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Wood Chip Flavor Pairing Guide For Grills and Smokers

WriterAcademy Staff
7 min read

Not only do wood chips and wood pellets fuel pellet-fired cookers and classic smokers, but they also add a distinctive flavor to all kinds of foods. With the different wood varieties, you might have some burning questions about how to pair wood chips, also known as smoking chips, with the meat you’re cooking. We put together this wood chip flavor pairing guide to help you become a true pitmaster.


If you’re looking to add some smoky personality to your grilled fare, wood chips will give you the distinct flavor profile you’ve been craving. While wood chips are mostly used with pellet grills and smokers, backyard barbecuers can toss some in with charcoal briquettes or add them to a foil pan for use on a gas grill. No matter what outdoor cooking equipment you use, smoking chips will make your meats, seafood, and veggies stand out amongst the pack.


If you’re a seafood lover, alder smoking wood is a must. This delicate wood is traditionally used for smoking salmon, but it also complements pork, poultry, and game birds thanks to its light, sweet and mild taste. To add a deeper, more complex flavor profile to your meals, mix alder wood with applewood.


Applewood produces a mild smoke for a subtly sweet, fruity flavor. It’s mild enough for fish yet adds a nice mellow aroma to poultry, beef, pork, game birds, and lamb. Most of all, applewood goes great with ham and bacon, such as the ever-popular applewood-smoked bacon.


Sweet and mild cherry wood produces a mellow flavor with a slight tartness. While it’s a good match for virtually any type of meat, it works best with pork, poultry, beef, duck, game hen, and venison. Cherry wood’s fruity taste also complements veggies that pair well with fruit sides and sauces, just like turkey served with cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving dinner.


Peach smoking chips impart a sweet, fruity flavor into white or pink meats. Try pairing peach wood with pork, poultry, or fish to enhance their flavors and take your smoking game up a notch.


Orange smoking chips produce a sweet, mild, citrusy smoke that goes great with pork, poultry, and turkey. It also complements most seafood and mixes well with other fruit woods, hickory, and mesquite.


With a similar flavor profile to hickory, pecan is less aggressive and is well suited for meats like beef, pork, lamb, chicken, duck, and turkey. The basic rule of thumb is: if the protein pairs well with nuts, it’ll taste great smoked with pecan wood.


Stronger than fruit woods but lighter than hickory and mesquite, oak is the go-to smoking wood for grillers. It’s a middle-of-the-pack wood that smokes for a long time and complements any protein. It’s also great for experimenting. Mix oak wood with apple, cherry, or hickory woods, or soak the wood chips in bourbon or deep red wine for a unique flavor profile. Whiskey oak smoking chips made from oak whiskey barrels offer a strong, rich flavor.


Hickory smoking wood imparts a sweet yet robust flavor and is dependable for longer smoking times. While the smoke can be pungent, hickory adds a nice, strong flavor to any protein and some seafood. It’s also a favorite for smoking cheese. When first working with hickory, use small amounts or mix with other woods until you get a good grasp on how to smoke with it and the level of intensity you desire.

Mesquite produces a definitive strong, sweet, and earthy flavor. It burns hot, so you may want to mix it with lighter smoking chips. Mesquite is the smoking chip of choice for making bold beef and pork dishes, such as Texas-style smoked brisket. Because mesquite can quickly overwhelm white meat’s natural flavor, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the smoker, especially if you’re cooking up fish, chicken, and lamb.


Add a mild and sweet zing to vegetables, cheeses, poultry, and small game birds by smoking with maple wood chips. These chips are easy to mix with other types of wood and complement hickory and applewood.

Other Types of Wood

There are dozens of other types of wood just waiting to be smoked, although their rarity might make them harder to find. These include such varieties as pear, olive, mulberry, grape vine, almond, apricot, chestnut, lemon, and plum.

However, some woods should never be used for smoking because they contain resin and oils that cause thick, pungent smoke and leave an unhealthy residue on food. These are woods like Eastern cedar, cypress, elm, eucalyptus, liquid amber, redwood, fir, spruce, and sycamore. Always read up on the type of wood you're interested in using to ensure safe – and delicious – results.

“There’s nothing like the aroma of wood smoke, and the awesome flavors of a well-smoked meal,” says Weber Grill Master Kevin Kolman. And while good smoked foods take time, patience and practice, you can transform your backyard barbeque from bland to mouthwatering with experimentation and the right wood pairings.

Before you smoke your favorite meats, nuts, cheeses, and vegetables, you need a reliable smoker or wood pellet grill. Shop the outdoor cooking assortment online or in-store at Academy Sports + Outdoors to find the gear and a variety of wood chip flavors required to turn meals into savory masterpieces.