Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: April 6, 2022

Chicken is a great starting point when you are finding your way around the smoker. You can learn the basic technique of smoking without spending many hours managing the grill.

Choosing the right wood is key to successfully smoking chicken. We have spoken to some of the best barbecue chefs in the US to bring you their suggestions of the best woods to use for delicious smoked chicken.

Quick Summary

  • The best woods for smoking chicken are hardwoods that do not contain a lot of resin.
  • Sweet, fruity woods, like oak, pecan, or apple, are great for smoking chicken.
  • Avoid using softwoods or woods with a powerful flavor, like mesquite or hickory.
  • You can use logs of wood, or wood chunks, chips, or pellets to smoke chicken.

Different Woods Add Different Flavors To Chicken

Close up image of a wood chips

The flavor you achieve when smoking chicken depends on the type of wood you use in the smoker.

Chicken, as a white meat, has a much subtler flavor than red meats. You need to carefully consider which wood you use to smoke chicken, because you don’t want to overpower the taste of the meat or give it a bitter taste.

Different woods impart different flavors to chicken. Some have a milder flavor than others, and certain woods give the meat a nutty, sweet taste.

Top Woods For Delicious Smoked Chicken

Chopping off a piece of wood logs

The best types of wood for smoking chicken burn hot, yet slow, and give a delicate smokey flavor that does not hide the taste of the meat itself.

Chef, BBQ Pitmaster, and 4-time World Barbecue Champion, Myron Mixon reckons that these are the best woods to use for mouthwatering smoked chicken:

Watch this YouTube video: 

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  • Almond wood is a favorite for smoking chicken because it gives the meat a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.
  • Applewood is great for smoking all types of poultry. It brings a lovely mild, fruity flavor to the smoked chicken.
  • Apricot wood has a very similar flavor to hickory, only it is much milder, so I will not overpower the chicken. It gives the meat a sweet, smokey flavor.
  • Cherry is a mild wood that gives the chicken a slightly sweet flavor.
  • Maple wood gives the chicken a deliciously sweet, smokey flavor. It has a similar flavor to hickory, only it imparts a milder taste.
  • Oak is one of the most popular woods used for smoking chicken. While the flavor is quite strong and distinctive, it will not overpower the chicken.
  • Orangewood is very mild, so it will not overpower the taste of the chicken or the seasoning. It gives the chicken a subtly sweet, fruity, smokey flavor.
  • Peach wood must be freshly cut if you are using it to smoke chicken. It imparts a mildly sweet, fruity flavor, similar to the other fruit woods.
  • Pecan wood gives chicken a beautifully nutty, sweet, and rich flavor. Pecan is one of the most popular woods for smoking chicken.

Can I Use Multiple Woods To Smoke Chicken?

There is plenty of room for creativity when it comes to smoking chicken. One can use a combination of different woods to create a unique, smokey flavor.

You can play around with different types until you find a combination that you enjoy, or you can use a tried-and-tested mixture of cherry, apple, and oak for utterly delicious smoked chicken.

Types Of Woods For Smoking Chicken

An axe on wood log, holding wood pellets

Apart from the species of tree, there are different types of wood you can buy for smoking meat. Each type has slightly different properties, and you should choose based on the type of smoker you have.

  • Pellets are made for use in pellet smokers, like the ones produced by Traeger, and can be added to a smoke box inside a regular gas grill. Pellets are made from small bits of wood that would otherwise go to waste. They are compressed and held together with a binding agent [1].
  • Wood chips can be used in electric smokers and gas smokers, as well as in a charcoal grill. Wood chips are real wood pieces that have been processed into thin pieces so that they can easily be lit.
  • Wood logs are your best bet if you are smoking chicken in a fire pit or in a proper, large offset smoker.
  • Wood chunks are great for using in a smaller offset smoker or in a drum or barrel smoker. Chunks burn more slowly compared to chips. They are about fist-sized, so you can cut your own or buy pre-processed chunks.
  • Sawdust should only be used in electric smokers or smoke guns. Because of its powdery consistency, it catches alight very easily.

Which Woods To Avoid When Smoking Chicken

A chopped and stacked woods for burning

When it comes to smoking, hardwoods are always better than softwoods. This is the rule.

Avoid woods that contain a lot of resin or wood that is still green because it has not cured enough. For chicken, you want to avoid using wood that creates a very strong flavor.

Never use old wood chips for smoking any type of meat. They burn way too fast and create an unmanageable amount of smoke.

The following types of wood should be avoided for smoking chicken [2]:

  • Hickory – the taste is much too powerful for chicken, but it is brilliant for pork.
  • Alder – the taste is overwhelming for chicken but is great for pork and seafood.
  • Black Walnut – while good for smoking wild game, pork, and beef, the smoke from black walnut is too strong for chicken. It gives it a bitter taste.
  • Cedar – the wood contains high levels of resin and turpenes that will give food an unpleasant flavor.
  • Cypress – too resinous and high levels of turpenes.
  • Elm – gives any food an unpleasant flavor.
  • Eucalyptus – gives food a bad flavor due to the “kino” sap it contains.
  • Fir – too resinous and high levels of turpenes.
  • Mesquite – while being of the best wood for smoking turkey, the taste is too overpowering for chicken.
  • Pine – too resinous and high levels of turpenes.
  • Spruce – too resinous and high levels of turpenes.
  • Sycamore – gives food a terrible taste.

Tips For Smoking Chicken

Top view of freshly smoked chicken

If you are new to smoking meat, here are a few important things to keep in mind as you learn to smoke chicken:

  • To keep the chicken super tender and juicy, brine the bird prior to smoking. Allowing the chicken to sit in the brine for 3 to 4 hours before smoking will tenderize the meat and impart an amazing flavor.
  • Before you begin smoking chicken, thoroughly pat it dry and let it air-dry for about an hour. If the skin is nice and dry when you put it in the smoker, it will come out perfectly crispy. If a damp bird goes into the smoker, the skin can become rubbery.
  • Spatchcock or butterfly the chicken to allow the smoke to reach a greater surface area. Flattening the chicken will also help it cook more evenly.
  • Use a dry rub on the chicken before it goes into the smoker. This will enhance the flavor and result in ultra-crispy, delicious skin.
  • The grill or smoker must be 250°F when you put the chicken in. Keep the temperature between 250 and 325°F.
  • For barbecue basted chicken, wait until the chicken is almost fully cooked before you brush on the sauce. Basting too early can risk the sugars in the sauce burning, giving the meat a bitter flavor.
  • Use a meat thermometer to know when the chicken is finished smoking. The internal temperature of the breast should be 160°F, and the thigh should be 175°F.
  • For the last 5 to 10 minutes that the chicken is in the smoker, sear the skin over direct heat so that the fat renders and it gets nice and crispy. For the rest of the time, the chicken needs to cook over indirect heat.
  • The better-quality chicken you use, the better the smoked chicken will be. Do not expect a grocery store chicken to be anywhere as tasty as a free-range bird from your local butcher.

Conclusion

There are a great variety of woods that one can use to smoke chicken with, so there is a lot of room for experimentation. Fruit woods are always going to be a winner, but any hardwoods that are not too resinous will work.

Avoid using wood from coniferous trees (cedar, cypress, pine, fir, or spruce) and wood that has a very strong flavored smoke, like hickory or mesquite. You don’t want to overpower the delicious flavor of the chicken.


References:

  1. https://www.foodfirefriends.com/best-woods-for-smoking-chicken/
  2. https://www.totallysmokin.com/best-wood-for-smoked-chicken/

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