Smoking Wood Choices

Autumn Woods

Smoking wood is all about the same, right?

Well no, not really. Every species of wood gives off smoke that has a distinct flavor.

Some is strong and assertive; some is subtle and light. Some smoking wood gives off black resinous smoke that will quickly give your sausage a nasty turpentine taste.

It's important to know ahead of time what to expect so you can dial in just the flavors you want.

Strong Tasting Smoke Species

  • Hickory is probably the best known wood for smoking. It has an assertive taste so be careful not to over smoke with it. Hickory is especially good with beef and lamb.
  • Mesquite is probably the strongest flavored wood, and is used a lot for BBQ. Again, its good for smoking sausage if you take care not to over do it.
  • Acacia smoke is much like mesquite in flavor, but not quite as strong.
  • Oak gives off strong but mellow smoke. It is a good all-round smoking wood and works well with most meat.
  • Walnut Both black and English walnut give off heavy flavored smoke. It's best to use them mixed with a lighter smoking species.

Milder Tasting Smoke Species

  • Maple has an especially sweet flavored smoke that works well with lighter meats like pork and poultry.
  • Ash is a fast burning wood with lightly flavored smoke. Ash chips and sawdust need to be well soaked before using them in the smoker.
  • Birch is very much like maple in its flavor and is a another good all-round sausage smoking species.
  • Alder is a very abundant species in the Pacific Northwest. The smoke is light and flavorful and has been the traditional wood used to smoke salmon.
  • Pecan has a flavor typical of other nut woods like hickory and walnut but is far milder. A good choice for light meat like pork.

Fruit Woods

    All fruitwoods are similar in the flavor of their smoke. It tends to be light and slightly sweet. Fruitwood is almost always a good choice for smoking. Some of the better and more common species to use are:
  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Apricot
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Plum

Wood Species to Avoid

    In general, if you don't want sausage that tastes like paint thinner, don't smoke with softwood. Some specific woods to steer clear of are:

  • Pine
  • Fir
  • Cedar
  • Cyprus
  • You will also have less than sterling results with:

  • Sassafras
  • Sycamore
  • Elm
  • Eucalyptus

Traditionally, many farm families smoked their meats and sausage with dried corn cobs. Cob smoked meat is very nice because the smoke is pungent but not heavy tasting.

It may be a bit more difficult to find corn cobs now than it was on the farmstead, but they are definitely worth trying when you have a supply. I actually save the cobs from out summer sweet corn and dry them out in the sun.

There is a thriving regional industry in the New England states specializing in producing corn cob smoked sausages and hams, so you know it must work well.

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