Is cured sweet gum wood good for smoking meat? No! Here’s why

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 21, 2021

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The sweet gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a deciduous tree of the plant family Altingiaceae that grows all across the Americas, and you might know it as Hazel pine, American-storax, bilsted, red-gum, satin-walnut, star-leaved gum, liquid amber, or alligator-wood.

Sweet gum is one of the main valuable forest trees in the southeastern United States, and is a popular ornamental tree for its five-pointed star-shaped leaves and its hard, spiked fruits.

This type of wood is used to manufacture furniture, plywood, and veneer.


Is it good for smoking meat?

Sweet gumwood is definitely not good for smoking meat because it is toxic. It is a sappy tree with a high resin content and when the smoke comes in contact with your food, it will give it a foul taste, and consuming it can make you ill.

I’ll explain more below and offer an alternative wood that is much better for smoking.

Why is gumwood not good for smoking meat?

Gumwood is not suitable for smoking because it is considered toxic and poisonous for smoking food. The heartwood is the most dangerous part of the tree. It is very sappy.

Sap and terpenes not only give food an odd and unpleasant taste but ingesting sap can make you ill!

It’s just like using conifers to smoke – outright dangerous. Once it burns, sweet woods leaves behind lots of resin.

The wood is too soft if you compare it with the best smoking woods like hickory and oak. Since it’s soft and spongy, you’re not getting good coals that will retain heat and burn for a long time.

Plus, I have to mention that it has foul-smelling smoke that doesn’t add any good smoke to food.

People who didn’t know you can’t smoke with sweet gum claim that it’s the foulest kind of wood and makes the food taste disgusting.

Sweetgum is not even good firewood because it burns too fast when dry. As well, this wood pops and throws sparks, so it’s even dangerous to use unattended in the fireplace.

Also, it will stink up the place with an unpleasant smell. That’s why I recommend keeping the sweet gumwood in your garden and away from your home.

What is gumwood?

The gumwood tree is a deciduous tree found all over the Americas. It’s from the same family as witch hazel. It has very close grains and a fine texture.

The main use for gumwood is to make plywood and furniture. In fact, it’s a major commercial hardwood in the States.

The lumber has a dark reddish-brown color. It is a medium-hardwood which makes it ideal for building cabinets and furniture.

This wood has an interesting and unique grain figure, and each board will look different. You can compare it to walnut because they are both similar.

You’re likely to see these perennial trees in moist soil and swampy areas. They have large, full crowns, so they are great ornamental trees in gardens and parks.

Where does gumwood grow, and what else grows near it?

People are tempted to cut down sweet gum to use for smoking because it grows alongside many coastal plain species that are actually suitable for smoking. Therefore, there is confusion about whether this species is good too.

Gumwood trees like to grow in sunny areas only and will not develop in shady regions. The trees are not picky about soil and will grow in clay, acidic, and even alkaline soil because they have shallow roots.

Sweetgum hates pollution and won’t grow in highly polluted urban regions.

You’ll find sweetbay magnolia and willow oak. The good news is, willow oak is good for smoking meat.

Willow oak – an alternative to sweetgum?

You might find oak and sweetgum side by side, but if you want to chop one down for smoking, go for the willow oak.

This wood is great for curing meat, and when it’s seasoned, it’s a good smoke wood. In terms of flavor, it’s pretty mild but versatile so that you can use it to season all kinds of meat.

It’s especially suitable for smoking fish like lake trout and poultry, but if you prefer a light smoky taste, you can use it for beef and pork too.

Oak also makes for excellent charcoal if you plan on using it for barbecue.


Never use sweetgum wood for smoking, even if it seems like it’s harmless. Because it contains toxic sap and resin, it can make people sick.

You want your BBQ to taste delicious, right? Well, this liquid amber tree does not give a pleasant flavored smoke and only makes the meat taste foul.

Therefore, avoid it and use a fruitwood for a light sweet taste, or classic smoke woods like hickory, water oak, and mesquite for that bacon-like flavor!

Next, check out these 8 best woods for smoking cheese & quick mild smoked cheddar recipe

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.