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Wood Smoke Taste Test

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2012

How much difference does the choice of wood really make?

Hickory and mesquite are the most readily available types of smoking wood, but some grilling pros swear by more exotic woods. To see for ourselves how much difference the choice of wood really makes, we used eight types to smoke chicken, salmon, baby back ribs, and pork chops.

Our old standby, hickory, though acceptable across the board, was deemed “generic.” Mesquite’s distinctive “barbecue potato chip” flavor was universally disliked, while “sweet,” “subtle” apple and cherry wood were big hits in every application.

 

WOODCHICKENFISHBEEF
PORK
COMMENTS
Apple GREAT GREAT GREAT

An all-around hit, with “sweet,” “fruity,” “subtly complex” flavor.

Cherry
GREAT GREAT GREAT

Well liked for “mild,” “fruity” sweetness.

Hickory GOOD GOOD GOOD

Overall, “generic but good,” with “balanced” flavor.

Oak GOOD GOOD GOOD

“Mild,” “nutty,” and “herbal,” with hints of “vanilla.”

Maple  GOOD X GOOD

Evoked pleasant memories of “bacon” for some but was “resin-y” on salmon.

Alder X GOOD GOOD

“Delicate” flavor with notes of “coriander” and “juniper,” though some found it “bitter” with chicken.

Pecan  X X GOOD

“Intense” and “spicy” with pork but brought “cigarette-like” off-flavors to chicken and fish.

Mesquite  X X X

In general, “harsh” and “acrid,” reminding some of “burnt rubber.”

Done in 281 ms! 61.385 KiB - 7.5% = 56.776 KiB