What's the Best Wood for Smoking Different Types of BBQ?

From ribs to brisket to chicken, learn what kind of logs provide optimal flavor

One of the most common questions we get here at SmokerBuilder is: “What kind of wood should I use in my smoker?” Whether you’re using a stick burner or a drum smoker to cook your barbecue, choosing the right kind of wood is important — but don’t worry, this isn’t a pass/fail situation. What type of wood you use mostly depends on your taste and what’s available to you.

However, there are a few basic guidelines to keep in mind to produce the best BBQ possible.



LOOK FOR DRIED HARDWOODS


The best types of wood for cooking barbecue are dried hardwoods with low sap, which includes all your fruit woods (apple, cherry, etc.) as well as maple, pecan, oak, hickory, etc. What you want to avoid are softwoods like spruce, pine, or fir. Those woods contain a lot of sap and other stuff that can give your meat strange, off-flavors, so definitely steer clear.

You also want to make sure that your wood has been properly dried. Wood that’s too wet burns differently and it’ll give your barbecue an unpleasant taste.


WHAT WOOD PAIRS BEST WITH EACH MEAT?


If you’re looking for info on what kind of wood you should use to smoke a certain meat, here’s a quick guide. This list starts with one of the most mild woods out there, maple, and then they’re arranged by intensity of flavor (with mesquite being a very intense wood flavor that you want to use carefully and only for short cooks).


MAPLE: turkey, chicken

CHERRY: turkey, chicken, pork

APPLE: chicken, pork, bacon

OAK: brisket, beef, sausage

PECAN: brisket, ribs

HICKORY: ribs, pork shoulder, chicken, beef

MESQUITE: beef


You can also combine different types of wood to create your own unique flavor profile. For example, you can try using a more mild wood like cherry in combination with a smaller amount of a stronger wood like hickory.


THE MOST VERSATILE WOOD TO USE FOR BBQ


If you just want to buy one kind of wood that will work well for any kind of barbecue across the spectrum, make it oak. Oak has a nice strong flavor that lets you know it’s there, but in general it won’t overpower your meat. It goes especially well with brisket, which is why you’ll see a lot of the famous Texas pitmasters using oak!


BUT DON’T OBSESS OVER YOUR WOOD CHOICE…


Now all this being said, your mind might be racing a million miles a minute thinking about all the different wood options you’ve got to try. But know that your wood choice is only a small part of the game. What wood you pick definitely has an effect on your final product, but what’s more important is your smoking technique. How you manage your fire will help the biggest impact on how good your barbecue is.


If you want to hone your fire management skills so you can make amazing barbecue in your back yard, check out our new Fire Management 101 course where we’ll teach you everything you need to know including how to select your wood, start your smoker, maintain temperature, and even clean up after your cook! 


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