Complete guide to the best wood for smoking venison

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 19, 2022

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Meat, sausage, jerky sticks, you name it! Venison has been the staple food for every meat lover for centuries, especially during the hunting season.

You love it, your grandparents love it, and their grandparents loved it too!

Although venison’s natural taste and texture are immaculate, it is even refined with the age-old tradition of smoking; a flavorful method of preserving and cooking meat.

But that’s only if you choose the right wood!

Complete guide to the best wood for smoking venison

Generally, hickory is considered the best wood for smoking venison. However, you can also go with other hardwoods like oak, walnut, pecan, mesquite, etc., as per your liking. These all have their unique flavors with a prominent touch of smokiness that is a must-have when cooking game meat.

Now let’s get into some profound insights and determine which wood you should use as you smoke your next venison feast!

Which woods are best for smoking venison?

Though this might come as a surprise, venison goes well with almost every variety of available hardwoods.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

Why and how? Why not get into details about each smoking wood to find out?

Hickory

When it comes to smoking venison, nothing gets better than hickory. The extra smoky punch combined with nutty and bacony notes impart a robust flavor to the meat.

This will mild down the gamey flavor of the meat and gives it an oomph of smokiness that you can’t resist savoring every bite.

The best thing is that you can smoke various venison dishes with hickory, whether it’s just a sausage, steak, or even venison shoulder.

So having a good supply of hickory around will always come in handy.

Moreover, it’s also one of the best options for smoking most meats like lamb, pork, and fatty cuts of beef like ribeye.

I like the hickory Premium BBQ smoking woodchips from WESTERN because the chips have a good size and smoke for a long time.

Oak

Got some marinated venison? Perhaps you would like to smoke it with something light and smoky like oak.

Marination removes the gamey hints and replaces it with some tasteful rich flavors.

Thus, the well-balanced smoke of oak ensures to let the other flavors shine while adding its signature light touch of barbeque-like smokiness.

The best thing is, you always have the option to mix it with hardwoods like apple and cherry wood to give it some sweetness. However, only if you like it!

Mesquite

If you don’t know, mesquite has the most potent flavor among all hardwoods.

With its intense, earthy, and smoky essence, it covers up for the natural gamey taste of venison. It also replaces it with a mix of savory, sweet, smoky, rich flavors.

It’s one of those woods that burn slowly and generate very intense heat. Thus, you can always use it for a few rounds of grilling for fast-cooking meat like venison.

Pecan

One thing we could call the combination of deer meat and pecan? It would be unique.

With a distinct nutty touch in its smoke and a mellow, slightly sweet flavor, pecan is a wood that imparts a pretty mild but lovely taste to the meat.

The flavor is heavenly!

Nevertheless, since it’s not enough to replace the wild flavor of deer meat, it’s always a good idea to mix it up with something like hickory or mesquite to give it a smoky punch.

Plus, it’s also one of the best options for chicken, turkey, and beef.

Try the pecan woodchips from Weber for low and slow smoking for a fair price.

Apple

If you’re in love with fruity smokes, say no more; applewood is here to save the day. It is a perfect option for barbeque savvies with its delightfully sweet smoke.

My personal preference here would be mixing it with other hardwoods like pecan, mesquite, or hickory to turn the meat into a great tasting wild feast with all the smokiness. 

Don’t have applewood at hand? Crabapple will give you pretty much the same flavor as apple and is great for smoking

Walnut

OK! You might be like, “but it’s so bitter! what the hell are you suggesting?”

Well, hear me out before jumping to conclusions.

I know walnut is quite bitter and smoky. But ironically, that’s one of the things which makes it so unique for wilderness meat.

It will not only mild down the wild taste of the venison but replace it with all the smoky goodness you need when used in the optimum amount.

I suggest mixing it with sweet woods like apple or cherry to ensure some mouthwatering aroma and taste.

Why do these woods work so well with venison?

Wild meat like venison has a robust, wild flavor that, for most people, is somewhat uncomfortable to digest.

This means it’s necessary to exchange this flavor with something familiar to the tastebuds.

Considering that, certain qualities in these wood flavors make them stand out for smoking deer meat.

Hardwoods, in general, have very potent flavors. This makes them ideal for removing the gamey or a rather unpleasant taste upon smoking wild meats, turning it into a delicious piece of meat everyone can eat and enjoy.

For example, if we talk about hickory or mesquite, these both are very dense woods with robust and smoky flavors.

On the other hand, oak has a mild smoky and nutty flavor that aids the overall taste of smoked deer meat.

Then there are fruit woods like applewood, cherry wood, walnut, etc.

The former two with a sweet, and the latter with a smoky and bitter taste, each unique for different occasions.

In other words, hardwoods provide the qualities needed to make delicious venison and a variety that matches everyone’s taste preference.

What are the benefits of using hardwoods for smoking venison?

There are several benefits of using hardwoods to smoke venison. Following are the major ones:

Hardwood smokes clean

Yup! Hardwoods produce very little ash.

This also decreases the probability of spitting out embers at the meat, which could affect the overall taste and texture of the venison, ensuring an immaculate smoking process.

Dense strong wood

No other smoking woods have a much more profound and richer flavor than hardwoods.

So that’s another reason why you can’t go wrong with it when it comes to smoking, whether venison, pork, beef, chicken, or even fish!

Great smokiness

Last but not least, almost all the hardwoods have a punch of smokiness.

Thus, when smoking deer meat, you are sure that these woods will impart maximum smoky flavor for a tasty final product.

How long do you need to smoke venison?

Frankly, it depends on what you are making of the meat.

Is it a steak? A sausage? A jerky stick? Or a venison backstrap?

The duration of smoking changes from 1 or 2 to a few hours depending on what you’re making.

To understand this, let’s dive in a bit deep and discuss the timing of each dish in detail:

Venison steak

Venison steak takes about 2 to 4 hours to smoke perfectly. However, this depends on the size and temperature of your smoker.

Ideally, it is recommended to maintain the minimum internal temperature somewhere around 225-275 degrees.

Also, you must check the smoker from time to time to ensure that the wood is smoking perfectly after every 40-50 minutes, and add more wood if needed to maintain the temperature.

Venison sausage

A venison sausage requires no more than two hours to smoke perfectly and absorb all the smoky flavor provided by the wood.

Just one thing, always use a thermometer when cooking a sausage to ensure that the temperature doesn’t escalate the 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

This is important to keep the inside juices of the sausage intact and keep the meat from drying out.

Venison jerky sticks

To ensure that the jerky sticks flavor stays perfect, it should be smoked for around 30 minutes.

The internal temperature should reach about 165 degrees so that the meat cooks flawlessly.

Once cooked, remove it from the grill and let it cool down before serving…or eating.

Venison backstrap

The backstrap is one of the most delicious cuts of deer meat, and so does it requires some serious care when smoked.

As you put it in the smoker, make sure it doesn’t stay longer than 30 minutes inside the smoker.

Plus, the temperature stays between 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s essential to retain the juices for a delicious smoky flavor.

Which woods should you defnitely avoid when smoking venison?

If you don’t know, it’s pretty much all the woods you must avoid when smoking a ribeye. Here’s a glimpse of all of them:

Evergreens

This is a complete family of woods, including cedar, pine, spruce, fir, etc. As evergreens contain resin, they can give off a nasty flavor to the meat and even affect its color.

Combine that with a touch of eternally bad taste, gamey flavor of the venison, and a bunch of toxic compounds, and you’ve prepared a bunch of inedible stuff!

Softwoods

Although softwoods aren’t bad tasting, they will give you a run for your money.

As they are not dense enough, you’ll have to keep adding wood to the smoker more frequently, making the process nothing less than an expensive chore.

Greenwood

When putting wood in the smoker, the last mistake you want to make is picking green or wet wood. And there are several reasons for that:

  • First, it burns too slowly and prolongs the cooking time of the meat.
  • Second, it will overload the meat with a horrible aftertaste due to the white smoke, which is basically steam.

Moreover, you’ll also have a hard time burning freshly cut, wet wood anyway.

Find out how and how long to season wood for smoking

Treated wood

Treated wood more often contains many toxic chemicals that are fatally harmful to your health. Besides, it can transfer a disgusting taste to the meat.

Two reasons big enough to avoid burning it!

Unidentified wood

You must have heard the saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Well, that ideally implies here.

You cannot just pick up any wood you find along the way. It can not only make your venison taste vile but might also harm your health in some cases.

The internal compounds of certain woods can get toxic upon combustion.

Conclusion

Like any other meat, venison also has a unique taste that you must complement with the right smoke. I only mentioned hardwoods in this article because of their potent, smoky nature.

Since wild games like venison have their signature gamy and rather undesirable taste, the potent smoke from hardwood removes it and replaces it with a pleasant smokiness.

I hope my two cents on the topic helped answer your questions and choose the best wood for your next feast venison feast.

Read next: these are the best woods to go for when smoking the awesome bison

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.