish and fruits. Smoking the fish meant it would keep flies and insects away, and it would last much longer.

Over the years, people discovered that smoking meat and other foods and mixing the types of wood you smoke with makes for a great flavor and cures meats like ham, bacon, etc. Some of the oldest smoking methods date back to ancient Egypt.

Here are some tips for smoking meats and other foods with different types of wood:

  1. Take your meat out of the fridge at least 2 hours before smoking; this helps the meat get to your desired temperatures faster and means less time in the smoker.
  • The night before cooking, smoking the meat, dry rub or dry brine the meat with a ½ a teaspoon of (kosher) salt for every one pound of meat. It starts the denaturing process that keeps the moisture locked in while adding to the flavor of the meat.
  • When cold smoking cheese, keep the temperature less than 90F (32C) to keep the cheese from melting, and turn the cheese every 30 minutes to get an even smoke and balanced flavor.
  • Keeping the temperature at between 225-250F will ensure an even smoke on most veggies. Vegetables take between 45 minutes to an hour to smoke.
  • When adding spices like sugar, keep in mind that sugar burns quickly, so keep your temperature low and leave whatever you are smoking a little longer. Smoking food is not a quick process, but the time you spend will be well worth the time and effort put in.
  • When you have a big or thick cut of meat to smoke, it is best to stay up the previous night and prepare the meat.

Put your smoker on a low temperature lower than 200F, and turn it at least once during the night. Your guests will love the flavor, and the end result will outweigh the inconvenience.

  • It would be best for you to do research when you are just starting out smoking foods. Remember that you learn not only through experience but also by researching what you want to smoke and how the best way to do it will save you money and a lot of headaches.
  • Keep an eye on the time you smoke the meat and be careful not to over smoke your meat. The best way to gauge the time of smoking compared to the overall time of cooking the meat is to take half the total time of cooking the meat for smoking; no more than that, or the smoke will overpower the taste of the meat.
  • Please don’t open the smoker too much; it lets out the heat and extends the overall smoking time. It will also make your meat tougher to chew. When opening the smoker, do all the things you need all at once, filling the pan, adding the wood, checking the internal temperature, etc.

Conclusion

Smoking meat has been around for thousands of years, and now we are reaping the benefits of those early discoveries. If you love smoking meat and other foods, using a variety of wood types will not only enrich the flavor of your food, but you can also create your own unique flavor.

When mixing woods to smoke food, you can add flavor or reduce and overpowering flavors and balance it out with less intense woods. Smoking food is an art, and with time, patience, and a little practice, you could be a crowd favorite for BBQs and summer parties.

References:

The Bearded Butchers: Different Types of Wood for Smoking

Smoke Grill BBQ: About Wood for Smokers

MasterClass: BBQ 101: What Is Hickory Wood? Learn How to Smoke Meat and Other Foods Using Hickory Wood

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