Wood chips: Worth the flavor?

Whether you prefer a bit more smoke and spice in your meat or you’re just looking for sweetness in the meal you’re about to grill, wood chips will be a total game-changer for you. They are a natural way to enhance or add a great flavor to anything you grill or smoke.

What are wood chips? Wood chips also called smoking chips, are small pieces of wood that are used when cooking to release flavorful smoke. These chips are made by pulverizing dry seasoned wood into small, thin pieces. When you want to use them, you place them inside your smoker preferably next to the charcoal so that they aren’t exposed to direct fire. At this point, they will smolder and release flavorful smoke that will instill that delectable smoky taste in your food.

Wood chips add a whole new world to your food when you’re grilling or smoking. They impart unique flavors and are one way of making your food (meats, seafood, veggies) stand out no matter what outdoor cooking equipment you’ll be adding to.

When it comes to buying wood chips, there are lots of different options you can choose from. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro in the grilling world, you might have questions on how to pair wood chips with the food or meat you’re cooking. Generally, there are five types of wood chips that are commonly used and available. These are:

Hickory

This one of the most widespread wood chips for grilling/smoking. They are great for a longer smoking time. The taste it imparts on food is a sweet and smoky flavor robust and usually adds a robust and strong flavor profile to meat. Some people compare its taste to that of bacon.

The best foods to use with hickory are proteins but you can also use it with cold-smoking cheese. However, if you’re new to using hickory, it is recommended to pair it with other types of wood chips until you figure out how strong the hickory flavor you want.

Mesquite

Mesquite is best for smoking beef and pork because of their distinct earth sweetness. The flavor they impact is stronger than hickory. Commonly, they’re used for Texas-style smoking and chances are, if you’ve eaten barbecue, you’ve eaten food smoked with mesquite.

Some of the great foods you can pair with this wood chip are; chicken, lamb, or fish. Conversely, make sure to keep an eye on the food so that mesquite’s flavor doesn’t overwhelm the food’s natural tastes.

Apple

These light wood chips impart a sweet and mild smoke with a subtly sweet and fruity flavor that makes it best for white meats including chicken and fish. It is commonly used for ham and bacon because of its sweet but subtly smoky flavor, but are also great for cooking desserts. It adds a mellow aroma when paired with poultry, beef, pork, lamb, and game birds.

Cherry

Cherry wood chips are great for almost any type of meat because their mild flavor won’t dominate or overwhelm the meat’s taste. They instill a mellow and sweet flavor with a little tartness.

The best foods to pair with cherry are pork, duck, beef, venison, and poultry. Though, you can still use it with vegetables for the addition of that unique flavor.

Any food that pairs well with fruit sides and sauce is great with cherry wood chips.

Pecan

Pecan is a bit close to hickory but doesn’t give off that aggressive flavor that hickory does. They are much more mellow and nuttier and are great with beef, poultry, and lamb.

If you want to know which foods are best to pair with pecan, look for any food that pairs well with nuts.

Other Wood Chips Varieties

Alder

This delicate wood adds a sweet and mild taste and is generally the best wood chips variety for seafood. Traditionally, they are used for smoking salmon but can also be used with pork, poultry, and game birds.

Though, if you prefer a much deeper and more complex flavor to your meat, try mixing alder with applewood chips.

Oak

This is the go-to go wood variety for grillers with its stronger than fruit woods but lighter than hickory and mesquite flavor. They smoke for a long time but imparts a nice, neutral flavor.

This wood compliments practically any protein from beef to pork to lamb to poultry.

Peach

 Peach is similar to apple and cherry wood chips in that it imparts a sweet, fruity flavor to white or pink meats. When used with fish, poultry, or pork, they will enhance their flavors and take your smoking to the next level.

For more explanation on how to choose the right kind of wood variety for you, look at this video: Smoking with wood.

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