What are the Best Woods for Smoking Chicken?

best woods for smoking chicken

Chicken, as a dish or as a side piece, is always delicious and scrumptious. That being said, there are means through which you can improve the taste, texture, and flavor of the chicken, and thus make it more delicious.

One of the most effective ways to do this is by smoking the chicken. Smoking, for thousands of years, has been used to flavor all kinds of meat. Thus, people have perfected the art of smoking meat.

However, different meats have different flavor characteristics, and thus different techniques and woods are used to smoke them. This article will focus on the intricacies of smoking chicken to help it get its zenith in terms of flavor, texture, and taste.

What wood chips are best for smoking chicken?

As mentioned before, there are different types of meat and there are different types of wood as well. When you choose wood for smoking chicken, it is important to know what type of flavor you’re looking for the chicken that will end up in a smoker.

Furthermore, chicken parts are of different types. These distinct chicken parts differ in terms of meat density, composition, and fat content. Thus, you also have to know which woods are optimal when it comes to a certain part.

1. Applewood

applewood chips

Applewood is without a doubt the most popular of woods when it comes to smoking chicken, and for a good reason. It has a fruity and sweet flavor that is poignant enough to make the chicken taste a bit mellow but subtle enough not to overshadow the chicken’s true flavor.

It is a bit fruitier when it comes to flavor than some of the other woods, like cherry, pecan, and maple. This makes it a perfect match when making chicken BBQ rib. However, some find that the taste is a bit more delicate, as they prefer something stronger.

Recommended Applewood: Weber Wood Apple Chips

2. Maplewood

maplewood chips

Maplewood, with regards to smoking, has long been associated with pork. Thus, a misconceptualized assumption has arisen that it creates a thick and sickly taste. That is not the case at all, and it is very suitable for smoking chicken.

It is stronger and sweeter than the aforementioned Applewood but not as heavy as some of the other woods, like cherry and pecan. You need not worry, though, as the strength of the flavor it induces will not overpower those of the chicken pieces.

Recommended maple wood: Camerons Smoking Maple Wood Chips

3. Cherrywood

Cherrywood chips

In terms of flavor and taste, cherry is in many ways akin to the other woods. However, its distinctive feature is that it can paint a distinctive and beautiful color on the chicken. After a few hours of smoking, your chicken will have a deep red finish.

If you want to accentuate the chicken’s flavor while also giving it this beautiful finish, you can mix the cherry with other pieces of woods, ones that have a deeper and heavier flavor. Hickory has proven many a time to do exactly that.

Recommended Cherrywood: Weber Cherry Wood Chips

4. Hickory

hickory wood chips

Old is gold goes the adage. Hickory is one of the most trusted barbeque smoking woods. It has proven, time and time again, that it is effective when smoking, many, if not all, types of meat, and chicken is no exception.

Hickory will give your chicken a nutty flavor. The flavor isn’t the earthiest you will find, but you can be guaranteed that the end result will be something amazing in terms of flavor. Another advantage with hickory is that it is a great type of wood if you are a novice in the world of barbeque.

If this is the case, you should always err on the cautious side using only a small amount of wood. If the taste is a bit mil, then you will add some more pieces next time.

Recommended Hickory wood: Weber Hickory Wood Chips

5. Pecan

pecan wood chips

Pecan is fruitier and flavor than the aforementioned woods. That being said, its selling feature isn’t the strong flavor, but rather the nutty aromas that underscore the flavors induces. Thus, it is trendy when it comes to smoking poultry and especially chicken.

It should be noted that, while most woods can be used with other woods, pecan is most suitable alone. Its flavor and taste, along with the aroma it induces in the chicken, are often more than sufficient.

It is important to know what woods are optimal for smoking chicken to know what types of woods you should steer clear from.

Recommended Pecan wood: Weber Pecan Wood Chips

What Woods Are Not Good for Smoking Chicken?

Though efficient in other types of meat, there are numerous woods that are not good when it comes to smoking chicken or even turkey.


Mesquite produces a strong and concentrated flavor. Many a time, this flavor completely overwhelms that of the chicken, and the end result is chick meat that tastes more wood than actual meat.


Like Mesquite, cedar produces a rather strong flavor. Thus, it is often used when smoking fatty fish and other types of meat. That being said, the flavor doesn’t correspond with that of chicken.


This type of wood is optimal when it comes to smoking beef because it has a strong and smoky flavor. However, this flavor completely overwhelms the chicken.

In addition, to understand the types of wood that should be avoided, it is also paramount that attention is paid to the condition of the wood you want to use for smoking.

Woods that have toxins should be avoided at all costs. These toxins may get into the food, thus rendering it poisonous. These types of timber include;

Lumber scrapes

There is a lot of unknowns that revolve around lumber scrapes. You may not know where they have been, and thus don’t know if they have any toxins. Thus, it is better off to err on the side of caution and avoid them at all costs.

Chemically treated wood

Chemically treated woods are useful in building and carpentry activities, but not smoking any meat. These chemicals, irrespective of how dry the piece of wood is, are still there. Thus, once the wood is lit, they may vaporize and find their way into the meat you are smoking, all this to your own detriment.

Moldy woods

Not only does using wood that has molds leave a strange and unsavory taste in the meat, but it may also be harmful to you and your family. It would help if you, therefore, avoided them at all costs to prevent negative repercussions.

Painted and stained woods.

Paint and stains often contain lead, which is extremely harmful to human health. Additionally, they also leave the meat with a bitter taste.

How to choose a chicken for smoking?

whole chicken

Before you even start the smoking process, you need to ensure that you have the best chicken for the process. You should, at all costs, avoid the shriveled and frozen birds – what you need is a fresh and plump chicken.

However, these aren’t that easy to come by, and you need to pay extra attention to what you are buying. Many chickens nowadays are mixed with chemicals, more specifically, chemical brine. This gives them the appearance of being plump and good looking. However, they don’t taste that great.

The most appropriate weight for chicken that is going to be smoked is between four and five pounds. This is because the smoking process will go fast. When cooking for many people, you shouldn’t increase the size of the bird, but rather the number of chicken you are cooking. It is much easier to smoke two medium chicken than one large one.

If you cannot find a fresh chicken, you can acquiesce and purchase a frozen chicken. In this case, it is essential that you pay mind to the thawing process instructed, and follow it to the letter.

Another thing you have to pay attention to is getting the fire and the temperature right. You may have chosen the best chicken, and the best wood for smoking chicken, but how you go about setting up the fire can ultimately let you down.

You need to ensure that the meat is exposed to the smoke for long enough to absorb the scents and tastes from the wood. This can be a challenge when you are using charcoal in the barbeque. However, if you can balance the charcoal and the wood, you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

The temperature should also be observed carefully. The rule of thumb when barbequing is being low and slow. Ensure a low temperature is maintained over a long period of time. This is because a slow temperature rise will ensure that the meat’s fat is rendered and infused with the taste and smells from the wood.

At times, the chicken skin may pose a bit of a problem. When the meat is smoked at a high temperature, the skin becomes crisp and easy to bit through. At low temperatures, the skin becomes tough and rubbery. Thus, it would be great if you made sure that a meat thermometer is attained.