What type of wood is best for Smoking Chicken

Smoking chicken is one of the best ways of getting the full flavors out of your poultry meat. For best results, you’ll need to consider a few things first. These can range from the choice of the smoker to the ideal temperature for specific chicken cuts. But if there’s one thing you should not ignore, it’s the choice of wood. 

Why Wood choice matters

You want the right type and quantity of wood to get that ideal, smoky flavor in your chicken. It makes a whole world of difference because smoked chicken can have distinct flavors compared to everyday cooking. If you’re a beginner, though, certain woods work with most meat. So, you need not worry too much about the exact combo of wood for your chicken. 

Fruitwoods and hardwoods can range from mild or fruity to strong and robust flavors. With the wrong wood in the wood tray, it can give confusing results. So, using the right type of wood is as important as the amount of wood that goes in. The nature and quantity of the wood can also change depending on the kind of smoker you’re using. As you use your smoker more and more, you’ll gradually develop more precise estimates of what works the best. 

However, whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pitmaster, there’s value in understanding the wood-types better. This way, you can refine the taste and flavor of any chicken dish you take up. 

Best wood for smoking Chicken

  • Applewood

Apple is always a safe choice for smoking any poultry meat. The main reason here is that it’s among the milder end of the flavor spectrum. Of course, too mild, and it will have little effect on your dish. But the right input of wood will allow the fruity flavors to settle in nice and deep. 

If you’re using Applewood, remember that it takes several hours before the flavors can permeate the meat properly. So, you’re in for a low-and-slow cooking session. But if you’re patient enough, you’ll taste smoked flavors that are as good as any other meat. 

  • Hickory

No list of smoking woods is complete without this classic. It’s an all-time favorite for most barbeque-enthusiasts and for a good reason. Hickory is a wood that complements any type of meat. It has a strong and robust flavor that is distinct. So, you know that you’re getting a difference when you use hickory.  

One thing to remember here is that hickory can overpower other subtle flavors sometimes. You can’t blame the wood because that’s what makes it great for smoking. What you can do is use it sparingly or in moderation. 

Don’t mind going for a trial and error approach with hickory. The ideal balance is usually a subjective experience when it comes to wood. And you’re the best person to figure out what tastes the best for you. 

  • Maple wood

Maple is one of the woods that reconcile the extremes between apple and hickory. It’s a hardwood but not as strong as hickory in terms of flavor. It burns slow but not as meek as the apple in terms of mildness. So, if you can’t choose between the previous two, this one’s an excellent in-between alternative. 

One advantage with maple is that you don’t have to worry too much about the final flavor. It gives a pretty balanced smoky taste to the chicken. If you have a distinct flavor in mind, you might have to go for other flavors. But as far as a smoking chicken goes, the maple gives a tremendous smoky balance. 

  • Cherry wood

Next on this list is another fruitwood: Cherry. Cherry is widely used because it complements any smoking technique. This ‘universal’ appeal is what gives cherry its charm with almost every meat. When you’re smoking chicken, you want it to have that unmistakable, smoky taste. If you use woods with intense flavors, you have to know what works and what doesn’t. 

If you’re unsure about what choices to make, it’s best to stick with a mild, fruity wood. As a beginner, start with something like a cherry to get things going. Once you’re ready, you can move on to more powerful flavors like hickory.

  • Peachwood

Peachwood is always a great option if you’re planning to smoke chicken or other poultry. It should also work well for smoking game birds. Since it’s a fruitwood, too, you’ll get the familiar sweet flavor. It may not be ideal for fish, but that’s a matter of personal taste. Also, you may notice that peach is slightly more robust than other fruitwoods on this list. But it’s not as dominant as hardwoods like hickory. So, you don’t have to worry about moderating the quantity.

While other fruitwoods go better with a stronger-flavored wood, peach can be a standalone wood. Assuming you’re using charcoal, gas, or electricity as the heating source, peach wood is enough for smoking.

Final tips and conclusion

For smoking chicken, we usually recommend getting dry wood. In fact, that advice is equally valid for any smoking plan. Freshly cut wood usually contains more moisture and water. This means they’ll steam as much as they smoke. And with all the organic matter still there, you can end up with different flavors. 

As far as the size goes, smoking chicken is better with chunks. They burn for more extended periods and provide a steady supply of heat and smoke. However, if you’re using a pellet smoker or you prefer wooden shavings, go for it! 

On the whole, we feel that milder woods go better with smoking chicken. The sweet and fruity edge usually complements the white meat of poultry, especially chicken. This is not to say that more robust flavors don’t work. Hickory and maple will work just as well as milder fruitwoods. The only difference will be in the profile of the flavors you get. Ultimately it comes down to your choice and preference. Check this out for other important info on chicken-smoking


James is the editor at Best Barbecue Wood, he loves BBQ wood and spends his free time cooking outside on his grill. He's always trying the different types of wood to perfect the perfect ribs.

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