Best wood for smoking salt | Great for savory seasoning

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 4, 2022

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If you’re looking for a unique smoky condiment, you’ve got to try smoked salt.

It’s a very aromatic type of salt and you can use bark-free wood chips or wood chunks to infuse the salt with your favorite wood smoke flavor.

Smoked salt is the best way to add a bit of flavor complexity to your dishes.

Best wood for smoking salt | Great for savory seasoning

The best wood for smoking salt is a strong hardwood like hickory, mesquite, and oak which impart the salt with a rich, earthy, Southern-BBQ style flavor. But, lighter woods like alder and fruit woods are best if you prefer a sweet fruity and milder seasoning.

Smoked salts are a great, natural method to impart flame-grilled smokiness to a dish without using harsh, artificial-tasting liquid smoke or going to the trouble of smoking the food yourself.

Sea salt flakes that have been infused with smoke from actual, untreated wood are known as smoked salts.

For up to two weeks, the salt is smoked with bark-free woods. The wood gives its own flavor profile to the salt during this time, which can range from mild to robust to sweet.

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In this post, I’m sharing the top wood chips or pellets to use if you want to smoke salt at home.

What does smoked salt taste like?

The taste of smoked salt really depends on the wood used to produce the smoke as well as the type of salt.

Smoked salts are a strong, flavorful seasoning that gives any dish a flame-grilled scent and smokey richness.

For example, hickory may give salt a strong smoke scent. A fruitwood tree, like crabapple or peachwood, will leave a sweeter smoke smell.

Sea salt and Himalayan salt have a subtle flavor difference due to their differing minerals content.

Smoked salt is an extremely complex mix of bright salty and dark or earthy smoke flavors. When applied to meat, it can really make the taste of the protein sparkle and come alive.

You can smoke most types of salt but regular iodized table salt isn’t as good as sea salt or kosher salt.

Despite its obvious advantages smoking salt can impart the flavor of a smokey dish without the need for the smoker to grill. It is good in sweet and savory dishes, and excellent to add to a Bloody Mary cocktail.

Best woods for smoked salt

For the best results, you need to cold smoke salt at 80 degrees F or lower. The cold smoker method doesn’t influence the flavor profiles of the woods.

You can hot smoke salt to at 275 F but you’ll need to stir it often. This method can enhance the wood smoke flavor faster.

Consider the salt as a canvas, the smoke as your paintbrush, and the wood as your varnish.

For a strong earthy and woody smoke taste with vivid smoke colors, try hickory or mesquite.

For a nutty, slightly sweet, and richer taste, you can go with pecan wood. Sweet fruitwoods like apple or maple are always a good selection because they have a sweet mild taste.

When using a pellet smoker, for more layering flavor we recommend using Pit Boss Competition pellets. The flavor can be better if multiple flavors are combined.

But I’ll go over all the options now – be patient though because there are so many tasty choices!

Apple

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

Apple wood imparts a mildly and subtly sweet taste and is ideal for smoking salt.

This wood is beginner-friendly because it has a pleasant, mild smoke taste so you can’t go wrong and it’s hard to over smoke the salt with this one.

The overall flavor of apple wood chips is best describes as sweet and fruity with a fresh delicate smoke. It doesn’t overwhelm any type of food but it gives the salt a pleasant sweetness.

It’s the best choice if you don’t like that strong classic earthy and savory BBQ flavor.

Instead, you get a mild smoke flavor that complements most foods so you can use the salt when cooking all types of dishes.

Although apple is a mild fruit wood for smoking salt, it still makes the fruity aromas tasteable. Combined with the subtle smokiness, it makes the salt taste like an expensive fancy seasoning.

Since it’s one of the most subtle flavors, it’s also one of most peoples’ favorite salt types. It pairs well with fish, shellfish, chicken, and vegetables.

I also like to use apple wood as a blending wood for mesquite, oak, and hickory. Those strong woods are very earthy and pungent so adding a sweet and mild fruitiness improves the salt’s flavor.

If you want to try an applewood smoked salt recipe, I recommend Weber’s apple wood chips because they are high-quality and burn clean.

Cherry

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

It’s a matter of personal preference whether you like cherry wood or apple. Both of these fruit woods have a similar sweet taste but cherry also imparts the salt with a dark reddish color.

Cherry is considered to be one of the most versatile and tasty smoke woods out there.

The salt will have a sweet, robust, fruity, and smoky aroma. You can then use the salt to season seafood because it pairs very well with lighter meats and fish.

Compared to apple, cherry is also mild but a bit more fruity and you can also taste a few floral aromas.

Cherry has a slight tanginess which balances out the intense savory taste of the salt. The salt will taste delicious so it’s a great alternative for oak, hickory, and the sweeter nut woods.

When you grill and BBQ using cherry wood-smoked salt, you can expect a darker food color.

The Smokehouse Products cherry wood chips are fine-cut and perfect for use with an electric smoker too.

Alderwood

  • Intensity: mild
  • Smoke flavors: neutral, slightly sweet, slightly earthy & musky

Alder is one of the mild but savory and earthy smoking woods. Because it’s neutral and subtle compared to other smoking woods, it adds a delicate but tasty flavor to the smoked salt.

Alder wood smoked salt has been popular among Indigenous populations in North America for centuries. This wood is very versatile, robust, and has a pleasant light smokiness.

Red Alderwood is one of the most popular alder species used to smoke salt. It adds a natural smoke flavor but it’s not as strong as maple, oak, or mesquite.

It’s also not sweet like fruit woods either. However, you may notice a slight sweetness but overall it’s a classic smoke.

Alder is usually used to smoke vegetables and poultry or seafood. As smoke wood, it’s not strong enough to impart intense flavor. You can expect a lightly smoked salt with this wood.

You can use coarse-cut Camerons Products alder wood chips in the smoker for both hot or cold smoking salt. These chips are flavorful and burn a clean smoke.

Hickory

  • intensity: strong
  • flavors: savory, bacon-like, earthy, hearty

Hickory is bolder as well as it is a popular taste for smoked salt. That’s because hickory is a traditional Southern-style smoking wood with bold flavors.

Hickory is one of the stronger smoking woods out there.

I recommend smoking salt with hickory wood chips because it gives the salt a very smoky taste. It’s also earthy, hearty, savory, and bacony.

Overall, I’d best describe it as a meaty-flavored smoking wood.

If you plan to use the hickory smoked salt for seasoning meat like beef and pork, you’ll enjoy the strong smoky and bacon-like flavors of the hickory wood smoke.

When you cold smoke the salt with hickory wood pellets or chips the smoke imparts a savory but slightly sweet aroma to the salt.

Since salt is very savory, it takes on the strong smoke aroma and becomes a “super seasoning”.

The hickory-smoked salt recipe is among the most popular in Southern USA.

The salt is the perfect complement for red meat, wild game, pork (especially bacon), turkey, chicken, burgers, baby back ribs, and seafood like prawns.

But, you can also use this bold meaty salt to make marinades with sweet honey and maple syrup.

The Camerons Hickory Smoking Chips are the go-to wood chips for many smokers because they are affordable and don’t leave a pungent aftertaste behind like some cheaper smoking chips.

Mesquite

  • intensity: strong
  • flavors: earthy, musky, strong smoky aroma, bold

If you’re looking for the most intense smoky flavor, use mesquite wood chips for smoked salt. Even a small amount will make the salt taste delicious because mesquite wood is very strong.

If you’ve ever smoked or grilled food, you’re familiar with the powerful smoky BBQ flavors of mesquite wood.

After all, the trinity of the greatest Texas-style BBQ woods includes mesquite, hickory, and oak.

The mesquite wood is usually used to smoke these big meaty cuts of brisket, ribs, or pork shoulder.

The aroma of this wood is earthy and smokey, with a faint musky aftertaste. It’s a strong-flavored, bold-smoking wood that’ll infuse your salt with a plethora of smells and flavors.

Because mesquite burns hot and rapidly, it’s important not to use too many wood chips. Since the smokiness level is so strong, don’t over-smoke the salt to avoid bitterness.

As a result, I advise using a smaller amount of mesquite wood chips.

Salt smoked with mesquite is rich and intense – you can taste a lightly pungent, savory, and earthy taste.

It’s not the type of mild sweet wood like apple but you can definitely blend mesquite with other smoking woods, especially the fruit woods, neutral alder, or sweet nut wood like pecan.

This will tone down the earthy musky smoke flavor.

Camerons Products mesquite wood smoker chips give your salt a traditional smoky aroma. They are kiln-dried and burn a hot flavorful smoke.

Oak & whiskey barrel wood chips

  • intensity: medium
  • flavors: earthy, traditionally smoky taste, light whiskey flavor

One of the most refined and luxurious smoky salt varieties is smoked over whiskey barrel oak chips.

These salts take on a delicious strong smokey flavor with the light taste of aged whiskey. The flavor is best described as earthy, smoky with a pleasant vanilla whiskey aroma.

Oak is a medium-strong smoking wood that gives salt a lovely earthy and smokey flavor, similar to traditional BBQ.

Therefore, you can use that salt for traditional Southern and Texas-style smoking and BBQ.

The smoke is a little stronger than fruit woods, but not so strong that it overpowers the salt. It’s midway between the intense mesquite and lighter maple.

Oakwood is ideal for those who enjoy rich, robust aromas with no harsh or unpleasant aftertaste. Oak also imparts a black color to the smoked salt, comparable to that of smoked meats.

Red oak is the greatest choice for the best-tasting smoked salt because it emits a clear smokey scent.

You can also use light fruity woods like apple or pear wood to sweeten and tone down the earthiness of the oak wood chips.

Be sure to give the Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrel wood chips a try if you want a fancier and gourmet-style smoked salt that beats any grocery store purchase.

But if you don’t like that bourbon taste, you can use classic Cameron’s oak wood chips.

Maple

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

When you ask an American pitmaster what the best wood for smoking food is, you’ll probably hear maple as one of the tastiest choices.

This wood has a delightfully sweet and mellow flavor. Its smoke is perfectly balanced and does not overshadow salt.

If you prefer naturally sweet smoke woods, maple wood chips can be utilized. This wood imparts a mild yet pleasant smoky flavor to the salt. Despite its subtlety, maple is highly noticeable and tasteable.

Most pitmasters choose sugar maple because it provides a clear, pleasant smoke.

Because of its great sweetness, this wood has a smoke profile that resembles that of a fruitwood. However, the smoke is stronger and there’s a bit of earthy bold taste to it.

You can use maple and hickory combined too for a sweet and bacony taste.

The optimal combinations are maple with apple for a delectably sweet flavor, maple with oak wood for an earthier flavor, or maple with alder for a neutral smokey scent.

The sweet and earthy taste is a good pairing for the salt. You can use maple-smoked salt as a dry rub for your favorite meat and as a seasoning for vegetable dishes.

Napoleon Maple Wood Chips will add a mild sweet smokiness to your salt.

Pecan

  • intensity: medium
  • flavors: nutty and slightly sweet

Pecan is the most popular nut wood for smoking salt. It is more of a medium smoke wood because it has quite a thick strong smoke but the taste is very pleasant because it’s a blend of nutty and sweet.

It infuses just the right amount of nutty and sweet scent and flavor to the salt. Pecans have a delicious flavor, but they are much nuttier than fruit trees.

Pecan wood has a smokiness to it that is reminiscent of classic smokiness.

The pecan wood is best for smoking coarse sea salt because these larger grains absorb all the smoke. Also, the salt takes on a light brown color.

Pecan trees have a stronger flavor than fruit trees, but nothing like the intense pungent smoke of mesquite.

Pecan wood burns quickly compared to other woods, so it’s a good choice if you want to cook for an extended period of time.

Smoking salt takes a very long time so pecan wood chips are perfect for the task.

These wood chips complement salt by adding sweetness, nuttiness, and zest. They have a distinct sweet and salty flavor because of the nuttiness.

You can blend pecan with apple or cherry to make the smoke milder and fruitier. The salt will be milder so you can use it to season fish and seafood.

If you’re looking for natural, high-quality wood chips, you can count on Western Premium BBQ Products Pecan BBQ Smoking Chips.

Pellets

Since pellet smokers are very popular nowadays, I’m recommending my favorite smoker pellet brand: Pit Boss Competition Blend.

Pellet blends have unique flavor profiles because they are a mix of various types of hardwoods.

The Pit Boss Competition blend wood pellets are a blend of sweet maple, fruity cherry wood, and hickory.

The blend has a flavor profile of sweet, savory, smoky, and tart. It also gives salt a light pink hue.

This combination is perfect for smoking salt because it gives all the flavors you need if you’ll be using the salt as a condiment for meats and vegetables.

Learn more about the best wood pellets for smoking and how to use them here

Which woods to avoid when smoking salt

Salt is one of those foods you can smoke with any seasoned hardwood that is suitable for smoking meat and other foods too.

Because salt is used as a seasoning and condiment you can give it any type of smoke flavor you like.

Therefore, I can’t advise you not to use a specific wood for smoked salt. Feel free to use sweet, savory, and intense smoking woods.

Only use seasoned wood when putting wood chips or wood chunks in the smoker chip tray.

You can use green wood (freshly cut wood) for smoking, but ONLY under very specific circumstances.

When smoking salt, never use softwoods. The softwoods contain sap, resin, and even poisons that can make you very sick.

When creating smoked salt, avoid using coniferous wood such as pine, redwood, fir, spruce, cypress, or cedar.

These trees contain a lot of sap and turpenes, which gives them a peculiar flavor and can make you sick if you use salt for seasoning foods.

Elm, eucalyptus, sycamore, and liquid amber are all flavors that should be avoided when cooking and smoking.

Best types of salt to smoke

Choose a salt with a bigger granule or more surface area.

Because the smoke sticks to the surface of the salt, don’t use table salt or regular iodized salt because the grains are too small for the smoke to infuse them.

You’ll need a lot of salt with a lot of particles to help the smoke stick to them or else you won’t taste that distinct smoky flavor.

Coarse sea salt and flake salt like Kosher salt are two alternatives for smoking.

When smoking, I prefer flake salt like Maldon Sea Salt Flakes since I can see the coarse salt grains easily. This allows me to easily see how much I’m using.

The smoke taste is very effectively absorbed by flake salt.

Himalayan rock salt can be smoked too. While it is technically possible to smoke Himalayan salt, I choose not to do so because the smoke can overpower the salt’s already distinct flavor.

However, if you want to use it as meat seasoning and marinade, it can work.

How long to smoke salt

Smoking salt is a long process. Most pitmasters like to cold smoke salt at 80 F for at least 4 hours in the smoker, stirring every hour or so. In some cases, the process can take up to a day.

You’re not limited to cold smoking and you can stir salt to infuse the grains with an even more smoky aroma.

If you hot smoke salt, set up the smoker to 275 F and smoke for a minimum of 2 hours and up to 12 if you want a very strong flavored smoky salt.

Taste as you go but just know that the salt can be left in the smoker for up to 24 hours.

After 4 hours, the salt starts to become yellow and will have a light flavor. After 6 hours, the salt will start to become brown and have a much stronger flavor. After 12 hours, you’ll notice a considerable color shift and a strong flavor in your smoke.

The salt will blow your taste buds away with all the smokey flavor after 24 hours in the smoker. Smoking salt is a sure way to improve your bbq game.

Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to make cold smoked salt at home using low heat. Simply place salt on aluminum foil and smoke it.

Once you try smoked sea salt or kosher salt you won’t be able to stop making it!

Smoked salt helps bring out barbecue flavor in things even when grilling on a stove. Sprinkle on vegetables before roasting to give them a smoked taste without having to start the smoker.

Once you start using smoked salt when cooking, you’ll realize it’s an amazing addition to your condiment selection.

The best woods to smoke are classic stronger woods like hickory, mesquite, and oak. The milder wood chips work too but if you’re looking for a distinct smoky taste, you can always blend woods.

Each wood gives salt a different taste so you can really play with wood to see how different flavors influence the flavour.

Then you can use the different salts for sauces, dry rubs, marinades, and seasoning for your favorite recipes.

Here’s another great one to smoke for seasoning: Jalapeno hot peppers for a spicy smokey kick!

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.