Cedar Wood: Is it Safe and Recommended for Smoking Meat?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 5, 2023

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When you talk about smoking, there’s one word every pitmaster, home cook, and even a BBQ newbie will tell you to avoid. And that’s cedar. 

But does this wood deserve all the bad light it gets in the mainstream BBQ world? Or is this hate totally unnecessary?

Moreover, are there any “variants” of cedar you can actually use for smoking food? 

Yes, cedar wood can be used for smoking. However, it is not the most popular choice for smoking wood as it can give off a strong and distinctive flavor that may not be desirable for all types of meat. Additionally, cedar wood can be quite resinous and may produce a lot of smoke, which could lead to over-smoking if not used carefully.

In this dedicated article, we will look into all this and answer any questions you might have about cedar wood so that you can make an informed decision. 

Is cedar wood good for smoking

What is a cedar? 

Before we jump into the world BBQ and smoking and whether you should or should not use cedar wood for smoking, let’s start easy.

What exactly is cedar wood?

Cedar is a group of trees that belong to the genus Cedrus.

The genus Cedrus encapsulates several different tree species with similar properties, all with generally tall, narrow, and conical overall profiles and straight horizontal stems protruding from the trunk. 

Some of the most common cedar trees include:

  • Atlas Cedar (Cedrus Atlantica)
  • Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara)
  • Lebanon Cedar (Cedrus libani)
  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
  • Alaska Cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis)

These cedars are native to different regions worldwide but have more or less the same general properties. 

For example, all these grow to 100 feet, with species like deodar reaching a height lurking somewhere around the 150 feet range.

Some species even have a recorded height of 190+ feet. It’s a pretty awesome tree!

The bark of cedar trees is generally thick and rough, with deep grooves running vertically along the trunk.

The leaves are needle-like, with a maximum length of one inch, and are gray-green. These trees are generally found in mountainous regions. 

If we talk about cedar wood specifically, it is generally reddish brown in color with light-colored sapwood.

Having a straight grain, and uniform texture, cedar wood also has a natural resistance to decay and insect infestation.

The wood is lightweight, strong, and durable and is prized for its beauty and longevity in the furniture industry.

However, with all that mentioned, someone interested in BBQ, like you and us, can’t help but wonder…

Is cedar wood good for smoking? 

If you want us to give you a straight answer, then well, here it is: 

A BIG FAT NO with a small, thin yes… allow me to explain.

Most species of cedar wood contain oils and resins, which produce super strong and intense smoke that can overpower the meat’s flavor upon combustion.

In fact, I can even make the meat bitter and unpalatable. 

Additionally, some cedar trees contain toxins, which, if ingested in large quantities, can cause serious health issues.

For example, eastern red cedar contains a toxin called thujone.

If consumed in large quantities, the chemical can cause various symptoms like vomiting, nausea, and headache. 

However, there are exceptions. Some cedar wood varieties, if used sparingly, can be great flavor boosters for your favorite meat cuts.

Western red cedar is often considered an excellent choice in this regard. It has a mild, sweet smoke with many delicate meats. 

One more thing you would like to remember as you pick cedar wood for smoking is to ensure it’s untreated.

If there’s any coating etc., on the wood, it will not only ruin the flavor of the wood and meat but also introduce unwanted toxins in it.

It’s like barbequing a slow death. 

So to conclude, NO, cedar is not generally a good wood for smoking meat, but it does have some variants you can use when you run out of options.

Using cedar planks for smoking

One use of cedar wood for smoking that is very popular is using cedar planks.

Cedar planks are often used for smoking food because they impart a unique, sweet and smoky flavor to the food.

The wood’s natural oils and resins give off an aroma that complements many types of meat, particularly fish and seafood.

I have some great cedar grilling plank recipes here if you want to give it a try.

The planks also help to keep the food moist and prevent it from drying out during the smoking process.

Additionally, using cedar planks is a convenient and easy way to smoke food without the need for additional equipment such as a smoker box or wood chips.

To use cedar planks for smoking food, you should first soak the planks in water for at least an hour to prevent them from catching fire on the grill.

Once the planks are soaked, preheat your grill to medium-high heat.

Place the food you want to smoke on top of the cedar plank and place the plank with the food on the grill.

Cover the grill and allow the food to smoke for the desired amount of time, usually around 20-30 minutes until it reaches the desired level of doneness.

Discard the cedar plank after use as it should not be reused for smoking.

What flavor does cedar add to your food? 

Cedarwood adds a distinctive, aromatic flavor to food when used for smoking. The flavor can be described as sweet, slightly spicy, and slightly resinous. 

However, it really comes down to the type of cedar you use.

For example, smoke from western red cedar gives the food a subtle, smoky flavor that lets the natural flavor shine while complementing it with just the right amount of extra taste.

As mentioned already, it’s important to use cedar wood sparingly when smoking, as too much smoke can overpower the natural flavors of the food and make it taste bitter or acrid.

The same stands for every other wood as well. Too much of anything is harmful. 

What foods to smoke with cedar wood? 

Unlike hardwoods and fruitwoods that generally go great with everything, cedar is generally a good choice for foods that are subtle and delicate in flavor and are quickly cooked without prolonged exposure to heat. 

The beauty of cedar flavor lies in its subtleness. Overdo anything, and you’ll have instant regrets upon your first bite.

That being said, here are some popular foods that go great with cedar: 


Cedar-smoked salmon is a staple in Pacific Northwest cuisine, one of the most delicious dishes you will ever eat.

The sweet, subtle, and smoky flavor of cedar wood combines great with the overall rich, fishy, and salty flavor of salmon, enhanced by the tangy zest of lemon. 

Other fish

Apart from salmon, western red cedar also goes great with other types of seafood and fish in specific.

The most popular choices include trout, halibut, catfish, etc. Shellfish is another great choice when it comes to smoking with cedar. 


If it’s not gamey, any poultry will combine deliciously with cedar.

Two of my favorite poultry to cook with cedar include turkey and chicken. Just smoke them with cedar wood and experience

deliciousness your taste buds haven’t experienced before. 

Pork and vegetables

Cedar is also a great option for smoking pork chops and pork ribs.

The naturally mild and slightly sweet taste of pork with savory undertones combines well with the mild sweet-spicy mix of flavors from cedar.

Highly recommended if you haven’t tried it before. The same goes for vegetables as well, especially corn and mushrooms. 

Woods you can mix with cedar

Given that cedar isn’t quite a popular choice in the BBQ world, there are only a few great pitmaster recommendations available regarding mixing, etc., with other woods.

However, if you still want to get a little adventurous, the following are some safe options you would like to begin with: 


Alder has a naturally sweet flavor with nutty undertones.

When combined with cedar, alder enhances the subtle sweetness of the wood while neutralizing its bitterness simultaneously.

This makes the combination ideal if you are more into prolonged smoking sessions. 


Apple, too, like alder, has a very mild and sweet flavor but a lot of fruitiness.

It refines the natural flavors of cedar and gives it a nice, fruity touch which combines well with the mildly sweet-spicy overall flavor of cedar.

One of the best combinations for cooking pork and poultry. 


Cherry, too, just like an apple, has a sweet, fruity flair that goes great with cedar.

However, it also has some bitter undertones, so only use it with cedar for short cooking sessions.

The combination goes great with everything, including chicken, pork, and beef. 


Maple is another mild and sweet wood. Like fruitwood, it combines well with cedar and gives it a nice, sweet touch to enhance its flavor.

Combining both types of wood is generally considered great for delicately flavored meats like pork, poultry, and fish.

Cedar wood is popular for smoking meat due to its distinct aroma and flavor.

Cedar vs. other smoking woods

Now that we have moved past the basic question of what cedar is, whether you can use it for smoking meat, and what it combines well with, let’s get into some basic comparisons: 

Cedar vs. hickory

Cedar is like the fancy pants of the wood world. It’s got a sweet aroma that’ll make your nostrils dance with joy.

Plus, it’s naturally resistant to rot and insects, so you won’t have to worry about any unwanted guests crashing your BBQ.

On the other hand, we’ve got hickory. Hickory is like the tough guy of the wood world. It’s got a smoky flavor that’ll make your taste buds sing. 

Plus, it’s super dense, so it’ll burn longer and hotter than cedar. So, if you’re looking to cook up a storm, hickory might be your guy.

However, cedar might be fancy, but it’s also pretty soft. That means it won’t last as long as hickory and might also be unable to handle the heat. 

Hickory, on the other hand, might be tough, but it’s also pretty heavy. So, if you plan on lugging it around, you might want to hit the gym first.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. Do you want your meat to have a sweet or smoky aroma? Do you want your wood to be fancy or tough?

It’s up to you, my friends. Remember, no matter what you choose, your BBQ will be a hit if you’ve got good company and cold drinks.

Cedar vs. oak

Let’s start with cedar. This wood is like the cool kid in high school – everyone wants to be around it.

It’s lightweight, easy to work with, and naturally resistant to bugs and rot. 

Plus, it smells amazing!

On the other hand, we have oak. This wood is like the grumpy old man who yells at kids to get off his lawn.

It’s heavy, hard to work with, and has no natural resistance to bugs or rot. 

But it also has a delicious and versatile flavor that goes great with everything, from fish to poultry, beef, vegetables, and anything in between.

You cannot go wrong with it regarding smoking and BBQ. 

Cedar wood vs. mesquite

First off, let’s talk about aroma. Cedarwood has a sweet, almost floral scent that can elevate your meat’s flavors, as mentioned. 

Mesquite, conversely, has a strong, smoky aroma that can overpower your taste buds if you’re not careful.

So, if you’re looking for a subtle flavor boost, go with cedar. But mesquite is the way to go if you want to feel like you’re in the Middle of a Texas barbecue joint.

Next up, let’s talk about burn time.

Cedarwood burns quickly, which can be great if you’re in a hurry.

But if you’re planning a long, slow cook, opt for mesquite. It burns slower and hotter, so you can get that perfect char without adding more wood to the fire.

Cedarwood has a light, almost blonde color that makes your meat pop. Mesquite, however, has a darker, more rustic look that can give your barbecue a real down-home feel. 

So, cedar is your wood if you’re going for a fancy dinner party vibe. But mesquite is the way to go if you want to channel your inner cowboy. 

Finally, let’s talk about availability. Cedar wood is easy to find at most hardware stores and online retailers.

Mesquite can be a bit harder to come by. You might have to do some digging to find a supplier but trust me, it’s worth it.


Is cedar wood expensive?

The answer is more complex than yes or no. You see, there are different types of cedar wood, each with its own price range.

Western red cedar is a popular option, and it can cost you anywhere between $5 to $9 per linear foot. 

If you’re looking for something more economical, northern white cedar might be your cup of tea, and it can cost you around $4 to $7 per linear foot.

But if you’re willing to splurge a bit, then eastern red cedar is your go-to, and it can cost you around $5 to $8 per linear foot. 

And if you’re looking for knot-resistant and clear cedar, be prepared to shell out around $5 to $7 per linear foot.

So, friends, the answer to the question depends on the type of cedar wood you’re looking for.

But hey, if you’re a fan of that sweet cedar smell, it’s worth every penny! 

How to identify cedar? 

Here are some key characteristics of cedar wood that can help you identify it:

  1. Appearance: Cedar wood has a light to medium reddish-brown color with a fine, straight grain. It has a smooth texture and is relatively lightweight compared to hardwoods and fruitwoods. 
  2. Aroma: The wood has a strong and distinctive aroma that is often described as woodsy, spicy, and slightly sweet. The aroma is particularly strong when the wood is freshly cut or sanded.
  3. Durability: Cedar wood is naturally resistant to decay and insect damage, making it a popular choice for outdoor furniture, decking, and siding.
  4. Softness: Cedarwood is relatively soft and easy to work with, making it a popular choice for carving, woodworking, and other crafts.

Is it safe to cook over cedar wood?

Are you thinking of trying out cedar wood cooking? Well, let us tell you, it’s a smokin’ hot topic! 

But the big question is, “Is it safe to cook over cedar wood?” And the answer is, drumroll, please. It depends! 

First things first, not all wood varieties are created equal. Cedar wood is a softwood, which means it burns faster and contains more air and sap than hardwoods. 

This can result in an unpleasant flavor and even toxic fumes if cooked for too long.

So, it’s important to choose the right type of cedar wood for cooking and to use it in moderation.

If these conditions are met, cedar wood is entirely food safe and can add a delicious smoky flavor to your dishes.

In fact, it’s one of the most popular woods used for plank cooking as well. 


In conclusion, cedar wood is a popular choice for smoking meat due to its distinctive flavor and aroma. 

However, it is essential to use cedar wood sparingly and in conjunction with other woods to prevent it from overpowering the meat’s natural flavors. 

However mild and sweet it is described to be, the bitter undertones always show up when the food is exposed to smoke for a prolonged period.  

Apart from that, it’s essential to ensure that the cedar wood used for smoking is safe and free of any chemical treatments or additives that could be harmful to health. 

Overall, if used correctly, cedar wood can add a delicious and unique flavor to smoked meat, making it an excellent option for anyone looking to experiment with different smoking woods, or is simply out of options.

Next, read all about the best wood for smoking lox (which is NOT the same as smoked salmon!)

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.