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If you eat out at your favorite restaurant for BBQ or smoked entrees, you appreciate that great smoky wood taste that accompanies a fantastic cut of meat. And since you enjoy grilling at home, you’d like to reproduce your smoked meats right in your back yard for family and friends as well. This tradition goes back to the Stone Age! Smoking with wood to prepare meat and fish is a process that originated during the Paleolithic era.
While in more modern times in Western countries, you often find smokehouses on farms that used AC to smoke and store meats, poultry, and pork because smoking meats keeps them better preserved. With industrial progress, this aspect became less important, but the desire for that great smoky taste endures to this day. We’ve developed an in-depth guide to assist you in creating your high smoked meat, poultry, pork, and fish dishes at home using smoking wood.
Choosing your smoker
With hundreds of smokers on the market to choose from, if you don’t already own a smoker, you may be asking yourself, ‘how do I choose’? You may want a grill that doubles as both a grill and a smoker. You may prefer gas as opposed to charcoal, or you may just want a smoker grill that is easy and convenient to use. Types of smokers available include barrel smokers, charcoal smokers, electric smokers, gas smokers, kamado smokers, stovetop smokers, water smokers, pellet smokers, and maybe a few more, in multiple sizes depending on how much food you wish to cook. You’ll need to identify your needs in terms of what the smoker or grill can do, the size both for space where you’re going to place it, and how much food you want to cook, as well as budget, style, and preferred smoking method.
Hard or softwood?
Hardwood, without a doubt. You can smoke with softwood, but it will require more wood as it burns faster, especially if you’re using wood pellets, wood chunks, or wood chips in the smoker. Softwood is a product of trees that remain evergreen and don’t lose their leaves annually. They tend to retain more moisture or sap and spit quite a bit when burned, producing smoke that is acrider. Softwood generally produces more ash, and the smoke flavor may not be what you were aiming for. On the other hand, hardwood comes from trees that have a slower growth speed and lose their leaves annually. Adequately dried, hardwood combusts more slowly when smoking meat, poultry, or pork, and the smoke is cleaner, providing your meat or fish with a better taste.
Types of smoking woods
The most common types of smoking woods include:
- Chips. Wood chips create light smoke quickly and are often placed on top of a charcoal bed, but can be used in electric, gas, and propane grill smokers. Wood chips are not designed to be a heat source and must be replaced often, as they burn quickly.
- Chunks. Wood chunks are often mixed in with charcoal. While the charcoal produces the heat, the wood chunks contribute to heat supply and create a strong flavor. Chunks can be used in kamado, drum, and offset barrel smokers.
- Logs. In larger sized offset barrel cookers, grillers may use entire logs because they supply both the heat and the smoke and can last up to over an hour in a smoker grill that is insulated well.
- Pellets. Hardwood pellets of sawdust that are pressed, supply both the heat source and the smoke. They are not the same wood pellets used in stoves for heating. Pellets can come in various blends of hardwood, so label reading becomes essential, and these can create cold smoke if the grill has a tube smoker among its accessories.
Tips for smoking wood flavors
Types of smoking wood generally available across the U.S. include:
Which type of wood for which kind of meat or fish?
The choice of the correct wood will decide the success of your meal. Here are some tried and true suggestions to get you started.
- Brisket. We like cherry, which provides a beautiful burnished color to go along with great BBQ taste. Oak will offer a traditional BBQ flavor. The combination of hickory and oak together will add a different twist. Never smoke your brisket for more than half of your total cooking time.
- Chicken. Any type of poultry offers a terrific flavor base for smoking. Intense flavor wood smoke like hickory or mesquite could overwhelm the taste of turkey. If you want something other than fruit woods, try maple, which will provide a lovely burnished color to any poultry.
- Fish. Lighter wood smoke flavors like alder, maple, or pecan are particularly indicated where fish are concerned, whether Flounder, Sea Bass, Snapper, Tuna, or even Walleye. Salmon and Trout have higher fat content, and Alderwood is the standard choice, but apple wood for smoking, cherry, maple, or oak work well, too.
- Pork. Pork meat lends itself to just about any type of wood smoke or even a combination. More substantial cuts will require more time in the smoker so you can easily experiment with applewood smoke for a sweet flavor, or other combinations to find your ideal flavor. Fruity smoking woods offer a lovely smoked flavor without overwhelming the taste of the meat.
- Ribs. As rib meat tends to be thinner, fruity smoking wood like apple, cherry, or peach will hit the spot. For those who prefer a stronger smoky flavor, particularly with pork ribs, hickory and oak are tried and true standards in rib preparation.
- Turkey. While hickory wood is a classic in preparing a turkey, apple wood smoke offers a light flavor that pairs well with various side dishes.
- Cheese. As cheese often has its own distinctive or strong taste, a mild wood like apple, cherry maple and pecan can easily add a delightfully smoky taste without overwhelming the cheese or creating a conflict with the flavor.
Avoiding and correcting problems when smoking
The wrong cut of meat. Don’t just grab an inexpensive cut from your supermarket bin for smoking meat. Choose the very best cut of meat that your budget allows. Talk to your butcher about what you want to achieve.
Choose the Right Type of Wood. Fruity wood is usually a safe choice if you’re just starting.
Grill temperature. Get a good thermometer or choose a smoker with a good thermometer incorporated and keep an eye on what’s happening. You’ll want a temperature that remains steady between 225 to 250°F. On charcoal, smokers adjust your dampers.
Limit adjustments while smoking. Your objective is to maintain a steady temperature, so resist opening the lid too often and make as few adjustments as possible. Too much heat will risk making your meat tough once cooked. Don’t intervene if you notice a temperature stall; keep the temperature steady.
Too smoky. Resist using too much smoking wood, whether hickory, pecan, oak, or other wood. Less is more, and you can start with approximately two ounces of wood chips and adjust from there. Plus, if the smoke smells terrible, your meat will too.
Allow adequate time. Smoking is not to be rushed. If you have limited time, smoke for a couple of hours, then wrap your meat in aluminum foil and end cooking it in the oven at 325°F until well done.
Lighter Fluid. If you’ve chosen a charcoal smoker, avoid igniting your charcoal with lighter fluid, which releases foul odors that will transfer to your smoking wood and meat. Invest in a chimney starter or opt for lighter wood chips with some scrunched-up paper towels.
Can you use any wood for smoking?
No, hardwood is preferable to softwood. Depending on the kind of meat or fish you’re cooking, the type of wood you smoke will make all the difference in the final result in terms of taste.
How do you prepare wood for smoking?
If you are not purchasing wood chips specially prepared and sold for smoking and wish to use your own, wood should be seasoned for at least a year or about six months if it is split. You should not soak your wood, because the wood must eliminate any moisture to produce smoke and strong flavor.
What is the best wood for smoking chicken?
Fruit woods or maple wood chips are more indicated for chicken and poultry for a delicate taste.
What wood should you not smoke with?
Cedar, cypress, fir, pine, redwood, and spruce should be avoided because they contain quite a bit of sap that, when burned, can cause a strange taste and even make you ill. Elm, eucalyptus, sassafras, and sycamore or wood chips with liquid amber are also not suitable for smoking wood choices.
We hope our guide will assist you in beginning your smoking activities at home, whether you’re prepping pork, poultry, meat, fish, or something else, and help you achieve those tremendous smoky wood flavors that you usually have to go to a restaurant to enjoy.
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