Best Wood for Smoking Chicken (pellet, gas & charcoal)


If you’re looking for a delicious and flavorful way to cook your favorite poultry dish, smoking chicken is a great option. Smoking chicken results in a juicy, tender, and smoky flavor that sets it apart. But the type of wood you use can make or break the flavor. So, what is the best wood for smoking chicken?

The best wood for smoking chicken is hickory. Hickory wood has a stronger flavor that pairs perfectly with the chicken without overpowering it. It is also a hardwood and will burn slowly and steadily, allowing the flavor to infuse the meat fully. 

CLICK HERE to see the current price of Traeger hickory pellets on Amazon.

But hickory is not the only option, and of course, neither are pellets!

Applewood and cherrywood are also good options for smoking chicken. Both types of wood are ideal for smoking chicken as they are not too strong and have a pleasant aroma that adds to the overall rich flavor of the dish. But there’s one wood to steer clear of, which I’ll cover below!

When using either wood, make sure to soak it in water for at least an hour before using it to ensure that it smokes properly and evenly.

Get ALL my Top Recommendations on Grills, Smokers, and BBQ Accessories with descriptions and direct links for easy browsing!

How many different smoking wood choices are there?

Wood Hickory Maplewood Pecan Oak Mesquite Cherrywood Applewood
Flavor Profile Strong, smoky, sweet Mild, sweet Mild, nutty, sweet Mild, smoky, slightly sweet Strong, smoky, slightly sweet Mild, sweet, fruity Mild, sweet, fruity

A lot. There are many types of smoking wood to choose from, and each type will impart a unique flavor. Different types of wood are available for different types of smoking, and each will bring out different unique flavors in the food.

Your choice of wood will depend on the type of meat you’re cooking, the flavor profile you’re looking for, and the amount of smoke you want. Irrespective of the type of wood you choose, ensure it’s dry and free of mold and mildew. Wet wood can cause a bitter and unpleasant flavor.

When it comes to wood for smoking, the most common types are:

  • Hickory
  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Mesquite
  • Oak
  • Pecan wood

In addition to the more common types of smoking wood, there are some more exotic types, such as alder, walnut, maple, and grapevine. Each wood type has its unique flavor, and you can use them to achieve different results.

I actually love this Traeger wood pellet blend of maple and cherry from Amazon.

When it comes to smoking wood, it is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every type of wood will impart a different flavor to the finished product, so it is important to experiment with different types to find the one that produces the desired results.

Smokers are a great way to get the traditional smoky flavor of BBQ, but they can be expensive. Fortunately, there are many budget smokers that don’t sacrifice quality. 

If you’re looking for a traditional charcoal smoker, an electric smoker, or a pellet grill on a budget, then you should visit my most recent article. Here I made a list of some of the most affordable smokers that will give you great results.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How do the different types of smoking wood affect the flavor of the chicken?

Different woods can affect the flavor of smoked chicken dramatically. Therefore, the wood you use for smoking can be as important as the seasoning and cooking method when creating the perfect dish.

One of the most popular types of wood for smoking chicken is hickory. This wood type has a very strong flavor that can be overwhelming if too much is used, but when used correctly, it can add a great flavor to your chicken. It is also very dense and burns slowly, giving the chicken a smoky flavor.

Oak is another popular type of wood for smoking chicken. Oakwood imparts a very subtle flavor to the chicken, making it a versatile choice for smoking. It is also very dense and burns slowly, creating a nice, smokey flavor and subtle sweetness.

Applewood is a great wood choice for smoking chicken. It has a mild, fruity flavor, which can be great for those who want to add a little sweetness to their chicken. Weber apple wood chips also have a high sugar content, which can help to caramelize the skin and give the chicken a slightly sweet flavor.

Cherry is another great choice for smoking chicken. It has a mild, sweet taste that can be great for those who want to add a little sweetness to their chicken. Cherry also has a high sugar content, which can help to caramelize the skin and give the chicken a slightly sweeter flavor.

Regardless of which type of wood you choose to smoke your chicken, it is important to keep in mind that the flavor of the wood can be very intense and can overpower the chicken’s taste if not used correctly.

Therefore, it is important to experiment with the best types of wood and find the perfect balance that works for your dish.

Do different parts of a chicken do better with certain kinds of smoking wood?

Yes. Different types of wood impart unique flavors to the meat, and the right wood chips can distinguish between a flavorful, succulent meal and one that’s dry and tasteless. While different types of smoking wood can be used for all chicken parts, some woods are better suited to certain parts of the chicken than others.

Dark meat, such as thighs and drumsticks, can stand up to stronger woods like hickory, oak, and Mesquite wood.

These woods provide a robust, smoky flavor that pairs well with dark meat’s rich, juicy texture. However, fattier parts, like the chicken breast, can become dry if cooked for a long time, so a mild flavor of wood like applewood or cherry is an excellent choice.

When smoking the whole chicken, use a combination of woods for the best results.

Start with a mild-flavored wood like apple or cherry to give the breast a light, smoky flavor, then move to a stronger wood like hickory or oak to give the dark meat a bold, great taste. This technique will ensure that each chicken part is perfectly cooked and has a smooth, smoky flavor.

Regardless of the sort of wood you select, using the freshest wood possible is crucial.

Old, dried-out wood will not impart flavor to the meat and can leave a bitter taste. Instead, start with a low and slow cooking method, and adjust the temperature as needed. This will allow the smoke to infuse the chicken with its robust flavors and make for a delicious, smoky meal.

Grills and smokers are popular choices for outdoor cooking, allowing you to cook various foods with different flavors and textures.

But with so many different options (gas, pellet, wood, charcoal, electric), what are the best ones?

If you also have trouble deciding, visit my most recent article. Here I reviewed the different types of grills and smokers available. I also addressed some major concerns you might have and talked about the pros and cons of each type. And I did ultimately let you know which has the best balance between flavor, cost, and convenience.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How do you add smoke to chicken using a gas grill?

There are different ways. Using a gas grill is a great way to do it if you want to add a smoky flavor to your chicken. Adding smoke to your chicken on a gas grill is easy and can be done in a few simple steps.

First, you’ll need to prepare the wood chips or chunks. 

You can either use store-bought chips or wood chunks or create your own. Either way, you’ll need to soak the wood in water for at least 30 minutes. This will help prevent the wood from burning too quickly and ensure you get an even smoke flavor.

Once the wood is soaked, you can add it to your grill.

But don’t just throw it in. Instead, buy a fire box like this best-seller from Amazon and set it on the grates next to your chicken. Alternatively, you can place a handful of the soaked chips in a pouch made from a sheet of aluminum foil.

Then just set that on the grates.

Smoked chicken is undoubtedly a great option for a quick and delicious meal and can be served in sandwiches, salads, soups, or as a main dish.

But for many, there are concerns about how long smoked chicken is good for after cooking.

If you’re also wondering how long smoked chicken and meat will last, visit my most recent article. In the article, I explained how long your smoked chicken and meat can last and how to extend the shelf life. You’ll also learn how to properly store your smoked chicken and meat to ensure their quality and safety.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How do you add smoke to chicken using a charcoal grill?

This varies. Adding smoke to chicken on a charcoal grill is a great way to infuse your chicken with a delicious smoky flavor. You can use several methods to add flavorful smoke to your chicken, depending on the type of charcoal grill you have.

The easiest way to add smoke to your chicken is to put a few pieces of wet wood chips or chunks directly on the charcoal.

This will create a smokey flavor and add a nice smoky taste to your chicken.

Use only wet wood pellets, as dry ones will burn up before giving you much smoke. But you may also use a fire box like this best-seller from Amazon to add smoke to your chicken. Place the box directly on the charcoal, and the smoke from the wood chips or chunks will add a smoky flavor to your chicken.

What is the best temperature for smoking chicken to maximize the smoke flavor?

The best temperature for a grill when smoking chicken is anywhere between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. 

At this temperature, the smoke will have time to penetrate the meat and give it a delicate smoky flavor without drying it out. The low temperature also gives the chicken more time to absorb the smoke flavor, creating a richer and more complex flavor.

When smoking chicken at this temperature, try to keep the temperature as consistent as possible.

This means that you’ll need to use a good quality smoker that can hold a consistent temperature, or you may need to adjust the temperature of your grill or smoker by adding or removing charcoal during the cooking process.

When smoking chicken, it’s important to remember that the smoke flavor depends not only on the temperature but also on the type and amount of wood used. Different wood types will impart different flavors, so it’s important to experiment and find the best combination.

Once you have chosen the right wood, you can get the smoker up to temperature and add wood chips. Make sure to add them slowly, so the smoke has time to build up and give the chicken a smoky flavor.

It’s also important to remember that the cooking time will vary depending on the size of the chicken.

Generally speaking, a whole chicken will take 2-3 hours to smoke at 225-250°F, while chicken breasts and thighs will cook in about 1-2 hours. Therefore, keeping an eye on the chicken and using a thermometer to check for doneness is essential. The internal temperature of the chicken should be 165°F.

Smoking delicate meats is a simple process that requires minimal ingredients and can be done in various ways.

However, the amount of time it takes to smoke different types of meat will vary. 

You might need to visit my most recent article if you’re wondering how long it takes to smoke a chicken breast. Here I addressed the estimated time it will take to smoke a chicken breast, the ideal temperature, and if you can flip chicken breasts on a smoker.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

What woods do the BBQ experts use to smoke chicken?

BBQ experts use a variety of woods to smoke chicken, each with their own unique flavor profile.

Aaron Franklin, the owner of Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, is known for using post oak wood to smoke his chicken. Post oak is a hardwood native to Texas and imparts a mild smoky flavor.

John Markus, the pitmaster at Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas, prefers pecan wood for smoking his chicken. Pecan wood has a sweet and nutty flavor that pairs well with poultry.

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas uses mesquite wood to smoke their chicken. Mesquite is a strong-flavored hardwood that adds an intense smoky flavor to the meat.

Robert Rainford of Robert’s Craft BBQ in Toronto smokes his chicken with applewood. Applewood has a mild sweetness that complements the flavor of poultry without overpowering it.

Maddie Longo of Longo BBQ in San Antonio uses hickory wood for her smoked chicken. Hickory is one of the most popular woods used for smoking meats and imparts a strong smoky flavor that stands up well against poultry.

Do wood pellets impart as much smoke flavor as wood chunks or chips?

As a general rule, the flavor differences between different flavors of wood pellets will be less distinct compared to wood chips or chunks. And so which flavor is used becomes slightly less important, and wood pellets will not be as strong as wood chunks or chips. 

Wood pellets are made from compressed sawdust, so they burn hotter and faster than wood chunks or chips. This means that the smoke flavor is more intense, but it also dissipates quickly.

Wood chunks and chips are larger pieces of wood that burn slower than pellets, allowing for more smoke flavor to be released over time. This makes them better suited for long smoking sessions where the smoke flavor needs to be consistent throughout the cooking process.

I actually love this Traeger wood pellet blend of maple and cherry from Amazon.

Wood pellets also tend to produce more ash than wood chunks or chips, which can affect the taste of the food if too much ash is produced. Additionally, some people find that the sawdust used in making wood pellets can give off an unpleasant smell when burned.

Overall, while wood pellets are great for adding a smoky flavor quickly, they may not be as strong in smoke flavor as wood chunks or chips.

Think you can’t use wood chunks in a pellet grill? Think again!

Wood chunks are a great way to add more smoke flavor to your pellet grill.

They can be placed in a smoker box or foil pouch and set on the grate closest to the heat source. Soaking the wood chunks in water for at least an hour before adding them to the grill will help create more smoke.

When using a fire box like this best-seller from Amazon, fill it with soaked wood chunks or chips, and place it on the grate closest to the heat source. Make sure that there is enough space between the smoker box and the heat source so that it does not catch fire.

If using a foil pouch, fill it with wood chunks and fold up the edges of the pouch so that it is sealed shut. Place this pouch on the grate closest to the heat source as well.

The number of wood chunks you use will depend on how much smoke flavor you want in your food.

Start with a small amount and add more if needed.

Wood chunks should be replaced every few hours or when they start to burn out. This will ensure that you get consistent smoke flavor throughout your cook time. Be sure to monitor your grill temperature while using wood chunks as they can cause fluctuations in temperature due to their high moisture content.

Using wood chunks in your pellet grill is an easy way to add more smoke flavor to your food beyond what your pellets will give off. So use a basic pellet flavor like oak, and then experiment with applewood, cherrywood, or other flavors with wood chunks.

Smoking Wood: Best Woods For Smoking Chicken

Final Thoughts

Smoking chicken is a great way to add flavor and keep your chicken juicy.

Whatever method you choose, the key is to take your time and ensure the chicken is cooked thoroughly. With practice and a little patience, you can master the art of smoking chicken and create a delicious meal that appeals to your taste buds.

The best choice of wood for smoking chicken depends on the type of smoker being used.

Different woods produce similar and different results, but it’s ultimately up to you to determine which wood you like best. Experimenting with different types of wood can help identify the one that produces the most desirable flavor.

Get ALL my Top Recommendations on Grills, Smokers, and BBQ Accessories with descriptions and direct links for easy browsing!


Image by Merja from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with 3 daughters, practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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