Very often, people approach me asking what the best wood for smoking meat is. The problem is, there is no right answer to that. While one wood may impart a flavor that is loved by your friend, you may like the flavor imparted by something else entirely. Wood choice for smoking meat is all about preferences, above all else. Nonetheless, in this article, I’ll try to explain what to expect from different kinds of wood. Be sure to experiment a lot until you find the right match.
The rule of thumb to follow while you smoke meat with hardwoods
One rule you can follow is to use heavy woods for heavy meats and light woods for lighter varieties. That is, if you are smoking pork, beef or something heavy of that sort, use hardwoods such as hickory or oak. On the other hand, light woods like maple, alder etc. are to be used when smoking fish, poultry etc. In order to accentuate the flavor, you can mix a bit of light wood while cooking heavy meat, or do the opposite.
Best Wood for Smoking – Characteristics of wood which are heavy
Oak has two types – white and red. While white oak is liked for burning longer, red oak is great for imparting a sweet flavor. Oak is one of the best wood for smoking out there and it works best for smoking beef, lamb, sausages, and briskets. The great thing is, although oak provides heavy to medium flavor, its flavor is almost never overbearing. Oak produces a huge amount of heat, but yet cooks slowly without burning.
Hickory allows for a lot of versatility when it comes to smoking meat. While large cuts of pork shoulders, ribs etc. work best, hickory is used extensively for smoking red meats, as well as poultry, too. It is best to start small. Increasing the quantity of wood gradually is a smart move. If you use a large quantity of hickory, your meat can often end up getting somewhat bitter flavor. The smoke produced by hickory is strong and sweet, and more often than not, it feels hearty or bacony. Just like oak, it burns slowly with enough heat.
From my experience, I’ve found hickory to be the best type wood to smoke babyback ribs.
In general, maple is mostly used while cooking pork, poultry, and game birds. It is a great choice for smoking barbecues, especially because it ends up imparting a mild yet nice flavor. Compared to oak and hickory, maple is quite subtle in terms of flavor imparted. It makes everything hot, and burns slowly. More often than not, there is a mild smoky flavor too when maple is used. In addition to that, the light flavor often tastes a bit sweet.
With a flavor that can be described as potent, strong and smoky, this wood calls Texas home. It is wiry, and quite hard or tough, almost as much as nails. Unlike the other woods mentioned above which cook slowly, it cooks quite fast with enough heat.
It is best for smoking red meats. Many people use mesquite in small quantities to add flavor to their grilled meats too.
Best Wood for Smoking – Characteristics of wood which are light
It is well accepted that apple wood can be used to bring out the best in poultry, pork, chicken and quail. Since it has a mild fruity flavor that is light and slightly sweet, its flavor takes a bit of time to permeate into food. That is why, Apple wood is best used sooner. It burns with a good amount of heat, slowly.
Alder is quite unique in the sense that it takes a medium amount of time, and also, does not produce much heat. As far as flavor goes, you end up with food having delicate light taste, bearing a bit of sweetness. While salmon responds excellently to alder, pork and poultry are god choices too. Traditionally, alder is used mostly with fish and is the best wood for smoking salmon.
Once the state tree for Texas, pecan imparts rich, sweet or nutty flavor. It produces a medium amount of smoke, and burns slowly. It does not produce much heat though, and can be regarded as quite a cool wood.
Pecan is great for smoking roasts, ribs and briskets. Note that it is best to mix it with hickory, oak or mesquite for a balanced flavor.
To a large extent, peach is known for imparting a unique kind of sweet flavor that is light. Mostly used to smoke barbecues, peach also smokes pork, fish and poultry well. It produces heavy heat, and takes a long time to smoke food. With peach wood, the fresher you use the better. Same goes with plum wood. That is because these woods lose their flavor after a while of cutting.
Since cherry produces flavor that is delicate and sweet, it works like a charm when lighter varieties of meat like turkey, ham, chicken, fish etc. are smoked. It produces a good amount of heat, and takes a long time to smoke comparatively.
I love using cherry while smoking turkey and have found it to be the best wood for smoking turkey out of all the other options.