Can you use chokecherry wood for smoking? It certainly works, but in moderation

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 1, 2022

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“Prunus virginiana”, but you knwow it as bitter-berry, chokecherry, or even Virginia bird, is a species of bird cherry (Prunus subgenus Padus) native to North America.

It’s fruity, sweet, and mild, making it perfect for smoking meat, no matter if it’s poultry, beef, or anything in between.

But…as I surfed through the internet, the most fascinating questions I found were not about cherry but the not-so-well-known chokecherry wood.

Being relatively small and pretty much different from other woods of the family, everyone keeps asking “Can I use choke cherry wood for smoking?

And if yes, what sort of foods will go well with its rather peculiar flavor?

Can you use choke cherry wood for smoking? It certainly works, but in moderation

Well, although chokecherry wood isn’t as sweet as cherry, it can be a perfect tastemaker for pork, poultry, and game meat with a bit of mixing. Besides, you can also use it with red meat and lamb. Just make sure to use it in moderate quantity as it has a relatively bitter flavor.

That being clear, let’s jump into the main article and discuss some of the biggest questions regarding smoking chokecherry wood!

Using choke cherry wood for smoking

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Even though choke cherry isn’t counted among the best woods for smoking, It still can be used with certain factors considered.

The first and foremost among those is its bitter flavor. But hey, which wood isn’t bitter when smoked for longer durations?

Even smoking staples like oak and pecan get bitter at some point.

Thus it would be best if you went a bit easy with it. Smoke it too much, and you’d wish to have Bittrex for lunch instead.

Anyways, you don’t need to be completely hopeless. There are still a lot of good techniques you can use to get the best out of it, including mixing and removing the bark.

Mix it with other woods

Yup, mixing cherry choke wood with something sweeter will help mild down its bitter flavor while enhancing the wood’s fruitiness.

Use cherry chips or chunks to give it a sweet and fruity aroma and balance its flavor.

You could also try applewood, pecan, or hickory with it to give your food a touch of smokiness.

But the thing is, that’s only preferable for short smoking sessions like grilling, where the meat is exposed to smoke for a relatively shorter duration.

For those who are more into smoking big and fatty chunks of meat, staying on the sweeter side is safe because chokecherry wood is notorious for getting bitter amidst prolonged smoking sessions.

Guess what? The keyword here is balance!

Remove the bark

Removing the bark from smoking wood is a pretty ubiquitous practice among many pitmasters.

Since the bark of the cherry tree is constantly exposed to the outside environment, there’s a chance that it might carry contaminations on its surface that might stay there even after months of seasoning.

Besides, due to a different composition of bark, it can also result in creosote upon combustion, which is equally hazardous and nasty tasting, making the meat taste bitter.

Removing the bark and using the only premium wood core will get you rid of both of the problems and ensure a taste worth savoring.

What are the best foods to smoke with chokecherry wood?

So you’ve gathered some good chunks of choke cherry wood for smoking and are ready to sizzle up the scenes?

Here are some great foods you can use it for:

Pork

Pork goes excellent with woods having subtle and sweet flavors.

Generally, woods like cherry, apple, pecan, or a mix of two is preferred to provide enough flavor in prolonged smoking sessions.

The same method works with chokecherry wood as well. You can confidently use it for smoking pork by mixing it with something sweet like applewood or sweetish-smoky like wild cherry.

Or if you’re more into quick bbq sessions, you could use some overpowering smoky woods like oak or hickory as well.

Chicken

What’s the best thing about smoking white or pink meats like chicken?

They go great with every wood, whether sweet, smoky, or even subtle, irrespective of the smoking duration.

This makes chicken ideal for smoking woods like chokecherry. However, you should remember that using the aforementioned wood alone still won’t be a great idea.

You would want to mix a small amount of it with a nutty smoking wood like pecan or something fruity like apple or peach to impart more flavors and balance the bitterness of the wood.

And hey, don’t worry if the meat turns a little dark after smoking. The taste is going to compensate pretty well for that!

Fish and red meats

Do you know what’s excellent about fish and red meats? The pure perfection they create when paired with smoky woods, including oak, hickory, and mesquite.

However, if you want to be a bit more adventurous with your seafood or beef bbq recipes, you can also mix these woods with chokecherry to add more flavor to your food.

Guess what? A little bit of experimentation won’t hurt if it turns out to be a deliciously flavored dish.

Small game birds

Light meat game birds like guinea fowl, quail, or duck taste great when smoked with a mix of chokecherry wood and sweet smoke flavor woods like apple, alder, and peach.

Unlike the chicken, most pitmasters love to keep game birds in the smoker for quite a while to tone down the gamy flavor.

Thus, combining it with woods other than those mentioned above, or going for especially smokey ones like oak, increases the risk of imparting a bitter taste to the meat.

Lamb

One of the best things about lamb meat? It’s naturally delicious due to the presence of its earthy-flavored fat, which goes great with both sweet and smoky woods.

Nevertheless, if you want to add an extra layer of flavor to the meat, you always have the luxury to smoke it with a few wood chunks of bitter-berry wood to deepen the smoky flavor.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about the bitterness, as lamb meat doesn’t require smoking for long.

What is chokecherry wood?

Chokecherry is a deciduous, woody erect shrub native to the US and Canada.

It takes the name from its bitter-tasting berries, and the tree grows up to 30 feet, having a shape anything between broadly epileptic or oval.

Other recognizing factors of a full-grown chokecherry tree include its bark color, which can be anything from dark brown to completely dark grey, with a lot of scales when fully developed.

You would find chokecherry wood mostly in hilly areas as they grow mainly at the foothills and mountain canyons, in relatively damper places.

The berries can have different colors depending on the breed. For example, some may have crimson fruit, others dark red.

There’s also another species of chokecherry that nerds call melanocarpa, which bears completely dark berries.

Unlike celebrity smoking woods, you won’t find chokecherry wood anywhere available online due to its rather undiscovered and perhaps quite controversial image.

But does this makes it a bad wood for smoking? Not at all.

Even most ornamental fruitwoods can be used confidently for smoking like their bearing counterparts; the flavor is more or less the same. Crabapple is another great example.

Conclusion

From everything we read about chokecherry wood, one thing is clear. It isn’t as sweet and flavorful as its other family members, like wild cherry or black cherry.

But does this exclude it from the category of smoking woods completely? I would strongly disagree.

Despite its typical image of being the bitter-buddy of smoking woods, it still has its own unique, savory-sweet flavor similar to cherry.

But the condition is to use it in a minimal amount and for short smoking sessions to avoid bitterness.

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.