Apple or hickory? Oak or mesquite? Cherry or maple?
There are lots of varieties of wood chips out there for cooking, so how do you know which type to buy? It all depends on personal preference, of course, as each type of wood provides a uniquely flavored smoke to flavor your food.
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To sort through the differences, we gathered all the chips we could find and tested them on pulled pork, smoked chicken, and smoked salmon. Here are our tasting notes on some of the most common types of wood chips.
Fruit (Apple and Cherry)
Produces lightly sweet, mild smoke. Great for seafood and poultry.
A balanced though intense smoke that works with almost any food.
Relatively mild and tasty smoke on pork and poultry; some tasters found it “resiny” on salmon.
A strong smoke that works best with stronger-tasting cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and game.
A nutty and well-balanced smoke. The traditional choice for many pitmasters.
When using wood chips on charcoal or gas grills, we typically wrap them up in a foil packet; this extends the burning time and, for gas grills, contains the wood-chip ash so that it doesn’t muck up the gas burners.
And what about chunks? Wood chunks are bigger than chips (most are roughly the size of a tennis ball) and work well for long-cooked foods (chips are smaller and burn faster and thus are better for foods that cook more quickly).
Smoked Bourbon Pork TenderloinA faster way to tender, juicy, smoke-kissed pork.
Some folks like to add their chips (or chunks) to the fire dry, but the test kitchen usually recommends soaking them in water for 15 minutes prior to grilling so that the wood smolders for longer and thus produces more smoke and adds more flavor to your food.