Choosing The Right Wood For Your BBQ in 2022

Alan Ainsworth

Alan Ainsworth

BBQ master and all-round top bloke.

Last updated July 26, 2022

While you may think that you can use any type of wood for your BBQ charcoal, this just isn’t the case. Choosing the wrong wood for your BBQ can ruin your food and your BBQ. Here at American BBQ Australia we have put together a list of woods that you can use for your BBQ and when to use them.

A common question is “what would should I use”, well, it’s not as easy as it seems, but more importantly, don’t get too hung up on one particular wood.

Wood Can Vary From Region to Region

More so than the type of wood, the environment, the soil, and how much oxygen the fire receives all affect the flavour of the smoke. This is essential, especially if you’re playing the game of selecting the best wood for flavour. This indicates that there may be more variance between apple grown in Queensland and apple grown in Tasmania than cherry grown side by side. Furthermore, this means that hot, aggressively burning apple with plenty of oxygen will taste very differently from the same apple that is smouldering and starving for oxygen.

When using logs for both heat and flavour, the type of wood you choose becomes more crucial. When you are adding a few chunks and chips to a charcoal fire, a gas grill, or even a pellet smoker, it is not particularly significant.

The best hardwoods are often cured (dried) hardwoods with little sap, particularly hardwoods, fruit woods, and nut woods. It is tough to explain them because they all have somewhat different flavours. There are a tonne of tutorials on the internet that attempt to describe the flavours of various woods. They remind me of the flowery language used by wine enthusiasts. The majority of them are just pasted from one website to another. These descriptions aren’t particularly helpful, in my opinion. The most of it is nonsense. More legends about barbeque. The way the wood burns, which affects what is in the smoke, is far more significant than the type of wood. This is something I cannot stress enough.

The most crucial factor in determining the flavour of smoke—far more crucial than the type of wood used—is controlling combustion. I’ll get into this in more detail shortly. However, some species burn longer than others if you want embers that will stay when you burn wood. For that information, see the table below.

Genus Smoke Energy Sparks Embers
Alder Mild Low Few Fair
Apple Medium High Few Excellent
Cherry Medium Medium Few Excellent
Hickory Strong High Few Excellent
Maple Mild High Few Excellent
Mesquite Strongest High Few Excellent
Oaks Medium High Few Excellent
Peach Medium Medium Few Fair
Pear Medium High Few Fair
Pecan Strong High Few Good
Plum Medium High Few Excellent
Walnut Strong High Few Good

Stick To One Wood For a While

Choose a single wood and stay with it for some time. More factors than only the name on a bag of wood influence the final flavour profile, including the quality of the meat, the fire control and cooking temperature, the spice rub, the meat temperature, and the sauce. You can experiment with various woods when you’ve got everything else under control.

Skip the softwoods.

Never, under any circumstances, utilise wood from conifers such as cedar, pine, cypress, redwood, or fir. They can give the meat an odd flavour because they are overly sap- and terpene-rich. Some have a reputation for making people ill. I am aware that cedar planks are frequently used to cook salmon, but I am unaware of anyone who uses cedar as a smoke wood. Elm, eucalyptus, sassafras, and sycamore are thought to provide a foul flavour as well. Many types of wood, including oleander, mangrove, laburnum, sassafras, tam-bootie, yew, and poisonous walnut, can irritate the skin or be poisonous (but not other walnuts). The wood database is a reliable resource for general information about woods.

Never Use Scrap Timber

Some lumber has been treated with toxic substances. Never use wood that has been painted. That’s one of the reasons I don’t use lump charcoal, by the way. You can see fragments of lumber within, which makes me wonder how diligent they are about making sure no treated lumber enters the bag.

Use Only Dry Wood

More sap is present in recently cut “green” woods than in dry wood, and they burn unevenly and give various flavours. Typically, air-dried wood is a little bit moister than kiln-dried wood. Kiln drying was once uncommon, but as more restaurants started utilising wood for grilling, it became more popular since health departments required it to eliminate bacteria, mould, and insects. To remove the moisture, the wood is placed in a space that has been heated to 200 to 240°F. Ask for between 15 and 22 percent moisture if you are buying kiln-dried goods. The steam produced by the water increases the size and stickiness of the droplets.

Should You Use Bark or Not?

The amount of bark varies from wood to wood. Some people advise removing the bark. Bark will burn differently than heartwood because it contains more air and is less securely bonded. I don’t get rid of it, but I do strive to minimise it. I know chefs who completely remove it. One cook I know claims that the only bark suitable for use is hickory. I know a terrific athlete who once said, “I pity the people who chip off bark.”

Purchasing BBQ Wood

Most BBQ shops should sell chunks of various wood in bags. Camping and outdoors stores are more likely to sell wood chips. If you are keen, you can always make contact with any Cherry or Apple farms to see if they have any wood for sale direct to the public.

Hopefully this guide will help you choose the right wood for your next BBQ. Happy grilling.