"Flavorite" Barbecue Woods

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Barbecue woods that are used vary greatly depending on demographic location and other factors and variables. Two of the favorites from here in the Oklahoma area is hickory and mesquite. In Texas it is predominately mesquite.

I have listed all of the popular types of wood below with a short description of each however I highly recommend that you do not take anyone's word for it (including my own) but that you will experiment and see what works for you.

Types of Barbecue Woods

Apple: Produces a sweet, fruity taste.Good mild wood which works well on poultry and ham. Get it here

Alder: What can I say about this barbecue wood… it is the wood that is greatly preferred for most any fish especially salmon. Get it here

Cherry: Similar to apple… sweet and usually very fruity depending on the age of the wood. Tends to be mild making it a good choice for poultry, fish, and ham. Get it here

Hickory: Probably the most well known woods and while lots of folk may disagree, it tends to be a bit to pungent for my own taste therefore great care must be taken so that it is not overused. Most feel it is excellent on ribs and most red meats. Can also be used very sparingly on cuts of poultry. (should be able to get this at the local hardware/department store)

Maple: Gives a light and sweet taste which best compliments poultry and ham. Get it here

Mesquite: My personal favorite barbecue wood however, great care must be taken or it can become overpowering. Best not used for larger cuts which require longer smoking times but I have been known to be quite successful at it by using it in tandem with another type of wood. (should be able to get this at the local hardware/department store)

Oak: Good choice for larger cuts which require longer smoking times. Produces a strong smoke flavor but usually not overpowering. Good wood for Brisket. Get it here

Pecan: Gives somewhat of a fruity flavor and burns cooler than most other barbecue woods. It is similar to Hickory and is best used on large cuts like brisket and pork roast but can also be used to compliment chops, fish and poultry. Get it here

 

Bottom line… you must experiment to find out what works for you and what does not. The woods that I like will most likely not be the ones you find most tasty and vice versa.

 

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Comments

  1. Aaron Perdue says

    AS A RULE- Coniferous woods are NOT good for smoking woods- with TWO EXEPTIONS. Being from New Mexico I have become accustomed to using a hard pine called Pinon, which when burnt alongside oak or cottonwood does work well- by itself it is very strong and may overpower some pallates. However it is a separate type of pine unrelated to the more common yellow pines like ponderosa, loblolly, or firs and spruces- both of which are turpine rich in resin- and has a more nutty (think pignolias or pine nuts) smoke. It works best with Brisket or other beef/venison products- pork shoulder/loin is ok. Too powerful for poultry.

    New Mexico Cedar is also good for FISH and poultry- namely salmon and trout (caught and smoked plenty of trout and lake salmon in New Mexico with this) For smoking poultry- burn with juniper berries occasionally thrown in the fire.

    Cottonwood is also very good for just about anything- it is a poplar like aspen- and produces similar results. It is softer than most hardwoods however it does put off very dense sweet aromatic smoke that will flavor your favorite cuts nicely. Combine with pinon, pecan/hickory, live oak or mesquite for even more interesting results.

  2. Tony says

    At least jeff Phillips admits right up front that people probably won’t agree with him about what woods taste the best–and he’s RIGHT!! As he said, it’s all subjective–but those of us with preferances are passionate about them!
    Please indulge me for a moment while I carry on a bit and talk to anyone reading as though they are a student of grilling/barbecueing. To those of you who are already old pros, feel free to skip ahead to someone else’s comment…….
    I like to wet my wood chips in a large bowl, submerged in water (regardless of variety of the wood) for at least a half an hour–and longer, if I think of doing it early enough–before placing them directly on already-hot Kingsford charcoal briquettes. The mass quantities of ensuing smoke will ensure that plenty of rich smoke flavor will be infused into your meat(s).
    (No, all charcoal briquettes are NOT created equal! Regular Kingsford are my coals of choice for everyday grilling–and there are other good ones, too. Keep in mind that there are other INFERIOR ones as well, that don’t light easily, burn out quickly, and don’t provide as much heat as the Kingsford coals. Steer clear of off-brand coals from the dollar store (or elsewhere) and steer clear of ANY brand of
    “Match Light” briquettes, which are packaged already over-saturated with harsh-tasting lighter fluid, and which require just a lit match and no additional lighter fluid to light them, and which will ruin the delicate and savory flavors of ALL of your grilled foods with that nasty “lighter fluid taste”. The Match Light coals are a product that is made for people who care more about the convenience of lighting their coals without additional lighter fluid than the actual taste of their food, and as someone who loves the awesome flavors of nicely done grilled/barbecued products, it’s sad to me that there would ever even be a need for such a thing…..
    If you’re using a Weber grill (which I highly recommend for grilling with coals) lay your coals out on the bottom grate in a single layer, and douse SPARINGLY with lighter fluid, quickly coating the face-up side of each coal just once, as you move methodically, moving your stream of fluid over the entire batch of coals, one by one. Technique is important here, as using too much lighter fluid will give your food that same nasty lighter fluid taste–as will squirting your coals repeatedly with lighter fluid–whether before or after you light them. It absolutely kills me to see fools standing there squirting one stream of fluid after another after another onto their lit coals–as if doing so is going to serve some useful purpose…..IT WON’T!!! You are ruining the flavor of your food by doing this!! If you’re a pyromaniac, and you want to waste your lighter fluid on repeated flare-ups inside your Weber, take my advice–do that AFTER you’ve cooked all your food on the grill. You’ll find that your food tastes much better that way…….
    As I said, use just enough fluid to quickly wet your coals ONCE, and don’t the make the mistake of thinking you need to go back over them and douse them again; they’ll already have enough fluid on them after that first dousing. You must make sure to do the dousing right before you intend to light them, though. Don’t douse them and then come back twenty minutes later to light them, as they’ll be harder to get going then, after most of the remnants of the fluid that you squirted on them will have evaporated away. After squirting your coals with the lighter fluid (again, I recommend Kingsford brand lighter fluid–but there are other brands that work well, as well as other brands that DON’T work quite as well), be ready to pile them up in a mound, making sure that every single coal is touching other coals before you light them, and take a match to them within a minute or two after dousing. Don’t wait much longer than that to light them if you want to get a nice flame going which will ignite all of your coals fairly easily. Stand by and watch things as the flame engulfs your briquettes. It should burn off all the lighter fluid within a few minutes, and the flame will eventually dissipate, leaving your coals smoldering with thinly visible gray patches on them, mostly around the corners and edges of each briquette. These tiny gray patches represent the beginnings of what will become full-fledged burning coals; the gray patches will eventually grow in size, and your coals should become completely coated with the ashen gray after about 20 minutes, give or take a little while. When this complete gray coating overcomes your coals, it’s time to cook. Don’t cook before you see that the coals have pretty much become completely gray, as coals that are still black may still have remnants of foul-tasting lighter fluid on them that still needs to burn off. The gray is telling you that that has already happened….
    Now, about the wood…..IMO, hickory is FAR AND AWAY the superior tasting wood to use for grilling/barbecueing when it comes to pork and beef. It also mixes perfectly with alder for smoking salmon in a 50/50 mix (your smoked salmon won’t be perfect if you omit either wood). A mix of hickory and other woods is also good for poultry, and when it comes to the Thanksgiving turkey on the grill, I’m all about straight hickory, and since the big bird takes a few hours of slow roasting using the indirect method (run an internet search for “indirect method of grilling meats” if you don’t know what that is, and it’ll be explained), I always end up placing more soaked hickory chips–as well as more coals–onto the coals that are already lit in the grill. (More coals and more wood chips can be laid directly on top of lit coals without using any more lighter fluid. If the already-lit coals are hot enough, the new added coals will ignite easily, given time, and the wood chips will begin smoking up the joint within a couple of minutes).
    Straight oak can be good with chicken–but again, I don’t have a problem with hickory for poultry, too. Some folks like some of the milder woods; the apple, the cherry, etc., but although I have them, I seldom use them, because hickory and mesquite (mostly hickory) serves my needs nicely, while the subtle flavors of the fruit woods are simply more imperceptible and harder to taste. I want to TASTE that smoke flavor!!’
    Nuff said, now try for yourself….

  3. charles keevert says

    Our son ‘Chef Tex’ Smokes all kinds of meat and says Mesquite is his preference. He says any kind of fruit wood is acceptable for sweetness.

  4. Stephen says

    I had a neighbor’s huge magnolia limb fall into my yard during the recent ice storm here in Georgia. Can magnolia be used as a smoking wood?

    Thanks.

  5. Alex says

    I had some wood given to me, I believe it is Beech, from what I can tell from the bark. I usually smoke with Oak or Pecan, can this Beech be used to smoke with? I have never heard of Beech being used and thought I would get an opinion on it. Thanks

    • says

      Also known as a hedge apple, the osage orange wood has a lot of debate around whether it should be used as a smoking wood or not. Some say it is wonderful while others say you should leave it alone due to the fact that it is known to contain some skin irritating toxins in the non-edible fruit it produces.

      I would not use it personally but then I try to err on the side of safety most times.

      I would certainly like to see a good scientific article written on it’s use as a wood to cook with and how safe that would be.

      For now, I plan to leave it alone personally ;-)

  6. Dick says

    Jeff,

    I ordered some guava wood from Hawaii and found it great for smoking fish and brisket. The flavor is more pronounced with fish as it would be. Slightly sweeter. Have you ever tried this wood in your smoking?

    Dick

  7. tony melendrez says

     hi i usually use apple wood to smoke ribs , chicken, pork , what do u think of alder wood for same kind of meats.  thanks  SMOKIN TONY BOULDER CREEK CA

  8. Bill says

    Water with pecans picked on the ground and a little bit if aromatic cedar to get the heat started after that wet pecan and some slow burning wet! Hickory to finish it off is the BEST finish her off with a slow burning not so hot wood like oak" not kiln dried" and if that's not available use sycamore wet! In a river for your smoke it will give it a natural smoke but not that I want to kill my cook taste, salt and pepper is all you need for the seasoning let me know why you think. I would love your input even if it was with a different concoction 

  9. donald says

    I remember when i was young im now 67 but we had a smoke house and smoked half hogs big hogs,also lamb,goad chickens boy were they good.

    • says

      In my experience, any kind of cherry is wonderful smoking wood. Even the ornamental variety works great. Be sure to let it season in the dry for 4-6 months before using it. A good way to know that it is ready to use is that it will feel lighter than it did when it was green and it will usually have cracks that “spider” out from the center of the wood toward the outside.

    • Tom Koller says

      Another wood is black walnut. It has a dry tart taste. I would not use it with beef. It is good with chicken. It is amazing with pork ribs and cooked on sauce. Think of it as a balancing flavor, like the hops in an ale.

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