Smoked ham is one of the best ways to enjoy pork leg.
There are many delicious smoked ham recipes out there, cured with all kinds of spices from the classic German Black Forest Ham to sweet smoked ham with a brown sugar glaze and everything in-between.
But, the secret to enhancing the meat’s flavor lies in choosing the best smoking wood because this can impart various tasty flavors to the ham through the smoke.
You can use many smoking woods for ham, but the most popular woods to use include fruit woods like apple, cherry, nut woods like pecan, strong woods like hickory, and maple or oak for a classic BBQ flavor.
In this guide, you can find out which woods to use when making smoked ham and all the different wood chips that pair well with this particular pork cut.
Top woods for smoking ham
The best woods for smoked ham include hardwoods like oak, pecan, maple, and hickory and fruit woods like apple, cherry, and peach.
When you’re smoking meat like pork leg for ham, you need to use spices, so the idea is that you should use woods that give the meat a subtle smoke flavor.
Hickory is more intense but it works for those who really love that southern-style BBQ flavor.
- mild flavor
- sweet, fruity
Apple is no doubt one of the top fruit woods for smoking pork, especially pork leg and pork shoulder.
It creates a sweeter flavor that tastes amazing on its own or paired with hardwoods like oak and hickory or lighter hardwoods like maple.
The reason why applewood is the best for smoked ham is that it imparts a balanced flavor. It leaves a mild and subtle smoke flavor that is sweet and fruity.
Ham is the type of meat that already has a distinct flavor so too much smoke can ruin the deliciousness. The smoked ham flavor outside of Germany is all about a blend of sweet and fruity aromas.
The thing about applewood is that it takes a while for its flavors to penetrate the meat, so longer slow smokes are better.
If you control the temperature properly and add a generous amount of applewood chips, your ham will turn out amazing.
The flavors are mild and subtle but still sweet enough to enrich the pork.
For the ultimate smoked ham taste, pair applewood with barbecue sauce (top 8 best listed here) – it’s a combo that will excite your taste buds.
If you want to intensify the apple, blend it with other woods like pecan. This intensifies the smoky aroma and this combo also works well on other heavier meats like game.
The Oklahoma Joe’s applewood chips are some of the most popular and they are the perfect way to add sweetness to your ham.
- medium flavor
- lightly earthy, smokey, nutty
Pecan wood is a hardwood that belongs to the hickory family but it’s not nearly as strong in flavor as hickory wood.
This wood is ideal for long and slow smoking because it burns slowly.
It tastes amazing when it’s used to smoke pork cuts like ham. Pecan imparts the meat with a delicate flavor when used in moderation.
Just like hickory, it can overpower the natural flavors of the meat if you use too much of it. Use fewer wood chips if you don’t want the pecan to become pungent and too sharp.
Overall pecan is fairly similar to hickory wood but it doesn’t give the ham that very intense bacon-like flavor.
I recommend using pecan wood if you want to impart the ham with more flavor slowly.
The ham will take on a rich, nutty, and sharp taste and have a fine texture. You can taste that authentic BBQ smokiness but not as strong as other smoke woods.
Some pitmasters prefer pecan over applewood for smoking pork. That’s because the wood smoke aromas are richer and nuttier. While this wood won’t overpower the ham, you can taste hints of nutty flavor.
Pecan is also a great alternative to hickory if you don’t like strong earthy barbecue flavor because it’s more subtle.
You can also use pecan as a mixing wood with fruitwoods like apple and cherry. It adds an additional layer of flavor and balances out the sweetness of the fruitwoods.
The Weber pecan wood chips are bestsellers on Amazon and they will make the ham taste like a nuttier version of hickory.
- mild flavor
- fruity, sweet
When you’re not sure which wood to use for smoking pork you can count on cherry wood. It’s not heavy wood like hickory and oak, so it’s extremely versatile and goes with almost any type of meat.
Cherry is an ideal wood for smoking meat if you like to keep things mildly smoky and sweet.
Since cherry wood is mild like apple, it adds a delicate sweetness to the ham.
Mild woods are ideal for smoking chicken and other poultry but in the case of ham, they are ideal if you plan on adding a sweet glaze to the smoked product.
Cherry’s sweet aroma is great but what makes it even better for smoking is that it gives a dark color to the meat. That’s perfect for smoked ham which looks far more appetizing with a dark-colored outer layer.
Combined with the colors of the spice rub, you’ll end up with smoked ham that looks just like the one you buy at the deli – only the homemade product probably tastes better!
There’s nothing like cooking with fresh smoke wood.
The ham will have a deep reddish color therefore it’s the best wood for smoking if you want to cook a smoked spiral ham.
For deeper flavor, you can blend cherry with oak and hickory (more on mixing smoking woods here) to create an earthy smoke profile with hints of mild sweetness.
Oklahoma Joe’s cherry wood chips are affordable and burn a clean smoke.
- mild to medium flavor
- earthy, subtle, smoky
Oakwood is a lighter hardwood and it’s great for smoking meats, especially ham.
It gives the ham a smokey flavor but it’s more of a subtle flavor compared to other hardwoods like mesquite wood and hickory which are true BBQ smoke woods.
Although oak is one of the stronger flavored woods for ham, it’s a great smoking wood because it doesn’t overpower the ham’s natural taste.
If I have to use one word to describe oak, it has to be “versatile” because this wood is good for all kinds of meat but is also easy to control its smoke.
Oak is an excellent smoking wood for beginners because it doesn’t create too much smoke at once and is easier to control. Therefore, there’s very little chance that you ruin the taste of the ham.
Also, oak is an excellent wood for mixing. It can even be used on more delicate meats as long as you don’t use too many wood chips at once.
Make sure to add some slightly sweet woods like apple and cherry to add that fruity flavor that makes ham taste better.
Overall, oak wood chips give a medium smoky flavor and are great for blending with mild wood.
You should know that there are several types of oak – the red oak tree is preferable to white oak.
That’s because red oak still gives a subtle aroma without any strong earthy flavors. Therefore, if you use oak wood you’re almost guaranteed great smoked ham.
Check out these toasted oak wood chips and get ready for a delicious smokey aroma.
- mild flavor
- fruity, sweet, citrus, floral
Another fruitwood to consider is peach. If you’re looking for the best wood for smoking, but don’t want apple or cherry, peach wood is the best fruity alternative.
In terms of taste, peach imparts the meat with a pleasant sweet flavor and lots of fruity notes. But, what makes it interesting for your taste buds is that it has some citrus flavor and floral aromas too.
This combination of sweet, fruity, citrusy zing and floral flavors makes peach wood quite unique compared to other similar woods.
Compared to apple wood and orange, it contains fewer acids and creates a mild flavor.
So, the peach wood is milder and lighter the smoke is very pleasant. This type of smoke works well with ham because it’s not overpowering and it is much more refreshing than say hickory, oak, or even alder wood.
If you like fruity ham, you’ll enjoy using peach. It gives the meat such a tasty sweet citrus aroma, it will make people keep coming back for more smoked ham.
Fire & Flavor wood chips give the meat the fruity and smoky flavor you’re looking for.
- mild flavor
- sweet, lightly fruity
If you haven’t smoked with maple wood, and sugar maple specifically, you’re seriously missing out.
Maple wood gives the meat a mild flavor but it is still sweet and fruity, so it’s one of those must-try smoking woods for ham, pork shoulders, pork ribs, and other red meat.
In terms of flavor profile, maple is almost as sweet as applewood. Therefore it pairs well with sweet maple syrup or brown sugar ham glaze.
The smoke is mild and sweet, and like cherry, it darkens the meat during the smoking process. This gives the ham a smokey crust – a perfect complement for the spice rub.
You can mix maple wood with apple and cherry to make the sweetness fruitier. It even works as a blending wood with a more neutral wood such as alder.
Or, you can mix it with other hardwoods for an intense smokey BBQ flavor you’ll find in the South.
The Western Premium maple wood chips are excellent for smoking ham and they are quite affordable too!
Other woods to try for smoking ham
I just want to quickly mention some woods you can also try if you have the chance:
- Alder: this is a universal smoke wood that works with most meats but it gives the ham a neutral and mild smoky flavor.
- Almond: if you like pecan wood, you’ll like almond which is even sweeter but still mild enough as not to overwhelm the ham.
- Apricot: this wood is more similar to hickory than peach – it has a sweet and mild flavor but it’s not as bacony
- Orange: it’s one of the best citrus woods for smoked pork recipes. It gives the ham a mild smokey flavor with a tasteable tanginess.
Still looking for a good smoker for big chunks of meat like ham and ribs? I’ve reviewed the 7 best BBQ smoker brands for meat here
Which woods to avoid when smoking ham
For smoking ham, I would avoid mesquite wood because it’s just too strong and can overpower the flavors of the pork.
Mesquite wood is better for game meat and red meats like burnt ends where a powerful rich earthy flavor is required.
As always, conifers like pine and fir should never be used in the smoker for cooking meat. That’s because these trees contain high levels of sap, resin, and terpenes.
These burn black and create an extremely unpleasant bitter smoke that is unedible.
Also, the smoke is lightly toxic and some people can fall ill after eating food smoked with conifers.
Here’s the rule: if it’s an evergreen, use it for firewood but not for smoking.
Avoid green wood too, and only used seasoned wood chunks or wood chips for smoking ham.
Finally, don’t ever use treated wood and lumber which may contain very toxic and harmful chemicals like paints, solvents, etc.
Pinewood for smoking Black Forest Ham
It is a known fact that you are not allowed to smoke with resinous conifers like pinewood and fir because their sap and terpenes are quite toxic when burnt.
However, there is one exception: Black Forest ham, or ‘Schwarzwälder schinken’.
You might have heard that traditional Black Forest ham is smoked using local pinewood. In the case of smoked Black Forest ham, it is OK to use pinewood for smoking however it’s still not advisable.
The reason they use pinewood in Germany is that pine is a local wood in the Black Forest region.
This wood imparts a strong pine flavor to the ham which is balanced out by a carefully selected spice blend specific to the Schwartzwalder area of Germany.
If you ever plan on using pine for smoking only use a small amount of wood chips.
When pine burns it creates a lot of creosote which can clog up your smoker and give the meat a dark black crust and a sooty flavor which is very unpleasant.
How long does it take to smoke ham?
Most hams take about two hours to smoke. But, it really depends on the size of the ham and your smoker.
The general rule is that you need to smoke 15 -20 minutes per pound of ham. This is a good cooking time for ham.
An average ham weighs approximately 8 lbs so it’s ready in roughly 2-3 hours in the smoker.
Just keep in mind that smoking ham is different from smoking other pork cuts, red meats, or meats like whole chickens. Here, the ham is pre-cooked, so the goal is to add a smokey flavor.
Ham is one of the tastiest smoking meat cuts
When making smoked ham, you usually cure the meat first. This process ensures that the bacterial growth on the meat is controlled and the meat is safe to eat.
But, you can also just get fresh pork leg and smoke it – this tastes like pulled pork and NOT like authentic smoked ham.
If you don’t like the flavors you get from smoking meat, you can use less smoke wood, and then the flavor will be similar to the smoked ham you get at the grocery store and use in sandwiches.
But, when you smoke ham at home, you’ll probably get a more flavorful and tasty ham with a sweet flavor or a stronger southern BBQ smoke flavor.
The thing about smoked ham is that the wood you use for smoking, and the unique flavor of the various spices and dry rubs used have an equal effect on the end result.
Regardless, you can make the ham taste great with the right choice of smoke wood.
It’s easy to use an electric smoker for ham, but whatever type of smoker you use, you can add flavored wood chips to give the meat a mouth-watering aroma.
As you’ve noticed by now, it’s all about using mild woods for smoking ham if you want to let the meat’s natural flavors come through.
The combination of spices and the mild smokey aroma of the wood is the secret to making the tastiest ham.
Sweet and fruity woods like apple, peach, cherry are all suitable options and if you prefer to make it more earthy, oak and pecan are great too.
You can find great smoking woods locally at shops, or right there in your backyard, just make sure their smoke flavor isn’t too strong for ham.
Also found out what are the 7 top wood choices (& a few to avoid) for Smoking Rib Roast