Your Guide to Wood Chips

Your Guide to Wood Chips

Charcoal already adds great flavor to food, but adding wood chips is a total game-changer. Whether you want just a little more smoke and spice in your ribs or are looking for a hint of sweetness in your fish, wood chips are an all-natural way to enhance the flavor of anything you grill or smoke.

There are a lot of different options when it comes to wood chips and chunks. Many places have strong regional preferences, but generally speaking there are five varieties that are widely available: hickory, mesquite, apple, cherry, and pecan. 

For this blog, we’ll go over each of those types and what they are good for as well as throw in a few of our harder to find favorites.

Hickory 

One of the most common wood chips for smoking, hickory imparts a sweet and smoky flavor to food. Some people compare the flavor it adds to bacon. Great for longer smoking times, hickory is robust and adds a strong flavor profile to meat. It pairs best with almost any protein and is great for cold-smoking cheese. We recommend mixing hickory in with other types of wood until you figure out how strong you want the hickory flavor. 

Mesquite

Chances are, if you’ve eaten any barbecue, you’ve eaten something smoked with mesquite. Stronger than hickory and with a distinctive earth sweetness, mesquite is best used for smoking beef and pork. It is most commonly used for Texas-style smoking (especially brisket). You can use mesquite with chicken, lamb or fish but make sure to keep an eye on it as the flavor can quickly overwhelm the meat.

Apple

One of the lightest smoking woods, apple has a sweet and mild flavor that make it great for smoking white meats including fish and chicken. It is also great for cooking desserts (Smoked Apple Pie, anyone?). It is most widely used for ham and bacon, because of its slightly sweet but subtly smoky flavor. 

Cherry 

Mellow and sweet with a slight tartness, cherry wood chips are a good match for almost any type of meat. Because of their mild flavor, they won’t dominate or mask any of the great taste of the meats. They are at their best with pork, duck, venison, and poultry. You can also smoke veggies in cherry wood chips to add a unique flavor to them!

Pecan

Similar to hickory but not quite so aggressive, pecan wood is more mellow and nuttier. Pecan wood chips are well suited for beef, poultry, and lamb. Generally speaking, if what you are cooking pairs well with nuts, pecan wood chips will pair well with it.

Oak

A huge favorite among grillers, Oak wood is not as light as the fruit woods, but lighter than hickory and mesquite. It lasts for a long time and has a pretty neutral flavor allowing it to pair great with lots of different proteins. Mixing the wood with fruit woods or hickory is great for mellowing out the stronger woods flavors. We particularly like soaking the oak wood chips in bourbon or red wine for a unique and complex flavor.

Peach 

We couldn’t end a blog on wood chips without giving a nod to peach wood. We are, after all, a Georgia company. Peach wood chips are very similar to the other fruit woods. They will give anything you smoke a sweet and fruity flavor. Peach wood chips pair best with white or pink meats like poultry or fish.

We didn’t cover all the different wood chips you can use, but we did have one of our Char-Griller Ambassadors write a great piece on regional woods. He talked about other types of woods not listed here in his blog.

Smoking or grilling with wood chips adds a whole new dimension to your grilling. It imparts unique flavors and can make your food really stand out. What is your favorite type of wood to grill with? Let us know in the comments.

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Steve Gilbert March 12, 2019

BTW….guess hickory is a natural to use in an Acorn!😜

Robert Marcisak March 12, 2019

I enjoyed the info on wood chips (smoking). I live in Alaska we use native wood like birch and alder, not mention. Nor did you id maple, since I’m originally from New England. I realize that you can’t cover everything in one article. Maybe time for a study(book) on regional wood smoking, grilling! Bob

Ryan Rainbolt March 12, 2019

As a rookie I used hickory for everything. Now I use a variety of chips depending on what I’m grilling, but my main chips are mesquite and hickory (mainly because that’s what’s available in my region). Lately, however, I found d pecan chips and have been smoking those bad boys for everything. I love the mild, nutty flavor it gives the meat and veggies. For my 12.5 hour pulled pork I used a combo of pecan and mesquite to balance them out. I’ve found that you really do have to pick and choose what to smoke with the fruit woods. I smoked a tri-tip in apple wood once……ONCE. Great article!

Tony Thompson` April 16, 2019

I grew up watching my grand father smoke their meats in the traditional “smoke house” and learned at an early age to use local woods to give the meat a down home flavor. From that i found a good combination of about 60% hickory and 40% white oak, soaked separately over night in fresh spring water. To prepare the meat for smoking I like to rub a nice coating of GOOD Kentucky bourbon on all sides of the meat just before adding it to the grill/smoke.

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