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.


Drizzle with remaining sauce

Apple or apricot wood is perfect for pork, try either when you make these Smoked Pork Chops.


recipeBlog - Smoked French Onion Soup - serve2

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.


RecipeBlog - Rosemary Sugar Smoked Bacon - fried

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.


RecipeBlog-BeefBrisket- slice the flat

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.

Happy Grilling!

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