Wood Smoke Taste Test

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/PORKCOMMENTS
AppleGREATGREATGREATAn all-around hit, with “sweet,” “fruity,” “subtly complex” flavor.
CherryGREATGREATGREATWell liked for “mild,” “fruity” sweetness.
HickoryGOODGOODGOODOverall, “generic but good,” with “balanced” flavor.
OakGOODGOODGOOD“Mild,” “nutty,” and “herbal,” with hints of “vanilla.”
MapleGOODXGOODEvoked pleasant memories of “bacon” for some but was “resin-y” on salmon.
AlderXGOODGOOD“Delicate” flavor with notes of “coriander” and “juniper,” though some found it “bitter” with chicken.
PecanXXGOOD“Intense” and “spicy” with pork but brought “cigarette-like” off-flavors to chicken and fish.
MesquiteXXXIn general, “harsh” and “acrid,” reminding some of “burnt rubber.”

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