Using smoking woods is one of the best ways to add a distinct, appetizing flavor and look to your
barbecue. Smoking is what gives a lot of barbecue meat that savory, sweet, and musky flavor, and a
beautiful pink ring just below the outside crust.
The flavor and aroma produced during the smoking process can also vary widely depending on the type
of wood used. Fruit trees, for instance, produce a mild and sweet flavor that compliments light meats like
fish, chicken, and turkey. Nut trees and certain hardwoods add a stronger, woodier smoke flavor that pairs
well with heavier meets like beef, pork, and venison.
For those of you that will be harvesting your own wood rather than purchasing from a seller, the first
thing to ensure is that you choose a hardwood like oak, hickory, or maple, rather than a softwood like
pine, cedar, cypress, or other conifers. Hardwoods are denser woods that lend better to burning at hot
temperatures for long spans of time, whereas softwoods are much too porous, and often contain a lot of
sap, which provides an unpleasant taste.
If you have never used smoking woods before, start with milder woods like oak, or fruit woods. Once you
get the hang of smoking with the milder woods, experiment by adding in chunks of stronger woods like
hickory and mesquite.
Below is a list of popular smoking woods that describes the character and flavor of each wood, as well as
the type of meats that pair best with that wood’s aroma.
APPLE – This is a very popular smoking wood, and the most popular of the fruit woods. Apple wood
goes well with any meat. Taste is mild and fruity. Apple wood can be mixed with other woods, like oak,
cherry, or hickory.
APRICOT – Similar to apple wood, Apricot compliments any meat. Taste is mild and fruity. Apricot can
be mixed with oak, cherry, or hickory woods.
BLACKBERRY – Pair with poultry, game birds, and pork. Taste is sweet, delicate, and fruity.
CHERRY – A very popular fruit wood with a distinct flavor. Pair with any meat. Taste is mild, sweet, and
fruity. Cherry can be mixed with other woods like oak, maple, or apple.
FIG – Pair with any meat. Taste is mild, fruity, and similar to mulberry.
GRAPEFRUIT – Pair with any meat. Taste is mild with a distinct, smoky flavor.
GUAVA – Pair with any meat. Taste is semi-sweet, flowery, and fruity.
LEMON – Pair with beef, pork, and poultry. Taste is somewhat mild and fruity.
MULBERRY – Pair with beef, pork, poultry, and game birds. Taste is mild, sweet, tangy, and similar to
blackberry and apple.
PEACH – Pair with poultry, pork, turkey, and fish. Taste is sweet, woody, and slightly stronger than
ALDER – Pair with fish, poultry, game birds, and pork. Taste is delicate, sweet, and musky.
ASH – Pair with beef and fish. Has a mild smoky taste.
BEECH – This is a popular smoking wood. Pair with beef and fish. Taste is mild, and similar to oak.
BIRCH – Pair with pork and poultry. Taste is similar to maple.
CHESTNUT – Pair with any meat. Has a sweet, nutty taste to it.
MAPLE – One of the more popular smoking woods. Maple pairs best with pork and turkey, but also works well with beef or chicken. The taste is mild, sweet, and has a very distinct flavor to it. Maple can be mixed with cherry wood.
OAK – Perhaps the most popular of the smoking woods, oak wood is extremely versatile, because it adds a no-fuss, well-balanced smoky flavor to just about any meat, and can be mixed with a variety of woods. Although it is great for smoking any meat, oak pairs best with beef, pork, lamb, fish, and game meats. Taste is mild and nutty. Oak can be mixed with apple, cherry, hickory, or pecan wood.
ACACIA – Pairs well with beef and vegetables. The taste is similar to mesquite, but milder.
ALMOND – Pair with any meat. Taste is nutty, sweet, and similar to pecan.
OLIVE – Pair with poultry. Taste is similar to mesquite, but milder.
PECAN – This is a great smoking wood that adds a really pleasant, distinct smoky flavor to your barbecue. Pecan pairs well with beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. Taste is sweet, spicy, stronger than oak, but milder than hickory. Pecan can be mixed with oak wood.
BUTTERNUT – Pair with beef, pork, venison, and other game meats. Taste is strong, bitter, and similar to walnut.
HICKORY – This is a very popular smoking wood, which adds a strong, distinct smoky flavor to barbecue. Hickory works well with any meat. Taste is strong, slightly sweet, with a heavy bacon flavor. Try mixing it with oak or apple.
MESQUITE – Another popular smoking wood. Mesquite compliments beef, duck, lamb, and vegetables, but it really goes well with any meat. Taste is strong, earthy, and sweet. Mesquite has a slightly milder taste than hickory.
WALNUT – Pair with beef, pork, venison, and game meats. Taste is strong, but milder than hickory. Walnut is often mixed with milder fruit woods.