Woods for Smoking Meat – A Comprehensive Guide

People are always asking, ‘What are the best woods for smoking meat?’ 

You will find different answers depending on who you ask, and where you ask it.

There are definitely guidelines and general recommendations however. It’s a similar topic to pairing wines with food, and of course we will all still have our preferences.

Some things are clear though – when smoking meat we will be using hardwoods and never softwoods. 

Hardwoods are woods such as alder, hickory, mesquite, maple, oak, or fruit woods like cherry and apple.

Softwoods include cedar or pine and are never used for smoking meat because of the high resin content which will give off an acrid, thick and unpleasant smoke when burned.

As a general rule of thumb a lighter hardwood (such as cherry, peach or apple) will be used for fish and chicken which are more delicate. 

This is similar to why they are both paired with white wine rather than a bolder punchier red. 

Pork, venison and beef are heavier meats and work well with a stronger smoke flavour such as oak, maple, hickory, mesquite and pecan. 

That being said, pork and apple are an excellent combination as well. 

Again, this is why the likes of beef and venison are paired with a more robust and bold red wine rather than white.

We are going to take a closer look at a few different woods for smoking meat, and consider the qualities and experiences they bring to smoking meats recipes.

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Woods for Smoking – Always Use Hardwoods

Woods for Smoking – Hickory

Hickory wood is one of the most popular and versatile woods for smoking.

We’ve all enjoyed hickory smoked bacon at some point. It goes particularly well with pork shoulder and ribs, but it also lends itself well to red meat and poultry.

It isn’t a mild smoke flavour (like cherry for example) so it’s worth considering what you or your guests might prefer. Don’t use too much or your meat may take on a slightly bitter flavour.

Overall hickory brings a strong, hearty, sweet and savoury flavour to your meat.

Woods to Use When Smoking – Maple

Maple wood is actually one of the more subtle of the woods for smoking.

It is great for bringing a light, sweet, mild smokey flavour to your meat.

This makes it perfect for poultry, game birds such as pheasant or partridge, and fish.

Woods for Smoking With – Oak

Oak is good wood to use if you are new to smoking meat. It isn’t as strong as hickory or mesquite and it won’t overpower your meat.

It goes well with lamb, sausages, burgers and even beef.

Fruit Woods to Smoke With – Cherry

Cherry wood imparts a fruity and mild smoke flavour, slightly milder again than that of apple wood. It’s a popular choice and fairly versatile. 

Some barbecuers like to do a mix of hickory and cherry, which balances the two flavours out really well. 

It goes really well with ham, chicken, turkey or even fish.

Smoking Woods – Apple

Apple wood is always a popular and pleasing choice out of the woods to smoke. You may have tried Smoked Applewood cheese which will give you an idea of what it is like.

Applewood is deliciously sweet, mild, fruity and mellow in flavour. It goes really well with chicken, pork, and game birds such as guinea fowl or pheasant. 

Stronger Woods for Smoking – Mesquite

Mesquite is a very robust wood that creates an intense flavour.

It’s best not to use it in large quantities as it is so unique and can be overpowering.

It is best used with red meat because of its robust flavour. 

Pecan Wood for Smoking

As you might expect pecan wood has a sweet and nutty flavour.

Some people like to use pecan wood along with another hardwood because it is so sweet and rich.

It matches really well with ribs, briskets, beef in general and other red meats.

Wood for Smoking – Alder

Alder is a really great wood to smoke fish with because it is light and sweet. It’s very delicate just like fish.

Try it with salmon, sea bass or other delicate white fish. It’s great for smoking shrimp/prawns as well.

Now we are going to consider some of the less well known woods for smoking meat. Have fun and experiment!

It may be that some of these woods for smoking are easier to find where you live so by all means make use of them! 

Ash Wood For Smoking

Ash wood will give you a smoke that is light to medium in terms of flavour. It has quite a mild flavour so you may wish to mix it with hickory or oak to balance the flavours out.

It actually burns quite quickly so is best used for shorter smokes.

It goes well with fish and poultry but can also work for beef as well.

Less Common Woods for Smoking – Blackberry

Blackberry wood is probably quite an unusual choice but it will give your meat a fairly mild smoky flavour, and obviously an overtone of blackberry fruit. 

Again it does burn quickly so it may be best for you to add right at the end of your smoking.

It works well with poultry, pork but also beef.

Unique Wood for Smoking – Peach

Peachwood produces quite a subtle and fruity flavour which lends itself well to poultry and pork. One to think about and quite an unusual and unique choice. 

Interesting Woods for Smoking – Acacia

Acacia is one of the more interesting woods to smoke and is actually from the same tree family as mesquite.

It is a strong flavour and should be used sparingly like mesquite, but definitely worth a go if you can source it. 

You can actually use it to smoke vegetables, beef, lamb and other red meat. It is a very flexible wood.

More Unusual Fruit Woods for Smoking – Orange, Lime and Lemon Woods

Wood from these citrus trees is well worth a mention because they give you a mild to moderate smoke and impart a citrusy, fruity flavour to your meat. They aren’t as strong as applewood but the flavours are unique and worth trying.

They go particularly well with chicken, beef and pork.

Woods to Smoke With – General Tips

  • Always use hardwoods and never soft woods e.g. hickory, alder, maple, mesquite, oak, or pecan, or fruit wood such as apple or cherry. 
  • Avoid wood that looks powdery, rotten, or waterlogged. Don’t use softwoods such as fir, spruce and pine which have a lot of oils and resin which produces thick bitter smoke when they catch fire.
  • Never use wood that is overly green because that means it’s full of moisture and needs to be dried out. 
  • Never use wet wood because it will give you an uneven smoke, making it difficult to control. You want to smoke your meat, not steam it.

We hope you enjoyed this article and that it has given you some wood for thought! It is often going to come down to personal preference so we recommend you get smoking and get experimenting.

If you enjoyed this article on woods for smoking meat you might also enjoy this article on ‘Smoked Burger Recipe.’


Or this one on ‘How to Clean a Grill Grate.’


Another great article on the topic woods for smoking meat can be found here:


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