When smoking meat the type of wood chips you use affects the flavor of the finished product. Depending on what you’re smoking you could use different pairings of meat and wood chips. You can always experiment and try different combinations to make your own unique flavors. You can even combine different wood chips in the same smoker to change the flavor, similar to adding different spices to a dish. Learn below which wood chips to use to smoke whatever meat you want!
When smoking meats, you’ll want to prepare the wood chips you use by soaking them in water for about two hours. Then put the moistened wood chips in your smoker box if you’re using a gas grill. If you don’t have a smoker box attachment to your grill you can always make your own smoking basket. Just take a foil drip pan, insert your moist wood chips and cover with foil. Then, poke holes in the top of the foil to allow the smoke to escape. Add your meat and cover the grill! If you have a charcoal grill, then add the wood chips directly to your hot coals add the meat and cover.
When smoking poultry, especially turkey, fruit woods add a nice sweet flavor to the meat. Apple, Cherry and Peach woods are all great pairings for smoked turkey. I like to use a little bit of hickory or oak wood paired with apple and maple wood. The hickory and oak woods add a great smokey flavor to the turkey but if you use too much and can end up just tasting like a campfire and be a little bitter. When paired with the sweetness of maple or apple wood it creates a delicious sweet and smokey flavor that is perfect for turkey!
Smoked chicken is similar to turkey since it’s also poultry, but you can change it up a bit. Chicken is great with apple wood and mesquite. Mesquite wood can be a little overpowering if you use too much, so try and find the sweet spot for your smoker. I’ve had the best results using one part mesquite wood and two parts fruit wood, like apple wood, cherry wood, or peach wood.
With ham you could use almost any combination of wood chips and it’ll taste great! But the most common woods to use when smoking ham are maple, apple and hickory. I like using a lot of apple wood when I smoke ham, it gives the ham a sweet flavor that goes great if you add something like a honey glaze to the meat. If you use just apple wood and maple wood it could become a little too sweet for some people. I like adding a nice smokey wood like oak wood to my wood chip blends for ham to cut down on the sweetness you get from apple and maple wood.
Beef is super versatile, you could try a more smokey flavor like oak wood or mesquite wood. I prefer to keep my smoked beef more smokey and barbecue flavored instead of sweet like some of the other meats. Hickory wood is great for adding a mild smokey flavor to the beef without overbearing the flavor of the meat. Or, you could always make your own wood chip combinations for beef. I like to use an even blend of oak, mesquite and hickory wood to get that nice smokey barbecue flavor.
If you have venison (deer) meat it could be from a local market, but most likely you’ve hunted it yourself or you’ve gotten some meat from a friend or family member. Venison has a very unique flavor, it can be a bit gamey if you got it from the wild. But there are ways to help with this, you can soak the meat in milk before you cook it. This helps take the gamey-ness out of the meat. Venison tastes a lot like beef but with a little bit of a sweeter flavor. When smoking venison I like to add some smokey wood chips to help cover the gamey-ness a bit. And some sweet wood chips to bring out the natural sweetness of the meat. My favorite combination for venison is half mesquite wood chips and the other half a mix of apple, hickory and maple wood. This combination of wood chips adds the perfect mix of sweetness and smokey-ness to venison.
Lamb already has a very pungent gamey flavor to it. For some people it’s an acquired taste, but it’s actually my favorite of all the meats, especially when smoked. To take away from the gamey flavor of lamb I like to use a strong flavored wood like mesquite or even pecan wood. But I might be biased towards using the pecan wood, I grew up in Texas where pecan trees are super prevalent. I love the flavor it gives lamb though, it’s not quite as intense of a flavor as mesquite but it gives the meat a mild smokey flavor that pair nicely with lamb. My favorite wood chip combination for lamb is half pecan wood and quarter hickory and mesquite wood.
When smoking fish you want to go with some more mild wood than you would if you were smoking something like a red meat. Woods like alder or pecan wood pair very nicely with fish. Of, course there are many different types of fish you could smoke from salmon or trout to even swordfish and sturgeon. Depending on the flavor of the fish you’re using you may want different combinations for the wood chips. I usually just smoke fish over pecan wood and maybe alder if I have any. Pecan wood has a little bit of a stronger smokiness to it. Where as alder wood is very mild and a great pairing for a more mildly flavored fish.