Forget milkshakes… nothing brings all the boys and girls to the yard more effectively than the aroma of ribs, steak, burgers, and other delicious treats being cooked to perfection over the flames. Sure, grilling is great (really, really great, actually), but smoking is where it’s at when it comes to locking in unbelievable flavor. It was good enough for the cavemen, and it’s good enough for us! Now, what’s the best wood for smoking meat so you can get that unbeatable taste (while preserving all of the nutritional power)?
First – The Worst Woods for Smoking Meat
For the love of all things beef, poultry, and fish, do not use softwood to smoke meat. Ever. Pine, fir, elm, cedar, spruce, etc. will leach an unsavory flavor into the meat – and it may make some folks sick. And green wood? No! Please, no! The fire will be working to drive off the moisture, and your meat will end up tasting… if we can be frank… really, really bad.
While we’re on the no’s: don’t use wood that has been chemically treated, painted, or stained. This is not a bonfire, people. It’s food for the body and soul!
Wow the Crowd with Stellar Barbecue, Jerky and Meat Sticks
The three pillars of excellent smoked meat are low temperature, a bunch of cooking time (you can’t rush perfection), and the right wood. Different hardwoods impart different flavors, and some swear that there are optimal wood/meat pairings. Let’s take a look at the top choices for tasty treats like jerky and meat sticks.
- Hickory: Deep and rich, hickory is an exceptional choice for any meat you want to smoke, from beef to pork to poultry to fish. The smoke is strong and pungent – and many associate it with bacon. That is a definite plus in our book. In the right hands, hickory adds a wonderfully sweet flair to the savory.
- Apple: It’s mild. It’s subtle. It’s a bit sweet, a bit fruity. Beef, poultry, pork, lamb, and some seafood love Apple wood. Can’t say we blame them.
- Cherry: This is a great go-to, like that friend who’s up for anything from a movie to the club. Cherry imparts a mild, sweet, fruity flavor that suits pretty much all meats.
- Mesquite: Well, it’s getting hot in here. Mesquite is one of the hottest burning woods, and it delivers a strong, earthy flavors that makes us want to tear up that read meat with our teeth. Too much, and it can be a hot, bitter mess.
- Oak: Easy-going, plays well with others. Oak has a medium smoky flavor (a bit more forceful than apple or cherry but less aggressive than mesquite), and it can be blended with apple, cherry, or hickory for some great flavor.
- Pecan: All right, this is a good choice for poultry, but we think beef benefits from its fruity kicky too.
- Walnut: Be careful: walnut is strong and can be bitter. If that’s your thing, walnut on. It can also be combined with milder woods for a smoother flavor.
- Alder: This is a great choice for salmon, but try it with fish, pork, poultry, and some game birds. The sweet flavor will subtly find its way into your mouth.
- Grapevine: It’s tarty, it’s fruity. It’s difficult to use because it can be overwhelming. Try (sparingly) on poultry, lamb, and pork.
- Maple: Sweet and mild, maple is a smoky favorite for poultry and small game birds. If you’re feeling adventurous (or vegetarian), use maple wood to grill veggies and cheeses.
Many of these woods are best suited to particular meats. When it comes down to selecting a terrific all-around, all-star performer? Hickory is our pick for the best wood for smoking meat all day, every day. Perfect for beef, turkey, and pork, it imparts a sweet, savory, mouth-watering flavor that cannot be beat.
That’s why, here at Sweetwood Smokehouse, we use 100% real American hickory to slow smoke our all-natural jerky and meat sticks – never any liquid smoke. So you can bite into delicious protein with satisfaction – and no junk!