BBQ Wood Chips: Types of Wood

Varieties of wood chips are a crucial variable in barbecue. They impart different flavors, smoke intensities, and other traits to food. Wood chips are generally divided into fruit woods, nut woods, hardwoods, and softwoods.

The type of wood you choose can be a personal preference or an indicator of what kind of food you’re making. Fruit woods impart the most fruit-like flavors of maple, apple, or cherry; hardwoods taste smokier and more like a traditional barbecue; nut woods give a salty, savory flavor; softwoods smell like nothing at all. Let’s look at the benefits of each.

Fruit Woods

This is excellent all-around wood. Fruit woods are pleasant to smell and can season food without a pronounced flavor. Apple, peach, apricot, and cherry produce fruit woods with the most subtle tones; they’re mainly used with poultry and pork. Cherry is incredibly mild and has a gentle aroma that’s not overpowering, even when smoked aggressively. Maple produces fruit woods with more of a spiced touch; it’s great for pork, poultry, fish, and sausages like bratwurst and bockwurst. Alder imparts headedness to poultry and game meats like duck or venison, while pear contributes sweetness to chicken or pork ribs.

Nut Woods

Nut woods are less subtle than fruitwoods. The nutty flavors of walnut, pecan, and hickory give the wood a distinct taste that might not be for everyone. Hickory is best for barbecuing such meats as beef ribs, wild game, duck, and goose. Its strong, woody flavor adds punch to meats like pork spare ribs, but it’s also great for grilling whole fish and steaks. Peanut wood is often used in smoked chicken; it gives the meat a delightfully sweet taste. Pecan imparts an elegant nuttiness to pork or poultry and doesn’t overpower the meat or sauce with its flavors. Walnut is the most assertive nut wood, so it’s a good choice for items like pork shoulder or wild duck, which have more decadent flavors.


Lodgepole pine is probably the most commonly used hardwood. It imparts a quintessential smoky flavor with a hint of sweetness. Mesquite is sweeter than other hardwood varieties; its boldness can overpower poultry, pork, and fish. Pine and mesquite impart more smoke than different hardwood varieties. Pecan is milder and sweeter than hickory or oak; it’s best for barbecuing mildly flavored meats like fish wings. Hardwoods typically impart a smoky or sweet taste.


Softwoods that have little, or no aromatic smoke are mild and not very strong. . They have high smoke points, so they’re well-suited to grilling or smoking fatty foods like beef brisket or pork shoulder. Mahogany, pinyon, and pine impart flavors of caramel and vanilla; this is the most common type used in barbecuing. The pecan flavor is a combination of nuts and honey, with a touch of caramel; it’s a popular wood for making applewood-smoked bacon.

Sawdust, which is the scum from wood-sawing operations and is rich in volatile organic compounds, can be used as an additive to add smoke and char to foods. Smoking with sawdust can impart flavor different from any of the four categories discussed. Many cooking instructions that use sawdust don’t tell you whether it’s fruit woods, hardwoods, softwoods, or sawdust. So what’s the difference? For starters, sawdust burns longer than other woods; you might need to extend your smoker’s temperature by 10 degrees after using it. Softwoods and sawdust act as a preservative and prevent food from drying out; they add moisture to foods, but not too much.

To determine which kind of wood you want, buy one or two types and try them out. You’ll decide which style you like best and whether there’s a reason you like them. I prefer peach wood for smoking poultry because it’s milder and doesn’t overpower the meat. Plus, it’s suitable for making chicken salad, peach barbecue sauce, and other fruity foods.

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