If you’re getting into smoking meat and other ingredients, understanding the types of wood for smoking is very important. The wood you use in smoking your meat is responsible for imparting all the flavors into your meat.
While all smoked meat has that signature “smokey” taste, different types of wood give off different flavor notes. But understanding the different woods for smoking is easier said than done.
If you check out the market, you’ll find tons of different types of wood species available. Nowadays, you don’t have to limit yourself to the wood native to your area. As technology has grown, so have the options of chefs trying to smoke meat.
That’s why we’ve made this list.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the popular wood species for smoking meat. We’ll explain the subtle flavors they give the meat, what types of meat they are ideal for, and even the types of wood you should avoid when smoking meat.
Read on to learn more.
We recommend using hardwood when firing up the smoker for any type of meat. When you light up hardwood, it does a much better job of breaking down the cellulose and giving the meat flavor. The cellulose in the meat breaks down into sugar and caramelizes, which is the reason smoked meat has such a unique flavor.
There are tons of hardwood out there. In the past, you had to stick to the types of hardwood in your area. After all, it used to be very hard to store and ship hardwood to different places, especially for smoking meat.
But nowadays, you can source about any type of wood for smoking online. Whether you want Oak from a certain state or you want an exotic hardwood from a different country, the internet has you covered.
Some of the more popular hardwoods you can find for smoking meat include:
Applewood is one of the most accessible types of wood on the market. This is a very popular choice for beginners as many expert pitmasters recommend starting with fruitwood and figuring out if you enjoy the flavors from there. With applewood, you get a light, fruity, and sweet aroma.
Typically, apple is used to enhance the flavor of stronger woods like hickory and maple. But if you use it on its own, you might find that the lightness is something you actually want in your food.
Apple wood is great for smoking bacon and cheeses. But if you’re looking for a stronger and deeper smokey flavor, you may have to start looking somewhere else.
Hickory is largely considered one of the most popular hardwoods for smoking meat as only oak can compete with its popularity. Hickory is known for an intense smokey flavor and is largely associated with the taste of bacon. So, if you’re looking to give your meat a signature smoked taste, then Hickory is a great option for you.
Additionally, when you use Hickory, you get a darker color on your meat. Not everyone would want this, but it’s a great way to give the final product a deeper and richer color.
Cherry is another popular choice for pitmasters because it’s said to have a sweet and fruity flavor. Since most smoked food is salty, the sweetness from cherry wood is a great contrast that creates a more complex overall flavor. This is a great choice if you’re smoking beef and poultry, as it can also give the bark of your meat a reddish hue.
Cherry wood is a great addition to your wood chip blend. If you use it on its own, it also produces a unique result, so we highly recommend using cherry wood for ribs and similar dishes.
Cherry wood is a great option for beginners. If you’re smoking meat for a cookout and aren’t sure about your guests’ tastes when it comes to their smoked meat, cherry wood is a great option as it still gives a smokey flavor but isn’t as intense as some of the other popular smoking wood.
If there’s one wood that can directly compete with the popularity of hickory, it’s oak. If you ask most pitmasters, they’ll say that their go-to wood for smoking meat is oak. When you smoke your meat with oak, you get a great smokey flavor that’s as classic as it gets. On top of that, this wood burns really well, allowing you to take full control of your smoker’s temperature.
Maple is largely associated with a sweet flavor as the sap from these trees is used to make maple syrup. However, most pitmasters will say that maple doesn’t give the meat a sweet taste. At most, it will give the meat a sweet aroma which is a great contrast to the intense smokey smell. With that said, maple is usually used for vegetables, poultry, and cheese because of its subtle qualities.
You can find mesquite in a lot of Texas barbecues. However, keep in mind that it isn’t usually used as a smoking wood. Instead, it’s put at the bottom of the pit and burnt down to be used as a heat source.
Mesquite is a strong flavor. If you use it too much, it could overpower your food. So, it’s best to use it sparingly with beef, poultry, fish, and pork. So, this isn’t used as as the main wood for smoking meat and it’s usually sprinkled on top of different types of wood to give a unique flavor profile.
Pecan is another mild wood for smoking. If you want to be a bit understated with your flavors while still having a signature smokey taste, this is a great option. It has a certain sweetness to it which is often described as spicy or nutty. With that said, this wood is known to burn a bit shorter than other hardwoods like hickory, so it’s best to use this for meats that you don’t have to cook as long like ribs.
Generally, you would want to avoid softwood from trees like pine and other evergreens. When smoking meat on the barbecue, your goal is to keep it “low and slow”. This means keeping the temperature in the smoker as low as possible. This allows the cellulose to break down slowly, creating a more intense flavor.
However, this also means that you have to wait longer for the meat to cook. So, you can look at the cook time as the sacrifice you have to make for the great flavors that come from smoked meat. In fact, even smoking vegetables and cheeses can result in great flavors if you don’t want to stick to smoking meat.
With that said, softwoods burn fast and burn hot. So, using it for the low and slow method is close to impossible. So, while it might seem tempting to try out pinewood for your next batch of bacon, we recommend staying away from it.
Softwoods have a high moisture content. So, it can be hard to get a consistent burn with these woods. Hardwood, on the other hand, has a lower moisture content which allows it to burn consistently. On top of that, they burn much slower, which allows you to smoke meats using the low and slow method.
Your journey to becoming a pit master will be an exciting one. There are always going to be new things that you can learn, new techniques to try, and new recipes to create. But when exploring the world of smoked meat, vegetables, and cheeses, you need to understand the different types of wood for smoking and their uses.
At the end of the day, any hardwood will be able to smoke your food well. However, different species impart different flavor profiles on the meat, which is why you need to know the differences. We recommend starting out with light and fruity woods and using that as your baseline. But if you want, feel free to use just any of the hardwood we featured on this list for your next smoking project!