Two Men, Two Pits and a Blog

BBQ Arts 101: Good Woods To Smoke With

As you delve further into the BBQ arts, eventually you’ll wish to smoke something. It’s just the natural course of things. You need not fight it. smoke woodWhere to start, you ask? Well, as a general rule of thumb, if it grows fruit or nuts, it is probably a legitimate candidate for a smoke wood. Use common sense tho. Make sure it is seasoned, (not green) and not growing some sort of unruly fungus or anything. And please people, no smoking with green treated one by sixes off your back deck. That’s very bad!

Now one of the most common mistakes made by newbie smokers is over-smoking. The assumption that more is better is wrong. Don’t do it. Such antics can impart a bitter taste on your meat. If you see your pit puffing like a choo choo train, tweak the dampers, lift the lid, or wait it out. Wait for the smoke to taper into thinner, almost blue-tinted tendrils. That’s just right. And there is really no need to keep tossing on smoke wood through-out the cook. After about two hours, most meat has gotten all the smoke exposure it needs. Remember the old BBQ adage, smoke is a seasoning, not an ingredient.

Not counting the realm of pellet smokers, the smoke woods you will find come in either chips or chunks. Both work fine, but there is nothing like a good chunk! Two or three apple-sized chunks of smoke wood placed directly on the coals will give you all the smoke you need, many times generating wispy tendrils of it for a couple of hours. Many a pit keeper soak their chips, and even chunks in water or a variety of interesting brews, this to elongate the burn time and to add a bit more flavor. In point of fact, if you boil your wood in water, it will open the fibers and absorb even more water, and thus the wood will smoke longer. But let it be said, because its true,  you need not bother with such heady antics, for at the end of the day a good chunk of smoke wood speaks for itself. Just place it on the coals, close the lid on your pit, ensure a good draft, and observe the magic that which gently transpires.

With these things in mind, here then is a little list of choice smoke woods to get you started, or experiment with. All good choices, and good, smokey fun! And many of them can be found at your local hardware or big box store. You may even have some laying in your back yard.

For your smoking convenience, a copy of this list was also placed up on the page index at the top of the site. Now lets smoke something!

  • ALDER – A light smokey flavor. Excellent with the likes of fish, pork, and poultry.
  • ALMOND – A sweeter tint of smokey flavor. Suitable with all meats.
  • APPLE* – Very subtle, slightly sweet. Excellent with poultry and pork. This is one of our favorite smoke woods.
  • ASH – A rather subtle  but articulate flavor. Another fine choice for fish.
  • BIRCH – Another subtlety sweet smoke. Good with pork and poultry.
  • CHERRY – Lightly tinted of sweet. Does really well with red meat and pork.
  • HICKORY* – Moderate to strong smokey flavor. Good for a variety of meats. If we could only pick one smoke wood, this would be it.
  • MAPLE – Easy going and subtlety sweet. A light smokey taste. Good with pork, poultry. Great wood for planking.
  • MESQUITE – Maybe the most robust of the smoke woods. Strong smokey flavor. Good with beef, chicken, and pork.
  • MULBERRY – Reminiscent of apple wood, just harder to find.
  • OAK* – Moderate to strong smokey flavor. Readily available, and a fine all around choice. Excellent for red meat. Does well with pork and fish. We would put this one in the smoke wood hall of fame.
  • ORANGE- Mild and slightly sweet. Good with fish and pork and chicken and beef.
  • PEACH -Another mild one. Slightly tinted in sweet. Great with beef, pork, fish and poultry.
  • PEAR -Light smokey flavor.Great with chicken and pork and fish.
  • PECAN* – Mild to moderate smokey flavor. Slight hint of nut. Good with all meats, especially poultry. Pecan is right up there with our very favorite smoke woods.
  • WALNUT -Robust smokey flavor. Best with red meats.

*Patrons of the Pit Favorites


Got Wood?

If not, amazon carries several species all available with a click of the mouse button. Here are a couple links to get you started.

Smoke on my cronies!

WESTERN 80560 Pecan Cooking Chunks

WESTERN 28080 Apple Cooking Wood Chunks


Patrons of the Pit is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com  


Advertisements

44 responses

  1. This was great, I will admit my smoking skills are lacking. What would you recommend for duck breast, I saw a recipe for smoked duck breast I am dying to try. Birch??

    June 17, 2014 at 9:07 am

    • Many thanks. Birch would be good, tho I don’t see that one being too readily available. Maple is good choice too, likewise apple. One of my favorites for birds tho is pecan. Great smoke wood if you can find it. I’m sure you could find some on line somewhere.

      Take care!

      June 17, 2014 at 9:40 am

  2. likestobbq

    Great stuff, I can’t wait to try some new flavors! By the way the “Smoke Woods” Link on the top of the page isn’t working, just an FYI

    June 17, 2014 at 9:24 am

    • Thanks. Been having troubles with them pages up there. Not sure what it is.

      June 17, 2014 at 9:28 am

  3. Awesome rundown. Any opinion on lemon wood or grape vine? I assume the lemon would be close to orange, but I’m not so sure what to expect from grape. I’ve got a bag of each sitting out in my garage just waiting for a lazy weekend…
    – Dennis, Life Fermented Blog

    June 17, 2014 at 10:53 am

    • Hi Dennis,

      I’ve never had occasion to smoke with grapevines, but some people love them. I guess they produce lots of rich smoke, bordering on tart. Better suited for the robust meats such as beef.

      Lemon would be close to orange I believe. Citrus smoke woods are amazing. If you can find them, I’d keep a stash tucked away. We have one reader down in Ecuador and all he has is a lime tree, so he used that and loved it. Ain’t that right John in Ecuador!?

      Take care, Dennis!

      June 17, 2014 at 11:18 am

  4. I’ve smoked heaps with pecan, hickory and a few Aussie natives, but I’ve never thought about mulberry… And I have a tree down the back!

    Cheers for the insight.

    June 17, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    • I sense a mulberry wood harvest in your near future! You’ll have to let us know how it tastes.
      Cheers
      -PotP

      June 17, 2014 at 3:38 pm

  5. Something I’ve been thinking about writing about as well. Wood smoke is indeed a seasoning. And another overlooked problem – commercial BBQ sauces usually are spiked with hickory. Said hickory should pair well with whatever wood you smoked with if you are saucing. I’ve screwed up a couple nice cooks this way. And don’t be afraid to combine (I use 40/60 Oak Hickory a lot). Thanks for the article.

    June 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    • Some astute observations, Sir Quincho! Nice additional thoughts indeed. I had over looked the pairing of smoke woods. Glad you mentioned that.Yes, it’s quite the good fun to combine a flavor or two. I love to mix in apple wood quite a bit with hickory. Oak and hickory is a marriage made in smoking heaven.

      Good point on the sauces. I wouldn’t have thought of that at all.

      Thanks Mr Quincho!

      June 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm

  6. I’d been hoping for just such a list. Down here in South Texas, mesquite is what’s plentiful. I was surprised to see orange wood on the list. We’ve got plenty of that, as well. I never would’ve guessed that it would work for smoking, though.

    June 17, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    • Oh yes, Mrs. Deerslayer. I’ve even seen and purchased orange wood from the bbq stores around here, in the frozen tundra. It would probably do well with your wild pork. Mesquite is a fantastic flavor tho. I could be quite happy living in mesquite country. That wood is in my top five favorite smoke woods. I love the aroma of it.The name is fun too.

      Blessings Mrs Deerslayer. Be good!
      -PotP

      June 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

  7. Nice post PotP. Very informational. My favorite combination is pecan with beef and surprisingly good with chicken/turkey as well. I want to get a hold of some orange though and give that a try.

    June 17, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    • Pecan and beef. Thats brilliant! I’ll need to try that myself. Pecan is just plain dynamite. Smoke wood Hall of Fame for sure.

      Thanks Bill!

      June 17, 2014 at 9:53 pm

  8. You blokes certainly know your wood. You certainly provide a great public service. 🙂
    Cheers
    Laurie.

    June 18, 2014 at 2:51 am

    • Well once in a while we need to be useful. Thanks Laurie!

      June 18, 2014 at 10:10 am

      • You blokes are always useful and now we know you both know your wood.
        Cheers
        Laurie.

        June 18, 2014 at 11:57 pm

  9. Maybe its because its over used, but for me I’d put hickory at the bottom of the list. I know its popular, but I find hickory a bitter taste to my palette. Growing up in rural Newfoundland, we smoked herring (kippers) and caplin (a small smelt like fish) regularly. The wood of choice for this was alder, perhaps mainly because its so plentiful, but when smoking my own things I loved the taste of apple wood as well as pin-cherry which is also fairly plentiful back home

    June 18, 2014 at 5:34 am

    • Nice additional thoughts. Agreed that hickory is over-used, man it’s popular. But for good reason also. I’ve never seemed to notice the bitter taste, but then maybe I like that flavor, who knows. I love hickory.

      Yes alder and fish go together like raisins and bran! Like concrete and rebar! A good marriage indeed. Pin cherry would be fun I bet. Never tried that.

      Thanks for chiming in, Peter!

      June 18, 2014 at 10:16 am

  10. Good work o’ Patrons of the Pit.

    June 18, 2014 at 8:02 am

    • Thanks TJ. I remember you saying once you used to smoke with orange wood. It was then I knew you southern folk had a little something extra going for you living way down there.

      Blessings old boy.

      Take care.

      June 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

  11. I would like to ask if you ever tried Sycamore wood? It has a pleasant aroma, good for beef, lamb fish chicken. It’s a bit overpowering for vegetables though. it’s long burning, and to me tastes like a cross between hickory and walnut. a pleasing combination. It has a learning curve, and you’ll need to watch it the first time you use it, but It’s a good choice especially for spare ribs. hanks, Chef Bob

    June 18, 2014 at 10:55 am

    • Outstanding! No, I’ve never had occasion to try that species. Not sure where I could even find it. But it sounds delightful. I’ll certainly need to put that on my short list of woods to try. Many thanks, Chef Bob!

      June 18, 2014 at 10:59 am

      • Most Sycamore has a shedding bark in the late summer,and early autumn. As kids, we used to call it a “monkey ball tree” Heres a link to a pic of the tree so you can recognize it. It’s supposed to grow all over the USA and western Canada.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platanus_occidentalis

        June 18, 2014 at 11:07 am

  12. Hey guys, great write up! Do you mind if I re blog? I always give credit to the writer! Please let me know. I just am
    Mastering the art of smoking and just received a new smoker for Father’s Day !

    June 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    • Excellent. Of course, you are always welcome to re-blog anything you see on here. It’s an honor!

      Good luck in your smoking endeavors.
      -PotP

      June 18, 2014 at 2:19 pm

  13. Reblogged this on bcfoodieblogger and commented:
    A great and straight forward read on what woods for you to use when trying to make a smoked magical culinary surprise!
    Thank you patrons of the pit!

    June 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

  14. Great rundown and informative blog post! I’ll never forget the time my dad smoked bacon for 4 plus hours because he thought more was better. It was bitter and darn near in edible lol.

    Http//:www.smokingbigbbq.net

    June 18, 2014 at 10:21 pm

  15. Great list. Have you ever tried to smoke other things like pastry? Yeah, kind of crazy. Tied it once with not a good effect. Wasn’t sure if it was too long or the wrong material. For example meats and fruit are suitable for the grill. But what about wheat or rice? Would appreciate your thoughts.

    June 19, 2014 at 5:21 am

    • Yeah, I’ve done that too. A peach cobbler comes to mind, back in naive days of a young pit keeper, still cutting my teeth on the craft. I had discovered the magic of smoking foods, and figured everything then must benefit from it! So one evening, under gray skies I applied a good dollop of smoke to my peach cobbler on the grill. The result was not well and similar you might say, to a peach flavored ash tray. Somethings, I deduced, just don’t need a smokey flavor. Desserts being one of them.

      That being said, anything we do in the oven or stove top, we can do also on the grill. See the bread based page at the top of the site. We’ve done home made bread, cobbler, and even caramel rolls on the grill. It’s totally possible and even a good time. But if I do use smoke for that sort of thing, it is done very sparingly, just enough to remind one as they take a bite that this pastry hails from the smokey realm, but is not dominated by it. And that seems to work pretty good. Same thing with rice.

      So in summary, I’ve not had good effects smoking things of the wheat family either. I don’t reckon there is a way around it save for going very light on the smoke. Then again, it may be a personal preference thing. Some dudes even cold smoke their chocolates. I guess I don’t like smoke that much!

      Take care, antdina!

      June 19, 2014 at 9:59 am

  16. Great summary, time to raid the orchard 🙂

    June 20, 2014 at 1:35 am

  17. Reblogged this on THAT DANG OL' SHOW and commented:
    Good wood here.

    June 20, 2014 at 11:33 am

  18. Liz

    awesome–bookmarking the list for my husband. Not sure what wood we use, but we’ve soaked chips with bourbon. Glad to know more about what’s what.

    June 20, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    • Cool Liz. Yeah there’s all matter of smoking flavors to keep track of. These are but just a few of them.

      Toodaloo!

      June 21, 2014 at 9:52 am

  19. Loved the post. I don’t smoke much, but have always wondered about the different woods. I usually just find hickory and mesquite.

    I try to get my friends to smoke with pine, but if they do I’ll be missing that cookout.

    June 23, 2014 at 11:45 am

    • Many thanks. Yeah it’s fun little hobby to get into. A way to bring your routine grilling to the next level.

      Take care, Ted!

      June 23, 2014 at 2:49 pm

  20. KB

    Great stuff here. I just picked up some cherry and peach wood. Going to use them this weekend. What are your thoughts on using a brine on pork shoulder before smoking? I brine on poultry but never pork. Thought I’d give it a try.

    June 26, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    • Many thanks! I’m very much in favor of brining pork. Pork chops in particular benefit, as they tend to dry out. Pork butts however have so much fat, I don’t think they need brined to keep them moist, but the flavor benefits might be worth it. At the end of the day, however, I don’t know anybody who has regretted brining their meat. I say go for it.

      Anyhow, take care. And thanks for chiming in!

      June 26, 2014 at 8:00 pm

  21. Debbie Spivey

    Great info here about the types of wood. Thanks!

    July 2, 2014 at 9:53 am

  22. Reblogged this on ISHBBQ.com and commented:
    Great article about smoke wood.

    August 1, 2014 at 4:53 pm

  23. That’s a good list and some interesting feedback. I have a question about bark, in short does it figure in your smoking plans? Leave it on? take it off? I currently have access to a little apple and cherry, just small stuff so definitely easier to leave it on but then some parts of both apple and cherry contain cyanide, don’t know about the bark.
    Any thoughts?

    July 16, 2015 at 3:08 am

    • Greetings! Good to hear from you, and thanks for chiming in.

      The general word I hear on the street about bark, is to get it off. It can produce some foul tasting smoke they say. This being said, my own experiences have been indifferent. I can’t really notice a different in taste, whether the bark was in place or not. I guess if I had to offer advice on the matter, however, I would err on the side of no bark, just to be safe. You know you’re good to go then. The only bark you’re after, is a good bark on your pork butt. Amen.

      July 16, 2015 at 10:19 am

      • Thanks PotP,
        Less bark for a better bite then, but sounds like don’t let the detail ruin the experience.
        Cheers
        G

        July 19, 2015 at 5:52 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s