Should you remove the bark from wood before smoking meat?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 16, 2022

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Some say to leave the bark, some say to remove it, others say to do whatever the heck you like. And that’s how the ancient debate of having bark or no bark on your wood for smoking meat still continues, leaving many people confused just like you. 

Some say leaving the bark on wood when smoking gives a bitter flavor and might have pollutants and chemicals, but if you find reliably sourced wood, letting the bark on can create a distinct smoky flavor of the bark combined with wood smoke that’s not possible with wood alone.

Should you leave the bark on wood for smoking

That being said, In this article, I will try to settle this debate by looking in this matter in more depth. Moreover, I’ll also try to answer all the questions you might have in mind regarding leaving or removing wood bark. 

So let’s jump into it without any ado!

What is bark, and why do some people think it should be removed before smoking food?

Unless you live under a rock, you must already know what wood bark is. It’s the external skin of the wood that protects it from harmful external elements like pollutants and chemicals. 

However, when we move to grilling and smoking, bark has much more significance than just a protective layer. In fact, it is referred to as one of the contributing factors in deciding the flavor of the meat. 

But of course, there’s some ambiguity in the concept, and the opinion is split on the matter. Some pitmasters recommend removing the bark before smoking as it can impart some nasty flavors, resulting in a bitter taste. 

They also argue that the bark is constantly exposed to the outer environment. Thus there’s a possibility that it might have chemical and poisonous substances on its surface. Those chemicals, according to them, can transfer to the meat, resulting in health issues. 

Others completely debunk this concept and blame the cooking skills of their colleagues. According to them, wood bark smoke can impart a heavenly flavor to the meat when mixed with charcoal.

Interestingly, some people also think that wood bark has no role in deciding the flavor. So they keep or remove it as per their convenience. Bark has little to no significance for them.

But here’s the thing, each of the aforementioned opinions is right to a certain extent, depending on the conditions. For example, sometimes wood bark can be toxic, other times it is just what you need to make a delicious meat dish. To put it simply, the debate is valid.

Is it safe to use wood with bark for smoking?

Yes, It is completely safe to use wood with bark for smoking. It all comes down to where you source the wood from. So as long as there is no sign of chemical or toxins retention on the bark, you can comfortably use it for your weekend BBQ sessions.

But keep in mind, leaving the bark on can pretty risky subject to certain conditions. Since the major role of bark is protecting inner wood from toxic substances, sometimes, it can retain some pollutants and chemicals from the air.

This is significantly more probable when you source it from places near chemical facilities, where releasing liquid and gaseous wastes are an everyday activity. That being established, always make sure the wood is coming from a clean area and you’re good to go!

Is kiln-dried and bark-covered wood any good? 

If you want to experience the intense flavor of the wood bark to the fullest, kiln-dried bark is just what you need. Ideally, you would like to choose something among oak, hickory, or cherry to savor the intense, smoky taste of the bark. 

During kiln-drying, the barked wood is treated under a controlled facility , leaving just the right amount of moisture inside. This ensures a cleaner fire inside the smoker and brings the best out of every wood chunk. 

Can you use wood with bark in your smoker?

Yes! After giving it a try, I found that both, bark and wood give off distinct flavors, that when combined result in an amazingly pleasant aroma that gives the meat a very balanced taste. However, you should be experienced enough to handle the heat fluctuations that come with it.

The combination is like batman and robin. The wood burns slow and low to give off just the right amount of smoke and heat for optimum results. On the other hand, the bark burns quickly and produces extra smoke and flavor as a sidekick.

There’s one thing I personally find worrying, especially for newbies. And that is the imbalance in combustion rate. Since bark on each wood chunk burns at a variable level, it can result in temperature control issues that need to be regulated.

Bark or no bark, which one should I choose?

Well, it is totally up to you. As long as you source your wood from a reliable and safe place where there’s no chance of the bark collecting pollutants, then you can burn it with wood by all means. 

Wood bark consists of unique compounds that can give off unique flavors upon combustion. Especially when we talk about some elite hardwoods like oak and hickory. 

When combined with the intense flavor of bark, the wood’s extra smokiness can take your steak or bbq game to the next level. Just be careful not to oversmoke the meat. You don’t want it to taste bitter.

Just in case you are unsure whether the bark is clean of any chemicals, it’s better to detach it from the wood and burn the wood alone. Unless, of course, you prefer chemical-filled meat with creosote like flavor.


Well, from all the research I have done, and whatever we went through right now, it seems like leaving the bark on wood or removing it is pretty conditional. 

In fact, a lot of factors come into play here. For example, whether the bark is free of chemicals or not? Has it been kiln-dried? And is it too thick that it would overpower the flavor of the wood?

All of the conditions considered, having bark on wood can be an excellent tastemaker for your next barbeque party. There’s no harm in it as long as it’s free of toxins. 

With this, let’s end this article. Hope my two cents on the topic helped you gain some valuable insights. Moreover, enabled you to decide whether you should remove the bark or not. 

Personally, I would definitely go with the bark. Everyone loves some extra flavor. ;)

Also read: these are the best woods to smoke with

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.