Have you felt the excitement of buying your first ever smoker- but then had said excitement bubble popped by the realization that you don’t know which wood you should use? I’m sure we all must have, at some point.
Many people, especially beginners, might make the mistake of using any type of wood available for their smokers- after all, aren’t all woods the same? Simply put, NO.
Wood actually plays a big part in your smoked foods- from subtle and strong tastes, to even the hue of your food! Did you know that there’s even a type of wood that works wonders with beef, but is awful with chicken? We bet you didn’t. Continue reading to know how to pick the right wood for your smoker.
What to go with, hardwood or softwood?
You might be scratching your head in confusion at this question, so let’s get right into it: hardwood trees are trees that lose their leaves throughout the year, while softwood trees are those that don’t, and instead remain evergreen the entire year. Hardwood trees also grow slow compared to softwood trees, which causes them to be denser and this is exactly what you need!
Hardwood is perfect for smoking because once it is dried, it catches fire slowly, releasing clean smoke that gives your food a savory taste.
Softwood, however, burns up quicker and contains more moisture and sap- which in turn releases grey or black smoke and makes your food taste the exact opposite of savory.
Long story short: Hardwoods are your best friends.
What are the best hardwoods for smoking?
This is a simple question with many answers; whether you ask a family member, a friend, or the internet you will receive numerous answers that might differ from one another. To save you the trouble of looking up each type of wood, we wrote down for you the most common hardwoods used, their flavors, and what they work best with.
• Alder: It has a light and sweet flavor and works best for fish and poultry.
• Apple: it has a very mild flavor and gives your food a hint of sweetness; works best with pork and poultry. We advise not using this specific hardwood for chicken as it will turn its color to a dark brown, and be careful not to smoke your poultry for too long as it can become overwhelmed!
• Cherry: this hardwood is one of the most popular, and understandably so, since it gives a mild, sweet flavor and works with just about everything you want! A big plus is that it gives poultry a nice color, and works great with chicken.
• Hickory: it gives a strong flavor to meats, so we recommend that you don’t use it excessively or else it will become bitter! It works best with beef and lamb, and it can be too heavy for chicken.
• Maple: this hardwood gives a sweet flavor and works wonders with poultry and ham.
• Mesquite: mesquite hardwood is considered to be one of the strongest flavored woods, and works well with meats. However, it does burn fast, so use that information as you will!
• Oak: one of the most versatile of all, oak hardwood is strong but not overpowering; it works best with beef and lamb. And for all the beginners out there: oak is one of the easiest ones to use!
• Peach: It has a sweet and mild flavor, and works great for pork and poultry.
• Pecan: considered to be a subtle version of hickory woods, pecan gives a delicate flavor that’s rich, sweet, and nutty! It works best with briskets and ribs and can be mixed with other hardwoods.
• Walnut: walnut hardwoods have a heavy and smoky flavor, so we recommend mixing it with woods that are milder in flavor!
Some other honorable mentions are:
- orange (great with meat!)
- almond (nutty flavor!)
- lemon (smoky flavor)
Some woods you should avoid using
Cedar, pine, fir, spruce, and any other that come from conifers. Why? Because conifers are rich in sap and can give your food a weird taste, as well as make people sick.
What type of wood you should use?
Now that you’ve learned the difference between hardwood and softwood, and chosen the wood you’d like to smoke with- it’s time to figure out which wood works best with your smoker.
logs of wood are most commonly used for large, offset smokers to help with the heat and smoke needed. Depending on their size and density, logs can burn for up to 45 minutes or an hour if kept well in an insulated box. While logs of wood can be slightly trickier to find, you can always do a quick internet search for sites that offer this type of wood online, or maybe you can get lucky and find a local place that sells some!
Chunks of wood are more seen in smokers of smaller size, like smaller offset smokers, drums, and more; they are usually mixed with charcoal: the charcoal will take care of the heat, while the chunks of wood will burn slow and create smoke. This type is quite easy to find at a local store, or online- you won’t need to search for too long.
Used in a (you guessed it) pellet smoker, pellets are compressed wood that gives both: heat and smoke. Pellets of wood can be found online, at a supermarket, or at a local BBQ store. Beware: depending on the brand, some pellets are blended with a bunch of different hardwoods and can also be mixed with oils. Make sure you know what you’re buying.
These are mostly used for electric smokers or gas grills and are usually placed on top of charcoal to create light and steady smoke. This specific type of wood tends to burn faster and needs replacing quite often, and isn’t meant to create heat in a smoker. Like the others, you can find chips online or at your local supermarket.
should you soak the wood?
You might see people advice one another to soak the wood for a bit before using it, and you might have thought once or twice about trying it out yourself! But to answer you and your burning thoughts: no, you should not soak the wood as it can diminish smoke production- and that is the opposite of what we want!
Now that you’ve become more knowledgeable on the wonders of woods and their benefits- we hope you can go back to being excited about your smoker, and go on to have amazing BBQ parties with your loved ones.