Best Types of Wood for Grilling Outdoors: Flavor-enhancing Varieties

Best woods for outdoor grilling

Spread The Word

Grilling involves cooking food over fire or hot coals, typically outdoors, using various types of wood to enhance flavor. The choice of wood can impact the taste of your grilled meals significantly. For effective smoking and grilling, specific characteristics in wood are sought after, such as the ability to burn long and hot, and impart a pleasant flavor that complements the food being cooked.

Certain woods are renowned for bringing the best out of your grilling and smoking experience. Hardwoods like hickory, mesquite, and oak are popular for their strong, distinct flavors that are ideal for smoking meats. Fruit-bearing woods such as apple and cherry offer a sweeter, milder taste, perfect for more delicate items like poultry and fish. Using kiln-dried wood, charcoal, wood chips, or a combination thereof allows for precision in flavor and burn control, contributing to an optimal grilling environment.

When selecting wood for grilling, consider that woods like hickory and mesquite provide robust flavors, while oak delivers a medium smoky taste, well-suited for beef and pork. Apple and cherry woods impart a fruitier, more subtle flavor, enhancing lighter meats. For best results, soak wood chips prior to use to generate more smoke, and favor lump charcoal over briquettes for a cleaner, chemical-free burn. Your choice in wood will dictate the smoke’s influence on the flavor profile, transforming a standard grill session into a gourmet grilling and smoking experience.


Hickory is a type of wood known for its dense, tough properties, commonly used by pitmasters for smoking meats. When you choose hickory wood for grilling, you’re selecting one of the most popular woods for smoking due to its strong, heavy smoke flavor that imparts a rich, bacon-like quality to the meat.

  1. Selecting Hickory: Ensure you’re using dry, seasoned hickory for a consistent burn. Avoid green wood as it can lead to harsh smoke and off-flavors.
  2. Preparation: Cut the wood into manageable pieces to fit your smoker or grill. Chunks or chips are suitable sizes for prolonged smoking.
  3. Smoking with Hickory: The smoke from hickory wood penetrates meats deeply, making it ideal for pork, especially ribs. Begin smoking your ribs at a lower temperature, allowing the hickory to infuse the meat gradually.
  4. Managing the Smoke: To avoid overpowering your food, combine hickory with milder woods like oak or apple for a balanced flavor profile.
  5. Monitoring: Keep an eye on the smoke color—blue smoke indicates optimal combustion, meaning your hickory is imparting the perfect amount of flavor.

Your experience with hickory might vary depending on personal taste and the specific cut of meat. However, hickory’s compatibility with pork has been proven time and again in the barbecue community. Remember, the goal is to achieve a complementary smoky taste that enhances, not overwhelms, the natural flavor of the meat.


Oak is a widely favored wood type for grilling because of its ability to impart a medium to strong smoke flavor that’s not overpowering, making it suitable for a variety of meats. When you choose oak for your smoker or charcoal grill, you’re opting for a wood that’s versatile and readily available.

White Oak

White Oak is a top choice for smoking meats such as brisket, fish, and poultry. It produces a long-lasting burn and a consistent smoke that enhances the meat’s flavor without overwhelming it. You’ll find white oak to be a heavier wood, which makes it perfect for extended smoking sessions.

  1. Burn characteristics: White Oak burns steadily, ideal for maintaining a uniform temperature in your smoker.
  2. Flavor profile: It imparts a medium smoke flavor with a hint of sweetness, excellent for delicate proteins like fish.

Red Oak

Red Oak, while similar to White Oak, offers a distinctively richer smoke flavor. It is especially popular for grilling robust meats like steak and beef, complementing their natural flavors.

  • Burn Time: Red Oak provides a long burn time, which is advantageous for cooking heavier cuts of meat.
  • Smoke Density: The smoke from Red Oak is dense and full-bodied, contributing a pronounced taste to the smoked foods.

When using either White or Red Oak, you ensure your grilled dishes receive a balanced smokiness that is neither too mild nor too intense.


Mesquite is a type of hardwood from the Prosopis genus, primarily used for smoking and grilling meats due to its strong, pungent flavor. Mesquite wood produces a very intense smoke, perfect for imparting a hearty and earthy taste to various types of meat, particularly red meat and game.

When you choose mesquite for grilling, you’re selecting a wood that’s known for its signature tangy profile which complements the robust flavors of heavier meats:

  1. Selection: Opt for dry and seasoned mesquite wood to ensure a controlled burn and consistent smoke.
  2. Grilling: Use chunks or chips of mesquite when grilling to enhance the meat’s flavor; the chips are suitable for shorter cooking times, while chunks are better for longer smoking periods.
  3. Pairing: Mesquite pairs excellently with beef and game due to its bold taste profile. It might overwhelm the flavor of lighter meats like chicken or fish.
  4. Usage: Introduce mesquite wood to your smoker or grill gradually; its pungent smoke can become overpowering if used excessively.
  5. Blending: Consider blending mesquite with milder woods such as hickory or oak to temper its intensity for a more balanced smoke flavor.

Remember that mesquite burns hot and fast. Always monitor your grill or smoker to maintain the desired temperature and smoke level. The strong, distinctive flavor of mesquite will permeate your meat, creating a rustic, outdoorsy dining experience.


Cherry wood is a type of fruit wood commonly used for outdoor grilling. It provides a mild, sweet flavor to the smoke, which is particularly well-suited for foods like salmon and chicken. When using cherry wood for smoking, you’ll notice it imparts a subtle, fruity taste that does not overpower the natural flavors of the food.

  1. Select Quality Wood: Ensure that you choose high-quality, seasoned cherry wood for the best results. Fresh or unseasoned wood can lead to an unpleasant taste.
  2. Preparation: Cut the wood into small chunks or chips, depending on your grill type. Soak the chips in water for at least an hour before use to produce a smoother smoke.
  3. Smoking Process: Place the cherry wood on the coals once your grill reaches the desired temperature. The smoke will infuse your food with flavor as it cooks.
  • Flavor Matching: Cherry pairs exceptionally well with pork and beef, in addition to poultry and fish. Incorporate it when grilling these proteins for an enhanced taste experience.
  • Combining Woods: You can mix cherry with other fruit woods, such as apple or peach, to create a custom flavor profile.

Remember, the type of wood you choose for grilling can greatly influence the end taste of your dish. With cherry wood, you’ll get a mild yet sweet smoke that can elevate the flavors of various meats without overwhelming them. Enjoy the nuanced tastes that this delightful fruit wood can bring to your outdoor cooking adventures.


Applewood, derived from apple trees, is known for its sweet, mild, and delicate smoke flavor. This type of wood is ideal for smoking due to its subtle essence that enhances without overpowering.

When using applewood, consider the following:

  1. Select Quality Wood: Ensure your applewood is dry and free of mold or pests.
  2. Prep Your Grill: Clean your grill grates before adding applewood to get a pure taste.
  3. Control Heat: Maintain a consistent temperature to properly imbue the smoke flavor.

Applewood pairs exceptionally well with:

  • Fish: Lends a nuanced taste that complements the natural flavors.
  • Poultry: The gentle smoke can enhance chicken or turkey beautifully.

Among fruit woods used for grilling, applewood stands out as a versatile option. It imparts a smoke flavor that’s more nuanced than hickory or mesquite. Because of its subtlety, applewood is suitable even for those new to smoking foods.

You’ll achieve the best results by using a combination of applewood chips and charcoal. The charcoal provides heat, while the applewood chips contribute to the aromatic profile. Remember to soak the chips before use to prevent them from burning too quickly.

Incorporate applewood into your next outdoor grilling session for a truly unique and flavorful experience.

Orange Wood

Orange wood refers to the wood derived from orange trees, specifically used for grilling and smoking. You can identify this wood by its tangy, fruity aroma which infuses a mild and sweet flavor into the food. This characteristic makes it particularly suitable for poultry and seafood, enhancing these dishes without overpowering their natural flavors.

  1. Select Orange Wood: Choose pieces that are free of mold and excessive moisture for the best results.
  2. Prepare Your Grill: Ensure that your grill is clean and at the proper temperature before adding the wood.
  3. Use Sparingly: Start with a small amount of orange wood, as its flavor is potent even though it is described as mild.
  4. Monitor Your Cooking: Keep an eye on the food to prevent over-smoking, which can mask the subtle sweet notes that orange wood provides.

Consider using orange wood chips or chunks when smoking your favorite dishes. After introducing orange wood into the grill, a noticeable fruity aroma will envelop your cooking space, hinting at the tangy flavor soon to imbue your meal. This wood pairs exceptionally well with lighter meats, like chicken or fish, bringing a sweet, citrus-infused profile to the forefront.

Remember, the quality of the smoke is as important as the heat. Orange wood burns clean, which means you can maintain a consistent temperature and smoke quality throughout the cooking process. With its balanced sweetness and mild tangy notes, orange wood stands out as a choice wood for grilling enthusiasts seeking to elevate their outdoor cooking experience.


Pecan wood is the product of the pecan tree, which is a type of hickory tree, and is commonly used for grilling and smoking. This hardwood is known for imparting a rich, sweet, and nutty flavor to the meats. When you grill with pecan wood, your pork and other meats will develop a subtle sweetness and mild character that is harmonious with the natural flavors of the food.

Flavor Profile:

  • Sweetness: Enhances the meat’s natural sugars
  • Nuttiness: Adds a mild pecan nuance
  • Mildness: Does not overpower the food’s flavor

When smoking fish, pecan wood’s delicate essence complements the tender flesh without overshadowing its taste. The advantage of pecan lies in its versatility; it suits a variety of meats and vegetables, making it an all-purpose choice for your outdoor cooking needs.

Uses in Grilling:

  1. Pork: Amplifies the natural juiciness with its sweetness.
  2. Fish: Adds a gentle smokiness to both delicate and robust fish.
  3. Poultry: Works well for a subdued smoky flavor.
  4. Vegetables: Infuses a unique twist to grilled veggies.

Remember, when using pecan for smoking, your smoking duration can influence the intensity of the nutty flavor. For a stronger pecan presence, a longer smoking time is suggested. However, to keep the taste profile balanced, you should monitor your food to prevent the pecan wood from overpowering the natural flavors.

In a nutshell, pecan wood offers a sweet and nutty boost to your grilling, making it a staple for chefs and home grillers alike. Its availability in chips and chunks provides flexibility for various grill types and preferences, ensuring your next barbecue is infused with the essence of pecan.


Maple is a type of hardwood often chosen for its sweet, mild flavor that it imparts during the grilling process. You’ll find that maple wood is particularly adept at smoking cheeses and vegetables, enhancing their natural flavors without overpowering them.

The sugar maple tree, the same variety from which maple syrup is produced, provides a more pronounced sweetness compared to other woods. When you use maple for smoking, your dishes acquire a subtle sweet touch that pairs beautifully with the food’s inherent savoriness. It’s an excellent choice for smoking delicate items like veggies and can also complement the taste of bacon, adding just the right balance of sweetness.

When considering the infusion of maple in whiskey, its mild character is ideal for not overwhelming the spirit’s intricate flavors. This attribute makes sugar maple an appealing component in whiskey barrels for a nuanced addition to the smoked profile.

For best results, you should:

  1. Choose quality maple wood chips or chunks for a consistent burn and flavor profile.
  2. Soak the wood prior to use if you prefer a longer, slower burn—it conditions the wood to smolder rather than flame.
  3. Introduce the wood once your charcoal is well lit to maximize the release of the sweet flavor.

Remember, smoking with maple provides a gentle sweetening effect, making it a versatile choice for an array of dishes from smoked cheese to rich, savory bacon.


Alder is a type of wood recognized for producing a light and subtly sweet smoke flavor, making it ideal for grilling. This type of wood is particularly well-suited for smoking fish and poultry due to its mild and delicate influence that doesn’t overpower the natural flavors of the food.

  1. Select alder wood chunks or chips for a gentle infusion of smoke into your grilled dishes. Compared to other fruit woods like apple or cherry, alder imparts a less intense sweetness.
  2. Pre-soak your alder wood if using chips to prevent them from burning too quickly and to promote a more sustained smoke release.
  3. Monitor the smoke volume; alder generates a moderate amount of smoke, ensuring a balanced smoke flavor without the risk of bitterness.

Incorporate alder into your grilling routine by placing the wood directly on the coals or in a smoker box if you’re using a gas grill. The sweet, nuanced smoke elevates the taste of salmon, a popular pairing with alder. The essence of alder also complements a variety of seafood and poultry, creating complex flavors while preserving the food’s moisture and tenderness.

Employ alder alongside other woods as part of a smoking blend to introduce a more layered flavor profile to your grilled delicacies. Experiment with the ratios to tailor the smoke intensity to your preference, combining the subtle qualities of alder with the characteristics of other smoking woods.


Peach wood is a type of fruit wood that is commonly used for grilling and smoking. It imparts a sweet and mild smoke flavor, which is particularly complementary to pork. Unlike stronger woods like hickory or mesquite, peach provides a delicate touch to the meat without overwhelming it.

When selecting peach wood for grilling, consider these tips:

  1. Ensure freshness: Fresh peach wood retains the best flavor. Look for wood that’s not overly dried out, as this can affect the smoke quality.
  2. Use proper size: Choose chunks or chips that suit your grill type. Chips are ideal for short cooks, while chunks are better for longer smoking sessions.
  3. Control the smoke: Begin with a small amount of peach wood when you grill. You can add more as needed to achieve the desired smoke level.

Among fruit woods used for grilling, such as apple or cherry, peach wood stands out for its subtle sweetness that enhances your grilled dishes. It’s excellent for smoking lighter meats and complements chicken and fish as well as pork.

After igniting your grill, add the peach wood once your charcoal or primary heat source is established. This allows for a more controlled and even smoke. As you grill, you’ll notice the sweet aroma characteristic of peach wood, indicative of the unique flavoring it lends to your meal.

In summary, peach wood offers a nuanced and sweet flavor to your grilling experience. The key is moderation, ensuring the wood’s smoke doesn’t overshadow your dish’s natural flavors. Try grilling pork to experience the optimal pairing of this fruit wood’s qualities.


Walnut, a type of nut wood, is known for its rich, intense flavor that is somewhat bitter, making it more suitable for red meat and game. When you select walnut wood for grilling, expect a strong taste that can dominate the palate.

  1. Choose walnut when you prefer a bolder smoke profile: It imparts powerful, earthy tones ideal for robust meats.
  2. Use sparingly: Its potent smoke can be overwhelming, so moderate the quantity to avoid bitterness.
  3. Combine with milder woods: Walnut can be blended with fruit woods, which can temper its intensity, offering a nuanced flavor.
  • Smoking Time: Walnut is dense and burns long; ensure your smoking duration aligns with the depth of flavor desired.
  • Pairs Well With: Think of game such as venison and other strong-flavored meats which can hold their own against walnut’s profile.

Incorporating walnut into your barbecue lexicon enhances your culinary endeavors with a distinctive, unforgettable character. Be mindful of its pungent nature and balance your use accordingly.


Mulberry wood is a type of fruit wood known for its sweet and mild flavor profile. When you use mulberry for grilling or smoking, it imparts a subtle sweetness to the food. This characteristic makes it an excellent choice for smoking poultry, game, fish, and other meats.

In terms of comparison with other woods:

  • It’s less intense than hickory or mesquite.
  • It provides a fruitier aroma compared to the likes of oak and almond.

When smoking with mulberry, consider the following:

  1. Start with well-seasoned mulberry wood to ensure a clean smoke.
  2. Use mulberry in combination with other fruit woods like apple or cherry for a complex flavor profile.
  3. Avoid using fresh or green mulberry wood as it may impart a bitter taste to your food.

For best results:

  • Pair mulberry wood with lighter meats such as chicken or fish to enhance their natural flavors without overwhelming them.
  • Experiment by mixing mulberry with other woods when smoking game to strike the perfect balance between sweetness and savoriness.

By following these guidelines, your grilling and smoking experiences with mulberry wood can add a distinctive and pleasing flavor to your outdoor cooking repertoire.


Grapevine wood is the vine stock of grape plants conventionally used to support the growth of grapevines for winemaking. When grilling, grapevine wood imparts a tangy and somewhat fruity flavor to the food, making it an excellent choice for smoking meats and vegetables. This wood pairs exceptionally well with seafood, Mediterranean dishes, poultry, and a variety of vegetables.

  1. Select High-Quality Grapevine Wood
    • Opt for dried grapevine cuttings, ensuring they are free of mold and excessive moisture.
    • Choose pieces that are relatively uniform in size for consistent smoking.
  2. Prepare for Grilling
    • Soak the grapevine wood in water for approximately 30 minutes to slow down the burn and allow for an extended release of smoke.
    • Layer the wood among your charcoal to create a base for a unique and even smoking experience.
  3. Cooking with Grapevine Wood
    • Utilize grapevine wood to add nuance to seafood dishes, as the tangy flavor complements the delicate taste of fish and shellfish.
    • Enhance Mediterranean dishes and vegetables with this vine stock’s unique profile, elevating their natural flavors.

By harnessing the distinctive qualities of grapevine wood, your grilling ventures will benefit from a unique taste that cannot be easily replicated with other woods. The smoke generated by grapevine not only boosts the flavor but also infuses a pleasant aroma, enhancing the overall dining experience. Remember, the key to successful grilling with grapevine wood lies in the subtle balance of smoke and heat, so monitor your grill’s temperature and make adjustments as necessary.

Trending Articles

Dive into more home improvement stories below. One of these trending articles might just be the right solution for your problem or inspire your next project's breakthrough.

Posted in

Rob Orr

Robert David Orr is the pitmaster behind Rob's culinary experience and knowledge is built on a rock-solid foundation of years spent perfecting the craft of grilling, starting with his vast hospitality experience at 15 and continues today. His passion for the craft of open-fire cooking is matched only by his fervor for sharing his experience and knowledge with other foodies. Rob has an infectious enthusiasm for all things culinary that truly defines the heart of this site. Whether you're seeking the secrets to the perfect brisket or the nuances of wood chip selection, Rob is an outstanding resource for those who take outdoor cooking seriously. Rob's philosophy is simple: Many of life's best experiences revolve around food and the most memorable are about simplicity and authenticity: great food, great company, and enjoying it all in the great outdoors.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *