Getting the best flavor from your pork shoulder depends on more than one factor. Getting the best results depends on several factors, including your meat quality, type of smoker, temperature, rubs, sauces, etc. But the wood you choose is undoubtedly one of the most critical factors.
Even if you use modern smokers that run on electricity or gas, you still want the right wood in the chamber. It’s the wood that gives the real smoke. The smoke, in turn, determines the kind of flavor you get from the pork shoulder.
Pork shoulder: Know your meat
To start with, you need to know which wood chips go well with the pork shoulder. Pork shoulders come from the upper section of the animal’s fore-legs. Technically, it does look like the pig’s ‘shoulder.’ But this prized cut of meat has been around for some time now. You may also hear people calling it ‘Pork butts.’ This name goes back to the colonial days when the vocabulary was different.
Since it comes from a fleshy portion that grows around the bone, it has much natural marbling. And since it’s a part of the animal that gets a lot of work, the flesh is also a tough bit.
So, you need the right wood chips that can provide adequate heat. Wood chunks will also be ideal because they can burn for more extended periods. But there’s no reason why wood chips won’t work, especially if you have easy access to chips.
The only downside here is that you might use more wood chips than usual. Wood chips and pellets tend to burn faster than wood chunks. So, if you’re going for a pork shoulder, you’ll need to use more smoke-fuel than everyday needs.
Best Wood chips for Pork Shoulder
The main advantage of wood chips is that they give quick heat for your smoking. They may not last as long as larger chunks, but they provide great benefits as long as you know how to use them. The choice comes down to the kind of wood you use.
- Cherry wood chips
Cherry wood chips give an outstanding balance of both smoke and flavor. Fruitwoods like cherry are slightly on the milder side. This means you don’t have to worry about the wood messing with the taste of the meat.
Pork shoulders can take some time and heat to cook. And sometimes, you want a wood type that doesn’t overpower your dish with its flavor. For these instances, cherry wood is an excellent choice. You can also combine them with other wood varieties if you want to experiment with smoke flavors.
- Hickory wood chips
Hickory chips or pellets can also work well for smoking your pork shoulder. You can use pellets instead of chips if you want a more consistent size and shape. It gives you greater control over feeding and controlling the level of heat and smoke. You can use them even if your smoker runs on gas, electricity, or charcoal.
Hickory is a hardwood that comes with more robust and stronger flavors. So, you should take care not to overdo it. The flavor can dominate other aromas and tastes you’d want in the meat. Ideally, you can use a milder fruitwood along with hickory to keep things on the balanced side.
If you can’t decide which woods to combine, get some hickory chips or pellets that come in mixtures. This way, you don’t waste time getting other wood chips, and your smoking still gets the balance and variety it needs.
- Applewood chips
Apple chips can be a great addition to your favorite pork shoulder recipes. They’re not as strong as other hardwood flavors. But this doesn’t mean they’re too mild either. You get the ideal balance of sweetness and aroma that compliments the pork shoulder’s rich taste. For safety, you can go for chips that come treated for pests and mold. This way, you know you’re not infusing any harmful smoke into the meat.
For best results, keep a good stock of applewood chips ready for refilling. You want to supply a consistent balance of smoke for the meat. This will ensure that you don’t create gaps in the flow of smoke from the apple chips.
- Oakwood chips
Oakwood chips aren’t traditionally associated with pork shoulders. But you’ll be glad to know they go great together. One great thing about oak chips is that they’ll work well in any smoker design. Whether the primary fuel is gas, electric, or charcoal, oak chips will still deliver quality smoke.
The Jack Daniels BBQ wood chips are one of the premium options available today. These barrel-aged chips combine both aroma and smoke to create distinct flavors. They’re also great for ribs, loins, chicken wings, briskets, fish, etc.
- Variety wood chips
Narrowing down on a particular wood type can be a tough choice sometimes. When you’re smoking a pork shoulder, there are other factors to consider too. You have to attend to consistent temperatures, smoking duration, airflow, etc. So, sometimes the wood choice can be the last thing on your mind. If that’s the case with you, go for a variety of sets of wood chips.
These sets come with an assortment of different wood chips that have mild or intense flavors. You can combine them in different styles to see what effect they have on the meat. This set gives you a collection of maple, pecan, bourbon, mesquite, and all the others already listed here. It’s an excellent blanket-approach on wood chips if you want a little bit of everything.
Wood chips are incredibly convenient ways of smoking any kind of meat. With a pork shoulder, they’ll provide the quick heat you’ll need to get the meat going.
Of course, it helps if you have a few chunks too to sustain the smoke for more extended periods. But with the right supply of chips, you can bring out the best taste and flavors from a pork shoulder.