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Best Wood for Smoking Chicken
When you’re smoking chicken with wood instead of charcoal, there are just so many options that you’ll come across! I remember the first time I used wood to smoke chicken. I was so confused as every pitmaster had a differing opinion on which wood to use.
However, I realized soon that it’s up to you to decide what type of flavor, aroma, and color you want, and then pick an option.
Generally, the best wood for smoking chicken includes apple, cherry, maple, peach, pecan, hickory, and oak. Apple, cherry, pecan, and peach impart a sweet flavor whereas oak and hickory are best for smoky and earthy flavors.
If you want to know more about the best wood for smoking chicken, read on!
Things to Consider Before Choosing Wood for Smoking Chicken
There are many options when you’re choosing wood for smoking chicken. Trust me, it can get overwhelming!
Therefore, I suggest considering the below-mentioned factors first to pick the best option.
1. Flavor and Fragrance
The flavor from the wood smoke can make or break your smoked dish if you don’t choose as per your preference.
There are certain smoking wood types having a fruity taste and fragrance, whereas some have an intense and earthy one.
For example, fruitwoods such as applewood, peachwood, and cherrywood give a sweet flavor and aroma to the chicken. On the other hand, woods like hickory, oak, and mesquite impart an earthy and woodsy one.
I love when my smoked chicken has some color in it! If you’re the same person, there are a few kinds of wood like hickory, oak, and cherrywood that give off a rich mahogany color to the meat. Pecan may also give off a slightly yellowish-golden color.
However, if you want the chicken’s color to remain intact, avoid the above-mentioned options in the list.
3. Availability and Cost
Some types of wood are easier to obtain compared to the rest.
For instance, apple wood is one of the popular options. So, it is often easily available.
The same cannot be said for peach wood as it’s the hardest to obtain. Hence, it’s also not cost-effective.
The availability and cost also depend on your geographical location.
If you’re living in the Northern parts of Texas, Hickory is the most famous wood due to its easy availability, whereas in West Texas, Mesquite is more common.
Comparison Table for Different Kinds of Wood
The table below compares the best wood options for smoking chicken on a grill, based on their flavor, aroma, and color.
|Mildly sweet and fruity
|Very smoky and earthy
|Smoky (similar to bacon)
|Slightly intense and smoky
|Brown or mahogany
|Mild and sweet (more than apple)
|Sweet, savory, and nutty
|Sweet and refreshing
Best Wood Options for Smoking Chicken
Without any further delay, let’s get into discussing the types of wood for smoking chicken.
When I was searching for the best wood for smoking chicken, the answer I came across the most often was apple.
Apple is the top pick for many people when it comes to smoking meat. The reason behind it is that the apple’s flavor is a lot milder than other fruit woods.
As apple wood’s smoke flavor is not too overpowering, it won’t influence the natural flavors of the chicken and its marination. Hence, it adds just the right amount of sweetness to your chicken and is good for smoking.
Apple wood chunks also add a mildly sweet fragrance to the chicken which uplifts the overall taste of the smoked chicken.
Another benefit of using apple wood is its availability. You’ll find apple wood chips in stores or even online.
Pros: Doesn’t overpower the original taste of chicken, easy availability
Cons: Can get too mild, no color
If you are not looking for fruity wood and want intense wood for smoking chicken, go for hickory.
Hickory wood is equally popular for smoking chicken but for different reasons. Unlike applewood which is mild and sweet, hickory is known for its overpowering taste.
So, hickory is the best option for people who love the extra smokiness and intense taste of the chicken.
It’s also suitable if you are planning to keep the chicken rub on the mild side. This way, hickory can add its own flavors to the mix!
Another benefit of using hickory is its gorgeous color. Hickory wood is known to impart a rich mahogany color to the chicken.
However, I don’t recommend hickory if you already have an extensive and flavorful dry rub for your chicken. Hickory will simply minimize its taste.
Pros: Smoky and intense flavor, imparts a lovely red color to the meat
Cons: Can overpower the chicken flavors
Oak wood is a mix of apple and hickory. It is not too mild but also not too intense.
Hence, if you still want earthy flavors but don’t want to go for overpowering wood types like hickory or mesquite, opt for oak.
Oak is known for its versatility as it goes well with almost every type of meat, including chicken. The wood imparts a medium smoky flavor profile and a woodsy taste to the chicken without taking away any of its flavors.
Additionally, you can also pair oak with other fruitwoods like apple or cherry for adding a bit of sweetness to the chicken!
Just like hickory, oak also gives off a brown-mahogany color to the chicken.
Pros: Slightly smoky flavor, imparts a red color to the meat, goes well with other wood types
Cons: Can release a lot of heat
If apple wood is too mild for you, I recommend going for cherry as it goes well with chicken too.
Cherry wood has a sweet flavor like apple wood. Yet, the sweetness is more defined in cherry wood compared to apple wood.
Another difference between apple wood and cherry wood is that the latter adds a reddish tinge to the chicken. So, you should opt for cherrywood if you want both a sweet taste and color in your meat.
Cherry also has a mild smokiness to it. You can increase it by adding oak with it.
Pros: Perfectly sweet taste, not too overpowering, imparts a mild red color to the meat
Cons: Less smokiness
Pecan wood is one of my favorites for smoking poultry, including chicken! There’s not much difference between the sweetness of pecan and cherry.
However, what stands out to me is the unique slightly savory, and nutty flavor that pecan brings.
If you use pecan, you can expect an explosion of contrasting flavors. It’s sweet yet savory, and mild yet nutty.
Also, even if it has several flavors, they’re in moderation. So, it doesn’t influence the flavors of your marinated chicken.
Pecan also gives a unique golden color to your chicken, unlike the common deep mahogany shade.
Pros: Offers various flavors, imparts a golden color to the meat
Cons: Not suitable for a strong smoky flavor
This option is one of the best for my Canadian readers!
Maple wood is an excellent option for smoking chicken. It’s similar to applewood and cherrywood with its mild and sweet flavor profile. It also imparts a rich mahogany color to the meat.
Maple wood is easily available in Canada, but it might be more expensive and rare to find in certain regions of the US.
Pros: Mild sweetness, beautiful color
Cons: Not as readily available as other wood types
Peach has a mildly fruity natural flavor that works beautifully with chicken. Another thing I love about using peach for smoking chicken is how refreshing it is!
In my experience, peach wood just doesn’t add sweetness to the chicken but also has a refreshing yet mild taste.
The only drawback to peach is that it’s not readily available. So, it may get a little expensive to source.
Pros: Sweet and refreshing taste
Cons: Hard to source, no color from the smoke
What Size of Wood for Smoking Chicken
Apart from choosing the right wood for smoking chicken, you also need to consider the size of the hardwood.
Presently, there are four options available in wood sizes – pellets, chips, chunks, and logs.
Wood pellets and chips are suitable for meats requiring a shorter time to cook, like chicken or turkey. However, you might have to keep adding wood chips for smoking chicken to keep up the temperature, if necessary.
On the other hand, wood chunks and logs are best for meats with a longer cook time.
If you’re going with wood chips, you require six ounces, whereas, for wood chunks, four to six ounces is ideal.
As I mentioned in the article, apple, cherry, maple, and peach can give a sweet taste to your chicken. If you’re looking for intense and smoky flavors, go for hickory or oak. You can also go for pecan for a nutty taste.
How many hours for smoked chicken?
Smoked chicken generally takes around three to four hours. Keep in mind that the size also affects your chicken’s cooking time.
What should chicken be smoked at?
You can smoke chicken at around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Just ensure that the internal temperature is between 165 degrees Fahrenheit and 175 degrees Fahrenheit.