The casual BBQ fan isn’t likely to be able to discern whether a pork shoulder was smoked using cherry or pecan wood, most people just want their BBQ to taste like smoke. That said, occasionally folks ask me which wood I use and why. The answer depends on what I’m cooking, but there’s no right or wrong answer here—this is all about personal preference. Sure, there’s some BBQ etiquette amongst those on the competition BBQ circuit, but if you’re not a competition cook I say experiment and find what you like.
After many years of eating and cooking BBQ I’ve come to appreciate the various species of wood and how they complement the meat while increasing the depth of flavor. Most wood species are fine to use on their own, but you can experiment to see if combining wood types enhances flavor. I do this often because different woods create different flavors and colors. Think of it as using more than one seasoning on a piece of meat.
As for chunks or chips? I prefer chunks; they are bigger and burn slower, but chips are fine in certain applications. I plan to be using splits soon as I will be taking delivery of my first offset stick burner next week. Stay tuned to my adventures in offset stick burning, this could be fun or perhaps funny—-depending on my level of skill.
Finally, it’s important to note that where the wood is harvested can be more important than the species itself. For example, an oak harvested near a cherry tree may produce a flavor that that is closer to the cherry tree than another oak harvested in a different locale. This has to do with the soil the tree was grown in, and the subsequent amount of minerals contained within the wood.
Apple wood has a slight, fruity flavor profile with a hint of sweetness, but overall it’s pretty mild. Its flavor is subtle enough that it can be used with all types of meat. I especially like it with pork and chicken. It can be used to smoke beef when paired with some mesquite for a flavorful blend. Apple wood can also change the color of light colored meat like chicken, but the color change isn’t extreme like cherry wood.
Super versatile for all types of meat, cherry wood is sweet, fruity, and mild. Not only does it provide a great depth of flavor, it also changes the color, giving the meat a rosy red to a dark brown shade.
Hickory is the most common type of wood used for smoking. Sweet and full of flavor, some find it to be overpowering when used by itself, making it a great option to pair with another more mild type of wood.
Oak wood has a strong intense flavor, almost as intense as hickory. It can be used by itself or blended with a fruit wood like apple or cherry. It works well with any kind of meat, but it is a popular pick to use with brisket.
The ideal wood for pork, peach wood has an intense flavor like hickory but it is sweeter and fruity. It can be used for other meats, too, such as chicken and turkey.
Pecan wood has a mild flavor that is more intense than fruit wood but not as strong compared to hickory. Its subtle flavor that pairs extremely well with all varieties of meat including pork and even salmon.