Best wood for smoking Italian sausage | The secret to the right flavor

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  January 23, 2022

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If you love to make sausage or use it in your recipes, you must try smoking your own Italian sausage because it’s absolutely delicious.

But, in order to smoke the tastiest sausages, you need to use the right smoking wood.

Best wood for smoking Italian sausage | The secret to the right flavor

The best wood for smoking Italian sausage is hickory because it gives a strong smoky, bacon-like flavor and a dark reddish color to the sausage. Those who prefer lighter flavors can use fruit woods like apple, cherry, and nutty sweet wood like pecan.

The secret lies in using hickory in moderation to infuse the sausage with enough smokiness without overpowering the pork.

In this guide, I’m sharing the best woods for smoking Italian sausages just like Nonna’s.

Smoked Italian sausage

It’s a common misconception that you can use any type of wood for smoking sausages. But, Italian sausage is distinct from other types.

People always ask “well, what’s the difference between Italian sausages and the other regular sausages?”

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

Italian sausage is made of pork meat but its distinct flavor comes from the seasoning.

The main seasoning ingredient in the sausage is fennel and this herb gives it a slight licorice scent and flavor which requires certain wood smoke flavors to bring out this special taste.

The sausage has a savory and sweet taste and combined with bacony hickory smoke or sweeter fruity smoke makes this kind of sausage very versatile.

You can serve Italian sausage with Italian bread, hot dog buns, soups, casseroles, pasta, and even refreshing salads.

The smoke from the wood smoke burns and penetrates the pork meat mixture infusing it with a rich, delightful smokiness.

Smoked sausage has a crispy exterior and a juicy savory interior.

Here’s another Italian delicacy to enjoy: grilled, baked or fried Calamari steak (recipes)

Best wood for smoking Italian sausages

Not all woods have the same aroma and flavor. The wood’s flavor profile determines what aroma is transferred and imparted into the sausage links.

Smoked sausages will take on various flavors so for this Italian version with fennel, you should use hickory, oak, pecan, fruitwoods, and some others I will mention below.

If you like strong Southern BBQ flavors, nothing beats good old hickory, mesquite, and oak wood for smoked sausage.

If you want sweeter aromas use the mild fruit woods which don’t overpower the pork sausage’s natural flavors.

Don’t forget you can always combine sweet, earthy, and savory wood smoke flavors to create the taste you’re after.

By using the right wood you can smoke sausages the whole family will love!

Hickory

  • smoke intensity: strong
  • flavors: bacony, earthy, very smoky

Hickory is without a doubt the greatest wood for smoking Italian sausage. Hickory wood chips have that classic bacon-like flavor with a hint of earthiness and true Southern-BBQ smoke aromas.

It’s no surprise that hickory is one of America’s favorite smoke woods, especially for sausages.

Although the smoke can be a bit pungent, the bacon-like smell is just what Italian sausages need.

After three hours of hickory smoking, your Italian sausage should be 165°F on the inside and have a slightly reddish tint from the wood.

You should use this hardwood in moderation because it has a strong flavor and you don’t want to overdo it and give the meat a bitter taste.

You can also blend hickory with fruity woods like apple or cherry in order to sweeten the smoke.

After three hours of hickory smoking, your Italian sausage should be 165°F on the inside and have a slightly reddish tint from the wood.

For a tasty bacon flavor, fill the wood chip tray with the premium Fire & Flavor hickory chips.

Pecan

  • smoke intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: nutty, sweet, and slightly earthy

Those who aren’t fans of strong hickory smoke flavor will tell you that pecan is the best wood to smoke for Italian sausages.

Of course, it’s all about personal preferences but pecan gives the smoked meat a very pleasant, nutty, sweet, and earthy taste.

Pecan is an excellent alternative to hickory or walnut because it gives a similar kind of smoke but it’s much milder so it won’t overpower the sausage and all its seasonings.

This wood burns cool but still gives a similar bacony sweet aroma only it has a hint of nuttiness which sets this flavor apart. It is also sweeter than hickory but not fruity like apple.

Pecan wood chips can create an intense smoke too so use them in moderation.

You can find Weber pecan wood chips for a low price on Amazon.

Looking for a grill to buy? I’ve listed my favorite gas grill under $1000 here (including Weber)

Peach

  • smoke intensity: mild
  • flavors: sweet, fruity, refreshing

Fruit woods generally burn faster than hickory or oak, for example. That makes them ideal for shorter smokes like sausages.

Although applewood is more popular, peach wood is excellent too. It gives a light sweet flavor to your smoked sausage.

Peach smoke is most commonly associated with summer sausage or Polish sausage but it’s equally tasty for Italian sausage too.

For a stronger smoke flavor, you can blend peach with hickory and even mesquite wood – this makes the smoke savory, earthy, and a lot more intense.

But, the peach’s subtly sweet and fruity aromas don’t allow the other flavors to overpower the pork.

Fire & Flavor peach wood chips will infuse your sausages with a delightfully sweet aroma.

Apple

  • smoke intensity: mild
  • flavors: fruity, sweet

If you prefer sweeter smoked Italian sausages, a mild fruit wood like apple is the top choice.

Although it provides a subtle smokiness, apple gives just the right amount of sweetness for pork smoked sausages.

It’s a great alternative for the strong woods like hickory – I know some people really want to taste the subtle flavors of the Italian sausage links more than the actual smoke wood aromas and in that case, a mild, mellow wood is best.

Apple is no doubt probably America’s favorite smoking wood for almost any type of meat. Italians like their fruitwoods too, so you can’t go wrong with applewood chips in your smoker.

Apple takes a bit longer to penetrate the meat but the subtle wood will make the sausage taste delicious.

You can use apple as a blending wood with the stronger woods and even the nutty pecan. It will make the sausages sweeter, really bringing out the distinct fennel taste.

For a mildly sweet taste, use the Western Premium chips.

Cherry

  • smoke intensity: mild
  • flavors: sweet, fruity, slightly acidic

If you’re familiar with Italian-style smoking, you might’ve heard of Alpine Cherry Wood from Trentino.

You probably can’t get your hands on it easily, but the Smokehouse cherry wood chips are also made from premium quality cherry and burn clean in your smoker.

Italians use a lot of cherry wood for smoked food and it’s my favorite sausage smoking wood because it’s mild yet smoky enough.

Cherry wood is one of the best fruit woods for smoked sausage because it is sweet, flavorful, and adds a nice red tinge to your sausage links.

It is never bitter so it lets the natural flavors of the Italian sausage come through.

There are plenty of affordable cherry wood chips on Amazon but be sure to give Cameron’s Products cherry chips a try.

Mesquite

  • smoke intensity: very strong
  • flavors: smoky, savory, rich, earthy, slightly musky

Everyone knows that mesquite is one of the strongest smoking woods out there. It burns hot, heavy smoke which can easily overpower many types of meat. Luckily, pork and mesquite is one of the best flavor combos.

Mesquite is suitable for smoking sausage though as long as you use it in moderation. The smoke flavor is very earthy and savory and resembles the classic “Southern BBQ” aromas.

For Italian sausages, it’s probably best to mix mesquite wood chips with some cherry, apple, or peach fruitwood to add that light fruity sweetness that complements fennel and other Italian herbs.

Oklahoma Joe’s mesquite wood chips have a bold, rich flavor.

Oak

  • smoke intensity: medium to strong
  • flavors: neutral, slightly earthy, mellow, slightly sweet

Oakwood chips are great for smoking sausages, especially hot dogs. This is probably one of the most versatile smoking woods for all smoked meats but it can give a lot of neutral smokiness to your sausage links.

Many Texan pitmasters love using oak wood for smoking, especially the post oak (white oak). This wood smoke profile has an interesting Kentucky bourbon aroma which is slightly sweet like vanilla.

This is the wood to use if you like smoky sausages because it doesn’t tend to overpower red meats and pork. Oak’s light earthiness complements the Italian herb seasoning mix and the distinct licorice aroma of the fennel.

Although the smoke profile is rather mellow, oak burns a strong smoke so you must use it sparingly. Oakwood also gives the sausage a nice light brown color on the outside.

Try the Home Brew Ohio oak wood chips which are made in America of natural kiln-dried wood.

Acacia

  • smoke intensity: medium
  • flavors: earthy, slightly pungent and musky, strong smoky flavor

Acacia comes from the same wood family as mesquite but it isn’t nearly as strong or intense. Most people prefer it for smoking Italian sausage because it offers a medium-light smoke flavor.

This wood has a pretty strong smoke flavor but it’s earthy and a bit pungent and lightly musky. It doesn’t give the meat any sweetness like fruitwoods.

If you want to smoke sausage with a bit of sweetness, blend acacia with apple or cherry.

Acacia also gives the sausage a light yellow lemon color but the color isn’t the reason why people use this wood for smoked sausages.

Like mesquite, acacia burns hot and you don’t need to use a lot of wood chips or chunks in the smoker.

Learn more about the best smoking woods to use in my full wood chart

How long to smoke Italian sausage?

Smoking Italian sausage is a pretty simple process in the smoker. You have to smoke the raw sausage for approximately 3 to 5 hours depending on the quantity. You can have more than just one rack of sausages in the smoker at once.

Italian sausages should be smoked at an ideal temperature between 200-250 degrees F or 93-122 C.

At this temperature, the sausage has to be smoked for 3 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.

If you’re strapped for time, you can actually smoke at a higher temperature of 300 F and smoke it in about 2 hours or less.

Just be sure to turn over the sausages at 30 to 45-minute intervals. The meat should brown uniformly and take on a dark reddish color.

The skin will start to shrivel up – that’s when you know the sausage is smoky, cooked, and ready to serve.

Keep an eye on the temperature with either a leave-in thermometer, or a instant-read thermometer.

Remember that you don’t smoke the sausage for long enough though, the meat may contain harmful bacteria so you need to cook it properly.

Also, if you over-smoke it, the sausage will shrivel up too much because the fat evaporates, and then it won’t satisfy your taste buds.

What woods to avoid when smoking Italian sausage

Hardwoods are no doubt the best woods for smoking meat, including Italian sausage.

Because their cell structures are compact and there are few resins and sap to generate disagreeable odors and creosote, hard and semi-hard woods are most suitable for smoking.

Always avoid softwoods like elm, cypress, fir, pine, spruce when smoking meat. These coniferous woods are full of sap and resin and are toxic when they burn.

These woods have a more relaxed cell structure and are full of resins and toxic oil which can result in a dense, heavy, smoke that leaves an unpleasant black residue that makes your food taste bad and bitter.

Softwoods can make you ill if you use them for smoked sausage.

In the case of Italian sausage links, you want to avoid super-strong smoky woods like walnut which can overpower the meat and make your sausage taste bitter!

Takeaway

Smoked Italian sausage has a tasty smoky flavor which combined with the savory aroma and juicy texture, makes it the perfect addition to all kinds of BBQ dishes, pasta, soups, stews, and more!

Smoking it the right way means using the right smoking wood.

Hickory, oak, pecan, and fruitwoods all combine well and won’t overpower the distinctive flavor of Italian sausage.

If you like smoking at home but don’t have space for a big unit smoker, consider these compact stovetop smokers

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.