Best Meats To Smoke (With Wood Recommendations)

Best Meats To Smoke (With Wood Recommendations)

Smoking meats is an age-old tradition that elevates the simple pleasure of cooking to an art form. It's more than just cooking; it's an intimate dance of flavors where the right wood can make all the difference. 

While selecting the best cut of meat is a crucial part of the process, the choice of wood — whether it's firewood, smoking wood, or cooking wood — is an often overlooked aspect that can dramatically influence the outcome of your smoked delicacies.

The Art of Smoking Meat

Smoking meat is as old as civilization itself, an ancient technique born out of necessity and survival. It started as a way to preserve meat, but over time, people began to appreciate the unique flavors that the smoking process imparts. Today, smoking meat is an esteemed culinary practice cherished globally, from American barbecues to European smokehouses.

What is the science behind this tantalizing transformation of flavor? It's all in the smoke. 

When wood burns, it releases a cocktail of compounds, amongst which are guaiacol and syringol, two food enhancers responsible for that distinct smoky flavor we adore. The smoke penetrates the meat, breaking down the muscle fibers and fat, infusing the cut with a delicious smoky taste and rendering it tender and succulent.

The choice of wood plays a pivotal role in this flavor transformation. Different woods produce different smoke, each carrying a unique aroma and flavor profile. The wrong wood can overpower the taste of your meat or, worse, infuse it with an unpleasant flavor. 

So, choosing the right wood for smoking meat isn't just important — it's essential. And that's where we come in, ready to guide you through the world of firewood, smoking wood, and cooking wood, ensuring your smoked meat is not just good but unmatched.

Can I Smoke Using My Current Grill?

Understanding the different smoking methods is crucial for mastering the art of smoking meat. From traditional wood-burning to charcoal burning with added wood and the modern wood pellet method, each technique offers a unique smoking experience.

Wood Burning

The traditional method, wood burning, involves using logs of wood to smoke your meats. With this method, the type of wood you use plays a significant role in the flavor outcome of the meat. Depending on whether you choose hickory, oak, cherry, or another type, your meat will imbibe different flavors. 

Wood burning also offers the advantage of a hotter burn, ensuring your meats are perfectly cooked and thoroughly infused with delicious smoky flavors. However, this method requires more effort in terms of temperature regulation and maintenance.

Charcoal Burning With Added Wood

Charcoal burning provides an excellent heat source for smoking meats. By adding wood chunks to the charcoal, you can infuse your meat with that coveted smoky flavor. 

This method allows for a steady, consistent temperature, making it a popular choice for many smokers. The flavor of the meat, in this case, is a blend of charcoal's neutrality and the chosen wood's distinctive essence.

For those seeking an authentic, hands-on smoking experience, traditional wood burning should remain a focus point. There’s a reason wood burning is a favorite for competitive BBQ chefs and backyard cooks alike. 

When cooking with wood, it's essential you use a clean, high-quality quality source to create a clean burn. 

What Is The Best Meat To Smoke?

While any meat, vegetable, bread, cheese, desert, casserole or fruit can be smoked, certain meats remain a favorite. 


Known for its rich flavors and hearty texture, beef is a favorite among meat smokers. Different cuts offer varied experiences, from the indulgent melt-in-your-mouth brisket to the finger-licking goodness of ribs — and who can forget about the beauty of a perfectly cooked and seasoned steak or burger? The robust flavor of beef pairs exceptionally well with stronger, more aromatic woods like hickory.


Whether it's a slow-smoked shoulder, sticky ribs, or flavorful sausages, pork is a versatile choice for smoking. For pork, consider your firewood options. The balance of pork's savory flavor with a touch of sweetness from certain woods, like cherry, creates a delightful palate experience. Want something other than smokey sweet? Try pecan wood, which also infuses your smoke with a delicious taste.


Chicken and turkey, with their relatively mild flavors, are excellent candidates for smoking. When treated with firewood, these meats absorb smoky flavors beautifully, resulting in a delicately flavored feast. Our favorite is cherry, but pecan is a close second.


Salmon, trout, and mackerel are among the popular choices for smoking. Cooking wood can infuse your choice of fish with a subtly smoky flavor that complements rather than overpowers the inherent taste of the fish. Apple and cherry are our favorite woods to cook fish with. 

Remember, each type of meat absorbs smoke differently, and the smoking process must be adjusted accordingly. Understanding the unique interaction between your chosen meat and the wood smoke is crucial for a result that's nothing short of delicious excellence.

Which Wood Should I Use To Cook My Meat?

Different woods offer distinct flavors, and finding the perfect match for your meat can transform your smoking experience. Here, we guide you through the top choices and their unique characteristics.


Renowned for its strong, hearty flavor, hickory wood pairs wonderfully with robust meats like beef or any red meat. It imparts an intense unique flavor, adding a delectable savory depth to your meats. If you're after a classic smoky barbecue taste, hickory is the way to go.


A cousin of hickory, pecan wood provides a similar flavor but with a subtler, nearly bacon-like touch. Its flavor makes it a fantastic choice for those wanting less intense smoke. Pecan pairs exceptionally well with pork and poultry, enhancing their flavors without overpowering them.


Oak wood is often considered the most versatile of smoking woods. It burns slowly and consistently, offering a subtle flavor that isn't overpowering. 

This makes it excellent for larger cuts or whole birds, as it can handle longer smoking times. Whatever you're smoking, oak can deliver a well-rounded smoky flavor that compliments the meat beautifully. 

In fact, if you want to try something more advanced than using charcoal, try using oak instead. It does burn differently, but once you get used to it, it’s far superior.


Known for its sophisticated flavor, cherry wood offers a smokey sweet finish that's mild enough to pair with lighter meats such as chicken, pork and fish. However, cherry wood is also a fantastic choice for smoking beef, as its sweetness can balance these meats' strong flavors, although you’ll need to use a good amount of wood since it doesn’t have as strong a flavor as other woods, such as hickory.

Cherry is also the wood of choice for smoking vegetables, bread and cheeses due to its subtle sweetness. For a deeper flavor profile, consider combining cherry with a stronger-flavored wood like hickory or oak.


If you're after a subtle, sweet smoke, maple is the wood for you. Its light smoky flavor is ideal for poultry and game birds, and it can wonderfully enhance the flavor of pork.


Like cherry and maple, applewood produces a lightly sweet smoke. This makes it a top choice for smoking poultry and game birds. Applewood also pairs well with pork, and it's a favorite for smoking ham. While it imparts a milder flavor, it requires a longer smoking time to infuse the meat with its full flavor.

At Cutting Edge Firewood, we go the extra mile to provide luxury wood that makes a real difference in your smoking experience. Our commitment to quality ensures that our wood burns cleaner, hotter, and longer, enriching your meats with unmatched smoky flavors

So, whether you're looking for the robustness of hickory, the versatility of oak, or the sweet subtlety of cherry, maple, pecan, or apple, we have you covered.

Are There Any Risks of Cooking With Wood?

While the smoky flavor is the end goal of smoking meats, it's essential to ensure that the process is safe and healthy. This starts with choosing the right type of wood. Cooking woods are specifically prepared for use in food preparation, and using the wrong type of wood, moldy wood, green wood, seasoned wood, or wood treated with chemicals can lead to serious health risks.

Using Proper Cooking Woods

Woods such as oak, hickory, apple, cherry, pecan, and maple are all safe to use for smoking and cooking as they do not produce toxic fumes. Their smoke enhances the flavor of the meat without jeopardizing your health. 

Avoid using softwoods like pine, spruce, or cedar for cooking, as they contain high amounts of resin and can produce harsh smoke that may lead to respiratory issues — plus, this can negatively affect the flavor of the meat.

It’s also important to avoid green wood, which is wood that is freshly cut and hasn’t been dried. Green wood isn’t just difficult to light — it’ll also give your food a harsh, bitter taste.

Lastly, avoid seasoned wood, which is wood that has sat outside to dry for an extended amount of time. Seasoned wood is almost guaranteed to have mold, mildew and fungus. Not only can this be bad for your health, it can cause your food to be nearly inedible due to its taste.

Mold Risks

Moldy wood is a definite “no” for smoking meats. Mold spores can survive the smoking process and can be hazardous when ingested. They can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems in some people. Always inspect your wood for any signs of mold before use.

Chemically-Treated Wood

Wood that has been treated with chemicals or paint is also unsafe for smoking. When burned, these chemicals can release toxic fumes that can adhere to your food and pose serious health risks when consumed.

Proper Storage

Properly storing your wood is crucial to prevent mold and other contaminants. Keep your wood in a dry area to prevent any moisture accumulation that can lead to mold growth.

This is where Cutting Edge Firewood steps in. Our cooking woods are carefully selected and to ensure they are safe for use. 

They are dried in a controlled environment, which effectively eliminates any mold or pests so that you can enjoy your smoking experience without worrying about contaminants. Our rigorous drying process guarantees that your cooking wood is not only moisture and mold-free but also burns hotter and longer, offering the ultimate smoking experience. 

Plus, it makes the most amazing and flavorful meats.

Start Smoking

The art of smoking meat is a culinary adventure that awakens the senses and creates lasting memories. On the path to achieving an exquisite, smoky flavor, the first step is selecting your meats and their perfect wood pairings.

From the hearty intensity of hickory to the subtle sweetness of apple, each type of cooking wood brings its own unique flavor profile to the table. This journey of flavors allows you to create smoked meats that are not only mouth-wateringly delicious but also uniquely your own.

The success of your smoking endeavors relies heavily on the quality of your wood. By choosing Cutting Edge Firewood, you're opting for superior, cooking wood that will elevate your smoking experience, allowing you to craft memorable meals that resonate with authenticity and excellence. 

So ignite your culinary passion, experiment with flavors, and discover the boundless possibilities of smoking with Cutting Edge Firewood.

Pro Tip: Want to take your smoke to another level? Smoke your meat then sear it, a technique also known as the reverse sear.


Smoking Meat and Poultry | Food Safety and Inspection Service

Fuel Sources for Smoking or Grilling Turkey | Turkey Smoke

Molds on Food: Are They Dangerous? | Food Safety and Inspection Service

Don’t burn pressure-treated wood | North Carolina Coastal Federation

About The Author

Leroy Hite

Leroy Hite is the founder and CEO of Cutting Edge Firewood, an ultra-premium firewood and cooking wood company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Leroy's mission is to give people the experience of the perfect fire because some of life’s best memories are made in the warmth of a fire’s glow. He founded Cutting Edge Firewood in 2013 with a goal to provide unmatched quality wood and unparalleled customer service nationwide. The company offers premium kiln-dried firewood, cooking wood, and pizza wood in a wide variety of species and cuts to customers around the country.