Can you smoke with walnut wood? No, except for these meats

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  January 10, 2023

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Walnut is a nut wood of any tree of the genus Juglans (Family Juglandaceae), and nut woods are known to be great woods for smoking almost all types of meat. But, that’s where it goes awry.

Unfortunately, walnut wood is not a great option if you want to smoke meat. It’s a very strong hardwood with a heavy, bitter flavor that can be too acidic and tart for most palates, which is why many people stay far away from walnut.

But wait, read on because all might not be lost and I’ll explain why.

Dont use walnut wood for smoking

There are, however, some exceptions when walnut wood is an option for smoking. The only meats that can be smoked with walnut wood are game meats and red meats, like beef.

What to know about walnut wood

You’ve probably heard people raving about walnut wood, but what do you know about it?

Out of all the hardwoods, walnut is one of the heaviest. It’s from the same genus as pecan and hickory trees. Walnut is a very expensive and popular wood for furniture.

It’s known as the “premier” hardwood in North America because it has excellent grain patterns. This type of wood is popular with many woodworkers.

Since it’s harder to find and work it, it’s one of the most expensive types of wood to buy.

For this reason, it’s recommended that you use walnut for woodworking as opposed to smoking. There are much more affordable alternatives that are much more suited for smoking meat.

In general, walnut wood is considered “unsuitable” for smoking. It’s on most people’s “woods to avoid” list, alongside:

  • Conifer trees )such as spruce)
  • Fir
  • Cedar
  • Toxic trees (such as sycamore)
  • Rcalyptus

If you use those woods for smoking, you risk becoming ill!

What to watch out for

The main reason many people don’t enjoy smoking with walnut is the taste. The walnut smoke gives the meat a bitter taste that’s often extremely intense.

The reason for this unpleasant taste is that the tree contains tannic acid, which is the cause of that acidic bitterness.

Black walnut is considered dangerous for some humans and animals, such as horses. The wood contains juglone, a poisonous toxin that may be lethal for some animals.

The tree uses this toxin to compete with other nearby trees for resources such as water and soil.

Some people are very allergic to walnut sawdust and smoke. In some cases, it may trigger an asthma attack. For this reason, you must be careful when smoking with walnut.

Officially though, walnut trees aren’t classified as toxic to humans, but you should still use the wood cautiously.

Types of walnut trees

The two main types of walnut tree are:

  1. Black walnut: This type of tree is popular in North America, but is mostly used for manufacturing furniture, not smoking.
  2. Carpathian or English walnut: This type of tree is a slightly milder version of the black walnut and has a powerful, dense smoke.

What foods are best to smoke with walnut?

You should only use walnut wood to smoke red meat like beef, pork, or game meat.

Smoked venison would taste good with walnut because of the strong flavor. The taste of walnut is earthy, and a little bit similar to mesquite.

Game meat, especially venison, is hands-down the best meat to smoke with walnut. It gives an extra smoky taste to this already flavorful meat!

Walnut, especially black walnut, creates a heavy, dense smoke that provides an intense flavor very quickly.

Use the wood very sparingly and make sure to select only small pieces. Also, try to use presoaked chips first and experiment to see if you like the taste.

Recommended cuts of meat to smoke

If you’ve decided to smoke with walnut, try making a coffee rub for tri-tip. Tri-tip is the triangular-shaped cut of beef from the bottom sirloin of the animal.

The mix of the walnut smoke with its earthy and bitter flavor with the aroma of the coffee will give a delicious taste to the meat.

You may also use walnut to smoke beef or veal breast, known as brisket (which I have a great recipe for!). It’s a very succulent and juicy cut of meat.

Use some walnut to give a strong smoky flavor, but make sure to mix with fruitwood.

Should you mix walnut for smoking?

If you’re going to use walnut to smoke, most experts will tell you that you need to mix the walnut with other woods to avoid having stringent bitter-tasting meat.

If you don’t mix the walnut, you’re probably not going to enjoy the taste you’re left with. Definitely use other woods to take away from its tanginess and sharpness.

What woods are best to mix with walnut?

The main reason you should mix walnut with other woods is to create a milder, more flavorful smoke. It’s best to combine it with lighter wood.

Here’s what you should mix with:

Mix a minimal quantity of walnut with a larger quantity of your second wood type.

You want the taste of the milder wood to come through, and only a slight flavor from the walnut, since it’s so intense.

Be careful with the smoker temperature as you smoke with walnut, as it burns slightly hotter than other woods.

You can expect the temperature to be over 260 degrees Fahrenheit and it can go up to 300 degrees very rapidly.

How to use walnut

If you decide to use walnut, make sure that the wood is seasoned. This is essential because if you use green walnut wood, the smoke will be so bitter that the meat will be inedible.

The wood should be seasoned for about 6-12 months before use.

Enjoy smoking with walnut wood

If you feel prepared to give walnut a try, keep in mind the recommendations about mixing this wood with lighter woods that’ll balance the intensity of the smoke.

Always make sure your wood is seasoned and untreated. Choose a good cut of game or red meat and enjoy smoking!

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.