Grilling your food gives it an exquisite taste that you just don’t get when cooking indoors.
We love nothing more than learning how to add extra flavors.
There is no greater feeling than making our grilling expertise even better, and that’s where wood comes in.
Wood not only fuels the fire, it adds flavor to your grilled food, much like adding spices does.
Knowing about the best woods for home smoking will equip you with the knowledge needed to take your grills up a notch.
It’s not as simple as just tossing in any old wood to get the flavor you want.
To get the best smoked taste you need to know the correct woods to use for which meats, and even what cuts of meat to use.
Here, we’ll take a look at mild, moderate, and strongly favored woods you can use for smoking meats.
There are many varieties of wood to choose from, but not all woods are ideal for smoking.
Some woods will infuse a strong flavor into the meat while others introduce a more subtle taste.
We’ll take a look at the most common woods used and ones you can find readily available. Learn how they will influence flavor and which to use for different kinds of meat, fish, and poultry.
Mild woods are great to use when cooking more delicate meats, such as chicken or seafood.
Mild woods are also good if you don’t enjoy the strong, smokier taste of BBQ foods.
Using a mild wood will produce a subtle, smoky flavor with what is described as a sweet/fruity undertone.
A mild wood that is very popular and often the go-to choice for many. It gives an understated, sweet and fruity flavor.
This wood is ideal for use with almost anything, from meat, seafood, and poultry to vegetables and fruits.
Almond wood is suitable for use with any meat. Use it with seafood and poultry and see it add that little extra pizazz and an exquisite taste.
You get a light, delicate flavor with a slight nuttiness to it.
This gives you a sweet woody flavor and is commonly used with fish and, in particular, salmon.
But alder is not just for fish, you should also try it with pork and poultry as it gives such great flavor to them too.
Another very commonly used fruit wood and for good reason. Cherry gives a sweet, fruity smoke that tinges the meat with a delicate rosy hue.
Great for all types of meat but even better when used with chicken and fish.
These are a step up from the mild woods, providing a slightly stronger flavor with a sweet undertone.
Suitable when cooking fish, pork, and poultry—but you will need to ease up on the spices. You don’t want to mask the smoked taste by overpowering it with too many different flavors.
This is a wood with a high sugar content, meaning you’ll get a great sweet-smoked flavor.
Try it with pork and poultry for an amazing result.
When using this wood you need to lighten up on the other seasonings to get the best end flavor.
Chips from a mature grapevine will give you a moderate fruity taste that is more tart than other fruit tree woods.
Great for use with poultry and pork, as well as some fish.
This is particularly appealing when used on poultry dishes, especially those with a Mediterranean style to them.
Plus, if you like the flavor of mesquite wood but find that it is too intense, olive is a great one to try. It has a similar, yet much milder, taste.
Provides a similar flavor to the most popularly used smoking wood, hickory.
A really good alternative that is suitable for all types of meat.
Be careful not to use it in excessive amounts, as it could create a bitter and pungent taste by doing so.
These woods can smoke anything and are often the go-to choice for many.
They are great when it comes to cooking large cuts of meat that withstand the smoke well. These woods give strong, recognizable flavor but not so strong as to overpower the meats.
An extremely versatile wood that is the go-to choice for many. Oak is a good, dense wood which burns well and for a long time.
This makes it an ideal choice when cooking a larger piece of meat. It does have a strong flavor but not so strong that you can’t use it with fish or poultry. It’s great to mix with other woods for a cocktail of mixed smoky flavors.
This is a heavier wood than oak and provides a nutty flavor.
A very popular choice and you can find it widely available all over the world.
It’s great when cooking pork and beef or for when you want a stronger flavor with your poultry. Another good wood to use in a mix to give a subtle mixed smoky flavor.
This belongs to the same family of mesquite trees so you can expect a similar kind of flavor. However, Acacia is less intense or bitter and can be used to smoke most meats.
You will also discover some great flavor when you use it with beef or vegetables.
Beech wood has a flavor similar to that of oak.
Beech burns slow and evenly and is ideal for longer grilling sessions. A really good one to choose for a stronger flavor to add to seafood; it is also ideal for use with any meat.
These types of wood are really only ideal when cooking large cuts of meat that can handle a hefty amount of flavor.
Commonly associated with Texas-style grills, these woods are more likely to produce an overpowering and bitter smoky taste if you use too much.
You will find this wood widely available. Take care, however, Mesquite should ideally be used in small amounts. A good tip is to combine it in a cocktail of woods.
Using it this way will prevent you from ending up with an overbearing pungent and bitter taste. It is great for cooking beef, lamb, game and duck. You will be rewarded with a distinct earthy flavor that is unmissable.
An exotic wood from New Zealand that will reveal an intense flavor, which includes a hint of sweetness.
A dense wood, Manuka will give you a longer burning time and is ideal for adding a distinct flavor to your food. Ideal for any type of meat or seafood.
This will give a strong, deeply-smoky flavor.
Its ideal use is for large cuts of beef or game. Walnut wood can be overpowering; but you can avoid this by either using it sparingly or mixing it with lightly flavored woods.
An exotic wood that leaves you with a zesty spiced flavor, similar to the pimento berry taste. Also known as Jamaican pepper, allspice and newspice, it is used in the traditional jerk-style BBQ recipes.
This is great for use with fish or poultry, for a strong yet interesting flavor.
Not all woods are ideal to use when grilling and as a grill enthusiast this is something you need to be aware of.
You should never try grilling with a wood that hasn’t been confirmed as safe to use. There are some woods and wood types that you should NEVER use when it comes to smoking and cooking. These are:
Wood with a high sap content will leave the meat with an unpleasant flavor and will make you ill.
For these reasons you need to avoid cedar, pine and other coniferous trees.
Elm, eucalyptus and sycamore are also bad choices.
By this we mean freshly cut trees that haven’t been dried completely. These woods will burn unevenly and give an unpleasant flavor to the meat.
This is because they still hold too much sap and moisture.
Don’t attempt to use wood which has been stained or chemically treated in any way, when grilling.
You will probably end up becoming very ill by doing so. This includes any scrap timber or plywood you may have lying around. If you are not sure, don’t use it.
If you have a charcoal or wood smoker then you’ll find that any size wood can be used. If you have a gas or an electric BBQ, then you will probably find that you are limited to using chips or pellets.
Logs are only generally used in large commercial grills. They’re often used to cook huge cuts of meat for retail purposes.
When shopping for your wood you’ll see that most are offered in different sizes. The type you need is dictated by what you are cooking and how much time it needs to cook. Plus, of course, which type of grill you have, as mentioned above.
Wood can usually be found as chunks, chips or pellets. The wood chunks will give you a slow, steady release of smoke, whereas wood chips and pellets will smoke food quicker.
Generally, if you’re cooking for less than two hours, chips are ideal to use. If cooking for more than two hours, then the larger-style chunks you can buy are better.
As you cook, just replenish the supply as required, using a few small pieces at a time. You want to keep that steady flow of smoke going throughout the entire cooking time.
Don’t become overly obsessed about the right wood to use, just experiment and find the best one for you. You will soon find your go-to wood that you will use time and time again.
Once you know what you like, you can keep a big bag of it in the garage ready for any impromptu grilling sessions.
Who is better equipped to tell you which woods give the best flavors than your diners?
Gather people around and start experimenting with your flavors.
Make cocktails of different kinds of woods by mixing a couple or more types together. Find the ideal level of smoky flavor you want and discover what undertone of taste your guests prefer.
The best way to start out is to discover what the smoked flavor gives on its own before adding spices. Start with just salt and pepper at first to test what the wood smoke has to offer alone.
Then, step up the experiment by adding spices that you feel will complement the flavor. Try out different spice rubs on your meat, fish or poultry. Discover what perfectly complements the beautiful smoky flavors yet doesn’t overpower them.
Get your guests to sample your culinary delights. Gather their thoughts and feedback on the flavors to see what they think works best.
You’ll be the talk of your neighborhood with your grilling skills and techniques in no time.
Step up your expertise by creating smoky flavors that are out of this world.
Discovering the best woods to use for home smoking will give you an even bigger wow factor at your next party.
Learning which woods are best for different types and cuts of meat will allow you to experiment with your flavors.
You don’t just have to follow recipes, you can create your own succulent dishes to die for. Discover the wood you like best then start to add your own twist on it with a grand spice mix.
Fire up the grill, gather everyone around, and start your experiments today.
There’s nothing better than standing around the grill with a beer in hand and sharing your new-found grilling expertise with your buddies.
What better excuse do you need for a gathering than to try out a new technique? Start sharing your newly found knowledge of the best woods for home smoking today.
This post was last updated on April 15th, 2019 at 07:56 pm
William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.