Best Woods for Smoking Meat
In regards to smoking meat, one should choose the type of wood they use depending on the type of meat they are smoking. In much the same way that one would pair wine with food. I mean. what kind of tasteless fool would pair a Chardonnay with a steak?
Though I have done my fair share of experimenting with various woods, I tend to simply use whatever is close at hand; these woods are generally oak, apple, cherry, and cedar (primarily use cedar for salmon/trout). Often times my choice in wood comes down to convenience e.g. whatever I can easily pick up on my way home from work.
Woods to avoid:
Dimensional Lumber: In my county it’s illegal to burn dimensional lumber. Though this may seem like yet another example of living in a “nanny-state” there is good reason for it. That reason being that dimensional lumber is often treated with harmful chemicals: Chemicals that you neither want to breath nor consume. As such, it’s advisable that one avoid burning dimensional lumber, especially when it comes to smoking meat.
Anything with the word “Poison:” This includes Poison Sumac, Poison Elderberry, Poison Oak,
Mexican Elder: Mexican Elder primarily grows in the south. It also happened to have a natural form of cyanide.
Western Red Cedar: Inhaling smoke from Western Red Cedar can cause a host of issue. The most notable being that if can affect ones nervous system.
Laburnum: A medium sized tree that produces yellow flowers in the Spring. Inhaling the smoke from Laburnum can cause a number of health issues including vomiting and diarrhea, convulsions, and frothing at the mouth
Soft wood: I have used soft wood such as pin and cedar, but with mixed results. Sometimes they work well, sometimes they produce off flavors. The issue with soft woods such as fir, pine, cedar, spruce and redwood is that they contain a high concentration of both turpenes and sap. Both of which are known for producing off flavors.
Wood that you can use for smoking: There are many factors that can affect the flavor of your meat. These factors include temperature, moisture of the wood, moisture of the meat, smoker being used, spices used, and quality of meat. These factors can have a much larger impact on flavor than the actual wood. As such, these factors often deserve more consideration and scrutiny than the actual type of wood being used. Furthermore, the environment (minerals in the soil, quality of soil, and seasons) can affect the flavors created by wood. In light of this, once you find a wood you like, it’s advisable that you try and get the wood from the same source/region in order to accurately recreate the flavor and characteristics you like.
Apple Wood: Apple wood is a very popular wood for smoking due to its diversity. Apple wood pairs well with most (if not all) meats whether they be dark meat or light meat. Apple tends to produce mild and somewhat sweet flavors.
Cherry Wood: As with apple wood, cherry wood works well with most meat. Cherry wood produces somewhat sweet smoke flavor.
Oak: Oak works well with red meat and wild game. It produces a mild smoke flavor, but is not overbearing nor does it have a lingering aftertaste.
Cedar: Cedar is most popularly used for smoking fish and vegetables. However, it does not lend itself to long periods of smoking. Rather, it’s a wood that is used on the grill for short periods. As a general rule, planks of wood tend to be used for short periods, whereas wood chips or pellets are used for long term smoking. As such, when using cedar for smoking people tend to use planks of wood rather than chips.