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Cracking the Best Wood Used For Smoking Brisket, Ribs, Chicken, Salmon, Turkey, & Pork

If you’ve ever had great tasting barbeque, you may not know what all the ingredients are, but your taste buds will let you know that its more than the sauce.

Those who’ve mastered the art of creating the masterpiece of flavor know that one of the secrets is the smoke. The smoke from the wood is what establishes the flavor.

Knowing what type of wood to use for different types of meat is the key to getting that flavor right. Let’s look at the types of wood to use for smoking barbeque ribs, brisket, chicken, salmon, pork, and turkey.

Some of the most commonly used woods in smoking barbeque are fruitwoods, hickory, maple, and oak, and mesquite. Like the way barbeque sauces range from hot to mild, wood smoke ranges from strong to mild. You can fit woods used for smoking meat into three basic categories, fruitwoods, medium, and strong woods.

The milder woods are your fruitwoods, such as apple, peach, cherry, and pear. They are best to use on fish and delicate meats like chicken because of their sweetness.

Hickory, maple, and oak woods are next on the spectrum. Use these woods on pork and some beef and game meats. Barbecue experts like Jamie Purviance claim hickory and oak as his favorite woods to use in smoking meat.

The strongest wood is mesquite, which stands in a category all by itself. Mesquite burns hot.

The type of wood you use depends mostly on what available in the area where you live. For example, alder was the wood traditionally used for smoking meat in Europe. However, oak is being used more often.

In North America, just about any type of wood from fruit-bearing trees are used for smoking meat. In addition to the fruit-tree woods, those that are commonly used for smoking meat include oak, maple, and mesquite.

1. Best wood for smoking ribs

Hickory, a popular wood to use for barbequing in the South, produces a hearty taste that is perfect for cooking pork shoulder or ribs. Hickory wood also enhances the flavor of any red meat or poultry.

Another wood from the South is peach wood. If you are in Georgia, peach wood would be a tasteful option. Jaimie Purviance, a well-known expert on barbeque and smokers, promises to take his customers back to the plantation in Gone with the Wind to experience that good tasking rib flavor by throwing a little peach wood on the coals.

2. Best wood for smoking brisket

For thicker cuts of beef like beef brisket, wood chips can offer a mellow flavor that goes throughout the meat. Since cooking brisket requires you to prepare it longer than most meats, a wood that can produce a flavor that goes throughout the meat is the best choice. Oak is very versatile and is the perfect choice for cooking brisket.

Another option for smoking beef brisket is pecan, which is considered to be a milder version of hickory. Woods like hickory and mesquite that produce stronger flavors are popular for cooking beef brisket. The flavors from these woods are intense, so you shouldn’t use too much of it.

3. Best wood for smoking chicken

It’s best to use a mild wood for cooking chicken and turkey. The sweet flavors you get from apple, and cherry wood is perfect in this situation.

The woods from various fruit trees can provide a lighter smoke flavor. Leaving the skin on the chicken cooked with applewood can cause it to darken. Other good choices for smoking chicken are maple, orange, and oak.

Both apple and alder are good choices to use for smoking chicken.

4. Best wood for smoking salmon

In the Pacific Northwest, the traditional wood used for smoking salmon is alder. It enhances the fish with a flavor that is light and delicate.

However, if you are in the Northeast, you might want to consider maple wood. Maple provides a heartier flavor. You can also mix in some applewood chips or chunks to get a sweeter taste.

Myron Mixon, who’s known as “the winningest man in barbeque, is an American celebrity chef. Mixon likes to use peach wood and other woods like cherry and maple when cooking fish.

Cherry and maple add a bit of a sweet taste to the fish. You can find Mixon on the barbeque circuit competing with his world-famous barbeque recipes. He has won the barbeque World Championship four time. His is also a judge on the TV reality show, Destination America.

Salmon is often grilled on an alder or cedar wood plank. For the plank to five off a lot of smoke, Mixon recommends soaking it for several hours before using it.

5. Best wood for smoking turkey

The same mild wood used for cooking chicken also work for smoking turkey. Cherry and apple can give your turkey a sweet flavor. They are both light enough for turkey meat.

The woods from various fruit trees can provide a lighter smoke flavor. Leaving the skin on the chicken cooked with applewood can cause it to darken. Other good choices for smoking chicken are maple, orange, and oak.

Maple wood also provides a mild smoky sweet taste that goes well with turkey.

6. Best wood for smoking pork

The woods that work best for cooking pork are ones that are light and sweet. These are your fruitwoods like apple, maple, and peach.

When using smoke, you must remember that it’s the taste of the meat that you want to enjoy, and not the taste of the smoke. Your fruitwoods provide a gentle flavor that’s not too overpowering.

To introduce a stronger flavor in cooking pork, try hickory or oak. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, these woods can be mixed with either apple, maple, or peach for a bolder taste. Hickory enhances the taste of almost any smoked meat, including beef and poultry.


Wood is a natural fuel source. The best type of wood to use in smoking meat depends on your personal taste and the flavor you are trying to produce.

The smoke enhances the meat. If you are adventurous, you can try mixing the woods. Hickory and apple or hickory and cherry can make an excellent combination for a flavor.

Although the wood smoke is essential, the barbeque should not be over-smoked. The meat should not be smoked for more than half the cooking time.

In addition to adding flavor, smoking the meat adds to its color. Hickory and oak wood can leave your meats with a rich dark color.