Best wood for smoking chili | 4 great wood flavors to try

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 19, 2020

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When we think of how to prepare chili, most of us think of making it on the stovetop.

However, some chefs will argue that there is a way to make it even more delicious and that’s to smoke simmer it on the grill.

If you would like to try a smoked chili recipe for your next meal, there are several factors to consider like what type of woods will work best, how long you will need to smoke your chili for and more.

This article will answer some of those questions to help you achieve the most delicious smoked chili possible.

best wood for smoked chili

Best Woods for Smoking Chili

The secret to making a great smoked chili is to smoke the meat before searing it on your grill. Then you can add it to the chili with the other ingredients and put the entire pot on top of the smoker to further enhance the flavor.

Most chili recipes call for beef. If you will be using beef for your recipe, here are the woods that are recommended.

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If you prefer a leaner meat, such as chicken, turkey or ham, here are some recommendations.

  • Maple: Maple will give the meat a light taste and a subtle, smokey flavor.
  • Apple: Applewood is light and sweet lending a mellow flavor to white meats.
  • Cherry: Cherry has a light, fruity taste that works well when mixed with hickory.
  • Alder: Alder wood has a delicate and sweet taste that goes well with fish and salmon.

Woods to avoid when smoking chili

Although certain wood will work better with different types of meats than others, most will give it a nice flavor. However, there are certain woods you will definitely want to avoid using.

In general, softwoods should be avoided. They contain high levels of terpenes and sap that can give wood a funny taste and they can even make you sick.

These softwoods include pine, redwood, fir, spruce, and cedar. Some use cedar planks for cooking but they should never be chopped up for smoking.

Elm, eucalyptus, sycamore and liquid amber can also give meat a funny taste.

Woods that are sourced from certain trees, plants and shrubs can contain toxins that will stay in the wood even after it is burned. These plants include mangrove, sassafras, poisonous walnut, yew, tambootie, oleander, and laburnum.

It should go without saying that any wood that has been chemically treated, painted, stained or has signs of mold should not be used for smoking.

How long should I smoke my chili for?

A great smoked chili will start with smoking the meat. Different meats will take different amounts of time to smoke but most will be ready within 6 to 8 hours. Brisket can take up to 22 hours to smoke.

In general, when smoking meat, you should follow a 3-2-1 rule:

  1. For the first three hours, meat is left to smoke
  2. For the next two hours, the meat is wrapped in aluminum foil to allow the interior to cook properly
  3. For the last hour, the foil is removed to allow the meat to develop a crisp interior.

Once you have smoked the meat, you can combine it with vegetables (smoked or otherwise) of your choice. Onions, peppers and tomatoes are recommended. You can also add other meats like sausage and to truly make it chili, you will want to add the right sauces and seasonings.

Garlic, chili seasoning, beef broth, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce will produce the right flavor and consistency.

Once you get the combination you prefer, mix all your ingredients in an iron pot and place it directly on your smoker. Cook uncovered for 2 ½ hours stirring occasionally. Then add beans (optional) and continue cooking an additional hour.

Once the chili, like this beef & pork one, is thoroughly cooked, you can serve it with your favorite toppings like shredded cheese, lime wedges, sour cream and more.

Chili is a comfort food that is terrific on a cold winter’s night. Smoking it can elevate the taste giving it that added special something.

What tips do you have for making your chili even more delicious?

Did you know, fruit woods are the best when smoking white meat like delicious cornish hens?

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.