Best Wood for Smoking

February 26, 2020

Today’s post is a full breakdown on the best wood for smoking. We’ll cover different types of wood, flavors, and the best wood for each type of meat you’re planning on smoking.

collage of wood pellets, wood chunks, and wood chips for smoking

Best Wood for Smoking

Diving right in, what is the best wood to use for smoking? This isn’t necessarily a simple answer.

To begin, always smoke with hardwood and never with softwood. Generally, hardwood comes from trees that lose their leaves every year. Softwood comes from trees that remain evergreen. Hardwood trees typically grow more slowly, so they tend to be more dense. You need dense hardwoods for smoking because when they are properly seasoned (dried) they combust and smolder at a slower rate and release clean smoke that makes food taste great!

Softwoods not only burn up more quickly in a fire, they also tend to contain more sap and moisture which releases acrid grey or black smoke. This will make your food taste like a campfire. Not delicious. Softwoods also tend to pop and spit and have a lot more ash than hardwoods.

Best Hardwoods for Smoking

The most common wood types for smoking BBQ are the hard woods that grow commonly across the United States. Every region has a different wood type they use based on what is readily available in that area. In general, you’ll see these types of wood:

  • Hickory
  • Oak
  • Alder
  • Maple
  • Mesquite
  • Pecan
  • Walnut
  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Peach
  • Pear

pile of wood pellets for smoking

Types of Wood for Smoking

There are as many methods for smoking as there are types of smokers. Each type of smoker requires a different fuel source to keep them up and running. There are 4 common varieties of wood used for smoking BBQ:

  1. Logs. In general, larger offset smokers use whole wood logs to create both the heat and the smoke needed to make great BBQ. Logs (depending on density and size) will burn for 45 minutes to an hour and a half in a well insulated firebox.
  2. Chunks. These are often used in conjunction with charcoal, where a bed of hot coals supply the heat while the wood chunks placed on top burn slowly and create smoke and add a little bit to the heat inside the smoker. Chunks work well in smaller smokers like drums, ceramic kamado style cookers, and smaller offset smokers.
  3. Chips. Chips are used to create light and steady smoke. Commonly used on top of charcoal, inside of electric or propane smokers, or in pouches on gas grills, chips generate a lot of smoke very quickly. They tend to burn much faster and need replacing often. Chips are not designed to create heat in a smoker. 
  4. Pellets. Made of compressed hardwood sawdust, pellets provide both the heat and the smoke in designated pellet smokers. Hardwood pellets for BBQ are different than heating pellets for stoves (which are not to be used in cooking applications). Pellets can also be used to create cold smoke in a variety of grills with a tube smoker accessory. Many pellets are made from blends of different hardwoods and some brands use flavored oils in their blends, so read labels closely to make sure you are getting the type of wood you want.

pile of wood chunks for smoking

Best Wood Pellets for Smoking

Next, let’s break down the best wood to use for each meat you might be planning on smoking. This is where flavor plays a major role and can make or break the way your meat tastes once it’s fully cooked.

Best Wood for Smoking Brisket

When smoking brisket, my favorites include oak and cherry. Oak will give you a classic Texas BBQ flavor, and cherry provides a gorgeous mahogany color as well as awesome flavor. Try these suggestions with the following recipes:

Texas Style Smoked Beef Brisket
Brisket Burnt Ends
Coffee Rub Brisket

Best Wood for Smoking Turkey

For turkey, try out hickory or apple woods. Hickory is a classic with turkey, and I like apple because it is light and pairs with my apple spice turkey brine like a champ. Pair these woods with the following recipes, and I’m sure you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised at the awesome taste.

Smoked Turkey
Spatchcock Smoke Roasted Turkey
Smoked Turkey Legs

Best Wood for Smoking Ribs

I like fruit woods like apple, peach, and cherry when smoking ribs. Ribs are thin and take on a lot of smoke, so I prefer to keep wood flavors light. Todd loves a stronger, bolder smoke on ribs so he tends to use oak or hickory. Check out a few rib recipes below and decide what your favorites are.

Smoked Beef Ribs
3-2-1 Smoked Ribs
Smoked Pork Ribs

Best Wood for Smoking Chicken

Poultry is the great base flavor to take on any wood smoke you’d like and will work with most woods. I personally suggest staying away from super strong woods like mesquite or even hickory when smoking chicken. They can overwhelm the mild chicken flavor. Anything else should make for some tasty chicken. Try them out on these recipes:

Smoked Chicken Legs
Whiskey Peach Smoked Pulled Chicken
Smoked Whole Chicken

Best Wood for Smoking Fish

When smoking fish, I like light woods like maple, alder, and pecan. Maple reminds me of Canada and the north where salmon congregate. It is a great option for fish. Alder and pecan also add a great flavor to many varieties of fish.

Smoked Salmon with Maple Orange Glaze
Smoked Trout
Cold Smoked Salmon

Best Wood for Smoking Pork

I tend to play around with pork and use a combo of oak or hickory and a fruit wood like cherry or apple. Since pork is a mild meat and large cuts like pork shoulder stay on the smoker for a long time, you can really taste different types of wood smoke. Pork is a good option for experimenting with the following recipes:

Smoked Pork Crown Roast with a Garlic Herb Crust
Easy Smoked Pork Chops
Smoked Pork Sirloin Roast

Best Wood for Smoking Cheese

Last up, when you’re planning on smoking some cheese, I prefer using mild wood varieties. My favorites are apple, cherry, maple, or pecan.

Smoked Gouda
How to Smoke Cheese
Smoked Mac and Cheese

pile of wood chips for smoking

Where to Buy Wood for Smoking?

Once you decide what type and flavor of wood you want, the next question becomes where to buy the wood? Logs are the hardest to find, but doing a quick internet search for local BBQ wood suppliers often turns up several results. Your best bet is to try and find wood that is local and regional to you. Chances are you’ll pay less as well!

Chunks can be found online or at most BBQ supply stores. 

Chips are also found online, but we have been seeing them recently in our local grocery stores near the charcoal. They are small and easy to stock on shelves.

Wood pellets vary based on brand. Some you can only order online or through a local dealer, others are readily available at your grocery store or BBQ pro shop.


Making some epic BBQ should be easy, and Hey Grill Hey is here to help! I’m all about helping you make better BBQ, feed the people you love, and become a backyard BBQ hero. If you want to see more of my recipes, tips, and behind the scenes action, follow along on my social channels. You can find me on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube!

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9 thoughts on “Best Wood for Smoking

  1. Hey Grill, Hey!
    One variable I’m wondering about in this new world of flavoured smoking, is quantity.
    I have a medium BGE and used pecan chips for a large chicken, and never noticed the pecan at all. Any rules of thumb for quantity of chips given what I’m cooking or time I’m smoking?

    1. The meat only takes on smoke for the first 3 hours or so of the cook. I’d suggest using more chips if you aren’t tasting the smoke flavor and keep the smoke on it through the whole cook, even though you don’t really have to!

  2. You named all these woods to smoke with, but here in Texas we like Mesquite wood gives a great taste and also a flavorful smoke ring on any type of meat.

  3. Susie, I have been trying your 3-2-1 method for St Louis ribs recently. For whatever reason, once I remove the ribs from the two hour braising period, the ribs drop
    In temperature from about 180 to 150. I cannot seem to get them back up to a finished temperature 195-203. I have a Weber Summit 600 series with a smoke box . I use pellets with. Pellets last much longer than chips.
    I try to maintain a temperature of 225-240 for the cook. I realize you use a low temperature but my unit will not do that. My ribs are not done after 6 hours!

    Any idea what I am doing wrong? Help Please

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