Best wood for smoking meatloaf | 5 wood choices & some to avoid

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 8, 2021

Always the latest smoking tips & tricks?

Subscribe to THE ESSENTIAL newsletter for aspiring pitmasters

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Many kinds of woods are suitable to smoke your meatloaf. Especially because different types of wood will give a different flavor to the meat.

But mostly, people love using applewood or hickory to get the rich delicacies as well as the perfect smokey color of the dish.

In this article, I’ll take a look at these flavors and more tips for smoking your meatloaf to perfection. Best wood for smoked meatloaf

A Brief About Meatloaf

Meatloaf refers to the ground meat mixed with herbs and spices in the shape of a loaf. Most people use beef to make this dish, but it actually can use any kind of meat. You can cook your meatloaf either by baking it or smoking it.

  • If you want it easy and quick, baking would be your answer.
  • But if you aim for an ultimate flavor, smoking it with high-quality wood is the thing you should try.

Smoking the meatloaf means cooking it very slowly. It gives the chance for the meat to cook more evenly. But most of all, the smoke will put extra flavors to the meat, making it taste richer than a baked meatloaf of the same recipe.

Which wood is best for smoking meatloaf?

Almost every type of smoking wood can go well with meat. You can try different woods each time you smoke your meatloaf and see how it turns out. But if you are new to this, you can try some of these popular woods. Some say these are the best woods for smoking meatloaf!


Apple is the most common type of wood to use for cooking due to its versatility. Applewood has a mild and rather fresh sweet taste, making it perfect simple-seasoned meat. If you season your meatloaf with honey or cinnamon, applewood smoke will give it a harmonious finish to its flavor.


If you want a heavier flavor, try using hickory for smoking your meatloaf. It is full and distinct, which would be perfect to complement the rich usage of herbs and spices on your meatloaf. Hickory is by far the most common wood to use for smoking beef, including the meatloaf.


Walnut woods give out a stench of a nutty taste to the meatloaf. It is effective to elevate the savory flavor on your dish. The wood is more intense than hickory. Sometimes, people mix walnut with milder-flavored woods like cherry or other fruitwoods to create a more balanced complexity.


Lemonwood delivers a mild-to-medium intensity with a hint of citrusy flavor. You can also interchange lemonwood with any citrus woods, such as tangerines, orange, and lime. They all deliver similar styles of tastes. Lemonwood can make a great combination with heavier woods such as hickory, pecan, or walnut.


Mesquite gives a strong and heavy taste. It may cause your meatloaf to taste bitter if you over smoke it with this type of wood. Unless this is what you wish for, you might want to consider mixing mesquite with one of your fruitwood.

Top 9 tips on how to cook the perfect meatloaf

Meatloaf is one of those classic and sentimental meals that bring back our childhood memories.

Every family has its own recipe, and most of these recipes have their own unique and exciting ingredients, which makes eating the meatloaf a tasty experience. Each meatloaf tastes a little bit different from the last and that’s because the recipes are so varied.

In this post, we’ll teach you how to make an amazing meatloaf you and your family will love, every time! I think you’ll agree that the best meatloaf is made from scratch with high-quality ingredients. 9 tips for the best smoked meatloaf

But before we proceed, we need to give you some tips that will help you make the best meatloaf in your oven or smoker. You’ve probably been wondering how to get that perfect meatloaf every time.

How to prepare the best meatloaf?

Always use meat with high-fat content

Using leaner meat will make your meatloaf grainer and dry. If you want to use beef to prepare your meatloaf, then make sure that the fat content is at least 15%.

If you’re going to use turkey, pork, or leaner beef, then consider mixing the veal or ground pork in order to get a tender and moist meatloaf.

Another interesting way of adding fat to your meatloaf is by adding chopped bacon to the ingredients. Also, covering the meatloaf with bacon is another amazing way to make your meatloaf tender and moist. Bacon also adds extra flavor, making the meatloaf taste smokier.

Add some moisture in every step

Never forget to add ketchup, eggs, mustard, Worcestershire, tomato paste, BBQ sauce, or any combination of wet seasonings. These seasonings not only add texture and flavor to the meatloaf, but they also make it juicy. Nobody wants to eat a chewy or dry meatloaf. For an extra moist meatloaf, add some milk. It not only makes your meat more tender but it will help the loaf keep its optimal moisture level while cooking.

Use soaked breadcrumbs (crustless)

If you want to use beef, veal, or pork in your meatloaf, make sure that you soak the breadcrumbs in milk. If you are using ground turkey for your meatloaf, soak the breadcrumbs in cream in order to boost the meat’s fat content.

If you are lactose-intolerant, then don’t worry about this as you can soak the breadcrumbs in stock, and you will still get moist and tender meatloaf.

But, how do you check whether the moisture content is enough? If you notice that the mixture of ingredients is sticking to the bowl, it’s a bit dry, so add some extra liquid.

Always add a tablespoon of liquid a time, until the mixture doesn’t stick to the bowl. Lastly, avoid using packaged breadcrumbs. You can use them if they are convenient but pay extra attention to their texture and check that they haven’t dried out your mixture. What can I use as a substitute for breadcrumbs? Not everyone likes breadcrumbs. Or perhaps you’ve just realized you’ve run out! Here are 5 breadcrumb substitutes you can use to cook meatloaf. Crushed crackers are a great option if you don’t like breadcrumbs. You can use a salty variety from the Ritz brand and it will work just as well as breadcrumbs. Crackers hold the meatloaf together because they act as a binding agent. Pretzels are also good binding agents for meatloaf. Choose a less salty variety and grind them up in a food processor until they have a texture similar to breadcrumbs. Uncooked rice is an excellent substitute and binding agent. As it cooks, it doubles in size and sucks up the excess liquids. Diced cauliflower is a great option to use as a breadcrumb substitute if you want to add more veggies to the meatloaf. Gluten-free cereal is another option to use if you want to make the meatloaf recipe healthier. Make sure the cereal is crushed up well and fine in texture.

Sautéed veggies are key

Many people will be tempted to ignore sautéing their veggies, but this is an important step that will determine whether you will get a moist and tender meatloaf.

You can try a mixture of onion, celery, and carrots. This mixture is called ‘Mirepoix’ in French, and it is a flavor base, common in European and North American dishes. Usually, you have a 2:1:1 ratio of the veggies. This common mix actually infuses the meatloaf with aromas and flavors. Cook the mirepoix, and then let it cool before chopping.

You can use a food processor to blend the sautéed veggies, as this will give you a fine mixture, and also save you a considerable amount of time.

Start with the carrots first, and then add the onions and celery, which require less time to process since they are softer than the carrots.

However, exercise extra caution to avoid over-processing the ingredients. You don’t want a mushy paste that resembles baby food. Instead, you want the veggies to add a creamy texture to the meatloaf.

Avoid overmixing the meatloaf ingredients

You might be tempted to overmix, but this will make your meatloaf dense and dry. First, mix together the wet ingredients, and then add the processed sautéed veggies.

Mix them with your hands using a spatula, until they are well mixed. Make sure that the mixture is light-handed and loose. You don’t need to mix the ingredients with a lot of pressure, as the goal is to combine them not grind them.

You might think that the meatloaf is not compact, but you shouldn’t worry as it will become firmer when you put it in the oven.

Taste your meatloaf mixture

By tasting, we don’t mean that you taste it while it’s raw since it’s not recommendable to eat raw meat—even though some chefs use this method.

However, you should note that the other thing worse than a dry meatloaf is a tasteless one. So, just take your time to fry a small portion of the mixture—a teaspoon size just to check the seasoning.

This will assist you to determine whether the seasoning is OK, or you need to add some more herbs and spices.

You’d rather know the seasoning level before cooking rather than when you’ve already baked the meatloaf as this will help you to adjust the seasoning.

Lastly, allow the meatloaf to sit for a while before placing it in the oven or smoker. Did you know you can buy meatloaf seasoning packets? They contain all the spices and herbs for a classic meatloaf. If you don’t want to buy the seasoning packets, take a look at these popular seasonings commonly used in meatloaf:

  • dried mustard
  • salt
  • paprika
  • basil
  • dried thyme
  • ground black pepper
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • chili powder

Make sure that the meatloaf has some space in the pan

Never fill your baking pan to its edges with the meatloaf—although you might be worried about the shape it will have. But, you should understand that baking a meatloaf using a loaf pan will give you a meat brick.

When selecting a baking pan, never choose a small baking dish or loaf pan. If the meatloaf fits tightly, it means that it will steam. The meatloaf should have some space on the side of the dish.

But, you can opt to use a large baking dish or sheet pan, and make sure that you leave some spaces in the edges to allow the meatloaf caramelize well.

Also, you can opt to make several small loaves, rather than a big meatloaf, since they will cook easily and faster.

In addition, you can easily freeze them for future use. If you plan to make extra meatloaves for sandwiches, then prepare mini loaves as they will remain moist till you use them.

Glaze your meatloaf

Even if you have made your meatloaf using the most amazing and high-quality meat, don’t forget to top it up. Using ketchup works perfectly, but you can also consider using BBQ and chili sauces since they are also fantastic alternatives.

You can spike your meatloaf with ketchup, Dijon mustard, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, dark brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Lastly, you can make the recipe interesting by adding some bacon strips on top of the meatloaf for extra flavor. Do you cover meatloaf with foil when baking? Yes, you can cover the meatloaf with a strip of aluminum foil. This keeps the meat moist as it cooks in the oven. Make sure to uncover the meat for the last 15 minutes or so to ensure the meatloaf has a nice brown crust.

Allow the meatloaf to rest

Always allow the meatloaf to rest for approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Wrap the meatloaf with foil as this will keep it hot and moist and ensure a slow cooling down process.

In addition, it will make it easier to slice meatloaf, and also it locks in those precious and luscious juices in the meatloaf. If you cut the meatloaf while it’s piping hot, it can fall apart, therefore, it’s ideal to slice it after it’s been out of the oven for some time.

Allthingsbbq also has this great video post about it on Youtube:

2 recipes for smoked meatloaf

9 tips for the best smoked meatloaf

Smoked meatloaf with Oregano and Beet

Joost Nusselder
You will also need a heavy-duty aluminum foil to create your meatloaf pan, or use disposable aluminum foil pans (2).
No ratings yet
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs 20 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people


  • lb Ground beet chunk
  • lb Ground turkey
  • 1 lb Ground pork
  • 2 whole Bell peppers roasted and chopped
  • ¾ cup Fresh bread crumbs
  • cup Onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 garlic clove Freshly minced
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 tbsp Dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • ½ tbsp Black pepper
  • cup BBQ sauce (you can use homemade sauce or store-bought)


Follow these instructions to roast your red bell peppers

  • First, start by grilling your bell peppers over a charcoal or gas grill—make sure that you grill the sides of the bell peppers until they turn black. It should take around 15 to 20 minutes for this process to be complete.
  • Once done, place the grilled peppers in a small bowl, and then use a plate to cover the bowl. This allows the steam to make the skin of the peppers lose. Let the peppers steam for around 15 minutes, and then peel the pepper skins and remove the seeds. You shouldn’t rinse the peppers under running water in an attempt to remove the seeds and the skins since this can remove the smokey flavor.
  • Chop the roasted bell peppers and keep them aside for later use.

Meatloaf directions

  • Start by mixing all your ingredients in a large bowl—but don’t add all the BBQ sauce. Add only ½ a cup and set the remaining sauce aside to top your meatloaf later. Now, mix all the ingredients together until they are well combined.
  • Next, take your baking sheet and create a foil loaf pan. To do this, take a 24” piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and folding it in half to create a double layer. Mold the sides of the foil upwards to create a loaf pan, and then fill it with the meatloaf mixture.
  • Prepare your smoker and set the temperature to 225 degrees F.
  • When the smoker is ready, place your meatloaf pan directly on the indirect heat source rack of your smoker, and then smoke for around 3-4 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meatloaf is around 165 degrees.
  • If you don’t have a smoker, then don’t worry since you can just as well use your oven, which is an alternative method to smoking. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and then bake the meatloaf for around 1 ½ hour or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Make sure that you top your uncooked meatloaf with 1 cup of the remaining BBQ sauce before you place it in the oven.
  • Once done, remove the cooked meatloaf from the oven/smoker and then allow it to cool for around 5 minutes. Remove your meatloaf from the pan, and then slice it to serve.
Keyword Meatloaf, Smoked
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Also read: ready to smoke some meat? These are the best smokers for the job

Classic meatloaf recipe

When trying to cook classic meatloaf, it’s important to note that the recipe relies on improving its rich beef flavor, instead of trying to change it to something else.

One thing you should understand about classic meatloaf is that you should top it using a ketchup-based sauce, and mostly, you will have to add some brown sugar for extra sweetness.

The loaf should be fork-tender, but it shouldn’t crumble, and it should have that rich beefy flavor. Every bite of the meatloaf should bring back the taste and nostalgia of the mid-90s. Why does meatloaf always fall apart? The common problem most people face when making meatloaf is that it seems to always fall apart. Did you know there are two main reasons for this?

  1. You are not adding enough binding agents to the meatloaf. Binding agents – breadcrumbs and eggs, are the essential components of a tasty meatloaf. They help the meat stick together and if the meat sticks together well, it will keep its form throughout the cooking process.
  2. Overcooking – many people think that the pinkish hue of the meat means it is undercooked when in fact, the meatloaf is ready to come out of the oven or smoker. Make sure you always follow cooking instructions and don’t overcook the meat, it has a tendency to fall apart if you do.

How can you make your classic meatloaf tender?

There is something almost everyone hates—making a hard meatloaf. It’s something you should never dream of doing since it can have serious repercussions. To make your classic meatloaf tender, you should add eggs, liquid, and breadcrumbs.

The breadcrumbs should be soaked in the liquid, thus reducing the density of the loaf, while the eggs should bind the loaf altogether. But, you can still become a bit creative when preparing this recipe.

Although some recipes will tell you to use 1 cup of breadcrumbs, use ¾ if you want your meatloaf to be tender, and not to crumble when you take it out of the pan. As well, consider the breadcrumb alternatives mentioned earlier.

So, how do you make a classic meatloaf?

Most of the meatloaf recipes will require you to use milk as the liquid—and that’s how most people prepare their meatloaf.

Although milk is a good option for preparing meatloaf, consider using Worcestershire and beef broth when preparing classic meatloaf since it intensifies the richness of the recipe.

One thing you should understand about classic meatloaf is that it shouldn’t overpower its ingredients, like BBQ sauce—but, you should always make sure that you add the required flavor wherever possible.

Moreover, adding some small quantities of tomato paste and ground sage can make this recipe more interesting. This will give the classing meatloaf a touch of herbal sweetness, which blends very well with the rich beef flavor.

How long does it take to cook a classic meatloaf?

To achieve the best result, you should bake your classic meatloaf for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Always use a digital thermometer to check on the meatloaf after 45 minutes, since the baking time varies. Your meatloaf can cook within 50 minutes, and at times, it can take up to 1 hour 15 minutes for the meatloaf to cook, depending on the size of the loaf.

All in all, it should be done when its internal temperature exceeds 160 degrees.

Check out these top BBQ smoker accessories as well

Classic meatloaf Ingredients

  • Ground beef – 1 ½ lb.
  • Breadcrumbs – ¾ cup
  • Grated onion – ½ cup
  • Beef broth ¾ cup
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Tomato paste – 1 tablespoon
  • Worcestershire sauce – 1 tablespoon
  • Table salt – 1 teaspoon
  • Garlic powder- ½ teaspoon
  • Ground sage – ¼ teaspoon
  • Black pepper – ¼ teaspoon


  • Ketchup – ½ cup
  • Brown sugar – 2 tablespoons
  • Worcestershire sauce – 1 tablespoon

Directions Sauce

  • To prepare the sauce, you need to mix the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and brown sugar together in a small dish, and then set it aside.

Meatloaf directions

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
  • The crumble the beef gently into a large bowl. Sprinkle it with grated onion and breadcrumbs.
  • Add all the other meatloaf ingredients in a separate bowl, and then whisk them to mix. Once all mixed, pour them into the bowl with the meat and then mix them using your hands to achieve the best combination.
  • Next, put some tablespoons of the sauce on the bottom of your bread pan, and then add the mixed ingredients. Press them together to create the shape of the bread pan.
  • Use the remaining sauce to top the meatloaf
  • Now, the meatloaf is ready for the oven, and you can place it in the oven for around an hour, or until its internal temperature is over 160 degrees. Don’t forget to check whether the meatloaf is ready after 45 minutes.
  • When the meatloaf is ready, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for around 5 minutes. You can serve it after that.

Bottom Line

Try out any of these two recipes at home whenever you want to prepare a meatloaf. Don’t forget to share them with your friends and family.

Read more: Mac and Cheese for your BBQ smoker that’s to die for

Which wood to avoid when smoking meatloaf

Although many kinds of wood can go well with the meatloaf, it doesn’t mean you can use any woods for the smoking process. Wrong woods can fail your meatloaf in terms of taste, aroma, and textures. So when you are experimenting with wood types for smoking meatloaf, remember to avoid these woods:


Softwoods contain sap and terpenes. The chemicals will produce a bad flavor to your meatloaf. Even worse, some of them can give you an upset stomach. Some examples of softwoods are eucalyptus, elm, sycamore, as well as woods from confiners like spruce, cedar, redwood, and pines.

Woods with Fungi

Molds and fungi make the wood unusable for cooking. There is no excuse for this. Even the best wood for smoking meatloaf will deliberately ruin your dish if it is covered with mold or fungi. The taste will be awful. Not to mention how it can also be poisonous. No matter how good your wood was, you need to throw it away as soon as it gets moldy.

Treated Woods

Always use natural woods for smoking your food, not just the meatloaf. Woods that have got painted, coated, or chemically treated in any way are no longer safe for smoking. The toxic chemical will burn into the smoke and get to your food, making it toxic and dangerous for eating.

Important Tips on Smoking Meatloaf

Using the right wood is important. But that alone would not be enough. You also need to perform the right technique to acquire a satisfying outcome. So here are some tips to live by:

Use Chunks

Wood chips or pellets are too quick to burn, only 30 minutes approximately. Meanwhile, meatloaf can take up to two hours to get perfectly smoked. Hence, wood chunks are a much better option to use for smoking meatloaf. Wood logs can work too. But since they are so big, they are more suitable for commercial use and bulk smoking.

No Soaking

You might have heard some suggestions about soaking your wood before starting your smoker. It is such a bad idea because woods need to be dry to produce a perfect smoke. Wet wood takes longer to burn. Also, it will produce steam which carries along with impurities from the wood to your food. As a result, your dish won’t taste as good.


You need to keep your smoker warm enough to cook the meat, but also cool enough to give it time to absorb all the smokes. The ideal temperature for smoking meatloaf is around 250-350 F, with internal temperature stays around 140-160 F. It is also essential to preheat your smoker before putting the dish in to get it evenly cooked.


The longer you keep your food in a smoker, the more flavor it absorbs. However, too much smokiness does not equal better taste. The excess smoke will overpower the meat taste itself. You need to keep the meat the main flavor of your dish. For optimum results, meatloaf needs about 90 to 180 minutes to get smoked. Smoking your meatloaf will result in a richer and more complex flavor of the dish than baking it. However, you must use the right wood and technique, or else you will ruin it. Don’t be afraid of trying out new recipes or different types of woods for your smoked meatloaf. The more you explore and practice, the better you will get it. How to BBQ right has a great recipe video:


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.