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It’s the Wood that Makes it Good

As any seasoned smoking aficionado will tell you, not all woods are created equal. Sure, they all burn. Sure, they all add flavor. But they don’t all burn at the same rate and they don’t all add the same flavor. There’s even additional factors like curing the wood that can affect how your chosen wood will cook your meats.  

So, which one should you use? What’s the best choice for your needs? Can I substitute one wood for another? Let’s tackle these questions by analyzing the properties of some popular woods regularly used by Pitmaster’s.  



Oak is a popular wood for its clean burn and its even heat. It is much less likely to overpower your meat than some other fuel sources. It’s also the first choice for smoking larger cuts of meat. Though these traits are characteristic of Oak, you’ll find that there are many establishments that use this wood for all of their meats.  


Hickory is often considered a good substitute for Oak in most situations. It’s only mildly stronger than Oak. It’s different enough to notice, but not enough to deny it’s placement in the same usage column. Hickory can burn slightly hotter than Oak, so just take that into consideration when cooking. Hickory is extremely popular for brisket, pork loin, and pork shoulders.  


This wood gets its own header. Universally loved in the south, it lends itself well to chicken and baby back ribs. It can be a good substitute for Hickory. It’s noticeably smokier than Oak and a little more than Hickory. Tip: Some Pitmaster’s feel it’s best for smoking projects that are under 10 hours.  

 Fruit Woods 

Don’t start a mutiny on me here, but I’ve lumped fruit woods together. There’s certainly differences in these woods. Naturally, they add different flavors. But characteristically, they all lend themselves well to smaller cuts of meat. They’re normally a bit mild in flavor, so they’re great for ribs. A key difference is that fruit woods can be used green.  

I hope this gives you some useful info and a place to start your wood hunt. Good luck, and happy smoking!

By: Joshua Rooks


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