Best wood for smoking pastrami | Get the best out of this delicacy

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 21, 2022

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Are you looking for the best wood to smoke your pastrami?

Smoking meat is a great way to add flavor and moisture, and pastrami is one of my favorite meats to smoke because it’s so tasty.

There are many different types of wood that you can use, but two of them are sure to please.

Best wood for smoking pastrami | Get the best out of this delicacy

The best woods for smoking pastrami are cherry and oak. The mild cherry wood is sweet, fruity, and adds that beautiful pink color to the meat. For a stronger smoky flavor, oak wood is the best option because it allows the flavors of the spice rub to come through.

I’m sharing the best wood choices for smoked pastrami using different woods, so you can get the perfect flavor every time.

If you’re looking for a wood with a slightly stronger flavor, try hickory. It has a smoky flavor that pairs well with smoked meats like pastrami. It also has a high heat output, so it’s perfect for smoking meat.

If you’re looking for a wood with a milder flavor, try pecan. It has a sweet and nutty flavor that pairs well with pastrami, and it also has a low heat output.

But, let’s take a look at all the options – I think you’ll be surprised grapevine is on the list!

What is pastrami?

Pastrami is a beef brisket or beef navel that has been cured and then smoked. The smoking process gives the meat a unique flavor and texture.

The curing process dries the meat while the smoking adds tons of woody flavor.

Pastrami is very tasty because it’s made with cured beef brisket that has been seasoned and spiced. First, it has to be brined, seasoned, after which it’s smoked.

It has a lot of similarities to corned beef, including a similar preparation method.

The main distinction is the spice blend, as well as the fact that it is gradually smoked rather than boiled. Salt is the main seasoning for corned beef while pastrami is seasoned using a blend of spices.

The best pastrami rub contains whole coriander seeds, pink curing salt, ground mustard (or mustard seeds), black pepper or peppercorns, yellow mustard seeds, garlic powder, and more.

Since the meat is prepared with a salty solution, sweet smoking woods make it taste great. But stronger woods add an extra rich flavor to your pastrami slices.

The best wood for smoking pastrami

There are many different types of wood that can be used for smoking, but some woods are better suited for smoking pastrami than others.

You need to pair the perfect smoke flavor with what you are smoking.

In the case of pastrami, you can use all kinds of woods because beef brisket can take on many smoke flavors.

Cherry, mesquite, apple, oak, maple… lots to choose from. Depending on the smoked pastrami recipe you use, they recommend different woods.

I’m sharing the top woods for smoked pastrami.

Cherry – best fruit wood & best color

  • intensity: mild
  • flavors: sweet, fruity, slightly floral

Cherry gives pastrami a sweet, fruity, and slightly floral flavor. It complements strong spices like black peppercorns and coriander perfectly.

I would say cherry is a bit more floral and fruity than apple so you can use more wood chips when smoking without overpowering the natural flavors of the beef.

But the main reason people like to use cherry wood to smoke pastrami (and most beef brisket dishes) is that this wood gives a nice dark pink bark color.

When you slice the pastrami, it takes on a deeper reddish color. That, combined with the sweet smoke flavor makes the pastrami taste much better than the store-bought corned beef you’re used to.

You can also mix cherry with a bit of hickory or oak for a bolder, richer smoky aroma.

Some people really like the taste of that traditional smoky bbq but if you want the flavors of the spices to “shine” using mild cherry wood is enough.


  • intensity: medium to strong
  • flavors: earthy, bold, savory, traditionally smoky taste

For a classic pastrami flavor, stronger smoky hardwoods are the best option.

Oak is a great choice because it has a medium smoky flavor that pairs well with pastrami. It also has a strong and consistent heat output, which is important when you’re smoking meat.

Also, oak has a neutral-tasting smoke. It’s very classic and you’ll recognize it as the smoke wood they use in parts of Southern USA for that authentic bbq flavor.

Oak wood’s smoke flavor profile is best described as earthy, savory, and bold.

Generally, oak is a great choice to smoke all beef cuts and when the pastrami’s spices take on the smokiness of the wood, the result is truly delicious.

You can use a special variety of oak called ‘post oak’ which is popular in Texas because it has a slightly sweet flavor. It’s not as strong as mesquite so it doesn’t give the meat a bitter taste yet it’s not fruity.


  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: sweet and sugary

Maple is the kind of smoking wood that pairs well with all types of cured meats. It also works for ham because it’s sweet.

So, it’s not surprising that maple is one of the top smoking woods for pastrami.

Maple wood is sweet but has a mild to medium smoke intensity.

Most people like maple because it’s very sugary – the spices in the pastrami will become sweeter with hints of spiciness and herby flavors from the peppercorn and coriander seeds.

One of the main reasons maple is such a popular smoking wood in North America is that it burns a clear smoke. It doesn’t leave a bitter aftertaste and since it’s sweet, it can be paired with many spices.

The maple smoke profile is similar to the fruit woods like apple or pear but even sweeter. Some mistake maple for pecan but maple does NOT have a nutty flavor.

If you like blending your smoking woods, I recommend a combination of maple with hickory and pecan. This gives a nice sweet, nutty, and savory smoke flavor to the dry beef.

Apple – light fruity aroma

  • intensity: mild
  • flavors: subtle, fruity, sweet

Those who prefer the taste of fruit woods will say the best wood for smoking pastrami is applewood. That’s because applewood has a mild flavor that won’t overpower the meat.

It produces a lot of smoke, which is important for imparting flavor and ensuring a proper crust but it’s not overly dense. The smoke is clear, thin, and blue which makes it perfect for pastrami.

The smoke flavor isn’t too strong and the light fruity sweetness gives the pastrami a pleasant taste.

If you use a strong wood like mesquite, it’s easy to over smoke the meat and it can take on a bitter flavor.

Instead, the mild apple smoke enhances the natural aromas of the juicy meat and allows the taste of the spice rub to come through.

Also, apple is one of the hardwoods that burns slower than other woods like mesquite.

You can’t really overdo it with applewood chips so they’re perfect for beginner smokers looking to get their first pastrami just right.

Applewood has a sweet and fruity flavor that pairs well with salty meat.


Can you smoke with grapevine?

Yes, you can smoke with grapevine. Grapevine is a hardwood that has a sweet flavor and a low heat output.

It’s perfect for smoking pastrami because it will impart a subtle grape flavor to the meat.

Pitmasters know the amazing flavor of grape wood. It’s an aromatic type of wood. The smoke can take on a slight wine flavor so it’s perfect for gourmet-style pastrami recipes.

The best way to describe grape wood is that it’s fruity, sweet, and a bit tangy.

Some people are worried about using grape for smoking because they’re afraid it can give the pastrami an acrid or bitter flavor but that’s not the case.

With grapevine, your pastrami will have a delicate Mediterranean fruity aroma.

When smoking, I like to use grapevine chunks over chips because the chips burn too fast.

The J.C.’s Smoking Wood Chunks in Grape burn pretty slow and don’t give off an acrid or pungent aftertaste.

Here’s another surprisingly good wood for smoking: mulberry


  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: nutty and sweet

Pecan wood is very underrated when it comes to smoked pastrami.

Because it’s not one of the popular woods for this type of cured smoked meat, people don’t realize how tasty it can be.

Nutty, sweet, and slightly earthy – that’s how I’d describe pecan’s smoke flavor profile.

It is a medium smoke wood that will infuse your smoked pastrami with a pleasant smoke that is stronger than the fruitwoods and similar to maple.

Pecan is a dense wood so it produces a good amount of smoke and it has a low heat output.

This makes it the perfect choice for smoking pastrami because you want a wood that will burn slowly and release a lot of smoke.

It’s also one of the cheaper smoking woods, which is an added bonus.

I like to blend pecan with cherry because then the smoked pastrami has a lightly nutty taste but the cherry gives it that pink color.

Once it’s sliced thin, you can see the effects of the cherry color.

When you’re making pastrami sandwiches, the meat inside will look like Reuben beef.

If you’re not a huge fan of strong smoky flavors, pecan is a great alternative because it’s sweet, nutty, and slightly savory.


  • intensity: medium to strong
  • flavors: earthy, bacon-like, slightly musky, and sweet

Hickory is a great choice for smoking pastrami, as it has a strong flavor that pairs well with beef.

Hickory wood’s smoke flavor profile is very meaty, bacon-like, and earthy. You will enjoy it if you like Southern BBQ.

While this wood is intense, it doesn’t overpower all the pastrami flavors and you can still taste the various spices.

Hickory’s savory and earthy flavor is a good pairing for the peppery rub, the mustard seeds, and the ground coriander seeds used as a seasoning.

Therefore, you can use any pastrami rub and still taste it.

If you like bold, smoky flavors, you can’t go wrong with a smoke wood such as hickory. It’s milder than mesquite but not overpowering for homemade smoked pastrami.

For the best blends, mix some cherry wood chips into your hickory chips. This gives the bacony flavors some sweetness.

Hickory and maple can also be combined for a flavor that is similar to smoked maple ham.

Which woods to avoid when smoking pastrami

In general, you want to avoid using strong woods like mesquite or walnut when smoking pastrami.

These woods have a strong flavor that can overpower the meat. Instead, use a mild wood like maple or apple (or crabapple).

Stronger hickory or oak is great too if you still like the classic smokiness.

Although those woods aren’t mild, they add some amazing earthy and bacony flavors that improve the pastrami’s taste.

Softwoods should be avoided at all costs because they are hazardous to your health.

These contain resins as well as dangerous saps that can contain a variety of toxins in addition to making the food taste bitter.

Many softwood trees, particularly conifers, contain pollutants and compounds that can be transferred from the wood to food or the surrounding air.

You can get sick if you eat food that has a lot of sap or terpenes. Keep in mind that inhaling wood smoke from conifers or other softwoods can make you sick.

Cedar, fir, hemlock, cypress, and spruce are just a few of the trees to avoid.

You should also avoid using wood fragments that have been painted, treated, or stained.

How long to smoke pastrami?

That depends on the smoker and the recipe you’re using, but typically it takes around 4-6 hours to smoke pastrami.

Preheat the smoker to 275°F then add your wood chips or wood chunks. Once smoking, place the beef on the cooking grates.

The meat should be smoked for at least four hours but can be smoked for up to 12 hours for a richer flavor.

That depends on the smoker and the recipe you’re using, but typically it takes around 4-6 hours to smoke pastrami.

The internal temperature of the meat should reach 205°F.

Bluetooth thermometers are great to keep an eye on the temperature of your meat, even when you are not right next to the smoker!


If you want to smoke pastrami, there are many things that can make or break the final product.

When it comes to smoking wood oak and hickory are the classic strong-flavored woods that will infuse the salty pastrami with Southern BBQ aromas.

For milder, sweet, and fruity flavors, maple, cherry, and grapevine are the top choices. It depends on how you want to make smoked pastrami.

Any of these woods would make a great choice for smoking pastrami. The slight variations in flavor will add an extra layer of deliciousness to this classic dish.

After all, the meat you buy at grocery stores doesn’t compare to smoking your own pastrami with flavorful woods.

Next, smoke some kielbasa (Polish sausage)! These are the right woods to use for it

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.