Smoking Wood Showdown & the Decisions You’ll Make

Smoking Wood Showdown & the Decisions You’ll Make

Next to the cut of meat you’re working with and how you’ll prepare it, what’s the biggest decision you’ll make for your next smoke session?

That’s simple – what type of smoker wood will you use?

However, that decision isn't always exactly simple. There are plenty of smoker wood options, and each one brings its own unique set of nuances to the table.

How do you choose the right wood for your smoke?

No worries! We've curated a list of options to impart the best flavor and aroma characteristics to your smoked meats.

7 Standard Smoker Woods

For those just starting out and not getting too adventurous – or those simply looking to enjoy a smoked meat with no surprises – consider these mainstays for smoking:


Flavor Profile: The go-to wood for that classic smoked flavor, hickory has a strong and bold flavor that is smoky, bacon-like, and slightly sweet.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Pork, beef, and poultry.

Mesquite Flavor Profile:

Another common selection, this wood has a distinct and intense earthy flavor that is also slightly sweet.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Beef, game meat. It also works well with vegetables.


Flavor Profile: This wood imparts a sweet and fruity flavor to the food being smoked.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Poultry, pork, and seafood.


Flavor Profile: With a mild and sweet flavor, cherrywood is similar to applewood but with a hint of tartness.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Poultry, pork, and lamb.


Flavor Profile: Oak provides a medium smoky flavor that is slightly sweet and nutty.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Beef brisket and ribs


Flavor Profile: With a rich and sweet flavor, pecan wood has a flavor profile similar to hickory, just milder
Ideal Meat Pairings: Beef, pork, and poultry.


Flavor Profile: Maple wood has a mild and subtle flavor that is slightly sweet and delicate.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Poultry, pork. It also works well with vegetables.

5 Unique Smoker Wood Options

Sometimes a smoked meat calls for something a little different ... experimental even.

For those looking to step outside of convention, we present these smoker wood options:


Flavor Profile: A light, delicate, and slightly sweet flavor.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Fish, poultry, and pork.


Flavor Profile: A fruity and slightly sweet flavor with hints of grape.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Poultry, pork, and fish.


Flavor Profile: Offering a mild and sweet flavor with a floral aroma.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Pork, poultry, and seafood.


Flavor Profile: A strong and earthy flavor, with a slight hint of fruitiness.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Fish, poultry. It also works well with vegetables.


Flavor Profile: A strong, spicy, and slightly bitter flavor, with hints of nutmeg and clove.
Ideal Meat Pairings: Red meat and game.
Note: bay leaves are not commonly used as a smoking wood, but rather the branches or twigs of the bay tree.

Smoker Wood Pellets Vs. Chips Vs. Chunks

With the type of smoker wood selected, you'll likely find yourself facing another decision: what form of the smoker wood do you use - pellets, chips, or chunks?

Let's take a closer look at each option and what they mean for your meat:

  • Smoker Wood Pellets: These are small, cylindrical pieces of compressed sawdust that are about the size of a pencil eraser. They have a high surface area-to-volume ratio, which means they burn quickly and produce a lot of smoke. They're ideal for shorter smoking sessions or when you need a burst of smoke flavor. They are easy to use with pellet smokers.

  • Smoker Wood Chips: The next step up, chips are small, thin pieces of wood that are about the size of a quarter. They burn faster than chunks but slower than pellets, producing smoke for about 15-30 minutes. They're great for adding smoke flavor to grilled meats or vegetables using a smoker box and can be used in a variety of smokers, including charcoal, gas, and electric models. Unlike pellets, they can be soaked in water before use to increase their burn time (more on this later).

  • Smoker Wood Chunks: These are larger, irregularly shaped pieces of wood that are about the size of a fist. They burn slower and produce smoke for a longer period of time than chips, making them ideal for long smoking sessions or when you want a more subtle smoke flavor. They work best in offset smokers or charcoal grills and can be used for smoking large cuts of meat like brisket or pork shoulder.

Overall, the choice between smoker wood pellets, chips, or chunks comes down to three things: Personal preference, smoke flavor intensity, and the type of smoker you're using.

Pellets are great for quick bursts of smoke flavor, chips work well for shorter smoking sessions, and chunks are perfect for long smoking sessions or when you want a more subtle smoke flavor.

For Smokin' Ugly outfitted drum smokers or either of our grills (the Chiminea & the TG Series Portable Grill) , the bigger the wood, the better. That's why we recommend using smoker wood chunks. In addition to lasting longer against the high temperatures of the charcoal it's placed upon, you'll never have to worry about it falling through the charcoal basket as you would with pellets or even chips.


To Soak or Not to Soak?

Yet another decision, but one that's also open to personal preference.

In the meat smoking community, there is a friendly debate of sorts – do you soak your wood chips and chunks or not?

While we won't take a side, let's take a look at the pros and cons of soaking your smoker wood:

  • Extended Burn Time: Soaking wood can help extend the burn time of the wood, which can be helpful if you're using smaller chips or want to produce smoke for a longer period of time.
  • Increased Smoke Production: Wet wood can produce more smoke than dry wood, which can enhance the flavor of your food.
  • Reduced Temperature Fluctuations: Soaking wood can help regulate temperature fluctuations by creating a steam barrier between the wood and fire, resulting in a more consistent temperature.
  • Less Chance of Wood Catching Fire: Soaking wood can reduce the chance of the wood catching fire and producing unwanted flame.

  • Inconsistent Results: Soaking wood can produce inconsistent results from batch to batch, as it's difficult to get the exact same amount of water into each piece of wood.
  • Less Intense Smoke Flavor: Soaking wood can dilute the smoke flavor and make it less intense.
  • Increased Cook Time: Soaking wood can increase the cook time, as the wet wood needs to dry out before it starts smoking.
  • Possible Mold Growth: Soaking wood can create conditions for mold growth, particularly if you plan to save soaked wood for later use but don’t properly dry it.


: If you prefer a more intense smoke flavor and don't mind a little extra effort, you may want to skip soaking. However, if you're looking to regulate temperature fluctuations or extend the burn time of your wood, soaking may be worth a try.

Smoker Wood Selection: The Foundation of a Great Smoked Meat

Whether you're a beginner or an expert, selecting the right smoker wood can make all the difference when it comes to your smoked meat. And the same goes for the style of smoker wood you'll use and if there's anything additional you'll do to it.

While the decisions are important, remember, smoker wood selection is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to smoking great meat.

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer – the choices you'll make to help you make your mark in the world of meat smoking.

An Easy Decision: Adding Smokin' Ugly Products to Your Outdoor Kitchen


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