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

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 8, 2021

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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.

Best wood for smoked meatloaf

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

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.

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.