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How to Choose the Best Wood for Smoking Your Favorite Foods

Central BBQ logo on a background of wood


Before you can be hailed as the barbecue guru by your friends, and certainly before you sign-up for your first BBQ competition, you must have an understanding of the best wood for smoking delicious meat! Using different types of wood for smoking is important because of how wood can affect the tenderness, texture, and flavor of the meat in your smoker.

What are the key things you should know about different types of wood for smoking?

  • What are the typical types of wood for smoking meat?
  • How does wood affect the flavor of the meat?
  • When to use different types of wood for smoking?

As an example, mesquite is a very popular wood used in Texas barbecue because it goes perfectly with dark meats and is ideal for making duck, wild game, and brisket.

On the other hand, if you wanted to smoke a delicious Memphis-style rack of ribs, the ideal type of wood for smoking would be hickory, pecan, or a mixture of both to draw out the rich pork flavor.

There are endless combinations of wood and meat that you can try, and we encourage everyone to experiment to find your ideal pairing. If you’re looking for a place to start, here's an easy guide to help you understand the different types of wood and how they can impact your product's flavor profile.

What are the typical types of wood for smoking meat?

Selecting a type of wood really depends on the type of meat being smoked and the flavor you are looking for.

There are several types of wood for smoking meat but we’ll touch on four of the most common types:

  • Oak
  • Maple
  • Hickory
  • Mesquite

How does wood affect the flavor of the meat?

While you may think wood is only a source of heat for cooking, it actually does a lot more. Wood produces smoke, and the smoke flavors the meat. This is an important concept to understand because if you smoke your meat correctly, you may decide sauce isn’t necessary. That’s why the Central BBQ mantra is “Smoke is our Sauce.”

When wood is burned it releases smoke that contains two key gasses that are crucial for any type of BBQ. Keep in mind also, different types of wood will produce different amounts of smoke. For example, mesquite produces more smoke than hickory.

The temperature at which the wood burns also affects the flavor of the smoke. For example, the smoke will be more bitter if the wood is burned at a higher temperature. Time is another important factor in the smoking process because the longer the meat is exposed to the smoke, the more flavor it will have but you’ll only have a few hours to have the smoke actually penetrate into the product vs just adding exterior bark flavor.

When to use different types of wood for smoking?


Most people would say oak is their favorite wood for smoking. It's a very versatile wood that can be used with almost any type of meat. But with oak’s strong, bold flavor it is preferred for red meats.

When should you use oak wood for smoking?

In addition to red meat, it’s also a good choice for pork, sausage, and chicken. If you want to add a little extra flavor to your meat, try using our signature BBQ Shake.

The smoky flavor of oak is stronger than cherry and apple wood but lighter compared to hickory. Post-oak and live-oak are the most popular types of oak used for smoking.


Some say maple wood adds sweetness to the meat, but in our opinion, it has more of a neutral flavor. It’s all a matter of personal preference, but either way, it's a fantastic wood option to use if you want to add flavor to your meat without overpowering it.

When should you use Maple wood for smoking?

The aroma of maple wood is one of the most pleasant aspects, and that makes it a great choice of wood for smoking if you’re around a lot of guests in your back yard. Maple is a good all-around wood that can be used for most meats, poultry, and fish. However, it shines best when used on delicate foods like cheese, vegetables, and fish.


Hickory is a popular wood for smoking meats, imparting a strong flavor. It's also a good choice for grilling, as it can withstand high heat without burning.

Hickory gives a sweet, yet strong bacon-flavor flavor to the meat, which is more intense than cherry, apple, or alder wood. However, its profile is milder compared to mesquite wood.

The main reason most people prefer using hickory is that it gives a dark color to the meat. Its flavor is also stronger than oak. Sometimes, oak and hickory are used together to achieve a more balanced flavor. You can use hickory chips or chunks to add a mild woody flavor to Brie, gouda, and other semi-soft cheeses.

When working with an offset smoker, sticks and split logs do a good job of acting as smoker box fuel. Meanwhile, hickory chunks and chips are ideal for cooking on an electric smoker or charcoal grill.

When should you use Hickory wood for smoking?

Some of the best meats to smoke with hickory wood include turkeys, whole chickens, and wild game. You can also smoke larger cuts, including ham, brisket, and pork shoulder.

Hickory is also a good choice for smoking salmon, as its strong flavor can stand up to the fishy taste. In addition, trout, and other oily fish are well suited for smoking with hickory wood.


Mesquite wood gives a distinct and bold flavor to your smoked meats an intense flavor that can't be replicated. The wood also produces a lot of smoke and burns quickly.

It's best to use mesquite for quick cooks, like steak. If you want to host the best backyard get-together, use mesquite wood for your smoker.

However, you need to be careful when using mesquite because it emits sparks while burning. It also gives smoked meats a nice color. However, the color is lighter than meats smoked with oak or hickory wood.

Do note that mesquite burns quickly. So, if you're not attentive, it can give the meat a bitter flavor as opposed to its characteristic smoky flavor. There are two ways to get around this:

  • Use mesquite only for a certain part of the smoking process.
  • Monitor the wood closely and swap out the burnt wood with new ones to ensure an active flame.

If the mesquite flavor is too strong for your BBQ, you can blend it with other woods, such as oak, pecan, or hickory. These medium-flavored woods will help tone down the mesquite's intensity.

If you use mesquite with apple or cherry wood, it will overpower their mild flavor. But you'll still get a sweet aftertaste.

When should you use Mesquite wood for smoking?

Dark meats are the best option when smoking with mesquite. It's best not to use mesquite with pork shoulders, fish, ribs, and poultry since it will overpower them.


Keep the above information in mind when your deciding what type of wood you will use for smoking meat, and your next backyard cook-out will be a major success.

For the best results, use this information paired with quality meat from your local butcher. As a bonus, check out Central BBQ’s wide selection of sauces and spices!

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