Best wood for smoking shrimp | Get the delicate flavor just right

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 21, 2022

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Smoking shrimp is a popular way to prepare this tasty seafood. But one of the problems with smoking shrimp is that most people aren’t sure which wood to use.

So, you’re wondering what kind of wood is best for smoking shrimp?

Best wood for smoking shrimp | Get the delicate flavor just right

The top woods for smoking shrimp are stronger woods like oak or hickory. Because shrimp only needs a brief time in the smoker, it’s critical to utilize wood that can quickly provide a lot of flavors. Hickory and oak are both strong-flavored woods that can quickly produce the smokey flavors we desire.

There’s no problem if you use use a mild smoking wood like apple, cherry, or other light fruitwoods though. These add a pleasantly sweet and fruity aroma that allows the natural flavors of the shrimp to come through.

Interest: There are many different opinions on what kind of wood you should use to smoke shrimp, but it all depends on what seasoning you plan to use and how smoky you like to serve your shrimp.

Also read: Why do my shrimp taste like chlorine? Guide to buying better shrimp

Top wood choices for smoking shrimp

If you like classic Southern-style smokiness, you’ll want to select a strong smoking wood because the smoking process is going to be speedy.

Hickory or oak are the greatest choices. In a short amount of time, they will create a lot of flavors.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

Avoid the temptation to blow huge white billows of smoke; it will ruin your smoked shrimp experience.

The secret to the best-smoked shrimp is to cook it on indirect heat for a shorter time than other meats.

Most people think that any kind of wood can be used for smoking shrimp, but this is not the case.

In order to get the best flavor and texture from your shrimp, you need to use the right kind of wood.

Check out this list of the best woods for smoking shrimp to see what will work best for you.

Oak

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

Oak may not be the first wood to come to mind when you want something for smoking shrimp – but it might just be the best.

Oakwood actually burns at about a similar temperature as alder and mesquite, so that’s how some people explain why it makes such great-tasting shrimp.

But the reason pitmasters like oak so much is that it has this interesting neutrally smoky taste.

It’s one of the top smoking woods in the South and closest to what I’d describe as ‘traditional bbq flavor.’ It’s savory, earthy, and bold – all at once.

Oak is also flavorful enough to improve the taste of large shrimp so if you’re looking for a classic Southern-style smokiness, this wood works well.

And if you’re looking to pair your shrimp with something a little bit different, try using oak in combination with another wood like Cherry or Hickory.

Oak is a versatile wood that can be used to create both mild and strong flavors, depending on how many wood chips you use.

You can’t go wrong with this tried-and-true classic!

The Camerons Premium Smoking Chips ignite quickly and start smoking right away, so they’re ideal for foods like shrimp that cook fast.

Alder

  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: earthy, slightly sweet, subtle, neutral

When it comes to smoking seafood, whether it’s jumbo shrimp or salmon, everyone knows that alder wood is the best smoking wood.

You can use alder when smoking meat and seafood without overpowering the natural flavors of the flesh.

Alder is a light, sweet wood that is perfect for smoking shrimp.

Its smoky aroma is very balanced and more neutral than the fruitwoods or strong woods. It will add just the right amount of smokiness to your bbq recipes.

Alder wood is a great choice for smoking shrimp because it has a delicate flavor that doesn’t overpower the shrimp.

It’s also a light wood, so it doesn’t produce a lot of heat, which can dry out the shrimp.

Since it’s a subtle smoking wood, alder can be used when you add all kinds of condiments such as Cajun seasoning, chili powder, minced garlic, and melted butter.

The alder smoke doesn’t overpower the seasonings.

Smokehouse Products alder wood chip shavings are finely cut so they’re perfect to use with smaller wood trays in the electric smoker.

Apple

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

Apple is a fruity wood that gives shrimp a slightly sweet and tart flavor. It’s mild, subtle, and pleasantly fruity. It creates a very light smoking wood but you can still taste that sweetness.

Apple is a light fruity wood that pairs nicely with mild seafood like shrimp.

While some pitmasters say apple is too mellow for some meats and fish, it is quite perfect for shrimp.

Here’s the thing: you need to use seasoning before you cook shrimp so a light fruity smoke wood will blend well with condiments like olive oil, butter mixture, garlic powder, oregano, lemon, rosemary, and more.

Blend applewood with pecan for a sweet and nutty taste. If you think apple needs a bit of a kick, you can blend it with the strong mesquite for a unique flavor profile.

For delicate smokiness and clean-burning wood chips, use the Camerons Products applewood chips.

Cherry

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

Cherry wood has great flavor, is easy to find, and it has a light smokiness that doesn’t dominate shrimp.

Cherry is a rich, sweet wood that pairs perfectly with shrimp. Its smoke flavor profile is best described as sweet, fruity with a hint of floral aroma, so it’s not quite like apple.

The good thing about cherry wood is that it adds a dark reddish bark to the meat.

In the case of shrimp, you probably don’t need this red color but it can make the shrimp look even more appetizing.

Although cherry wood chips and chunks have a mild sweetness, they are also tangy and bring out the flavor of the seasoning.

This wood is best paired with Cajun seasonings to make them even more flavorful.

Cherry is actually among the best woods for smoked seafood, so use Western Premium BBQ Products Cherry wood chips to add subtle fruitiness to your smoky shrimp.

Hickory

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

Hickory wood is one of the most popular woods to use for smoking shrimp because it has a strong flavor that goes well with seafood.

It’s also a dense wood, so it produces a lot of heat and lasts a long time.

There’s no denying, those who’ve tried Texas bbq know how amazing that bacon-like hickory smoke flavor is.

Hickory is a strong, smoky wood that gives shrimp a deep flavor.

Since you smoke shrimp for such a short time, a strong wood gives an intense smoky aroma that is best described as bacony, earthy, and slightly musky.

You can also blend hickory with apple or cherry if you want to make it sweeter and milder.

If you want to give your shrimp (& other seafood) a bold, meaty flavor, try the MacLean’s Outdoor Hickory Wood BBQ Smoking Chips.

Maple

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

If you like the taste of sweet shrimp, then maple wood is the best one to use for smoking.

Maple produces a light-tasting, delicate smoke that complements pork, ham, and poultry well.

But what many people don’t realize is that this sweetness is perfect for smoked shrimp in the Cajun style.

Maple is a smooth, sweet wood that enhances the natural sweetness of shrimp. In short, its mild flavor is perfect for smoking!

But, although this wood is light and sweet, don’t underestimate its bold smokiness so don’t use too many wood chips at once for this short smoke.

Premium Sugar Maple Wood Chips for BBQ Smoking will make the shrimp taste extra sweet and delicious without that harsh musky smoke aroma.

Mesquite

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

Although it is hard to get a good slow-even smoke, mesquite wood will provide plenty of smoky flavors which is perfect for cooking smoked shrimp.

Mesquite is a bold, smoky wood that can overwhelm shrimp if used too heavily.

It has an earthy, rich, savory, and musky flavor. Since shrimp is smoked for a short time, it can take on that bold flavor quickly.

And since you don’t smoke shrimp for a long time, this strong smokey taste doesn’t overwhelm the seafood.

If you’re looking to give your shrimp a good smoky flavor, mesquite is the perfect wood to use.

This wood is such a classic American barbecue wood, it’s a must-try, even for some type of seafood.

If you’ve used mesquite to smoke beef brisket, now is the chance to give shrimp a go. Use the Weber mesquite wood chunks for a clean thin blue smoke.

Which woods to avoid

There are also a few kinds of wood that you should avoid when smoking shrimp.

Softwoods should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid conifer/pine softwoods because they are extremely resinous and contain a lot of sap. When these saps are burned, they can become toxic.

As a result, stay away from pine, fir, cypress, liquid amber, and other sappy woods that emit harmful smoke.

Not only that, but softwoods encourage the creation of creosote, which makes any shrimp taste horrible!

Shrimp is delicate flesh, so it doesn’t need any bitterness to it!

I also want to mention that using citrus woods such as orange or lemon isn’t necessary when smoking shrimp. The lemon juice used as basting is enough tartness.

Smoking fish like salmon with cedar planks is okay, however burning cedar wood chips is not!

Although shrimp is a seafood type, you shouldn’t use cedar chips to smoke it.

Besides shrimp, see what other seafood is worth it to fire up your smoker for (top 10 fish to smoke)

How long to smoke shrimp

Smoking fresh shrimp doesn’t take longer than about 30-45 minutes.

First, make sure to preheat the smoker to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Then, add the wood chips to the wood chip tray or directly on top of the hot coals in your charcoal grill.

You need to toss shrimp in your seasoning mix and then place the shrimp in aluminum foil or on a foil tray. Then put the tray on the smoker racks.

Cook the shrimp in the smoker until the color of the flesh turns pink or orange. This takes about 30-45 minutes.

To ensure the shrimp is cooked through, make sure the internal temperature is 120 F or 49 C.

It’s best to avoid overcooking the shrimp because it can become rubbery and your shrimp recipe won’t turn out perfectly.

Takeaway

Experiment with different woods to find the best flavor for your shrimp. But, if you’re not sure where to start, these are some great options to get you started.

For the best fail-proof smoked shrimp recipe, use woods like hickory and oak which give a pleasant earthy smoke flavor.

If you like sweeter flavors, the usual fruit woods like apple and cherry are the milder woods to try!

Feel free to experiment with flavored woods for your smoked shrimp. Cooking shrimp in the smoker is definitely a good way to bring out the buttery flavor of this popular main dish or appetizer.

Another great seafood to smoke is crayfish (or crawfish)! Here’s how to do it right

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.