Smoking Wood Pairing Guide
If you are a barbecue enthusiast, you probably love that smoky char taste. Adding smoke to your meals and using a smoker would seem like a natural next step if you haven’t already gotten your hands on a smoker. However, you shouldn’t just throw a chunk of untreated wood in that charcoal or smoker accessory and go. Pairing wood with the meal you are trying to create is as important as the seasonings you choose. Follow this easy smoking wood pairing guide to find your perfect smoke pairing.
Types of Wood and What to Pair Them With
Follow this guide for pairing food with smoking woods as an easy way to decide what to make for dinner. Remember that you do not need to soak your wood chunks or chips for the most part, however, you may consider adding flavored liquid to the water pan for flavored steam.
Soaking your wood chips leads to steam instead of smoke. And, while you don’t need to soak your wood chips, soaking can be used to your advantage in certain situations.
|Wood||Hardness||Flavor Profile||What to Smoke||Water Pan or Soak|
|Alder||Semi-hardwood||Delicate and sweet smoke||Vegetables, Salmon, Halibut, Arctic Char, Pork, Chicken, Fruit||Water, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Apple Juice, Lager, Ale|
|Apple||Semi-hardwood||Mild, sweet and fruity smoke||Poultry, Fish, Shellfish, Pork, Veal, Vegetables, Fruit||Water, Apple Juice/Cider, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pineapple Juice|
|Apricot||Semi-hardwood||Smoke that is similar to hickory though not overpowering and much sweeter||Pork, Fish, Poultry, Salmon||Water, Apple Juice, White Wine|
|Almond||Hardwood||Has a mild nutty flavour||Desserts, Fruits, Veggies, Mushrooms, Poultry, Pork||Water, IPA|
|Beech||Hardwood||A well-balanced smoke that can be paired with woods to make them less overpowering||Beef, Cheese, Fish||Water, Wine, Beer, Juice|
|Birch||Hardwood||Is mild and smoky without overpowering the food||Pork, Fish, Red Meats||Water, Red Wine, Beer|
|Brandy Cask||Hardwood||Produces a mild oak smoke flavor with sweet wine finish||Beef, Pork, Poultry, Fish, Fruit, Vegetables||Water|
|Cherry||Semi-hardwood||Produces a sweet or tart and fruity smoke depending on the tree||Poultry, Fish, Shellfish, Pork, Veal, Game, Vegetables, Fruit||Water, Apple Juice/Cider, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pineapple Juice|
|Citrus Woods||Medium to Hardwood||A light and fruity smoke that is a little lighter than apple||Seafood, Pork, Poultry||Water, Orange Juice|
|Hickory||Hardwood||Bold and fairly universal smoke||Pork, Bacon, Turkey, Steak, Game, Portobello Mushrooms||Water, Beer, Bourbon, Ginger Ale, Coca Cola, Apple Juice, Pineapple Juice, Cabernet Sauvignon|
|Juniper||Softwood||Has a dense smoky-balsamic woody-fresh resinous flavour. Use sparingly||Beef, Fatty Meats||Water|
|Maple||Hardwood||Sweet and subtle, balanced (as all things should be)||Poultry, Pork, Trout, Salmon, Arctic Char, Pizza||Water, Apple Juice, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Honey Brown Lager, Maple Lager|
|Mesquite||Hardwood||Quintessential South-West BBQ flavour. Sweet, but strong||Beef, Pork, Poulrty, (basically any meat)||Water, Cider, Pineapple Juice, Lemonade, Beer, Ginger Ale|
|Peach||Hardwood||Mild and fruity smoke||Pork, Poultry||Water, Chicken/Pork Stock, Peach Juice/Cider|
|Pear||Semi-hardwood||Mild, sweet and fruity smoke||Poultry, Fish, Shellfish, Pork, Veal, Vegetable, Fruit||Water, Juice/Cider, Chardonnay|
|Pecan||Hardwood||Sweet and nutty, all-purpose smoke||Desserts, Fruits, Veggies, Mushrooms, Poultry, Pork||Water, Guinness, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Apple Juice, Ginger Ale|
|Plum||Hardwood||Sweet and strong smoke||Fruit, Fish, Pork, Beef||Water, Umeshu(Japanese Plum Wine), Light White Wines|
|Red Cedar/Cedar||Semi-hardwood||Sweet and tangy, big smoke and big flavour||Seafood, Cheese, Poultry, Game, Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb, Fruits, Vegetables, Desserts||Water, Chardonnay, Hard Cider, Pilsner, Dr. Pepper, Cherry Juice|
|Red Oak||Hardwood||Rustic smoke, best paired with bold flavours||Beef, Game, Poultry, Cheese, Desserts||Water, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, India Pale Ale, Grape Juice, Cranberry Juice, Orange Juice|
|Whiskey Oak Barrel||Hardwood||Mild smoke flavour with a beautiful whiskey aroma finish||Beef, Pork, Poultry, Fish, Fruit, Vegetables||Water|
Get Inspired With These Smoking Recipes
Try using Alder or Apple wood chips or chunks with charcoal to roast this delicious chicken.
Apple or apricot wood is perfect for pork, try either when you make these Smoked Pork Chops.
Smoked French Onion Soup using Brandy Oak wood chips on a gas grill is ideal. Add to this recipe by using brandy to deglaze the onion pot.
Hickory is perfect for smoking bacon, and this recipe for Rosemary Cured Bacon is smoky and delicately herbaceous.
Add a little smoke from Hickory to this recipe for Grilled Tilapia Tacos with Lime Crema for the ultimate south-west barbecue flavor.
Pear, plum, and pecan wood can be used to great advantage when you are preparing a BBQed dessert recipe. Try one of them when making your next dessert.
Cedar is perfect for accenting seafood dishes. Try adding cedar wood to the charcoal for this Charcoal Grilled Salmon Recipe.
Red oak and whisky oak barrel is perfect for beef.
Are There Woods to Avoid?
Hard and semi-hard woods are ideal for smoking because their cell structures are compact and there is little in the way of resins and sap to cause unpleasant flavors. You should avoid certain softwoods like cypress, elm, eucalyptus, pine, fir, spruce – well most coniferous woods really. They have a more relaxed cell structure and are high in resins and oils that can cause a thick, pungent smoke with an unhealthy residue that would make your food taste unpleasant.
With so many different types of wood to smoke with, hopefully this pairing guide for smoking woods helps you combine the perfect smoky fragrance with your favorite foods for a superb meal. What is your favorite wood to smoke food with and what do you pair it with? Share your favorite flavors, recipes, and success stories on our social pages like Facebook and Instagram, using the hashtags #BBQSmoker and #NapoleonGrills.