Hey, fellow campfire foodies! Remember the article about how to cut and split fire wood? Today I want to talk more about types of smoking wood. Proper wood chips for smoking can make your food develop some amazing flavors and experimenting with different types of smoking wood can be a lot of fun.
The following list contains some kinds of woods which can be used in charcoal grills, smokers and smoking boxes. You may be able to find some of these in local stores, but I find buying online is an easy way to buy a few varieties of smoking wood at a great price.
How to Add Wood Smoke Flavor into Your Food
Fire Pit Cooking Over Real Hardwood Fire
Cooking food over fire with hardwood embers is an easy and direct way to add flavor. To get the best results, you need to allow time to have a good pile of hot coals to work with. Sitting around the fire pit with good company is a cracking way to spend a couple of hours, although you might be at the mercy of the elements (in particular wind).
Cooking on a Charcoal Grill
Charcoal does create a lovely flavor, particularly as meat juices drip down on to the coals and keep the cycle of deliciousness going. Don’t skimp on charcoal – it’s worth paying a little extra for high quality hardwood lump charcoal.
Cooking on a Gas Grill
There is no wood smoke in a gas grill, but you can add chips of smoking woods into a smoking box. The smoking box can then generate the wood smoke you need when it is heated and infuse the flavors as desired.
Cooking in a Smoker
My favorite! This addictive method of cooking is basically an improved version of charcoal grill. It cooks food at a comparatively low temperature with smoking woods. The premise is cooking over indirect heat and add smoking wood chips or chunks with aroma every now and then. Read my article on the best smokers you can buy for detailed information and reviews.
Adding Liquid Smoke Flavoring to Your Food
You may have noticed liquid smoke additives on the shelves to satisfy the need of consumers. These products are perfect for adding to sauces (I actually have a friend who adds it in to ice-cream!), but they don’t cut it as a proper substitute for real wood smoking. Still, if you love the smoky flavor in your food, but aren’t set up to actually smoke your food yet, these liquid smoke flavorings are a handy cheat’s trick to satisfy some of your needs. Here are a few of the most popular brands:
Types of Smoking Woods
Alder wood is a delicate smoking wood with a sweet flavor. It ignites easily and is great if you don’t like a strong smoky addition to your food. Alder wood pairs nicely with fish and poultry as well as smoked eggs. (Hot tip: if you haven’t tried smoked eggs yet, check out my article on the best ways to cook smoked eggs!)
Almond Wood for Smoking
Unsurprisingly, almond wood has a slightly nutty flavor when used for smoking and is slightly sweeter than alder. It is great for smoking all meats, but goes particularly well with poultry. When used in a fire pit, seasoned almond wood can give off much less smoke than other varieties, which is preferable for many people.
Apple Wood for Smoking
Apple wood chips are mild and soft, with a sweet aroma. Apple wood is usually used to cook poultry, pork and beef. I personally like to cook pork ribs over it…so delicious! Apple can be accompanied with oak and cherry wood types as well – all the fruit woods go really nicely together. Apple wood is an affordable and sought after smoking wood.
Cherry Wood for Smoking
One of my all time favorite types of smoking wood. It is light red, a bit sweet and fruity. It is great with poultry, beef and pork. I always cook chicken with it. As mentioned above, it is a good partner to oak and apple. I’ve used both ornamental and fruiting cherry tree wood for smoking meat and both have produced amazing results.
Grapevine Wood for Smoking
Grape vines produce a stronger flavored smoke, but it is fruity and sweet. If you want to cook poultry and red meats( such as beef and lamb) and like a good kick of smokiness in your food, this is an excellent choice. I suggest you start sparingly so you can adjust the level of smoke flavor to your taste.
Guava Wood for Smoking
It is the wood of tree which produces a fruit similar to a pomegranate, belonging to the myrtle family. It grows in Hawaii and other tropical regions and has an aroma that is a mixture of bitterness and sweetness and fits with beef, pork, lamb, poultry and fish.
Hickory Wood for Smoking
Hickory and mesquite are the most commonly used types of wood in barbequeing. Hickory has a sweet but strong flavor, so it can cook all meats beautifully. It holds that typical bacon-like smoke flavor when you smell it. Some people can’t bear its strong flavor (although others love it)… to solve the problem, try mixing hickory wood with a more mildly flavored variety or just don’t use it too much. A good combination is two parts oak with one part hickory.
Kiawe Wood for Smoking
Sounds strange? Kiawe originates from Hawaii and is closely related to Mesquite. It has a strong flavor and can be used to cook beef, pork and poultry with excellent results. Kiawe wood is very dense and has a jet-black surface. Unfortunately, it can’t be found in stores! Once my friend in Hawaii brought some Kiawe wood to me, which is why I thought I’d mention it here. If you have a connection in Hawaii, ask them to source some for you as it has a really unique flavor.
Maple Wood for Smoking
Almost all kinds of maple trees (sugar maple, black maple, red maple and silver maple) are used to make maple syrup, so it makes sense that wood of maple has a slight sweetness. Cooking pork, poultry, game birds and pork with maple wood is guaranteed to impress your dinner guests. Maple wood is light in color, but dense.
Mesquite Wood for Smoking
Mesquite, along with hickory, is one of the most popular and readily available smoke woods. Particularly popular in Teas, mesquite is often burned into coals before using. It has a strong earthy aroma, so if you use too much, its flavor can overpower your food. To avoid this, I always mix it with apple or cherry wood, which are much more mellow varieties. Mesquite wood can cook beef, fish, pork and poultry well. It has a rough bark, dense texture and a color of red or brown.
Mulberry Wood for Smoking
Mulberry trees bear dark purple fruit that can be eaten. When used for smoking, mulberry wood is a bit sweet and similar to apple or cherry in its’ effect on flavoring your food. Go with what you have access to – my neighbor has a great big old mulberry tree and lets me lop off a branch every no and again to let it season for use in my smoker.
Oak Wood for Smoking
Another one of my favorites. Oak wood pairs well with any meat recipes ( such as red meats, pork, fish, heavy game), especially ribs! Its smoke is pleasant–not too strong, not too mellow. ..I would say it has a stronger flavor than apple wood and cherry, yet lighter than hickory. Oak is versatile as it mixes well with many other types of wood, but also can be used on its own. Its color ranges from white to yellow to red and its texture is dense and tight.
Pear Wood for Smoking
Another kind of fruity wood, similar to apple. Pear tree wood has light, sweet flavor and similar to other fruity varieties, pairs particularly well with white meats such as poultry and pork. Pear wood lends a lovely flavor to smoked cheese such as haloumi and fetta.
Pecan Wood for Smoking
Pecans are a sweet nut with a dark red shell. Pecan wood holds a delicious spicy flavor similar to hickory, yet somewhat milder. I have used it alone or mixed it with oak wood if I am low on my pecan wood supply. A favorite type of wood for smoking chicken and ribs.
Wine Barrel Chunks
When a wine barrel is broken or the owner doesn’t need it any more, sometimes the the wine barrel will be chopped into chunks and sold as smoke wood. In the wood store, you can spot them easily as one side of them has the dark stain of wine, and the other side has the natural oak grain. Before chopping into chunks, these wine barrels were stored in cellars of wineries, so hold a distinctive aroma of wine. Try using wine barrel chunks in your outdoor cooking and you won’t be disappointed!
What wood shouldn’t be used for smoking?
Some woods can’t be used as smoke wood, including cedar, cypress, elm, eucalyptus, liquid amber, pine, redwood, fir, spruce, and sycamore. If you get some nameless or unfamiliar wood, make sure they are safe to burn as smoke wood as some varieties can actually be toxic and potentially make your food unsafe to eat.
Forms of Smoke Woods
Referring to forms, smoker woods can be categorized into logs, slabs, chunks, chips and pellets. Among them, chunks, chips and pellets are the most common. Chunks vary in size…they burn slowly and generate smoke for a quite long time.
On the contrary, chips burn fast and generate smoke for a shorter time, but also have their disadvantages. You need to add new chips to the smoker every now and then, while you only need to add chunks at the beginning of the combustion process. To extend the smoke releasing time, chips are often placed in a container which made of aluminum foil with small holes and placed directly on the coals. Small holes can help the smoke to escape easily.
Pellets are specifically processed from compressed sawdust( very small pieces of wood that are left when you have been cutting wood) and are used in a similar way to chips.