Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: July 25, 2023

As an experienced pitmaster, I have spent years perfecting the art of smoking meat with wood. This is a more challenging cooking art than smoking on a gas or charcoal grill.

From selecting the right type of wood to adding it in a controlled manner, I've learned many tricks of the trade. I'll share my knowledge and expertise with you in this article.

Quick Summary

  • Smoking meat with wood is an art that requires patience and practice.
  • Different types of wood have different flavors and suit different types of meat.
  • Thin blue smoke from wood is ideal for smoking and provides far more flavor than charcoal smoke.

5 Steps to Smoking Meat with Wood

smoking meat in the wood

Here are my actionable tips that will help you get the best result when smoking meat with wood.

1. Pick the Right Type of Wood for Smoking

When it comes to smoking meat, the species of wood you use is of paramount importance.

Different smoking woods have different flavors; some are better suited to certain kinds of meat than others.

Here are some common types of wood for smoking and the flavors they produce:

  • Fruit woods: These include apple, cherry wood, and peach. They create a mild smokiness and a slightly fruity flavor that is often used for smoking chicken and pork.
  • Nut woods: Hickory, pecan wood, and walnut are all woods that yield a strong, nutty flavor. They work well with pork and beef.
  • Hickory: Hickory has an intense smoky flavor that pairs well with beef and pork.
  • Mesquite: The strong, pungent wood smoke produced by Mesquite works with beef, lamb, and game meats.
  • Oak Wood: Oak is a medium-smoke wood that brings out the taste of beef and lamb.
  • Maple: Sugar maple wood makes a sweet, delicate smoke that works well with pork and poultry.
  • Alder: Alder wood has a mild smokey flavor that is good for smoking turkey and fish.

2. Determine the Size of Wood You Need

Burnt wood on grill

Burning wood in a smoker also requires a decision on the size. Generally, smoking wood comes in four main shapes and sizes:

  • Pellets: Wood pellets are small and uniform in size, making them easy to measure and use. They work best for shorter cooking times, such as hot smoking, and are used mainly in pellet smokers or smoke generators for gas grills.
  • Wood Chips: Wood chips are the most commonly used for smoking foods that only need a short cook. This is because they burn hot and quickly. You may use these in charcoal grills or electric smokers.
  • Wood Chunks: Smoking wood chunks are similar to chips but larger - the size of a golf ball to that of a baseball. The bigger size of wood chunks helps them burn slower. This makes wood chunks great for the longer indirect heat smoking sessions associated with ribs.
  • Logs: Wood logs (or wood splits) are the largest of the four and can be used for a long smoking time in an offset smoker. They are best used in a dedicated smoker cooking brisket or pork butt.

3. Achieve the Right Type of Smoke

One of the most important things to keep in mind when smoking food is that you want to achieve a thin line of blue smoke.

This type of smoke is ideal because it contains fewer smoke particles and produces a milder, more subtle smoke flavor.

When it comes to producing the right type of smoke, it's important to avoid wood burning with smoldering smoke.

This smoke is thick and heavy, and it contains a lot of particles. This kind of smoke can produce a harsh, bitter flavor that can ruin the taste of your meat.

Using a thermometer inside the smoker will help you keep the temperature of the smoke consistent and between 225 and 300 °F [1].

4. Adding Wood the Right Way

Wood chips in a hand

Adding more wood is simple, but how much wood you need to produce smoke will vary.

To add wood, follow these steps:

  • If you are using wet wood, soak the wood in water for at least 30 minutes before adding them to the smoker. This will delay the wood from starting to burn.
  • Place wood chips in the smoker box or directly onto the coals. If using a box, place it on the grate above the direct heat source. If adding the wood directly to the coals, spread the wood evenly over the coals.
  • Monitor the temperature of the smoker and the amount of smoke being created. If the smoker is not producing enough smoke, add more wood. If the smoker makes too much smoke, reduce the amount of wood used.
  • Add more wood as needed throughout the smoking session. Depending on the type of wood used, it may need to be replenished every 30-45 minutes.

It is important to note that adding too much wood can result in an overpowering smoke flavor and can even cause the meat to become bitter.

It is best to start with a small amount of wood and gradually increase as needed.

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5. Generating a Smoke Ring

The smoke ring is a pinkish or reddish layer that forms on the outer edges of your meat and adds an appealing visual aspect.

It comes from the combination of nitric oxide and carbon monoxide from the smoke mixing with myoglobin from the meat.

While the ring doesn't affect the taste, conventional wisdom says it's a visible mark of well-smoked meat.

To achieve a ring, maintain a consistent temperature throughout the smoking process.

Use kiln-dried wood that produces blue, thin smoke over an extended period.

"Smoking your meat with wood is an art that requires patience, practice, and a true passion for the craft. There's nothing quite like the taste of smoking meats done right."

- Aaron Franklin, American Chef

3 Wood Smoking Controversies

Meat being smoked by wood

Let’s take a look at the ongoing debate surrounding the usage of bark, seasoned or green wood, and the preference for dry or soaked wood.

1. Bark or No Bark?

Some pitmasters believe that leaving the bark on the smoking wood can add additional flavor to the meat, while others argue that the bark can contain harmful substances and should be removed.

While there is no definitive answer, I generally recommend using wood without bark, especially if you are smoking meat at low temperatures for a long time.

This is because the bark can trap moisture, leading to mold growth and other safety concerns.

2. Green or Seasoned?

Wood fire

Green wood is freshly cut and has a high moisture content, while seasoned wood has been allowed to dry out and has a lower moisture content.

Some pitmasters prefer green wood because it can produce more smoke over hot coals and add flavor.

However, using green wood can also lead to inconsistent temperatures and excess creosote, resulting in bitter-tasting meat.

On the other hand, seasoned wood is generally preferred by most pitmasters because it burns more evenly and produces a more consistent temperature.

3. Soaking or Dry?

While there is no definitive answer, using dry wood instead of soaking it is generally recommended.

This is because soaking wood can produce excess steam, resulting in uneven temperatures. Also, soaked wood may take longer to ignite.

You can soak the wood if you want your smoke to start later.

However, it's important to note that soaking the wood doesn't enhance the smoke; soaking simply delays the start of smoking [2].

9 Tips For Smoking with Wood

Wood smoking
  • Use quality wood: Ensure your wood is of high quality, free from mold or rot. Do not burn wood that has been treated with chemicals or is toxic, such as poisonous walnut.
  • Manage the heat source: No matter what type of smoker you use, it's crucial to maintain a consistent heat source.
  • Prepare the meat: Remember that smoke sticks more to cold meat than hot, so how you prep your food is critical when smoking beef or smoking ribs.
  • Control the airflow: Proper airflow is essential for maintaining the right amount of smoke. Adjust the air vents on your smoker or grill to control the oxygen flow and regulate the temperature. Too much airflow can cause the wood to burn quickly and create a harsh, bitter smoke. Aim for a steady, controlled airflow to achieve better-tasting smoke.
  • Monitor the meat's internal temperature: Smoking is a slow and low-temperature cooking process. Purchase a reliable meat thermometer to ensure your meat reaches the desired temperature for doneness and safety.
  • Experiment with wood flavors: Don't be afraid to mix and match to create your own wood combinations. For example, combining hickory and woods like apple or cherry can add a subtle flavor to your smoked meats.
  • Consider the cooking chamber: The size and design of your smoker or grill can impact the smoking process. Make sure there's enough space for proper airflow and circulation of smoke. Also, maintain a clean chamber to avoid unwanted flavors from previous smoking sessions.
  • Use dry or wet rubs: Consider applying a dry or wet rub before smoking your meat. Dry rubs consist of herbs, spices, and seasonings, while wet rubs incorporate liquid ingredients like oil, vinegar, or mustard.
  • Patience is key: Smoking requires patience as it is a slow process. Allow enough time for the meat to absorb the smoke and reach the desired tenderness. Rushing the process can result in undercooked or tough meat that does not taste smoky.

Also Read: How to Smoke a Steak


What Wood Is Not Good for Smoking Meat?

Wood from evergreen trees, such as pine or spruce, is not good for smoking meat due to its high resin content. Additionally, wood from trees treated with chemicals, such as old pallets or construction lumber, should never be used for smoking as it can release toxic fumes.

Is It Necessary to Oil Meat Before Smoking?

It is not necessary to oil meat before smoking, as the smoke and heat will naturally render the fat and create a flavorful crust. However, some people apply a light oil coating to the meat before adding a spice rub or seasonings to help them adhere better.

At What Temperature Does Wood Stop Smoking?

Wood stops smoking at around 750°F. Above this temperature, the wood will burn too rapidly to produce much smoke.

Are You Ready to Smoke Meat with Wood?

Unlike smoking with electric and gas smokers, smoking with wood is a delicious and rewarding culinary art that requires knowledge, patience, and practice.

It also requires quality meat. Companies like ButcherBox ensure access to high-quality meats by sourcing them from small farms and delivering them directly to your doorstep.

To delve deeper into the offerings and advantages of ButcherBox, make sure to read about it by going to our homepage.


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