Ultimate guide to choosing the best wood for smoking rabbit

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 16, 2022

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Smoked rabbit is not something that you will come across very often in restaurants. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the most tender and sumptuous meats that you could ever try.

Smoking rabbits, though, is not an easy task. After all, it’s pretty bony meat as compared to the ones we usually consume. You have to take special care about the smoking procedure unless you want it to run dry or overcook.

One of the things that set up your smoked recipe for success at the very start is, of course, choosing the suitable wood.

Best wood for smoking rabbit

And to make this easier for you is why I decided to curate a list of the types of woods that I have started turning to by default over the years.

Since rabbit’s so tender and lean with such a mild flavor of its own, it’s necessary that you use light flavor-enhancing woods like applewood and cherrywood to smoke it. That being said, the traditional hickory and oakwood is a good option, too, if you want to go for a stronger flavor.

Of course, there are other woods that work great too. Read on to find out which other woods work for smoking rabbits and why!

Best wood for smoking a rabbit

The secret to good BBQ often boils (or, shall I say, smokes) down to the type of wood you choose.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

Since rabbit is the very lean meat that it is, I’d suggest that you smoke it over hot and fast smoke. Generally, wood chips are ideal for this kind of smoke. Logs work too, but they burn like crazy. So, you better be a seasoned BBQ expert if you go for logs in your smoker.

That being said, let’s jump right into the best woods for smoking a rabbit!

Apple Wood – the best option

Applewood generally adds a mild and fruity flavor to the meat. This subtle flavor works well with light-flavored meats like a rabbit.

However, you definitely want to pay attention to the time that you leave your rabbit in the smoker. If left in for too long, the flavor of applewood will end up overpowering the meat.

Top tip: Try mixing applewood with cherry wood. It gives an exciting flavor to the meat.

Cherry Wood – a great alternative to Apple

Cherry Wood is one of the most popular woods in smoking. And why would it not be? Its mild and fruity flavor, similar to that of applewood, goes well with every kind of meat, after all.

However, since the flavor very mild, you will have to grill your meat for longer for the taste of the wood to come through.

Also, smoke from cherry wood tends to turn the meat dark in color, which may kill the visual appeal of the smoked rabbit. And let’s be honest – who doesn’t want their food to be Instagram-worthy?

Don’t worry though because there’s a workaround to this. To avoid the color, mix it with applewood. It also enhances the flavor, which is a clear win-win situation!

Maple Wood

Another go-to wood for smokers, every single one of the countless varieties and subvarieties of the mighty maple is a great option for smoking meat (and I mean any kind of meat here).

Just like the previous two varieties of wood, maple imparts a mild and smooth sweetness to the meat (are you noticing a pattern here? Yes, I personally like mildly flavored meat).

The sugar maple wood for a less dense smoke, and thus, saves your smoked rabbit from the risk of bitterness that smoke usually brings with it. So, see if you can get your hands on it.

Throwing in some apple pellets with maple wood chips is the best thing you can do for your tastebuds.

Hickory Wood – the go-to for a stronger flavor

So far, we have talked about wood with mild flavors. Now, we are moving on to woods that add a generous amount of flavor to the meat, hickory wood being the first.

Hickory wood is known for having a medium flavor profile and turning the meat dark in color. 

Hickory wood makes the meat taste an interesting combination of sweet and pungent flavors, which, in my opinion, is best described as a bacon-like flavor.

However, hickory wood tends to release a lot of smoke, and as I said earlier, smoke makes the meat taste slightly bitter. To avoid this, I like combining hickory wood with something like oak wood.

Oak Wood – a very cost-effective option

Oak Wood is another wood that adds a medium flavor to the meat. It burns intensely and gives a distinct smoky flavor.

The best thing about oak is that it does not overpower the meat despite its strong flavor. It just gives an earthy-smoke flavor profile, which is less intense than that of hickory wood. This makes it one of the go-to options among smokers, me included.

Moreover, 3-5 chunks of oak are enough to flavor your meat, which means you also end up not burning a lot of bucks on the side.

What woods to avoid when smoking rabbit

There is a huge variety of woods which can be used for barbecuing meat, I agree. But that does not mean that you run off into the woods and chop off the first tree that you see.

Wood from conifers like cypress, eucalyptus, elm pine, spruce, etc., gives out a lot of smoke. This not only makes your meat taste bitter but also causes health problems when inhaled. Moreover, when you burn it, wood from these trees tends to contain toxins that dissipate into the air and the food. Thus, steer clear of these trees when planning a BBQ picnic.

There are also some other toxic plants that should be avoided. These include mangroves, sassafras, yew, etc. 

Also, I bet you already know this, but avoid any form of painted or stained wood, as paints contain chemicals like lead which are hazardous to humans.

Avoid evergreen woods at all costs. They contain a lot of sap which leaves an unpleasant pungent aftertaste in your meat, and you will just end up regretting the two hours you spent waiting eagerly for the rabbit to cook.

And, of course, make sure that the wood you are using does not have mold or fungus growing on it. They will give your meat a nasty taste. Moreover, the chances are that the mold/fungus may be toxic.

Using cedarwood may give rise to conditions like dermatitis and conjunctivitis if you happen to come in contact with the smoke, and there’s nothing worse than having to cut short your trip because of swollen skin.

You might want to avoid alder wood. Since the rabbit meat already has a very light taste, using a tasteless wood like alder will just leave you with meat with a bland taste.

Avoid aggressive woods like mesquite, walnut, etc. You may end up with a burnt and dry rabbit because of these, and trust me, they’re never fun.

Conclusion

Rabbit being the extraordinarily mild and lean meat it is, extra care has to be taken to choose the ideal wood for smoking it.

Any combination of applewood, cherry wood, and maple wood works best if you are looking for a subtle fruity flavor. These woods are great even if you use them without mixing.

If you want your meat to have a strong smoky flavor, go for a combination of hickory and the good ol’ oak wood.

You can also experiment with other combinations of light and medium-flavored woods to see what works best for you.

If you choose the right wood, smoked rabbit with its tenderness will definitely become one of your favorite BBQ recipes. Now go get that rabbit smoking!

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.