Smoke and barbecue go hand in hand. That’s why grilling with woods has long been a traditional way to inject a little more flavor into your meal. But before you fire up the grill, first check out which woods pair well with the meat you are grilling!
Hickory is one of the old stand-byes of the grilling world. It pairs especially well with pork such as ribs, because of its strong flavor with notes of bacon. When it’s meat that you’re grilling, some other woods to try are apple, cherry, and mesquite. Oak, peach, and pecan wood work better if you’re grilling pork, poultry, or fish. And of course, don’t forget cedar when you’re grilling seafood! Although a lesser-known use for cedar is that the strong flavor actually pairs well with beef and vegetables as well.
Now that you know which woods pair best with certain meats, it’s time to determine what form the wood should take: chips, chunks, or planks? Chips and chunks are best used for longer grilling times, whereas planks, such as cedar, can be used for shorter sessions when you’re grilling fish, or steak as we mentioned above. Writer and noted griller Scott Thomas recommends soaking chips overnight to keep them from burning up in this article, but not to waste precious booze as it won’t affect the flavor anyway! Thomas also recommends soaking planks, but not to bother soaking chunks because the water will hardly penetrate the outer layer.
Finally, keep in mind that all woods are not great for smoking, so don’t go chopping down the nearest tree! Woods of unknown origin, lumber, or treated wood such as upcycled pallets should never be used for grilling. But do keep an eye open to experimenting by grilling with pecan shells, garlic and onions, and soaked herbs. View our infographic for more woods not to use for grilling.