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Which Wood Chips For Your BBQ Smoker?

Feb 17, 2008
I've seen many lists about wood chips and what meats best accompany them and it's always struck me that this is approaching the problem for the wrong side. The wood chip is choosing the food and in my book it should be the food choosing the wood chip! So when you scroll down to view my list it's written in a way that hopefully will allow you to decide on your barbecue recipes first and let the flavouring follow. To be honest, hickory takes a lot of beating (especially on ribs) but there's an incredible variety of wood chips to choose from these days so it's worth experimenting a little.

The idea behind smoking is that wood burns when heated but by reducing the oxygen available to the fire, the wood smokes rather than burns so by adding wood chips to your barbecue smoker, a beautiful range of flavours can be imparted to meat or fish. The best wood to use is "green wood" ie. wood that's not fully dried out because green wood burns at a higher temperature, it makes more smoke than aged wood and it lasts a long time. When buying wood chips in a bag it's important to soak the wood for 30 minutes to get moisture into it before popping it on the coals.
One last tip from me before the list:-

If you have a BBQ grill rather than a smoker, try wrapping some wood chips in aluminum foil and then puncture the foil a few times with a fork or the point of a skewer. Pop the foil pack in hot coals and see what you think but do try with one of the stronger smokes otherwise you're unlikely to notice any difference.

The following chips are good with all kinds of meat so it's good have some in stock:-

Acacia - a strong smoke
Almond - sweet and nutty (as you'd expect)
Apricot - mild and sweet and an interesting alternative to Hickory (just a little milder)
Cherry - sweet & fruity
Cottonwood - a very subtle flavour, worth a try but not my favorite
Grape Vine - beautifully aromatic and sweet if you can get hold of it
Nectarine - again similar to hickory but sweeter and quite mild just like the Apricot
Peach - slightly sweet flavour
Pecan - strong smoke similar to oak but just a little more gentle
Plum - similar to hickory but milder and sweeter

For red meat try the following:-

Grapefruit - a good medium smoke with a fruity note
Lemon - again medium smoke with a light fruit aroma
Mesquite - strong and earthy so try it with beef
Mulberry - beautifully sweet apple flavour
Oak - really heavy smoke so definitely one for beef
Orange - another fruity one with medium smoke

Lamb of course is a red meat so any all in the above category can be used but I've got one recommendation dedicated to lamb:-

Lilac - it's light and subtle with a floral hint

Pork:-

Alder - supremely sweet
Apple - sweet with dense fruity smoke
Birch - strong and earthy
Grapefruit - medium smoke with a fruity hint
Hickory - the original pungent smoky bacon flavour ready for your ribs
Lemon - medium smoke with a light fruit aroma
Maple - strong and earthy
Mulberry - beautifully sweet apple flavour, pork and apple goes so well together
Nectarine - similar to hickory but sweeter and quite mild and still good for ribs
Oak - a really heavy smoke so go easy
Orange - medium smoke with a light fruit hint
Pear - Another one with a slightly sweet flavour
Plum - similar to hickory but milder and sweeter, compare it with Nectarine

Most wood chips have now already had a mention further up but that doesn't mean they don't go well with Poultry:-

Alder - sweet
Birch - strong and earthy
Grapefruit - medium smoke & lightly fruity
Lemon - again medium smoke with a light fruit aroma
Mulberry - sweet apple flavour
Orange - more medium smoke with a light fruit hint
Pear - another one with a slightly sweet flavour

Game, generally strong smokes for strong flavoured meats, but there are some exceptions:-

Alder - sweet
Apple - sweet with dense fruity smoke
Maple - strong and earthy
Mulberry - beautifully sweet apple flavour
Oak - really heavy smoke
Pear - sweet flavour compare it with Alder
Walnut - very heavy smoke and can be bitter so put it with a strong well hung meat

Fish sometimes works well lightly smoked and sometimes it's good to go for a really heavy smoke

Alder - sweet
Apple - sweet with dense fruity smoke
Ash - light and distinctive flavour, it burns fast so ideal for fish
Lilac - light and subtle with a floral hint, fantastic on seafood
Oak - really heavy smoke

I've got two recommendations for Vegetables both of which are strong and earthy:-

Maple
Mesquite

Hopefully that's given you a few ideas to try at your next barbecue, just don't forget to soak them before putting them on the coals. Happy smoking!
About the Author
The Barbecue Smoker Recipe Man writes free barbecue recipes & outdoor smoker recipes on gas, charcoal or electric. Outdoor grilling tips, easy fire pit menus, healthy rotisserie suggestions and best homemade bbq sauce recipes are all available at Barbeque Smoker Recipes
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