Best Wood for smoking turkey – Get the best wood for meat smoking

by | Jan 23, 2023 | Barbecue, Smoker | 0 comments

Thanksgiving dinner is incomplete without the main dish – turkey! Smoking turkey is a long process, but with the correct brine and effort, the taste is worth all the hard work. A lot of it is also dependent on the kind of wood chunks you choose, as choosing wood types that produce a lot of smoke can overtake the flavor and make it ashy. 

If you are going to take the effort to smoke a turkey, it is better to do it the right way – by choosing the best wood. Wood from fruit trees can even make the meat taste a little sweet, which makes for a great profile. 

Even the size of the wood you pick helps determine the aroma and texture of the turkey. So, read on to find the best wood to smoke your turkey!

Best Wood For Smoking Turkey

There are different types of wood to use for smoking turkey. But, when it comes to cooking light meat like turkey, I suggest opting for wood chips instead of blocks or logs. This is because their small size allows the delicate meat to smoke well. 

Bigger wood variants can be used for larger and sturdier meat like brisket or beef that require more smoke and time on the flame. 

Lighter meats like chicken or turkey also catch flavor easily, and when there are larger pieces of wood, the smoke can easily take over and dominate the taste. Wood chips allow equal distribution of seasoning in light meats like poultry. 

If you do not have an idea about the right wood, I recommend the below-mentioned options to us. 

Pecan Wood

Pecan is a type of wood that makes your meat taste slightly with a tinge of nuttiness

Unlike wood from fruit trees, pecan is great as it adds a slight oaky taste to your turkey, giving it a distinct flavor. Since it leaves behind a sweet flavor, it is best if you want to serve your turkey with a mildly spicy sauce. 

Though meat smoked in Pecan wood can be too sweet for some people, it does not need to be mixed in with other chips as it already has a tinge of nut. I also advise against it as combining another type of wood with a sweet one might cause your turkey to be sour and have an unbalanced flavor!

Pecan keeps the smoke from overpowering the meat and will add a robust and lightly smoky flavor to the turkey. Moreover, pecan is the most affordable of all the wood options that leave behind a sweet taste.

Pros: Tinge of nuttiness and a robust flavor, affordable

Cons: Can be too sweet for some people

Cherry Wood

Cherry wood is the most popular option for smoking turkey and is widely recommended by recipes. Cherry wood leaves behind a tinge of sweetness in your poultry meat and has a reputation for smoking turkey till it has a rich, oaky flavor. 

Using cherry wood also gives the meat a lovely maroon color which looks great for Thanksgiving feasts. The flavor your turkey will have is also sweet enough to go with all kinds of sauces and marinades. It is also flexible and can be mixed in with other chips like hickory to enhance the taste of your turkey.

The only drawback of cherry wood is that it can get hard to obtain, and is also the most common option to go for when it comes to smoking turkey. Hence, it is one of the more expensive kinds of wood used for smoking. 

Pros: Ideal for smoking turkey, enhances both flavor and appearance

Cons: Not easily available, expensive 


When maple wood is used for smoking turkey, the meat is usually left with a mildly sweet but robust flavor. It also leaves behind a lovely floral smell that makes the meat have a tinge of honey as well. This goes very well with savory kinds of sauces or marinades, so it is ideal for those who do not like the sweetness of cherry or pecan. 

You will particularly like the taste of what maple wood does to your turkey if you are using a glaze that has herbs or butter. 

The earthy taste you get from maple-smoked turkey complements the flavor and is perfect for those who don’t like sweet/savory meats. 

Pros: Maple offers the perfect balance between earthy and sweet

Cons: Maple is a seasonal tree

Alder Wood

Wood like Alder is a popular mild wood choice for smoking delicate meats like seafood, which is also the reason why they work very well with turkey, in the smoker. It does not produce a lot of smoke and is ideal if you simply want a smoky flavor to your turkey, instead of getting additional ones from wood. 

Alder neither sweetens nor enhances the taste, so it works best when the main part of your turkey recipe is the glaze or the seasonings. 

The original flavors of your turkey will remain intact and will have a slightly smoky taste. The wood does not produce much smoke because it burns very slowly, so the flavor will spread and settle properly. 

Slow cooking is also perfect for turkey meat, so it works very well for a simple, beginner’s recipe too. 

Pros: Allows slow cooking, less smoke

Cons: No additional flavors


Another fruit wood that is great for smoking turkey, apple wood is used for its ability to evenly influence all parts of the whole turkey. 

Despite being a sweet wood, the apple does not heavily influence the flavor of turkey and will give it only a slight tinge of sweetness that blends well with your added seasonings. 

Apple wood is beginner friendly and burns slowly. Hence, it can work well with turkey and other delicate poultry meats. 

The only problem with using this wood is the fact that it dries the turkey out easily, and you will need to spray it often if you are going to use apple wood. 

Serving turkey smoked in apple wood will make it taste like meat marinated with fruity flavors like cranberry sauce. 

Pros: Fruity wood, sweet flavor, easily available and affordable

Cons: Dries out the turkey too quickly


Hickory wood has a wide range of flavors to give your turkey. So, for bland poultry like turkey, it can be an additional seasoning! 

Turkey glaze and brine are usually made savory, which is why hickory can be a good balance as it gives the meat a strong, robust flavor.

This wood is used for smoking a lot of different meats, as it produces less smoke, and gives them a distinct, earthy taste. However, hickory is a strongly flavored wood. It can have a very strong aroma and a flavor that many people don’t like using for something as bland as turkey. 

Instead, they mix in hickory chips with a sweeter wood-like cherry to balance out the flavor without letting either of the two overpower the meat. 

Pros: Robust flavor, flexible and versatile

Cons: Balancing the amount of wood needed is difficult


One of the lesser popular options, mesquite can be a last-minute supplementary wood that works decently for smoking turkey. It can also be the option to go for if you like your meat spicy, smokey, and on the strong side of the flavor spectrum. 

Turkey smoked on mesquite wood with BBQ sauce is a common way to cook in many US states. Though the wood easily dominates the normal flavor of turkey, a lot of people like to serve it with a sweeter sauce. You can also mix in mesquite with cherry wood to balance out the flavor profile each one lacks. 

The only drawback is that mesquite is not beginner-friendly, and using it to smoke turkey can go wrong for those who do not know how to balance out their wood chips and seasonings very well. 

Pros: Spicy, robust flavored turkey

Cons: Not beginner-friendly

Tips For Smoking Turkey

Smoking meat is never easy, and it can go severely wrong for beginners since it takes so much time. The following are a few tips that may help you with cooking your first Thanksgiving main course. 

  • Go for the spatchcocking method (removing the backbone, breaking the breastbone, and splitting the turkey in half) to allow it to cook more easily and thoroughly.
  • Get a digital thermometer to know exactly when to take the turkey out. Remember to let the turkey rest well and only take it out once the inside has reached 160 – 165 Degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Cook turkey low and slow. It requires long hours of cooking and should be done well to avoid blandness or patchy cooking. 
  • Stuffing your turkey after you are done roasting as doing the opposite can cause the filling to get soggy and will also take longer to cook. 
  • Do not peek into the smoker or grill unless it has at least been 30 minutes – 1 hour depending on the size of your turkey. It may be tempting to look at, but peeping can cause moisture to flow out. 

Related Questions 

What’s The Best Wood To Use To Smoke Turkey Breast? 

The best kind of wood to smoke turkey breasts are cherry wood and pecan wood as they add a mild sweetness to the smoke flavor of the turkey. They also give the meat a rich, golden honey color. 

How Do You Keep A Turkey From Getting Rubbery When Smoking? 

If your turkey keeps getting rubbery when you try to smoke it, you can add a spritz or baste to help keep it a little moist. 

Final Thoughts

Turkey is not the easiest to cook when it comes to delicate meats, but it can be a satisfying meal on any day except holidays if you learn to do it right. 

The correct kind of wood can bring out the perfect color and flavor, and we hope that this article has helped you pick the best available option for you.




Colin has been grilling, smoking, and barbecuing in his yard for as long as he remembers.  His favorite dish is pork belly smoked on his favorite offset smoker. Read more about Colin here.


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