What’s the deal with the wood?

You might have heard that we use California oak for our smoking. That’s because it’s local, first of all, and we always want to use local ingredients when we can. But it also produces a nice “medium” smoke that doesn’t overpower foods, whether it’s the meat or our mushrooms.

That said, for your smoking needs, you have plenty of options when it comes to wood. Different types burn differently, and they produce different flavors, too. (You also can choose between chips and chunks, instead of the big pieces we throw in the smoker.) Here are details on some of the most popular smoking woods.

Oak: This falls in the middle of woods in terms of smoke flavor—it’s stronger than some, but lighter than others, which makes it great for smoking just about anything. You can blend it with other woods as well, such as apple or hickory.

Hickory: Use this wood if you want a strong smoky flavor; it can be almost bacon-like. It’s best for hearty meats, such as ribs or pork.

Mesquite: This wood burns hot and produces a strong flavor; that’s why it’s popular with red and other dark meats, not delicate cuts. It’s been said that you should use mesquite like hot peppers—in moderation.

Alder: Smoking something more delicate, such as salmon or a small game bird? This will provide a more subtle flavor that doesn’t obscure the taste of the meat.

Apple: Similar to alder, apple provides a sweet flavor that isn’t too strong. It’s good for chicken, pork, and lamb, as well as beef.

There are plenty of other woods you can try as well, including cherry (good for all meats), maple (often used for vegetables and cheeses), and even olive wood (kind of like mesquite, but not as strong).

Everyone’s tastes are different, especially when it comes to barbecue—there’s no “right” wood to use in your smoker. (That said, you really should avoid woods such as elm, pine, redwoods, and others that are high in resin and oils.) Just try different things until you get the flavor that you like. Experimentation makes cooking fun!

Ryan McCormack