Not all wood is created equally when it comes to BBQing. Knowing what wood to use is important because it changes the flavor of your dish. Each type of wood emits a different type of smoke with its own unique aroma and flavor. There are a different variety of woods you can use on their own or in combination with other woods to achieve a specific flavor or level of smoke. BBQing takes time to get the hang of; don’t be afraid to experiment with different woods or levels of smoke to see what you prefer.
The type of wood you use determines how your meat is flavored during your cook. Different regions throughout the United States have different BBQing traditions due to accessibility to wood and the animals available there. Luckily now we have access to a wide range of wood that comes in logs, chunks, chips, and pellets and you can have them delivered right to your doorstep.
If you’d like to read about more BBQ tips when it comes to selecting wood, read here! We review the difference between green and cured wood, different forms you can purchase wood in (logs, pellets, chunks, and chips), and give you some other interesting info on the wood you’re using.
Not all woods are created equally in the world of BBQ. These woods are traditionally the most common woods used for BBQing. Some woods may be more popular for certain kinds of BBQ styles than others. After all, Texas, Kansas City, and South Carolina for example all have different BBQ traditions that formed based on the woods available to them in the region.
Very popular option for BBQing. Our personal favorite with Hickory following closely behind. Oak burns clean and provides an even heat during cooks. It’s not overpowering and is really nice for smoking. The wood provides heavy smoke with a mild taste which provides really nice color to your meat. The smoke flavor will be a little stronger than apple and cherry, but not as overpowering as hickory or mesquite. It’s a happy middle ground. Try blending it with apple, cherry, or hickory and see what you think. This wood is pretty much great for and meat you’re cooking. It’s recommended for beef, pork, poultry, and fish.
This wood burns clean, has a mild flavor, is good for smoking, and has a stronger taste than oak. This is the most commonly used wood for smoking and has a very distinct flavor. If you’re looking for a sweet bacon flavor, this is your go to. This wood is common in the South. Hickory is really nice for smoking pork and ribs in particular, but is also popular with smoking beef, poultry, game meat, and fish. Try this wood the next time you’re cooking pork.
Mesquite burns hot and fast. This wood has a strong, spicy, earthy flavor and provides lots of smoke. It’s good for coals and grilling, but can be very overpowering if not controlled. You want to use this wood for shorter cooks; meat can become overpowered if used for long periods of time. This is one of the most popular woods used for BBQing and provides a very specific flavor that is common in Southwest cooking where these scrubby trees can typically be found. We really love using mesquite for chicken, vegetables, and steaks, which cook very quickly. It’s nice for cooking most red and dark meats in particular, but you can use while cooking poultry, fish, and game as well.
Apple wood has a strong flavor. It will bring sweet, fruity smoke to your cooks and is the strongest fruit wood out there. This is the most popular fruit wood to cook with; you can find it in most grocery stores / home stores that sell BBQ equipment. This wood is going to be a lot stronger than cherry wood. This wood really works with everything. It’s nice for cooking beef, ham, pork, and poultry. Pork and poultry are our favorites. This is another one that people recommend serving a chutney with to accentuate the fruitiness of the wood.
Cherry brings a nice mild flavor to your cooks. The smoke is fruity and sweet and will give your meat a nice pinkish hue. It’s a pretty good match for most meats. Try using it for beef, pork, poultry, fish, and game birds. This is a very versatile wood and is easier to work with because of the mild smoke it provides. Some recommend serving chutney with your meat to accentuate the fruitiness of the wood.
Pecan wood provides a sweet, mild flavor. It gets really smoky and is good for short cooks (shorter than 12 hours). Pecan is stronger than most fruit woods (like apple and cherry), but has a more mild flavor than hickory. We really like using pecan wood on chicken and ribs. The wood is especially good for poultry cooks, but you can use while cooking beef, pork, fish, or game as well. This thanksgiving, try smoking your turkey with pecan wood to achieve that golden brown color and mild flavor you’re looking for.
Black Walnut / Walnut
This is a very strong wood that will bring a heavy (and sometimes overbearing if you’re not careful) smoke to your meat. The flavor can be a little bitter. Use this wood sparingly. Oftentimes people like mixing this wood with lighter woods like almond and apple wood to mellow out the harsh flavor of the Black Walnut. If you’re looking to use black walnut, you should use it with beef, game meat, pork, or venison. The smoke from black walnut / walnut wood is too overpowering for poultry. The smoke is great for red meats.
This wood comes from Jack Daniel’s barrels. This smoke is strong, sweet, has a nice tang, and is great for cooking red meats, beef, pork, poultry, and other game. We really like this wood for cooking steaks, it gives it a nice, unique flavor.
Sugar Maple / Maple
Very mild smokey flavor. Produces a sweet smoke that tastes nice with poultry and game birds. Is also good with pork, ham, cheese, vegetables, and other small game birds.
For an Italian flare, add dried oregno, rosemary, thyme, and sage with your oak wood. It will give you great flavoring for woodfire pizzas on your grill, lamb, pork, and poultry. For oriental or asian inspired dishes, add sesame seeds and ginger root with your oak or mesquite. Great with beef, pork, or poultry.
Peach wood has a sweet, mild flavor that is great with white and pink meats like pork, poultry, small game birds, and fish. The smoke is sweeter than hickory.
This wood is tart and fruity. This wood is commonly used for cooking poultry, small game birds, lamb, pork, and sausage. A little goes a long way with grape vines as the wood provides a very tart flavor. You commonly see this wood being used to BBQ in France and Italy. However, you do see it used in the United States in areas where vineyards are common and grapes are harvested frequently.
Great for beef, poultry, game birds, pork, and ham. It provides a similar smoke to apple wood and has a hint of tang with the mild, sweet smoke.
Great for cooking pork, poultry, fish, game birds, and cheese. The smoke is tangy and citrusy, medium in weight, and provides nice coloring to your meat.
Sassafras provides a unique root beer aftertaste to your meat. The smoke is mild, musky, and sweet. It’s good for cooking beef, pork, and poultry.
Western Red Cedar
This wood has not been treated with chemicals and is safe to use. Cedar is commonly used while cooking seafood on cedar planks, but you can also cook poultry and vegetables with cedar. You will most commonly see cedar wood used for cooking salmon and seafood.
Another popular wood for cooking salmon. You can use alder while cooking fish, pork, poultry, or small game birds. There is a very mild flavor that is slightly sweet with alder wood. Serving chutney with alder is recommended to enhance the flavors.
Similar to peach wood or apple wood. Sweet, light, and fruity smoke flavor. It is good for cooking poultry, game birds, and pork.
This is a versatile wood that you can use to cook all meats. It has a sweet, nutty flavor. Similar to pecan. it is nice if you want to add a gentle smoke flavor to seafood or pork.
Woods Not To Use
- Liquid amber
- Osage Orange
- Redwood (conifer)
Steer clear of soft woods; these woods have resin, oils, and sap that produce a lot of smoke when lit and can alter the flavor of your food. Some people say it makes them feel sick after consuming meats smoked with these woods. Focus on hardwoods and fruit woods.