Best Wood for Smoking [2020 Guide]

Finding the right type of wood for smoking is essential.

And no, we don’t mean finding wood and putting it in a cigarette for actual smoking, (although each to their own.)

We’re talking about the ancient and time-proven method of adding flavor to food as it cooks over a fire, to achieve that smokey deliciousness that makes cooking in a barbecue so worth it.

Of course, it has to be said that not all woods were created equal when it comes to creating the best and most suitable smoke for cooking, so it’s important to use the right type to ensure you get that smokey barbecue meat on point.

The best way to experiment and try out different woods for smoking is by using a grill and barbecue, and you don’t even have to go out into the forest to chop your own wood, because there’s plenty of it on offer in the market, labeled and packed so you can have your pick!

We’ve compiled a list with our top picks for wood that’s great for smoking, so you can buy your favorite option and try it out yourself.

We’ve also put together a simple buyer’s guide, in which we summarize the best types of wood for smoking, and what types of food they suit the most!

You’ll be getting that added smokey flavor down to perfection in no time!

In a hurry?

As a general rule, any wood that you find that is hard and has no residue of resin or tree sap is good for creating smoke. But different woods will have different flavored smoke, and different types of meat and foods will suit those different types of flavored smoke.

It really is a whole world of learning about wood types and suitable combinations.

Unless you’ve properly delved into that world and have become an experienced forest ranger that lives off cooking meat over a fire, we don’t expect you to know everything about every type of wood, so we’ve done the research ourselves to help you out.

If you’re in a hurry to get going, we recommend you go straight for our number one top pick: the Traeger Grills Signature Blend of 100% all-natural hardwood pellets.

This pre-selected bag of hardwood pellets is a blend of hickory, maple and cherry wood, which is ideal for cooking meat, especially beef and pork.

It’s 100% natural, and has been sustainably sourced and manufactured in the USA. It’s also been designed to have the perfect amount of moisture, so you get that excellent quality blue smoke for flavoring.

Here are the main features:

  • Blend of hickory, maple and cherry wood
  • Sustainably sourced and manufactured
  • 100% natural
  • Perfect blue smoke for flavoring

Our winner after 35+ hours of research

Best Wood for Smoking - Comparison Table

Best Wood for Smoking - Our Reviews

Traeger Grills PEL331 Signature Blend 100% All-Natural Hardwood Pellets - Grill, Smoke, Bake, Roast, Braise, and BBQ (20 lb. Bag)

#1. Our Overall Top Pick

Our Rating

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The Traeger Grills Signature Blend is a pre-selected and packed bag that comes with a blend of 100% all natural hardwood pellets, that are perfect for use in a grill and barbecue!

Super easy to use, you just pop the hardwood pellets in instead of the coal, and you have yourself a barbecue that will smoke your food into deliciousness.

The blend includes hickory, maple, and cherry hardwood, and is perfect to enhance the flavor of your meat, especially if you’re cooking beef or pork, as those are the meats that best suit those woods.

This product is also sustainably sourced and manufactured in the USA, with no fillers or unnatural additives.

They’ve also been designed to have the perfect amount of moisture, to achieve that blue smoke, ideal for the best results. 

Pros

  • Pre-selected blend of woods
  • Hickory, maple and cherry
  • Sustainablly sourced and manufactured in USA
  • 100% Natural
  • Blue Smoke

Cons

  • Lacks in versatility
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Bear Mountain BBQ 100% All-Natural Hardwood Pellets - Gourmet Blend (20 lb. Bag) Perfect for Pellet Smokers, or Any Outdoor Grill | Rich, Smoky Wood-Fired Flavor

#2. Runner Up

Our Rating

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The Bear Mountain BBQ 100% All Natural has been designed so that it works great with almost any meat or fish, with a blend that adds a balanced sweetness to the smokey flavor.

Ideal if you’re cooking an array of different foods at the same time! It’s a bag full of 100% natural hardwood pellets, with no fillers or unnatural additives.

The wood is a blend of hickory, maple, cherry and oak, and customers swear that they are yet to find a type of meat or fish that it doesn’t work with.

The pellets are slightly fatter than other pellet designs, and they’ve been prepared with 5% of moisture, to give off perfect clear smoke when burning on the grill and barbecue. 

Pros

  • 100% natural
  • Blend of hickory, maple, cherry and oak
  • Versatile, suitable for any food
  • Perfect clear smoke for flavoring

Cons

  • Not as good for specialized flavoring
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Western BBQ Smoking Wood Chips Variety Pack Bundle (4)- Apple, Mesquite, Hickory, and Cherry Flavors

#3. Runner Up

Our Rating

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The Western BBQ Smoking Wood provides a bundle of different wood chips, that come packaged in different bags of several types of wood, so that you’re presented with a good and handy selection.

It works great with both electric and gas grills, and the selection of woods allows you to try out different types, depending on what you’re cooking, and you can even mix-match and experiment until you find the combinations that you personally prefer.

The selection has been picked according to the most popular flavors, with apple, mesquite, hickory and cherry wood chips.

They’re all natural, with no added flavorings, so you get the best quality of smoking.

We really recommend them for those that are smoking food for the first time, as it works as a tester of the most popular types of woods.

Pros

  • Bundle with different selections
  • Apple, mesquite, hickory and cherry wood chips
  • 100% natural
  • Great option for testing different wood types

Cons

  • Individual bags are quite small
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Zorestar Wood Chips for Smokers - 6 pcs Variety Pack of Oak | Alder | Cherry | Apple Chips for Smoking and Grilling + Bonus e-Book

#4. Runner Up

Our Rating

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The ZoreStar Wood Chips for Smokers offers another bundle pack with a variety of different wood types to use, so it also serves as a taster for different woods of sorts.

This bundle comes with 6 different individual bags, with a selection of two bags of apple, two bags of cherry, a bag of oak, and a bag of alder wood chips.

They’re all 100% natural, with no added fillers or additives, and they’re ideal for those that want to create their own personalized blends, or for those that simply want to test each different wood with different foods.

They can be used with both electric and gas grills. They also come in eco friendly packaging, that has been designed so you can use it to start the fire the next time around!

Sustainable, and useful!

Pros

  • Bundle with different selections
  • Apple, cherry, oak and alder wood chips
  • 100% natural
  • Eco Friendly packaging that can be burnt

Cons

  • Individual bags are quite small
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Oklahoma Joe's Hickory Wood Smoker Chips, 2-Pound Bag

#5. Runner Up

Our Rating

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Oklahoma Joe’s Hickory Wood is a 2lb bag of hickory smoker chips that are excellent quality and 100% natural, with no fillers or additives. This wood type goes great with meats such as pork, beef and lamb.

However, hickory adds quite a strong flavoring with its smoke, so it shouldn't be used in huge amounts. (Unless you’re aiming for a very strong flavor, of course.)

If you’re specifically looking for hickory wood, because you know that’s what works for your flavoring, then we recommend you get this product, as it is known to burn for a long time and therefore gives you more smoke for less.

It can be used with electric, gas and charcoal grills.

Pros

  • Excellent specialized quality
  • Hickory wood
  • 100% natural
  • Long-burning

Cons

  • Only one type of wood
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Best Wood for Smoking - Buyers Guide

The best way to get acquainted with the types of wood for smoking, and the different flavors they can add to your food, is by trying them out yourself and experimenting with the use of a barbecue and grill.

As you’ve seen in our list of top picks, there are plenty of options for hardwood pellets and wood chips on offer in the market, neatly packed and classified so you can easily test out different woods with your food, to reach a personal flavor or a unique blend of smokey flavor.

But when starting out, so many options can be confusing and overwhelming, and you really don’t want your first few attempts to go badly.

That is why it’s better to start off with the best possible wood, that is known for having excellent results and getting your food to a great taste. 

In this buyer’s guide, we’ll explain the different types of wood that are good for smoking, as well as what types of meat can be best paired with them for the tastiest result.

We’ll also break down the main factors you should consider when choosing the wood for your BBQ, and we hope you’ll become an expert over time and experience!

TYPES OF WOOD FOR SMOKING:

Different woods will have different smoke flavors, and will therefore suit different types of foods.

It’s important to know what works best with what, not only to achieve the tastiest results, but to avoid food disasters such as smoking something with the wrong flavor, which might completely ruin the eating experience. 

When choosing your wood, you should always make sure you get 100% natural woods, to ensure that you’re getting the authentic outdoors flavor, rather than something fake and potentially harmful.

When starting out, you should also begin in small quantities, testing small amounts of wood and making sure to catch a scent of the smoke, so you begin to familiarize with the different types as you are cooking on the grill. 

Here are the most used and most popular, different types of wood, and the foods they suit the most:

  • Alder: this wood has a very light flavor, traditionally used for smoking salmon. It works exceptionally well with all types of fish, but is also suitable for poultry, pork and beef.
  • Apple:  this wood gives off a very fruity and sweet flavor, that is quite mild and subtle. It works well with poultry and pork, but is often also used with seafood and lamb to add some sweetness. Be aware that it will discolor chicken skin and turn it dark brown, but this is completely normal (and delicious!) 
  • Cherry: this is one of the most popular and commonly used woods, as it goes with almost any type of food. It adds a very mildly sweet flavor, and enhances natural flavorings. 
  • Hickory: this wood creates a smoke with one of the strongest flavorings, so it is recommended to be used in smaller quantities and for less time. It goes exceptionally well with meats such as beef, pork and lamb.
  • Maple: this wood gives off a fruity light flavor that is most commonly used for smoking ham. It is also very suitable for poultry, and can be used for smoking vegetables, to enhance their flavor and give them some extra taste.
  • Mesquite: this wood creates the strongest tasting smoke, and therefore is not recommended for long uses or in big amounts. It is extremely popular in grill restaurants, and goes really well with beef and pork.
  • Mulberry: this wood gives a very similar flavoring to apple, and it is especially suitable for pork.
  • Oak: this is one of the most versatile woods when it comes to flavorings, as it is a very strong taste that never overpowers the natural flavor of the food you’re cooking. It works great with any type of meat or seafood. 
  • Peach: similar to hickory wood, but the flavoring is a lot sweeter and less noticeable. It works especially well with poultry and pork.
  • Pear: almost identical to apple in flavoring, sweet and mild. It is most commonly used with poultry and pork.
  • Pecan: this wood provides a very subtle and gentle flavor, which makes it a very good addition to blend in with other woods. It’s a milder version of hickory and works really well with beef, pork and poultry.
  • Walnut: this wood produces very thick and heavy smoke, therefore it is recommended to use it in a blend with other milder woods, so that it balances out and doesn’t overpower the natural flavoring. It works exceptionally well with stronger tasting meats such as beef and pork.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING YOUR WOOD:

Food suitability:

When you’re buying wood chips or hardwood pellets, you need to take into consideration the type of food you’re planning on smoking, as the different types of wood will add different types of flavor that will go well with certain meats or fish.

Once you get more accustomed to which type of wood fits what food, you’ll be able to start blending different woods to create perfect mixtures that enhance the flavors even more. 

Amount of wood:

Some products come with a pre-selected blend of different woods in one, that is ideal for adding a tested mixture of flavors.

Other products come with a bundle, with a few different individual bags of different wood types, which is a great option for you to mix and match flavors yourself, or for testing out smoke flavors for the first time if you’re a beginner.

If you’re looking for a specific type of wood, then go straight to buying just that single wood. 

Smoke:

The reason for which using hardwood pellets or wood chips in your grill is a great idea, is because the smoke the woods produce add a unique and enhanced flavoring to the food you’re cooking.

It gives it the authentic outdoors taste that makes barbecue events a million times better and way more delicious. Therefore, it’s pretty important to be able to achieve good smoke with the wood you buy.

The smoke will vary according to the type of wood, but there’s also a bit of science that goes into it. The more moisture wood has, the more smoke it will produce.

However, too much moisture will kill the wood and won’t be good for flavoring. Getting the right percentage is vital for that perfect smokey effect. 

Different products will have different percentages of moisture in their wood, but the average tends to be around 5%. What you want is blue smoke or a clear and continuous flow of normal smoke. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you soak wood before smoking?

There’s a very popular misconception, that goes around in the form of a pro-tip, that states that you should soak your wood chips for an hour before smoking.

This is completely unnecessary and there is no need whatsoever to soak your wood before smoking. The only thing that soaked wood is better for, is producing steam, which won’t be good for flavoring your food. 

Besides, most wood chips that are sold already come specifically designed with a certain percentage of moisture, to ensure the best quality of smoke, so soaking them will just ruin them.

Can wood be too old for smoking?

Technically, wood can never be too old for smoking, as long as it has been kept dry and it is still hard and solid enough.

If it has been stored in a damp area, on the other hand, it will have picked up too much moisture and will likely be rotten and unusable. 

You should also note, that although still usable, older wood might not give off the same amount of flavor in its smoke, so it’s always better to stick to fresher wood.