Meat & wood selection can get a bit confusing. There is a huge selection, sometimes I buy it. Most of the time somebody is trimming an apple tree or grapevine and I get ample wood stock.
Blind taste tests have highlighted the variations are mainly whether its a ‘light’ hardwood or a ‘heavy’ hardwood. However, the internet reviews of woods I have been reading try and breakdown the flavors.
I thought it would be good to highlight some useful advice, so you can choose a useful wood and get smoking! Furthermore, there is the quality of smoke that is important will provide lots of information on this below also.
Will try and be helpful and make it easy.
There are a lot of ‘opinions’, just like mine, so I will try and focus on what wood has a consensus and works for many different meats & foods.
These hardwoods below I would consider for just about any smoking session. Don’t get too caught up on the wood, and hopefully get onto the curing and smoking!
What is the Best Wood for Smoking Meat? Certain woods that are ‘light’ hardwoods are mild and suitable for most meats. Common varieties include apple wood, cherry wood & many fruit woods. Chestnut, maple & pecan are also universal for smoking various meats and foods.
Wood selection is one aspect, and if you buy the wood from a store, then the wood will be ready for use. As long as you buy the right size of wood to suit the smoking device you are using. I will elaborate on this below so you can get smoking.
For the beginner, I guess the assumption is alot of smoke is best. Bellows of white smoke.
In fact, the term “thin blue smoke” is used which means the heat is hot and clean and the wood is burning nicely. The smoke should be transparent, which is a good sign you are getting clean smoke. Will get more into this detail at the end.
Universal Woods for Smoking Meat
As a overall guide the denser the meats like beef and pork stronger smokey woods are used. For less dense meat like chicken and fish softer sweeter woods work very well, like common fruit woods.
Whatever the smoking project you are doing, whether its hot smoking, low and slow or cold smoking these are the woods that will work for beef, pork, fish, poultry & game.
Some like to break down the wood into a light to strong range. Again, I will say it is very hard for anyone to guess the type of wood.
- light/subtle – apple (medium also) , fruit woods (many are medium also)
- Medium – alder, pecan, maple, oak, apricot
- Heavy – hickory, Walnut, Mesquite (better to mix)
If you mix a 20:80 ratio of heavy woods to the lighter sweet woods – it can work very well also for the denser meats I have found.
Fresh Wood or Dry Wood
I believe you should always use dry wood, fresh wood (or green wood) has a lot of moisture and it can produce unsavory flavors.
From what I have read and tried, soaking wood barely penetrates the wood, so there isn’t much point to it.
This isn’t an issue with store bought pellets or saw dust.
Woods to Avoid When Smoking Meat
Sap or wood with resin is a general rule of thumb to avoid.
Of course any treated wood, plywood or chemicals added – are definitely not something you wan to use.
These can give off bitter flavors and extra toxins
- Cedar (red cedar planks are ok)
- Poison Oak
Difference Sizes for Different Techniques
Wood Saw Dust
I use saw dust in my portable smoker, it also works for the maze style burner.
Saw dust is definitely the best use for these 2 aspects.
Small Wood Chips
A smoke generator I have specifically needs certain size, but also it can take on pellets. It takes longer for the pellets to light, but once they are going, I get a steady stream of smoke
Used for dedicated pellet smokers which feed, slow burning maze style devices and pellet tube smokers.
If you can find them, these are compact and convenient.
They need to be kept very dry.
slithers of wood they can be used straight on a charcoal bbq, bbq or other form of longer smoking. Being larger they will take longer to start smoking.
Wood Chunks / Small Logs
Some people like the really chunky style, they can go on the bbq flamer tamers / vaporizers directly.
When you get log type chunks, I have only used this on charcoal smoking sessions.
Since this only produces charring around the plank, its very light smoking and more presentation.
Direct heat on a soaked plank with some tasty salmon on the top, can still be something different to share with friends.
Should I Soak the Wood before Smoking?
From my experimentation, I generally avoid soaking. Unless its just plank on a bbq.
Some points of interest:
- soaked wood can change the temperature, which means tweaking is needed
- soaked wood steams it doesn’t smoke at the start, so are you getting a longer smoking time or steaming time?
- Even soaking for 6 hours, doesn’t really penetrate the wood very much.
Technique can influence also:
- Portable Smoker – saw wood dust
- Tea Smoking – saw dust or green/black tea
- Pellet Smokers – pellets
- Charcoal Smoker – sawdust (quick), chips, pellets or chunks
- BBQ Gas Grill Smoker Box– chips, pellets or chunks
- Electric & Propane/LP Smoker – chips, branded biscuits, pellets (depends on brand of smoker)
- Horizontal Offset Smokers – pellets, chips, chunks
Please note, below this is what I prefer – I will repeat again. If you use the universal sweeter woods – you can have great success regardless.
We all have different reactions to flavor and our taste buds are different. So don’t get to caught up with the below recommendations.
Certain smoking methods like pellet tube, bbq box smoking and maze style wood dust smoking. These might need strong/heavier hardwoods to produce a stronger flavor of smoke – if that is what you are after.
Best Woods for Smoking Salmon
Sweet & subtle woods work best with salmon. I have found that sweet light woods also work with most seafood & freshwater fish.
Best Woods for Smoking Turkey
Sweet & not overpowering work best from my experiences.
Best Woods for Smoking Brisket
- Apple (or any fruit wood for subtle flavor)
Mesquite, due to the heavy smoke & dense meat is a Texas classic. Though it has to be used carefully.
Oak vs Hickory for Smoking Meat
Lots of people argue over oak vs hickory – then you see competition won using cherry wood – so again I think the universal woods are a good way to go. Cherry also can give a different color to the meat.
Best Wood for Smoking Poultry
Similar to fish & seafood, light & subtle smoke works very well. Fruit woods in generally are a good choice
Best Wood for Smoking Ribs & Red Meat
Different Colors of Smoke
Blue Smoke – long smoking sessions
Blue thin smoke is really useful for long slow smoking sessions. It’s about getting the right airflow in and out. Whilst getting the right temperature, it’s alot easier with gas/propane or electric. With charcoal, it become more of an Art!
White Smoke – short smoking sessions
Great for short fast smoking sessions, but you don’t want this for long rib or brisket runs. It will make the meat bitter.
When I use a portable smoker when camping/fishing. If it pumps out white smoke whilst some salmon or trout is cooking I’m happy. It comes out great, since it’s only a 15-30 minute smoking session with wood saw dust .
When I have been hunting and fishing in New Zealand, I have used local native wood like pohutakawa or manuka hard wood (which is what all the locals use). These can give some yellow smoke, but its thin& light, flavors nicely.
How Do You Smoke a Moist Turkey?
Salt brining will help hold moisture in the bird. If you brine effectively prior to hot smoking. Once the cooked temperature has been reached, the meat should still be juicy.
What is the Best Wood for Smoking Turkey?
Turkey & other poultry are best smoked with mild flavored woods. These woods include apple, cherry, apricot and pear. Also, most nut woods are also mild and suitable for smoking turkey.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom