Chicken is a delicious meat choice for any meal, and it can be infused with smokey flavors if wood chips are used while cooking it. Smoking meat is a very popular practice in America, and chicken is frequently smoked. Where there is smoke, there is flavor.
The best woods for smoking chicken are maple, hickory, applewood, orange, cherry, oak, pecan, and peach wood. Many companies soak their wood chips in different flavors to give chicken more flavor. Hickory wood is better than mesquite wood when smoking chicken because mesquite adds a strong flavor.
Fruity woods are great for smoking chicken, but not all woods are made the same. Some woods are definitely better than others when it comes to smoking chicken, and we’ll help you find the perfect pairing for your next cookout!
Best Woods for Smoking Chicken
Maple wood provides a mild smoke and imparts a sweet flavor to the meat. It is more of a subtle wood and has a milder flavor than hickory. Maple burns hot and slow and is the sweetest of the heavy woods. The chicken absorbs the flavor of the hickory wood very well. (source)
Orange wood produces a fruity, smoky flavor. It is a mild wood, and is similar in flavor to hickory wood, but is sweeter and milder. It is a great wood for smoking chicken, and will not overpower other flavors and spices that you add to the chicken beforehand.
Hickory is a hard wood with a sweet to strong flavor. It is almost bacon-y in flavor, even when you smoke chicken. It is a great wood if you enjoy chicken and bacon flavors paired together. It burns hot and slow and has a pleasant taste when it is paired with cherry wood. If you are smoking a smaller chicken, be light with the hickory wood chips. Too much hickory can create a bitter flavor, and no one likes bitter chicken. (source)
Hickory is the most common, and popular, choice of wood used in southern cookouts, and there is a reason for that. If the hickory wood is used correctly, then the somewhat sweet, but not too sweet notes, combine to make a definite crowd-pleaser.
Oakwood is what many people typically use when smoking meats. The flavor of the wood is strong, but not overpowering. It is a great wood for smoking chicken because it gives a robust and distinct flavor to the chicken. Many oak woods used for smoking are flavored, so the type of flavor the chicken has will depend on what flavor of wood you buy. Most oak smoking woods are sold in chunks rather than chips, so they burn slowly.
When used for smoking meats, pecan wood has a sweet, nutty, and rich flavor that is similar to hickory. If you enjoy using rich-tasting woods for smoking your chicken, then it is a fantastic wood to use. (source) It is strong enough to be used with other meats, but it pairs especially well with poultry.
Peach wood has a light, sweet flavor when used to smoke chicken. It burns hot and for a relatively long time. However, it tends to lose its flavor quickly after it is cut, so only use freshly cut peach wood when smoking chicken. (source) Peach wood has a very similar flavor to other fruity woods, so don’t be surprised if the flavor seems familiar if, and when, you try it.
Cherry wood has a sweet, mild flavor that is not overpowering when it is used to smoke chicken. It burns relatively hot and lasts for a decent length of time, so you don’t have to keep a super close eye on it while you are smoking chicken. It is a great wood to use with other woods such as apple, oak, or hickory, but it can be used by itself.
Applewood is a wood with a mild and fruity flavor when it is used to smoke chicken. It can also be used to smoke other birds, but it is best used to smoke chicken. It is a very common wood to use while smoking a ham. However, the flavor of the wood takes several hours to permeate the meat, so I recommend using larger chickens when using Applewood so it does not burn, and the flavor has time to take hold. (source)
Almond wood has a sweet, nutty flavor. If you enjoy eating almonds as a snack, you will enjoy using this wood for smoking chicken. It is similar in flavor to pecan wood. It is not overpowering, and can also be used to smoke seafood if you also want to use it to smoke other meats.
Apricot wood is a great wood to use when smoking poultry, but it can also be used when smoking pork. It has a similar flavor to hickory wood, but is sweeter and has a milder flavor. Use apricot wood if you like apricots and if you find that hickory-smoked chicken is too strong in flavor.
Now you may be wondering if you can use multiple kinds of wood while smoking chicken. You absolutely can! However, make sure that there is an even mix of both wood flavors so that one flavor does not overpower the other. When fruit woods are used with hickory or oak, the meat gets a very earthy flavor. I do not recommend using hickory or oak with pecan wood, since the pecan wood has a very strong flavor.
Woods To Avoid
While there are many kinds of wood that are great to use for smoking meats, there are also many types that you should avoid when smoking chicken.
Do not use soft woods or green woods when smoking meats. Use hard woods, like oak. Green woods have too much water in the bark, and the smoke will become out of control. The bark will also burn too quickly to impart any flavor to the meat that you are attempting to flavor. (source)
Use hard woods that does not produce a lot of resin, and have a lot of flavor. Maple is a great wood to use because the sap gives the wood a lot of flavor, but it does not have a lot of resin on the bark. Make sure that the wood that you use to smoke your chicken is freshly cut and is of good quality.
It is very easy to check that the wood is good. If the wood that you plan to use for smoking chicken feels heavy for its size and is freshly cut, then it is good to use. This is because wood that is used for smoking is typically in small pieces, but they need to be dense and strong enough to last during a long burn.
If the wood feels really light, then maybe choose a different wood to use, or look at the directions on the container to see if there is anything you need to do before using the wood to smoke meat. Old wood chips burn too quickly, and the smoke may become hard to control if you use old wood, which you do not want. You want the flavorful smoke to stay inside the grill, not outside where you can breathe it in.
- Alder (great for pork and seafood)
- Black Walnut
While alder wood is good to use while smoking pork and seafood, it is not great to use for smoking chicken. It has too strong of a flavor and can overpower the chicken and leave a slightly bitter taste.
Mesquite wood is used frequently for smoking turkey, beef, and pork, but it is overpowering for chicken. Mesquite wood is commonly used to flavor ribs. If you have smoked chicken with mesquite wood and enjoyed it, then feel free to use it again, but I do not recommend it because of the overpowering taste. (source)
Great Woods To Use For Smoking
Listed below are some great woods to use for smoking chicken. They all have been rated 4-stars or more by consumers. However, there are many more good wood options to use for smoking, this is just a list of the best ones that I found.
- Weber Pecan Chips
- Western Premium Post Oak BBQ Cooking Chunks.
- Western BBQ Smoking Chips
- Apple Western BBQ Smoking Chips
- Weber Hickory Wood Chunks
- Apple Kingsford BBQ Smoking Chips
- Cherry Kingsford BBQ Smoking Chunks
- B&B Charcoal Pecan Wood Smoking Chunks
- Jack Daniel’s Wood Chips
Wood chips made by Weber are always worth trying, especially because they are a well-known grill-making company, so their specialty is grilling and cooking. If you enjoy Jack Daniel’s whiskey, then I recommend using the Jack Daniel’s wood chips, since they are made from the barrels that the whiskey is aged in, so they have a lot of the loved whiskey flavor. However, I do not recommend using them when cooking for a lot of people, since some people do not like whiskey.
These wood chips and chunks will be available in different size options, so consider buying a few small bags so you can find out what kind you like best.
There are a lot of different ways to cook, but there are only a few ways to smoke chicken effectively. The way you cook and smoke your chicken will vary depending on the type of grill you are using, but here are some tips and tricks to help you get a delicious, flavorful, and juicy chicken.
When using wood chips, start with a small amount, especially if you have never used them before and are still figuring out the process. Smoking meats is great but can be confusing if you have never done it before. Only used 1/4 cup of (presoaked) wood chips on your grill, and test out what it does for the chicken, or other types of meat, that you are smoking. When you waste wood chips, you waste flavor, which is always sad.
Some bark choices, like large bark bricks, need to be soaked before they are used to smoke meat. Before you use wood chips, look at the packaging and read the directions, even if you don’t feel like you need to.
Do not only use the smoke to flavor your chicken. Smoking is supposed to add a subtle flavor to your meats, not be the only flavor in them. Dry rubs work best for chicken, but you could also season the chicken with your favorite seasonings, brines, and marinades according to your preferences.
Be careful when using charcoal while smoking meat. The smoke from the charcoal will overpower the smoke from the wood if you use too much of it. (source) People typically use charcoal to maintain the temperature of the grill so that the meat cooks evenly. For meats that are being smoked for 6-8 hours, add three to four charcoal briquettes to the supplemental fire every 40 minutes, and use a thermometer to check the smoke’s heat. The heat should be less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit. (source)
When smoking chicken, or any other meat, avoid lifting the lid of the grill and looking at the meat inside. With every lift of the lid, heat and smoke escape, which means your meat may be less flavorful than you expected it to be.
Cook the chicken low and slow, and turn it while it is cooking to get an even flavor on all parts of the chicken. When it has finished cooking and reaches temperatures above 165 degrees Fahrenheit, let it rest for 15 minutes, and then slice it. If you cook the chicken at too high of a temperature, then it may dry out.
Before you smoke chicken for a large group of people, it’s a good idea to do a test run with just the people who live with you so that you can ensure you’ll make a tasty and juicy chicken. It is better to double-check that your method of making smoked chicken will work, rather than doing it for a lot of people and finding things that you could have changed to make the chicken taste better.