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The Best Woods for Smoking

The key to successful smoking is to follow several basic rules. One of them is using the right type of wood depending on what kind of food you’re planning to prepare.

Wood can be divided into categories ranging from delicate to strong, which makes it important to match it to the type of food or else it won’t taste very good.

In this guide I will briefly explain what to keep in mind when choosing wood and I will share the wood smoking chart with you. That way you’ll be able to easily and quickly consult the table whenever you have any doubts about choosing the right type of wood.

Best Wood for Smoking

What type of wood you use will depend on how strong the smoke of particular wood is and how it impacts the food.

As I’ve already mentioned above, wood can be divided into different categories.

I’ll start with delicate wood, which means all kinds of fruit woods such as peach, apple, pear, cherry etc. These are delicate trees that add sweetness to your food. This type of wood works great with lighter meals such as poultry or fish, but also with pork as well.

Next at your disposal are woods that are actually slightly stronger, like birch, which works great with smoked salmon.

In the middle of the “table” are such trees as maple, hickory, pecan or oak. These are very popular trees used to smoke pork, game meat or beef. Out of all of them, without a doubt the most popular ones are hickory and oak.

Right at the end are very strong woods such as mesquite, which is not advised for inexperienced cooks. The smoke from this wood is so strong that it really doesn’t take a lot to overdo it with the smoking, which will give the food an awful taste.

This issue actually applies to all types of trees. One of the biggest mistakes in smoking is lack of moderation, which means smoking for too long, giving the food an overly intense flavor (usually it doesn’t taste good).

Once you have a little more experience, you can go ahead and mix the types of wood, achieving a slightly different flavor or utilizing other characteristics of a particular type of wood. Some of them give the meat a mahogany color while others are mostly known for their light, sweet flavor – combining both characteristics allows to achieve a unique flavor.

I’d like to remind, though, that mixing wood and using wood of strong smoke is not among the simplest tasks and that is why I would advise beginners to avoid such actions.

One could go ahead and say that the best cooks use wood like spices.

Best Wood types for smoking

Below is a list of the most popular and most often used types of wood for smoking together with their best purposes.

What type of wood you use depends on what you’re planning to smoke, which means you should familiarize yourself with the below list as there’s no clear answer to the question of which type of wood is the best.

Apple 

What I mentioned at the beginning, it is a fruit wood that is characterized by delicate, sweet flavor. It works great with light food, but also to be mixed with a stronger type of wood. It takes a little more time to penetrate into the food, which makes it good for longer smoking.

Goes best with: poultry, fish, pork, as well as beef, lamb and certain seafood

Cherry

Just like the apple, it is a wood of gentle smoke that adds a sweet flavor to the food. It goes great with pretty much everything and can be mixed with other types of wood.

Goes best with: beef and pork

Pear

Another great fruit tree with a light, sweet flavor that works great with pork or poultry. Most fruit trees are similar to one another, whereas the pear resembles the apple quite a lot.

Goes best with: pork and poultry

Peach

A tree with a delicate, sweet, fruity flavor, goes great with poultry and pork.

Goes best with: poultry and pork

Hickory

One of the most popular types of wood, it is characterized by a stronger flavor. When using this wood properly, the food gets a slightly spicy, sweet and bacony flavor. One should watch out not to overdo it with smoking, as the result might be a pretty bitter flavor.

Goes best with: most types of meats, especially with pork and poultry (ribs and pork shoulder).

Maple

It gives a subtle flavor characterized by a gentle sweetness and slight smokiness. It is great when combined with alder, oak or apple.

Goes best with: poultry, pork, vegetables or even cheese

Oak

It can add a moderate to stronger flavor to food without being annoying. It is great for most types of meats and perfect for beginners. It can forgive mistakes as it is stronger than apple or cherry while still being weaker than hickory.

Goes best with: pretty much all types of meats including brisket or even sausages.

Alder 

It has a light, delicate flavor profile that adds sweetness to food which makes it go best with light food such as fish.

Goes best with: fish (salmon, trout etc ).

Mulberry

A delicate wood with a flavor reminiscent of the apple. It goes well with light food, although it can actually be used with all types of meat.

Goes best with: fish, poultry and pork

Citrus trees ( like orange and lemon ) 

All woods of this type give a similar light and sweet fruity flavor of citruses. Light types of wood that go well with all types of meat, I especially recommend it for lighter food.

Goes best with: fish, poultry and pork

Mesquite

It is characterized by a very intense flavor which is why I would advise against using it if you’re a beginner. It is very easy to overdo it with smoking which will result in a very bitter flavor of food and an intense, negative scent. Its benefits can be utilized when one has the adequate knowledge, it is good for short cooking.

Goes best with: most red and dark meats

Conclusions

Remember that there is no single best type of wood for all types of meat.

It all depends on what you’re planning and what kind of effect you’d like to achieve. For beginners I would recommend using fruit trees, which are characterized by their delicate, sweet flavor.

Also keep in mind that one shouldn’t overdo it with the duration of smoking – this applies to all types of wood, even the delicate ones.

Smoking Wood Chart

Last but not least, I’m publishing a table that makes it possible to easily and quickly match the best type of wood to your food. It is hard to memorize so much data, which makes it a great solution to visualize it in form of a table.