• Understanding BBQ Wood Chips

    Understanding BBQ Wood Chips

    Which Type for Which Meat?

Grilling is as much an art as it is a science, and the use of wood chips is one of the secrets behind crafting those perfectly smoky flavors we associate with a great barbecue. But with a plethora of wood chips available, how does one decide which wood to use for a specific meat? Let’s explore the nuances of BBQ wood chips and guide you to select the right type for each meat.

The Role of Wood Chips in BBQ

Before diving into specific woods, it’s crucial to understand why wood chips are essential. When wood chips smolder on a barbecue or in a smoker, they release aromatic compounds that infuse the meat with distinct flavors. Different woods produce varying flavors and aromas, meaning the wood chip you choose can drastically influence the final taste of your dish.

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods

In the world of BBQ, hardwoods are primarily used over softwoods. Hardwoods, like oak, hickory, and mesquite, are dense and provide a long, consistent burn. They produce a stronger, richer smoke flavor ideal for barbecuing.

Softwoods, on the other hand, such as pine and cedar, contain more resin and can give food a bitter taste. They also burn faster and hotter, which can be difficult to manage when aiming for low and slow cooking. Therefore, softwoods are generally avoided for direct smoking and grilling of foods.

Matching Wood Chips with Meats


Best for: Beef, pork, poultry.

Flavor Profile: Medium smoky flavor with a subtle sweetness.

Why It Works: Oak is versatile and provides a balanced flavor. Its medium intensity won’t overpower the natural flavors of the meat, making it a favorite for many BBQ enthusiasts.


Best for: Chicken, turkey, game birds, and pork.

Flavor Profile: Mildly sweet and fruity.

Why It Works: Applewood imparts a gentle, sweet flavor that enhances the meat’s natural flavors without overwhelming it, making it perfect for poultry and pork.


Best for: Pork, ribs, briskets, red meat.

Flavor Profile: Strong, robust, bacon-like.

Why It Works: Hickory is renowned for its pungent and hearty aroma. The robustness complements fatty meats perfectly, but it can overpower lighter meats if not used sparingly.


Best for: Chicken, turkey, and pork.

Flavor Profile: Mild and fruity.

Why It Works: Similar to applewood, cherry wood chips offer a subtle fruity flavor. It can also add a beautiful reddish hue to the meat.


Best for: Red meats, especially steaks.

Flavor Profile: Very strong and sharp.

Why It Works: Mesquite burns hot and fast, and its intense flavor complements the richness of red meats. However, due to its potency, it’s advised to mix mesquite with milder woods or use it sparingly.


Best for: Most meats including poultry, beef, and pork.

Flavor Profile: Mild and nutty with a touch of sweetness.

Why It Works: Being less intense than hickory but somewhat similar in flavor, pecan is versatile and can be mixed with other woods for a balanced smoke.


Best for: Poultry, ham, and vegetables.

Flavor Profile: Mild, sweet, and slightly smoky.

Why It Works: Maple’s gentle sweetness complements the delicate flavors of poultry and ham. Plus, it’s perfect for vegetables, making those veggie BBQ dishes shine.

Our top picks

Tips for Using Wood Chips

Soaking: Soak wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before use. This prevents them from burning too quickly and allows them to smolder, producing more smoke.

Quantity: More wood doesn’t always mean more flavor. Use in moderation to avoid overpowering the meat.

Experiment: While the above guidelines provide a starting point, don’t hesitate to mix woods or experiment to find your perfect flavor combination.

Storage: Store wood chips in a cool, dry place to maintain their quality. Moisture can lead to mold, rendering them unusable.

In conclusion, the right wood chip can be a game-changer for your BBQ experience. By understanding the different flavors each wood imparts and pairing them appropriately with meats, you can elevate your grilling and smoking game. Remember, BBQ is as much about the journey as the destination, so don’t be afraid to experiment and discover your signature flavor profile. Happy grilling!

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