Barbecue Wood Flavors & How to Use Them...

Dear BBQ Friend: barbecue wood flavors

There are many "flavors" of barbecue wood to choose from. And, depending on your smoker, there are several different methods to create that smoke. You can use whole logs of barbecue wood in a traditional offset smoker or you can just throw chunks or chips of barbecue wood on top of your fire source - wood, charcoal, lump charcoal, gas, or even electric. When using barbecue wood chips, you can either soak them in water or just use them dry. And when using barbecue wood chips, you can also use a foil pack or what they call a smoker box. A foil pack is just a tightly sealed foil pack with barbecue wood chips inside and holes poked in the top. And a smoker box is a similar device except it is made out of steel. You can buy one at any good store that sells barbecue accessories or grills.

And pellet smokers are very popular these days. You can buy all the popular wood flavors in pellet form too.

Whatever barbecue wood chipsmethod you use to create your smoke, just be sure that your smoke is a light blue almost clear in color and not a billowing white smoke. You do not want to over smoke your meats. Your barbecue wood should be between 1 and 6 months old. You do not want to use too green barbecue wood and you also do not want to use barbecue wood that is too dry. If you are throwing chips or chunks directly onto charcoal, I would soak them first for about an hour. If you are using a foil pack or smoke box, don't soak the chips first as they will just steam and smolder instead of smoke.

Wood Bark - Some people feel bark will impart a bitter taste to your meat. I say, you'll probably get a better smoke if you remove it first, so it's safer to remove it "if you can". If it comes off easily, take it off. If it does not come off easily, leave it on. If it is rotten or molded, definitely take it off or do not use that wood.

Here is a list of some of the more popular barbecue woods...



Used for


This is that classic TexMex and Southwestern flavor. It has a strong, biting, zesty flavor.

Use sparingly as this is the strongest smoking wood. A little goes a long way. I like it on brisket and ribs. Good on chicken too.


Hickory is more of a sweet, smokey flavor than mesquite. It is the most popular smoking wood and is what most people would associate with the "classic" American barbecue.

Can be used with any meat especially brisket and pork. Sometimes used in combination with oak for a milder flavor.

Red Oak

Most people describe red oak as a sweeter version of white oak but overall, oak is not as strong as hickory. Most people would describe oak as a neutral or mellow flavor.

Can be used with any meat and in combination with other woods like hickory and/or fruitwoods. I often think of oak as a heat source rather than a smoke flavor because the other woods are so much more distinct.

White Oak

Similar to red oak, but not quite as sweet of a flavor. Can also be found in the form of wine or whiskey barrel chunks. In which case, you would gain the extra aroma of the wine or whiskey.

Same as red oak.

Oak Wine Barrel Blocks

A great oaky smoke with a surprisingly strong wine aroma in the smoke.

Great with ribs and chicken but can be used with butts or brisket too.


A sweeter, nuttier flavor similar to hickory but not as strong.

Can be used with any meat similar to oak and makes a good stand alone source of heat and flavor.


A gentle, sweet aroma and flavor.

Great for chicken and pork.

Fruitwoods... apple, cherry, peach, pear, apricot.

These fruitwoods impart a mild, sweet, fruity hint of smoke flavor to your meats.

Usually used with chicken and ribs and can be mixed with oak to add just a touch of the fruity flavor.


Similar to maple and the fruitwoods. It imparts a subtle, sweet aroma. Some say it has a hint of cedar and that it's syrup smells like bananas.

Popular in the Pacific Northwest it is used a lot to smoke salmon. It can be used for chicken and pork too.


A rich and fruity aroma as you would expect from a fruitwood.

Mostly used for chicken, wild game or fish. Popular in the wine regions of the world.

Cedar (planks)

DO NOT burn this in your firebox, rather use it for planking inside your cooking chamber. A sharp, unique, acidic citrusy flavor.

Mainly used with fish.


A hardwood similar to oak in flavor.

Use like oak if you have this wood available in your area.


A softer wood with a flavor similar to maple.

Good for pork and chicken.


Usually ground into a powder and used in a foil pack or smoke box. It is strong, so use sparingly as an added flavor combined with other woods. It imparts a sweet flavor.

Good for chicken and fish.


Strong, bitter flavor so use sparingly and in combination with other woods.

Used mostly with heavy game.


Bill Anderson