Smoking Woods

Chunks, chips or dust… Alder, Apple, Beech, Cherry, Hickory, Maple, Oak, or oak soaked in either whiskey or wine – A guide to help you decide.

Using wood chips, chunks, dust or pellets to create smoke is a great way to transform sometimes bland barbecued foods into meals that will have your friends and family begging for more. I often wonder if people pay enough attention to the quality of wood they use for smoking food. Smoke is used as you would a spice or herb on food… to impart flavour, so don’t compromise (you wouldn’t use spices or herbs that were old, or moldy).  A good quality wood, specifically harvested and prepared for barbecuing and food smoking, can make a significant difference. When you chose a wood it’s important to take the following into consideration…

  • Bark – If the wood you use still has the bark on, it will impart a bitter flavour to your food. The bark is also the tree’s protection and often contains stuff like mold, old bug carcasses, bug poo and other unsavory contaminants.
  • Origin – Where the wood comes from is of great importance…
    1. Be friendly to our environment by buying woods that are harvested from sustainable resources.
    2. We often hear of people visiting the local woodworking shop to ask for off-cuts/ shavings, while this may be saving you money, please make sure that the wood you’re getting has not been treated, doesn’t contain traces of oil used to lubricate the saws and hasn’t been swept from the floor.
    3. If you’re harvesting your own wood (the cherry tree has fallen over in the back yard) do not use wood that has been cut with a chainsaw, as most chainsaw blades are lubricated by oil. It’s time consuming and hard work, but if you’re going to use the wood for food smoking, use a hand saw and make sure you remove the bark.
  • Wood Variety – The type of wood you use will make a huge difference. The general “rule of thumb” is that fruit woods are mild and nut woods produce a very strong flavour. See our guide to woods below.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to try different wood varieties to what you’re used to using… In the UK, Oak wood is the most popular wood to use for smoking just about anything (to be honest, oak’s not our favorite). We prefer to use Hickory for chicken and Pork shoulders, Apple for Ribs and Beech for fish. These are just our personal favorites, but bear in mind that the amount of different flavours you can create, by mixing different wood varieties together, is mind boggling.

All woods purchased from Mac’s BBQ are free from bark and are specifically harvested, from sustainable forests, for food smoking.

Guide to Wood varieties

  • Alder – Very delicate with a hint of sweetness. Good with fish, pork, poultry, and light-meat game birds.
  • Apple – Very mild with a subtle fruity flavour, slightly sweet. Good with poultry (turns skin dark brown) and pork.
  • Beech – Light but distinctive flavour. Great with fish!
  • Cherry – Good with poultry, pork and beef. Some say that cherry wood is the best wood for smoking.
  • Hickory – The King of smoking woods. Sweet to strong, heavy bacon flavour. Good with pork, ham and beef.
  • Maple – Smoky, mellow and slightly sweet. Good with pork, poultry, cheese, and small game birds.
  • Oak – The Queen of smoking wood.  good on ribs. Good with red meat, pork, fish and heavy game.
  • Whiskey Oak – Made from oak barrels, imparts the same flavour as Oak, but with a subtle note of whiskey.