What’s the best wood for smoking chicken? Tips & tricks

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 29, 2020

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Smoking chicken gives the meat a deep, rich taste that grillers love. It’s for this reason that many people insist on eating their chicken smoked…or not at all.

A big part of how your smoked chicken tastes is the wood you use to smoke it with. Wood has its own flavorings that’ll come out to give the meat a characteristic that can be savory, fruity, sweet, and more.

If you ask different chefs what the best wood for smoking chicken is, opinions will vary. However, this article will give you a rundown of some tastes you might choose from.

Which wood to smoke chicken with

What woods are best for smoking chicken?

Chicken has a light taste that shouldn’t be overwhelmed by woods that are too heavy. That being said, fruity flavors work well to complement the lean taste of the meat.

With that in mind, here are some woods I’d recommend:

  • Hickory: Hickory burns hot and slow to give meats a taste that’s sweet and almost bacon-y in flavor. Because it tends to be strong, hickory should be used sparingly, especially if you’re smoking a smaller bird. Consider mixing hickory chips with cherry to give your chicken a great taste.
  • Maple: Like hickory, maple is a heavy wood that burns long and slow. However, it has a sweeter taste than most other heavy woods, making it the perfect complement for chicken.
  • Apple: Applewood has a mild, fruity taste that works well with chicken and other birds. It’ll need to burn a long time to permeate the meat effectively.
  • Peach: Peach has a light, fruity taste that gives chicken a southern tang. It burns hot and long. It’s best to use peach wood when it’s fresh, as its flavor will fade quickly.
  • Cherry: Cherry wood’s sweet, mild flavor is great for chicken and works particularly well when combined with hickory. It burns hot for a relatively long amount of time.
  • Pimento: Pimento isn’tt easy to find, but if you can get your hands on it, it makes a great jerk chicken.
  • Pecan: Pecan gives chicken a great nutty flavor. It works especially well when mixed with fruit woods.

Even though chicken tastes good when grilled over charcoal, adding the right wood chips will give it a flavor that takes it to the next level!

What woods aren’t good for smoking chicken?

While the above are some of the best woods for smoking chicken, there are also woods that aren’t recommended. They are as follows:

It’s also important to make sure that the wood is safe for smoking, no matter what type of meat (like these best cuts for smoking) you’re cooking. With that in mind, here are some woods you’ll want to avoid.

Woods that contain toxins

The toxins from wood can get into your food and poison you. Woods with toxins you’ll want to avoid include mangrove, poisonous walnut, sassafras, yew, oleander, tambootie, and laburnum.

  • Lumber scraps: You never know where lumber scraps have been. They could be treated, contain toxins, or have been through any other type of circumstance that makes them unsafe for consumption. It’s best to steer clear.
  • Chemically-treated wood: If wood is chemically treated, the chemicals can get in your food and make you sick.
  • Moldy wood: Moldy wood will give your food a strange taste. It may also contain toxins.
  • Painted or stained wood: Painted or stained wood can make food taste bitter. It can also contain lead, which is poisonous.

Now that you know more about smoking chicken, which woods will you be using to make your next dish?

Also read: this is how you make a delicious beer can smoked chicken

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.