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Best Wood For Smoking Meat – Beef, Chicken, Pork & More

Meat smoking is one of the few cooking techniques that remains the same from ancient times. If you put aside the advanced equipment, you’ll find that we use wood chips on raw meat to add flavour, which is precisely how the cavemen did it back in the day.
Smoking is a cooking method honoured by time; if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right. To do this, you’ll need to know the best wood for smoking meat with all its varieties.

In this article, we’ll shed light on the best wood for smoking different meat.

Best Wood to Smoke Brisket

Beef brisket fans love hickory hardwood, mainly because of its delicious aroma that infuses into the meat. It pairs nicely with sweet sauces and sugar, thereby resulting in juicy smoked meat.
Mesquite wood is another type that goes well with brisket, thanks to its spicy flavour. If you cook your brisket with salt and pepper only, mesquite is your go-to wood. It’ll add an edgy smoky flavour to the meat without meddling with its natural beefy taste.

If you’re not a fan of hickory and mesquite, you can always go for pecan. Personally, I believe pecan wood is the right choice for people who want to taste the meat in all of its glory. It has a mild taste that goes unnoticeable amid all the smoke. If you pair it with a red pepper rub, you’ll have a nice spicy brisket for dinner.

Best Wood to Smoke Chicken

Contrary to meat, chicken’s taste goes well with a bunch of wood types. You won’t have to search for long.

Hickory goes well with chicken, but its sweet flavour may get more potent than that of the chicken, so you’ll want to keep your hands at bay while adding it. If you pair it with cherry, your chicken will taste amazing.

Alternatively, you can use maple wood. It burns slow, but its sweet taste is worth the wait. It balances out the mild chicken taste perfectly.

There’s also applewood, which has a subtle fruity taste that works well with chicken. You’ll want to leave it smoking for long so that the flavour can infuse the chicken properly.

And for another fruity wood, you can use peachwood. It should be used when it’s still fresh because its taste fades out quickly. Other than that, it gives a mild fruity aroma that works perfectly with Southern recipes.

If you’re going to use fruitwoods, it’d be an excellent idea to pair them with pecan wood. The nutty flavour, along with the fruity spice, will result in a savoury taste.

Best Wood for Smoking Turkey

By now, you may have realised that hickory is the top choice for a lot of meat types. Turkey isn’t an exception. The hardwood works for turkey for a lot of reasons. For starters, its smoky flavour that’s not so subtle goes perfectly with turkey’s mild taste. Not to mention that its sweet flavour balances the overall taste perfectly.

Another wood that goes well with turkey is maple. It has a flavour that’s sweeter than that of hickory, making it more suitable for turkey than other types of meat.

Fruitwoods are a nice alternative if the previously mentioned types aren’t available where you live. They’re ideal for light poultry meat, thanks to their mild flavours. They won’t overpower your meat’s taste like hickory wood may do.

Best Wood to Smoke Pork

You can’t go wrong with applewood. Paired with pork, it gives a fruity flavour that’s almost unnoticeable, but it significantly improves the overall taste. Pecan wood, too, goes well with pork. It’s one of the best woods for ham and ribs.

Its taste isn’t as subtle as fruity woods and not as strong as hickory wood. It’s the perfect blend to go with bacon. You can throw in some chips of citrus wood if you want to make an exquisite taste.

In fact, citrus woods, such as orange, are great with pork roast. And the good news is, you can pair them with hickory or Pecan woods if you don’t want the citrus flavour to be overpowering.

Best Wood for Smoking Fish

If you want your fish to keep its natural flavour, I recommend going for applewood. It gives a moderate smoke aroma that’s not too overwhelming, so it doesn’t shadow the fish’s distinctive smell. At the same time, its sweet taste goes well with fish.

On the other hand, if you’re not into delicate tastes, you can go for hickory wood. It’s the jack of all trades, which is easy to see why. It’ll give your fish an edgy earthy taste without detracting its pronounced natural flavour. Plus, it emits robust smoke; paired with its sweet taste, your fish will taste exquisite.

If you want a balance of fruitwood and hickory, you can opt for maple wood. It’s not as delicate as applewood, nor is it as powerful as hickory. It adds a subtle flavour to the fish that’s unnoticeable but not overpowering. Besides, it doesn’t emit a lot of smoke so that the fish will stay sweet without a bitter aftertaste.

Best Wood for Smoking Ribs

For starters, if you’re smoking ribs anytime soon, send me an invite! As a ribs-enthusiast, I’ve tried plenty of woods; here’s the juice of my experience.

Hickory wood is the best for smoking ribs. The powerful smoky flavour goes perfectly with the ribbed meat. Plus, the wood doesn’t hold much moisture, which results in an extra fresh taste.
Along with hickory, pecan is also a wonderful wood for smoked ribs. In the end, it’s a variety of hickory wood, so it’s no surprise that it works well too. However, it has a milder taste than hickory. It’ll be ideal for you if you want the ribs to keep their beefy taste.

Hickory and pecan aren’t the only woods suitable for smoking ribs. You can choose from cherry, apple, and white oak wood. These three are milder, and they have sweeter tastes. However, they have different tastes themselves, so you’ll want to try before deciding on one of them.

Best Wood for Smoking Salmon

In my opinion, no fish tastes better when smoked than salmon. If you’re going to smoke some, you ought to know the right wood types you should use.

For starters, if you want to start delicate, alder wood is your go-to option. It’s perfectly suited for salmon’s slow smoking. It’ll leave a light smoky taste in the fish without shadowing its natural flavour.

Going up the scale, you can go for applewood. It’s slightly more powerful than alder, thanks to its distinctive fruity taste. It’ll let the salmon keep its flavour while adding a sweet taste pinch that some people long for. You can balance it out by mixing it with mesquite.

If applewood isn’t available where you live, go for maple. It has the same characteristics. Additionally, it doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste, so it compliments the salmon well.

Best Wood for Smoking Sausage

Sausage only needs light smoking. It’s not as challenging as other types of meat, such as brisket, for example. It can pair perfectly well with maple wood, which has an elusive sweet taste that doesn’t affect the final result. That being said, bear in mind that you’ll have to soak it in water for at least an hour before using it for smoking.

Cherry wood is another type that’s good for sausage. It gives a mild flavour that balances the sausage’s spicy taste out. On top of that, it leaves a vibrant maroon colour in the meat.

If you’re aiming at more smoke, opt for the king of them all: hickory. It’s believed to be the best wood for smoking meat.

Best Wood for Smoking Tri-Tip

Only hard-core chefs smoke tri-tip. It’s one of the most challenging meat cuts to cook. If you’re smoking one soon, good for you!

Of course, it goes well with hickory wood. That goes without saying. Surprisingly, though, it’s not the best wood for this meat cut.

Red oak wood is the better option for a lot of reasons. It’s the king of oakwood, thanks to its powerful taste. Despite the strong taste, it doesn’t overpower the meat’s savoury taste. It makes perfect harmony with it. In addition to that, it leaves a mahogany colour that looks inviting.

Red oak also goes well with lamb and beef varieties.

Final Thoughts

With this comprehensive list I showed you, you shouldn’t have any confusion about your upcoming smoked meal. As long as you know how to utilise each type of wood, you should be fine. Just make sure not to let the smoke overpower the meat’s taste, except if that’s your thing.

One more thing to take care of is the amount of wood you add. If you’re blending two types of wood, carry out a small experiment first, so you’re sure the flavours are in harmony.

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Pauline is a mother of four, when she isn't cooking up new dishes for her family and friends, she likes to dine out at newly-opened restaurants (especially tapas!) and review them in her blog posts.
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