Not everything that comes off of a grill or out of a smoker is BBQ. In order to qualify, the meat needs to be cooked slowly, so the tough parts break down, and a savory bark forms on the surface where the juices, smoke, and heat combine. In fact, that smoke plays a major factor in the taste of the final product — a factor you can control.
How, you ask? The answer is: with smoking wood. There are a wide variety of woods used for smoking.
You’ve heard of them before: hickory smoked ham, maple ribs and applewood chicken. With just a handful of chips, you can impart those same flavors to your own BBQ.
But, it makes a difference where that wood comes from. Make the mistake of buying old, bone dry shavings, or something that’s been chemically treated, and you’ll ruin whatever you’re trying to cook.
To save you from that fate, I’ve assembled here a list of the 7 best wood chips for smoking.
You can trust that each product is high quality, natural wood that will give you the best results you could hope for. So, get ready to fire up the grill.
7 Best Wood Chips For Smoking
1 ) Weber 17004 Apple 3-Pound Wood Chips
The name Weber is likely to come up in any serious conversation about BBQ, and for good reason. The brand has been a staple among grillmasters since 1952, thanks to its consistently high quality products.
The Weber 170004 Apple Wood Chips are no exception to this rule.
Part of the company’s Firespice line, these wood chips are an excellent choice when you’re looking to add a mild, yet sweet and fruity flavor to your smoked BBQ.
These apple wood chips best compliment the flavors of pork and poultry, and are ideal for the shorter smoking times of chops or game hens.
They are just as effective for longer smokes, but, because wood chips burn quickly, you may need to add more to the grill or smoker depending on the level of smoke flavor you prefer.
Luckily, the bag holds an ample 3 lbs supply, enough to generate smoke for as long as you’ll need.
You can use these chips in charcoal and gas grills, and they are even small enough to fit into the trays of electric smokers. They generate a light smoke that is easy for even novice grillers to control.
Their ease of use and flexibility makes them a great buy for yourself, and a fine gift idea for any BBQ chefs among your friends who enjoy that sweet applewood flavor.
Weber 17004 Apple 3-Pound Wood Chips: Check Its Price on Amazon!
2 ) Jack Daniels Whiskey Barrel Wood Smoking Chips
Jack Daniels is well known for their rich varieties of aged whiskey, which often finds its way into some of the most savory BBQ sauces and mops. Using the remnants of the oak aging barrels to create smoking chips is just one more way to introduce that JD flavor into your meats.
The whiskey barrel oak is as versatile as the unflavored variety, imparting a medium intensity smokiness that won’t overpower poultry or seafood, and is not itself totally overshadowed by the stronger flavors of red meat or pork.
The whiskey provides a rich, sweet undertone and mouth-watering aroma. If you are a fan of the Jack Daniels No. 7 variety, both the scent and the flavor notes will be familiar to you.
That taste comes at a bargain too. You get 6 lbs of whiskey barrel chips, separated into 3 2 lbs bags.
The smaller package sizes allow the unused portions to retain their potency in airtight containers, ensuring the whiskey scent isn’t lost between grillings.
Jack Daniels recommends that these chips be used in charcoal or gas grills and smokers for best results. And, don’t write these wood chips off if you’re a non-drinker or just not a whiskey fan.
Their smoke emparts a subtle and delicious taste that anyone can enjoy.
Jack Daniels Whiskey Barrel Smoking Wood Chips: Check Price on Amazon!
3 ) Oklahoma Joe’s Hickory Wood Smoker Chips
Oklahoma Joe’s got its start back in 1987 as a manufacturer of quality grills and smokers. Since then, they have expanded their product line to include everything you need to make the succulent BBQ of your dreams, and their Hickory Wood Smoker Chips fall squarely into that category.
These wood chips produce a pungent smoke with a strong flavor. You might find yourself thinking of bacon, since hickory smoked bacon is so common that the two flavors are closely related in most minds.
When it comes to BBQ, these chips are best suited to beef and pork. They can overwhelm milder meats. Each package holds 2 lbs of wood chips. That’s on the smaller side, but a little hickory flavor goes a long way.
Even so, this means just one bag isn’t going to be enough for a long smoke, so you’ll want to go bigger or buy multiples if that’s your intent. Each bag is so affordable, buying a few won’t tax your wallet.
Soaking the wood chips is another way to extend their burn time. After a 30 minute soak in water, they will smolder when heated, producing a moist smoke that some consider even more flavorful.
You can use these chips in electric, gas, and charcoal grills and smokers, as they are small enough to fit into the standard trays and slots. Oklahoma Joe’s has made sure that, however you smoke your BBQ, if you’re looking for that hickory savor, these wood chips are tough to beat.
Oklahoma Joe’s Hickory Wood Smoker Chips: Check Its Price on Amazon!
4 ) B&B Charcoal Wood Chip Variety 2lb 8 Pack
If variety is the spice of life, then B&B provides the spiciest of options with this wood chip multi-pack. Made up of eight 2 lbs bags, each containing a different flavor, there is something for every taste.
All of the most popular smoking woods are represented in this collection. You get cherry, mesquite, pecan, post oak, hickory, maple, apple, and B&B’s own championship blend.
That last option is a carefully proportioned mixture of cherry, oak, and pecan woods that has seen plenty of success in the world of competitive BBQ.
With such an array of choices, this is a product well suited to both sampling and experimentation. Try each wood individually, then create your own personal blends based on the flavor pairings you enjoy.
You can create a brisket with a bark both fruity and deep by mixing apple and oak, or layer the richness of hickory and the mild sweetness of maple.
Despite having so many different types of wood, B&B made sure to keep the chip sizes consistent between them. That means even when you mix different types, you can use them in smokers and grills.
All of this variety comes at a bargain price, making this an easy buy for anyone looking for an affordable sampler.
B&B Charcoal Wood Chips Variety 2lb 8 Pack: Check Price on Amazon!
5 ) WESTERN 80485 BBQ Smoking Wood Chips, 4 pack
Sticking with variety packs, we have this 4 pack from Western. This company has made the provision of wood products for BBQ their focus. They only use 100% raw and natural wood, which is grown and cut in the U.S.A..
Western chose to mainly showcase their fruit tree woods with this product. The 80485 BBQ Smoking wood Chips multipack includes one 2.1 lb bag each of cherry, maple, apple, and peach woods.
The cherry and apple both lend a sweet and fruity profile to your BBQ, as does the peach though it adds a more woodsy note as well.
Meanwhile, the subtle sweetness of the maple is excellent both alone, and when mixed with the other options.
These 4 options all compliment each other, so you can’t really go wrong combining them. That said, the similarities in the flavors narrow your meat options a bit, as mild and fruity woods are best suited to poultry and pork.
As an added bonus, a reusable smoker tray comes with the wood chips. Western recommends using these chips in electric and gas grills and smokers, so it’s nice that they provide a tray in case your grill doesn’t have one.
By including an accessory, along with woods that naturally pair well together, Western made this multipack particularly friendly to BBQ beginners.
WESTERN 80485 BBQ Smoking Wood Chips: Check Its Price on Amazon!
6 ) Zorestar Wood Chips for Smokers Variety Pack
The last of the variety packs on this list comes from Zorestar, a Ukrainian based company with a strong focus on environmental sustainability.
Not only do they use all natural, untreated wood, but they source it from certified organic trees.
Their attractive packaging is all recycled paper, and can be safely used as kindling when you’ve emptied the bags, so nothing is wasted.
Speaking of the bags, there are six of them, containing four types of wood: apple, cherry, oak, and alder. You get two bags of apple and cherry, and one each of the other two.
Oak is the strongest of the four, while the others are all milder, sweet flavors ideal for pork, poultry, and fish.
Each bag contains .55 lbs of mini smoking chips, cut down to between .2-.8 in each. These are the smallest wood chips of any on the list, and are the only ones suitable for usage in a handheld smoke gun.
Because they also come in such a small amount, this pack is really only suitable for short smokes.
To make sure you get the most out of their product, Zorestar includes an e-book with the purchase. The book includes tips and BBQ recipes for the up and coming grillmaster, making this a perfect introduction into the craft.
Zorestar Wood Chips for Smokers Variety Pack: Check Price on Amazon!
7 ) Weber 17148 Hickory 4 lbs Wood Chunks
Yet another Weber product this 4 lbs bag of hickory wood chunks is made with the same quality materials and exacting standards previously discussed, but these chunks are very different from wood chips.
The difference doesn’t lie in the flavor of the hickory smoke. It is rich, yet subtle and sweet, and will impart a savor reminiscent of bacon to your poultry, pork, and beef BBQ. However, unlike chips, these chunks burn for a long time.
The main benefit of this size difference is an extended smoking time. Depending on your grill or smoker, you might have to replace chips every 30 to 45 minutes. Chunks can produce good smoke for hours, so they are the lower maintenance choice if you want to smoke your BBQ for a long duration.
These chunks can also be used as a replacement for charcoal briquettes as the main heat source for your grill. On the other hand, their large size makes them a poor choice for electric grills, so stick to charcoal or gas.
These hickory chunks do get started as quickly as wood chips, though, so they are just as useful for quick smoking. And, if you only burn them a short while, you can reuse them.
If you have compatible equipment, and enjoy that hickory smoked taste, Weber’s hickory wood chunks may be just what you’re looking for.
Weber 17148 Hickory 4 lbs Wood Chunks: Check Its price on Amazon!
How To Pick The Best Smoking Wood : 7 Types of Smoking Woods
Choosing the best smoking wood isn’t just about flavor pairings or personal taste. The very first step is to confirm the quality and viability of the wood itself.
You want wood that is untreated with chemicals of any kind, and is free of bugs or other contaminants. This means nothing that has been painted, stained, or treated.
Fungal growth or mold also make wood unacceptable for smoking.
You also want to check that the wood is not totally dry, as moisture keeps the wood from catching flame and burning, and produces a moist, flavorful smoke that better adheres to the meat.
If the wood is too dry, soak it for at least 30 minutes prior to using.
As for specific types of wood, avoid softwoods like cedar, elm, fir, pine, and spruce. The saps and resins in these woods create an unpleasant smoke and can ruin your BBQ.
After filtering out the unsuitable woods, your next step is to determine the best size to use.
We’ve focused on chips and chunks as they are the most widely used by the backyard griller, but some pitmasters use whole logs for smoking very large portions — think a whole hog.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, most handheld smokers use wood pellets, a form of compressed sawdust.
Chips and chunks are often suitable for similar uses, in charcoal and gas grills and smokers. Electric grills tend to be optimized for wood chips, however. Chunks last longer than chips, and are less likely to catch flame, so you may find them more forgiving to use as well.
Once you’ve determined the size of the wood, you can finally choose the type. To help with this decision, here is a brief overview of the top 7 woods used for smoking.
For many, oak is the king when it comes to smoking. It’s balanced, smokey flavor is the middle ground between the milder fruit woods and more potent hardwoods, and is best for beef and lamb.
A hardwood itself, oak burns slowly so you get a lot out of it. Red oak is the most popular variant, but choose white oak if you prefer a milder option.
One of the most potent of the smoking woods, hickory is a staple of Southern and Mid-western cuisine.
With a savory tang that has become nearly synonymous with the taste of bacon, it makes for succulent pork shoulder and ribs. Keep in mind that a little does go a long way, and too much can quickly turn your BBQ bitter.
Mesquite produces the most intense, distinct flavor of all smoking woods. A defining feature of Texan BBQ, mesquite has an earthy, very upfront flavor that, like hickory, takes some skilled fine-tuning to get right.
Only red meats can stand up to it on its own, though mixing it with lighter fruit woods can help to balance it out.
Applewood is the most popular of the fruit tree woods. Its flavor is mild and sweet, like the fruit it bears, and works great with BBQ pork and poultry.
Don’t worry about the type of apple tree. Red, green, McIntosh, Granny Smith, and even crab apple trees produce wood with the same smoking properties.
Maple smoking wood, most often taken from the sugar maple tree, has a flavor profile similar to that of other fruit wood. It produces a gentle, mellow smoke, and a taste that is mildly smokey, with a hint of sweetness.
Meats with strong flavors will overpower maple, so it’s best to use it with poultry or smaller game birds.
Cherry wood is among the most versatile. It’s gentle, fruity sweetness melds well with anything, so you can use it for your pork chops, your beef brisket, or even your salmon steaks.
Mix it with other fruit woods for a pleasing medley of flavors and stronger sugary note, or contrast it with mid-range woods like oak for some added smokiness.
Pecan wood is both popular and somewhat controversial among BBQ fans. A member of the hickory family, it has a reputation for being particularly strong and pungent, though its proponents describe it as a milder, less bitter version of hickory.
As wood properties can vary due to the soil and climate, it’s possible that some pecan wood is more likely to skew one way or the other. If you try it, go lightly, and pair it with red meat to best showcase its qualities.
Smoking meat as a part of the BBQ process is as much an art as it is a science. A person might describe to you the colors of a rose, but in painting it you will discover shades and hues that appeal best to you.
So it is with smoking woods and their flavors.
For those of you who have already discovered the taste you like, you can expect to achieve it consistently using any of the woods reviewed. If you are new to the craft, these are excellent products to start with.
The best way to become comfortable and confident with the smoking process is to experiment, preferably using high quality woods to ensure you experience their purest taste. That is what the products above represent.