According to many veteran smoker users, the best way to smoke meats can be achieved using the best wood chips for smoking meat. While this is a known fact, not many of us understand what type of wood to use.
We often ask what’s the best, but you must know the wood to use first before you pick one. It is also essential that you know the different types of wood used out there so you can say that you indeed picked the best wood for smoking meat, pork, ribs, chicken, and brisket.
The question remains, why use wood? The answer is simple, really; this is because wood burns slower than charcoal and it provides you with a rather distinct flavor compared to charcoal smoked meats. You can buy them in chips, chunks or pellets. Although you can use whatever wood in smoking meats, it is still crucial to know what kind of wood you should get.
As a rule of thumb, the heavier hardwoods are often used for smoking heavier meats like pork and beef, while lighter woods are used for poultry and fish. However, the best part of this is putting different types of wood together to come up with the best flavors for smoked meats.
So to do that, you need to understand the different kinds of wood used in smoking. This article will differentiate the “heavy” woods from “light” ones, so you know how to use them one by one.
Hickory wood is one of your everyday hardwoods and is one of the most versatile woods that can be used in plenty of ways. It is well-known for its strong yet sweet, bacon-like, and hearty flavor. It burns slowly but at high temperature and is best used in large cut ribs and pork shoulders.
It can also be used in all types of red meat and poultry. However, you shouldn’t use too much as it can result in bitter-tasting meat.
Oakwood is known for its endurance and strength; medium to heavy flavor but not as overpowering as other types of wood. It burns hot and slowly, so you know for sure that your smoked meat can be fully cooked.
It is best used in lamb, brisket, sausages, and beef. There are two types of oak; white oak and red oak. The red oak is known for being sweeter, while the white oaks can burn a lot longer. However, keep in mind that white oak is a bit redder in terms of color compared to the actual red oak.
This wood is a bit subtler than oak or hickory. It’s also a good choice for smoking barbecues and other meats, known for being light and sweet yet a bit smokey. It burns hot and slow as well. It is often used in poultry meats like chicken, turkey, other game birds, and pork. Aside from maple wood, sugar maple is also one of the sweetest heavy woods you can use for smoking.
Also known as the Walker Texas Ranger of all hardwoods. It’s pretty tough, hard, and wiry but, at the same time, possesses a potent flavor. It is best used in grilling in small doses to add flavor to your meats. It produces a strong flavor and a lot of smoke when in use, so make sure to be ready for that. It burns hot and fast, so you also need to watch out and refill when needed. It works best with red meats and other types of heavy meats.
Apple wood is known for being mild, sweet, and fruity flavor; this mellow wood is excellent when cooking chicken in your smoker. It also works well with pork, quail meat, and other types of white meat. It gives a light, slightly sweet, mild yet fruity flavor, which is a beautiful addition to your smoked food.
It also burns hot and slowly, which is excellent when trying to cook your food thoroughly. So it is best to use this wood longer before you cook meat as it takes a while to permeate it.
Alder wood is sweeter yet lighter than you think. It is best for cooking and smoking fish; also suitable for light meats such as pork and chicken.
Pecan wood is categorized as light wood but can be used for heavier meats. It has a nutty, sweet, and rich flavor, which is often used in heavy meats. It burns cool and slowly; great for roasts ribs and briskets. Many find it a good pair for mesquite woods and other heavy woods like hickory and oak.
Cherry wood is a mild yet fruity light wood used in smoking light meats. It has a sweet and delicate flavor yet can burn hot and long; best used for fish, hams, turkey, and chicken meat. It can be paired with alder, oak, and hickory wood for an extra kick in meat flavors.
Peach wood is known for its uniquely sweet and light flavor. It’s a unique wood known for its Georgia origin; great for poultry, pork, and fish, and can burn long and hot. A fresh Peachwood can surely lose flavor, so you must use a relatively aged peach wood when smoking meats.
Other Types of Wood
Now that you know the difference between heavy woods and light ones, you must also understand other wood used for smoking meat, pork, ribs, brisket, and chicken. This way, you have better knowledge and can experiment with mixing heavy or light woods with other types. Here are some of the different kinds of wood that you should know:
- Almond – is known for its sweet aroma and is very similar to pecan. This wood can also work with different meats but is best for chicken and other poultry meat.
- Apricot – is a bit similar to hickory but is milder and sweeter in flavor. It can be used in all types of meat.
- Ash – has a mild aroma that is most used in fish. Some also use it in red meats for that rich and flavorful aroma.
- Beech works well with seafood, so if you plan on smoking fish, tuna, salmon, etc., this is your best bet.
- Birch – while it’s not as easy to find as maple, birch wood is known for its subtle flavor. It is excellent in chickens, turkey, duck, goose, and other poultry meats. It is also surprisingly good with pork ribs.
- Cedar – is ubiquitous with cooking fish. Fillet fish has never been this good with cedar woods.
- Lilac – is one of those uncommon woods used in smoking, but it works well with fish, lamb, and other seafood. It has a pleasant floral scent when burning, adding flavor to the meats you are smoking.
- Olive – is a bit similar to mesquite but only lighter in flavor; it’s commonly used in poultry meats.
- Orange – it contains a mild yet smoky flavor that resembles citrus. It’s suitable for smoking fish or poultry meats like chicken or ducks.
- Pear – has a subtle flavor that is similar to that of applewood. It’s has a sweet yet woodsy flavor and works best with poultry, pork, and other game birds.
- Sugar Maple – used widely with pork, but it’s a bit hard to find. It contains a subtle but sweet flavor, which is excellent when used with other woods.
- Walnut – this wood produces robust smoke when used, but it works best when mixed with other woods, specifically lighter ones. It is also a good choice for red meats like elks or moose.
Wood To Avoid
While these the above all excellent addition to the flavors of your meat, there are some woods you should avoid as they don’t do well for smoking:
- Pine or any evergreen wood.
Pros and Cons Of Using Wood
Wood is an integral part of smoking meats, but there are pros and cons as with anything in life. Wood adds flavor to foods while cooking the meat, which can be great for people who love their smoked food with more intense flavors. It also gives you some leeway when cooking because wood doesn’t burn out like coals if left unattended or overused. The main disadvantages are that the process can be time-consuming, messy, expensive, and potentially dangerous if not handled properly.
- It’s packed with flavors – as I have mentioned, only wood can give you that burst of flavor in meats. Apple, cherry, or almond are excellent when adding that flavor, and mixing them with hickory or mesquite can give it a boost.
- It burns better than charcoal – wood can pack intense heat once fired, and its hot embers can give off a fire that you need for all your smoking. It is also easier to burn compared to other fuels used.
- It’s one of nature’s best – you know for a fact that woods are natural elements, and so it is a given that it doesn’t contain any chemicals like the artificial charcoals or gas grills used to supply heat while smoking meats. In short, it’s all-natural.
- It’s also fun to do – cooking with wood is fun. Though they take time to prepare, using wood will be an enjoyable and straightforward process once you get used to it.
- It’s readily available – since wood can be found easily, you won’t have to worry about finding fuel. If you happen to live in a woodland area, you can easily find wood to use around you without buying it.
- It takes a while to prepare – compared to gas or propane-fueled smokers, using wood to smoke meat may take a while, and it takes experience to do it right. It may take time for you to master the ability to use wood when smoking.
- It can be expensive – if you don’t live in an area where wood is readily available, buying chunks of it can be costly. Woods with good quality or seasoned ones don’t come cheap.
- Embers don’t last very long – compared to charcoal, wood embers can turn to ash quicker as they tend to cool down much faster. So to ensure that you have lasting embers, you might have to use a lot of wood for that.
Now that you know the different kinds of wood, its type, and the pros and cons, you can now decide if this is the kind of fuel you need when smoking meats. Of course, we all know that wood chips or chunks give the best flavor, but it might not be for everyone. There are plenty of other options when it comes to fueling your smoker. If you love that rich smoky flavor, then the wood could be the best way to go. What’s important is that you are satisfied with the results. We hope that you find this informative article is helpful; enjoy cooking!