Can you smoke with pine wood? This is why it’s not a good idea

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  December 26, 2021

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Pines are conifer trees in the genus Pinus, in the family Pinaceae. It’s softwood and it doesn’t give you a very nice smoke.

You want to add smoking wood like wood chunks or wood chips in your smoker for that delicious authentic smoky BBQ flavor.

Just make sure you’re not using any pine wood for smoking!

Can you smoke with pine wood? This is why it's not a good idea

Hickory wood, mesquite wood, oak wood, apple wood, are better alternatives that are completely safe to use and impart the meat with an amazing smoke flavor.

You cannot smoke, grill, or cook with pine wood because it is softwood and contains resin. When burned, pinewood releases a thick black smoke that sticks to the meat and gives it an unpleasant bitter flavor but it can even make people sick.

Keep reading to find out why pine wood is not a good wood for smoking and grilling meats.

Why do people think pine wood is suitable for smoking?

Pine is popular firewood, and people mistakenly assume that it works and burns just like any smoking wood. This is simply not true, it’s not a suitable wood for smoking meats.

Any pitmaster will tell you that you should not put pine inside the smoker.

There’s a myth circulating that if you use pine wood for smoking meat it gives it a kind of wintergreen flavor. Unfortunately, the flavor is not pleasant at all.

Pinewood makes the food taste sooty, so don’t use it. Also, pine has a strong scent but when burning, this odor overpowers your food.

Some people think it would be suitable for smoking red meat or large meat cuts, but it’s not. Cooking with resinous woods is never a good idea.

Is pine wood toxic for grilling and smoking?

You should avoid using any soft woods like conifers for grilling and smoking. Pine, fir, cypress is not suitable for smoking or any type of barbecue.

Pine needles are quite toxic when burned, but for smoking, you need the trunk and branches.

This part of the tree isn’t super toxic but it gives a bad smoke. Imagine that your food tastes like turpentine -that’s awful and a waste of all the bbq meat you got.

Here’s the thing: there are many types of pine and not all of them are equally toxic.

For example, scots pine is less toxic than others. It contains lots of tannins though and these chemicals and compounds are a source of gastrointestinal pain and irritation.

When you burn pine wood, it doesn’t release dangerous toxins but it creates black smoke. Since pine is full of sap and turpenes, when you burn it, the sap burns black, oily, and sooty.

Therefore, your food becomes blackened, sooty, and takes on a bitter, awful taste.

Also, it’s quite obvious that once the food is covered in this sappy and sooty smoke, the food loses its original tasty flavors and doesn’t take on any desirable smoke from the wood.

It’s a general rule that you should not use pine for smoking meat because conifers make the food taste odd and can even make people with a sensitive digestive system very ill.

After all, who wants soot-covered bitter food? Not only will it taste bad and make you sick, but it can also clog up the smoker too.

What are the symptoms of ingesting pine wood chemicals?

If you used pine wood for smoking and ingested that black smoke soot, the good news is that it’s not deadly or extremely harmful.

However, it causes intestinal discomfort.

Tannins, burnt sap, and resin cause stomach pain, irritation, and inflammation. It also causes symptoms such as vomiting and discomfort.

Your intestinal mucus and bacterial flora can become super sensitive and cause pain. In some cases, you may experience constipation.

Usually, symptoms clear up on their own.

Pine wood isn’t good for the smoker

Not only does pine give a bad taste to the food, but it’s bad for your smoker too!

Pine has a high resin and sap content which, when burned, makes black smoke. This smoke will end up all over the inside of your smoker’s cooking chamber and firebox.

Also, let’s not forget about creosote in the smoker. The burning sap and resin of pine create this creosote buildup.

Then, the next time you fire up the smoker, the creosote will infuse your meat with unpleasant flavors. In fact, creosote turns the food in your smoker black and sooty and that’s the last thing you want.

The only way to get rid of creosote is by giving the smoker a deep clean.

Use pine wood for the campfire only

If you want to grill and cook over a campfire in your fire pit, you can use pine but it’s still not the best for such a task.

You can light pine wood and wait for it to burn down to charcoal almost. Then, you can add good hardwood like oak, mesquite, hickory on top. Those are the woods you want to cook food with.

Once the pine burns down, the smoke clears up and it’s no longer sooty and as black. You don’t want to consume any of that toxic black smoke.

What other wood is found near pine that is better for smoking?

Fruit trees don’t really grow too close to pine trees because the pine needles make the soil too acidic for their liking.

If you want great wood for smoking that grows near pine trees, try oak wood.

This smoking wood is medium-strong in flavor and gives the meat a pleasant smoky aroma without overpowering the natural aromas.

Oak is a great hardwood for smoking beef and lamb but it works for pork and other red meats too. You can also mix it with apple wood or other fruity woods for a milder taste.

Smoking Black Forest ham with pine wood chips

I know I said you should never use pine wood for smoking meat. But, there is one notable exception: smoked German Schwarzwald black forest ham.

The authentic smoked pork black forest ham takes several months to smoke. The meat is cold-smoked at a low temperature and air-dried but what gives it that traditional flavor is the pinewood smoking chips.

They use pine wood for smoking the pork for about 2 hours or so but in this case, the meat doesn’t end up with any black sooty flavor or bitterness.

It’s all about knowing how to smoke the old way. The pine tars don’t seem to overpower the spicy smoky aroma of the ham.

But, the climate the pine comes from is also important and some old European pine trees are less dense than the ones in the USA.

It’s best to use a few beechwood chips for smoked black forest ham and perhaps you can add some cherry wood to give it a nice blackened appearance. The spice rub is what gives it that dark exterior crust though.

Using hardwoods instead of softwoods is always a good choice, even if you’re trying to recreate these very old pork ham recipes.

I just want to mention another recipe that circulates online: pine smoked chicken. It’s made with pine boughs leftover from the Christmas tree. The chicken is quick smoked and grilled.

Even the people who make this recipe admit that the chicken takes on a resin flavor. I’m not sure most people would like that but pine needles aren’t suitable for smoking so be careful with such recipes.

The bottom line

Avoid smoking with pine wood and other resinous trees. Black smoke and foul flavor should be enough to steer you away from this bad smoking wood.

I’m sure you don’t want a bitter chicken, brisket, or burger. The best woods to use for smoking meat and other foods are fruit woods like apple and cherry wood.

For red meat, use stronger smoking wood like mesquite wood and hickory wood. Just avoid the pine at all costs!

You can find all kinds of suitable wood chips and wood chunks for smoking and grilling and using them will ensure your barbecue tastes delicious every time.

There’s nothing like slow-smoked beef, pork, or chicken with traditional hardwoods – those give it that amazing Southern-style smokey taste.

Read next: How to make smokes oysters with 7 top woods & 4 to really avoid

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.