Can I use birch wood for smoking? Silver birch is a good choice

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  November 28, 2021

Always the latest smoking tips & tricks?

Subscribe to THE ESSENTIAL newsletter for aspiring pitmasters

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Usually, you go for cherry, hickory, maple, or some of the other popular smoking woods when preparing foods like ribs and brisket.

But have you wondered about smoking meat with birchwood?

Probably not, because it’s not as common as other smoke woods mainly because it burns too hot and is used for firewood, not as a flavorful smoking wood. Compared to other hardwoods, it doesn’t have a strong flavor.

Also, it’s not prevalent in the southern parts of the USA, where people are known for their passion for smoked foods. Birch isn’t the most popular wood in many regions and when it is, people like to use it as firewood.

But just because it’s not common wood, it doesn’t mean you can’t use birch for smoking meat.

Can I use birch wood for smoking? Silver birch is a good choice

You can use birch for smoking foods with short cooking times like pork, fish, poultry. It imparts the meat with a mild flavor, similar to maple. Although it burns a safe smoke, be prepared for a slightly bitter aftertaste with birch because it has an oily bark that may darken the meat. 

How to buy a bbq smoker video x
How to buy a bbq smoker video

Here’s something to keep in mind: never use green birchwood for smoking and remove the whitebark for more flavor.

Is birchwood a good smoking wood?

Birchwood is great firewood and since it’s readily available in Northern USA, most people use it as such. The strength of the wood and the many varieties of birchwood make it most suitable for firewood in the cold winter months.

Since birch burns very hot, you can heat up your home in no time. But, there are limits to what you can do with it when smoking food.

While you can use birch for smoking foods, it’s not the best choice.

In fact, it’s not a very good smoking wood because it’s not very flavorful and it burns too hot for smoking. The rapid burning process makes the smoking process harder.

Birch burns very hotly – it has an extremely high wood-burning temperature (816 °C /1500.8 °F).

So, for long smoke sessions, it’s not ideal because you have to burn a lot more wood than proper smoking woods. Also, it’s hard to control the cooking temperature with this wood because it tends to get out of control in an instant.

Birch is best for short smoking times when you cook meats such as salmon and other fish, poultry, and some pork cuts like ham.

Did you know there are many species of birch trees?

There’s a species of birch called silver birch and it’s better than the other species.

Now you’re wondering, is silver birch good for smoking meat?

Silver birch is the best species to use as smoking wood. It works great with fish, pork, and poultry like the other types of birch but when it burns, it also gives off this interesting zesty, rich flavor. 

That kind of earthy taste is great for game meat or venison and aged beef too. In addition, you can use it when you smoke vegetables like zucchini, courgette, and asparagus because it makes bland vegetables taste much better.

What flavor does birch smoking wood infuse the meat with?

In terms of smoke flavor, birch has a mild flavor and doesn’t overpower the taste of the food.

Compared with a strong wood like hickory or walnut which is best used sparingly because it imparts a very intense smokey aroma, the birchwood is light and mild.

The flavor is most often compared to that of maple wood: slightly sweet but with a hint of bitterness. It’s mild like many fruit woods (peach, apple, cherry) but less flavorful than those, unfortunately.

Some people say the taste is a bit unpleasant compared to fruitwoods.

There’s an actual debate whether birch is actually all that similar to sugar maple but it’s kind of the only wood to compare it with.

Also read: How do you store wood for smoking? Guide to proper wood storage

How to use birchwood for smoking

Birchwood for smoking is best used in the form of chips. Birchwood chips are rather hard to find though.

You might have to make your own small chips by cutting up larger chunks. But, if you chopped down a birch tree in your backyard, you can use smaller logs or chunks for smoking meat.

Many pitmasters recommend that you remove the whitebark before smoking to get a good flavor out of it.

Just make sure you never use black birch because it has a bad taste and can make people sick. Also, be sure to use seasoned wood and never use greenwood.

While you can use most hardwoods for smoking meat, they have to be seasoned and birch is no exception.

When using a gas grill, you can put the small birchwood chunks or chips in the smoker box (these are top choices) to prevent the ash (there’s going to be lots of it) from getting to the burners.

If you’re using a charcoal smoker, you can put the wood right onto the charcoal to prevent them from burning up too quickly. You don’t need to soak the chips because it doesn’t help in this case.

It’s best to pair birch them with mild-tasting foods which require a short cooking time.

It’s important to use birch for short smoking sessions because it burns fast and hot so you’ll have to keep adding more and it can be wasteful. You have to use more birch wood than other types when smoking with this fast-burning wood.

It’s not quite the same type of hardwood as hickory, for example, and tends to be softer. Therefore, it has an oilier bark, and the smoke can be blacker. You don’t want to smoke the meat for too long or it can end up bitter.

Can I use kiln-dried birch firewood for smoking?

Kiln-dried woods are great for smoking meat, but did you know you can use birch too? It’s often underrated, but some people like it because it burns a pretty clean smoke.

Although it tends to blacken the meat’s exterior crust, if used for short smokes, it doesn’t alter flavor negatively.

Here’s what the experts think though: use kiln-dried birch for cooking and smoking food in a fire pit or when making pizza in the pizza oven.

Best foods to smoke with birch

The birch imparts a light, mild flavor to meat so it’s best to use with fish, especially salmon, all types of birds and poultry, and some pork, beef and game meats, and venison.

If you like to smoke ham, you can always try smoking it with birchwood because it gives a nice, sweet flavor that’s milder and less intense than something like oak.

Smoked ham with a light sweet smokiness to it is a great dish to try!

If you prefer a more intense smokey taste, you can mix birch with a stronger wood like hickory, and this gives a sweeter taste which counteracts the bitter flavor notes of the birch.

When cooking poultry or game birds, you can combine the birch with a sweet fruity-flavored wood like cherry or other hardwood like maple to bring out the delicate aromas of the bird.

There are a few popular recipes for birchwood smoked salmon. In this case, you use a birch log when smoking the salmon to give it a mild but sweet and smoky aroma.

This is a great alternative to the famous cedar plank smoked salmon. Since cedar and pine have resin, they are considered toxic and many people still feel uncomfortable using cedar to smoke salmon. So, birch is good for smoking fish.

After you put your salmon in the smoker, close the lid and let the birch smoke fully penetrate the fish. It will give a pleasant, sweet aroma in about 10-12 minutes.

What kind of wood is birch?

Birchwood is a genus of Betula and more than 12 birch species are native to North America. it has a distinct white bark that actually burns black and oily.

White and yellow birch are common woods used in the woodworking industry because birch has a nice fine grain that looks great for furniture.

But, birch is not a popular smoking wood at all. In fact, you won’t see birch wood chips in most stores across the country. People don’t use it as cooking wood either because it’s just not as good compared to cherrywood or applewood – now that’s what you call good wood for smoking!

Black birch is the type of wood to avoid when you want to smoke meat.

Takeaway

While birch isn’t one of the most often used woods for smoking it’s not altogether a poor choice, as long as you use it for short smokes.

It has that slightly mild sweetness to it with a bit of tart aftertaste and it’s great for pork, small game birds, poultry, game meats and venison, and of course, smoked fish.

Just be prepared for that slightly odd and funny taste. If you smoke the food for too long, it can take on musty aromas so keep an eye on the clock.

So, next time you have some birch lying around, don’t be afraid to use it even if it’s not the best wood ever.

Next, find out which wood is best for smoking chili

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.