A wood smoker is and will forever be the best way to smoke food. There is a bit of a learning curve if you are used to using a charcoal, gas or electric smoker but the results are worth the time and effort you put into learning this fine art.
I think the biggest mistake pitmasters make in using a wood burning smoker is in building too big of a fire.
I have always recommended starting with around 3 sticks of wood and using proper air flow to maintain a 220-240 degree temperature.
I generally start with the exhaust opened all or almost all the way and the inlet open about a third of the way.
This induces proper air flow and allows the burning wood to become a hot bed of coals that will remain at a constant temperature for several hours with minimal maintenance.
Proper air flow is imparitive to preventing creosote from building up on the meat and on the inside of the wood smoker. The smoke must be allowed to move into the smoker kissing the meat genly as it passes over and then be allowed to escape effortlessly thru the full open exhaust.
In the event that the smoker gets out of control you can spray the coals with some water to cool it down but be careful to not stir up the coals or you will have ashes all over your precious meat.
As far as what wood to use… that is a matter of personal taste. I love mesquite but I usually mix it with apple or oak at a 1:3 ratio to prevent it from overpowering the meat. You can use hickory, apple, oak, pecan and most other fruit and nut woods without the smoke becoming too strong.
Experience will be the best teacher in the proper use of your wood smoker and you will soon discover what you and your family like best.
Click here to learn how to build and maintain a fire in your wood smoker.