Firewood for Cooking and Smoking

Specialty Wood for Smoking Purposes

Typically wood used for wood smoking would be considered hardwood.  This can include many different kinds of trees and shrubs, each of which will give the finished product a slightly different flavor. The most commonly wood used for smoking are:
  • Hardwoods:   Hickory, Oak, Maple, Elm, Beech (slightly stronger and typically used with meats like beef, pork and wild game)
  • Fruitwoods: Apple, Cherry, Peach , Pear (these are typically milder in flavor and are often used with fish or poultry)
  • Others:  Alder, Mesquite, Pecan, Walnut, Mulberry, Persimmon, edible woody herbs (Rosemary, Thyme)

Never use the following woods for smoking:

  • Resinous woods: Cedar, Fir, Pine, Spruce
  • Soft woods:  Cottonwood, Poplar, Willow
  • Wood that has been painted, stained or otherwise treated
  • Wood from construction sites or furniture factories
  • Scrap wood pallets
  • Moldy or fungus covered wood (even if it is natural)

Size of the wood for smoking meat

Depending on what you are smoking, the kind of smoker you have, and how long you intend to smoke the meat for, you will need different sizes or cuts of wood.  You have a few choices:
  • Logs (typical firewood size) - Large pieces of wood that are either burned whole, or cut into smaller pieces. These are used by larger smokehouses that have an external fire-pit with piping that delivers the smoke to the smokehouse.  You need to be able to control the heat of the smoke produced.                                                   
  • Sticks and kindling: Also used in larger smokehouses, but also in smaller smokers as well.  We are looking at wood of only an inch or so in diameter.  Often used when the smoking time is not very long.
  • Wood Chips:  These are very popular with small scale home meat smokers.  They are very easy to light, the temperature is easy to control, and you can add more chips quickly to extend the smoking time or increase the level of smoke in the smoker. 
  • Pressed chips:  These are often used in automatic electric smokers, but they can be used on their own.  Much like wood chips, they are made out of sawdust pressed into little bricks or pucks.
  • Sawdust:  Can be a very good source of smoke.  Just be sure to get clean sawdust & chips.  The nice thing about using sawdust is that the smoke can last a very long time because when it is piled up, it tends to smolder rather than burn, which produces smoke slowly over a longer time, and with less heat.  It can also work very well for very quick smoking - for example sprinkling some mesquite sawdust over charcoal for the last 7 minutes a steak is cooking on the barbeque.

This is very basic information that you need to know about wood for smoking meat and fish. We suggest you experiment to find out what flavors you like most and how different woods provide different tastes.