Best Wood for Smoking Chicken

Smoke whole chicken with wood.

If you want to engage in a quick-cooking session like smoking a chicken, it will be best to use wood chips. Wood chips, being small, quickly ignite but burn out easily. Hence, they are pretty perfect for smoking chicken. On the other hand, chunks will be a good option if you want to do slow and long smoking of ribs, pork, and barbecue brisket. But they would not do well when smoking chicken. 

Wood chips, of course, come in different varieties. You can find apple, maple, cherry, and many other wood-chip varieties in the market today. But when selecting wood chips, you can either go traditional or go fruity. Your best option, when smoking chicken, is the applewood. It complements well the taste of chicken and adds a distinct flavor to the chicken flavor.

Distinct Taste Provided by Wood Chips

Your choice of wood will determine the distinct taste of your chicken. So, it will be best to carefully choose the wood chips you will use to smoke your chicken. Chicken, in general, pairs well with fruity and sweet woods like cherry, apple, maple, pecan, and oak. 

But if you use stronger woods like mesquite and hickory, you may end up with a smoked chicken with a bitter taste because stronger woods can overpower the taste of the chicken. Hence, it is best to avoid them when smoking chicken. 

On the other hand, sweet and fruity wood like cherry and apple creates sweet smoke that doesn’t overpower the chicken taste. Hence, cherry and apple are the two most popular options for smoking chicken.

Best Types of Woods for Smoking Chicken

Upon knowing that the wood you use for smoking chicken affects the resulting taste and aroma of your chicken, it will be best to know the commonly used woods, and choose from them the ideal wood for smoking chicken:


One popular wood for smoking meats is the hickory. It brings in a nutty flavor that penetrates the meat of the chicken. As such, it can overpower the flavor and aroma of the chicken. Hickory, of course, is a traditional wood option, and it is one of the most trusted wood when it comes to BBQ. Its nutty flavor goes well with other meat types.

Also Read:  Best Wood for Smoking Turkey 

Moreover, it is readily available, and if you are a starter in smoking meat, you might as well check out this wood. Begin with a small amount of this wood. Then, increase the amount of wood chips to reach the necessary temperature. Hickory can be very strong, like mesquite. Yet, if you use it much, it can be very overpowering. 

So, if you are cooking chicken, you will find a bitter layer around your chicken due to the hickory. As a newbie in the use of hickory, you should go slow and use only one or two chunks at a time.


One of the popular woods for smoking chicken is applewood. It got a fruity and sweet flavor that would surely complement and enhance the taste of your smoked chicken. It is also mellower than other fruit-based woods like maple, cherry, and pecan. The taste rendered by applewood is delicate and renders a flavor that matches the chicken BBQ rub. If you are a beginner at smoking chicken, you might as well go for this wood. 

Applewood is easy to avail of. You can quickly gather apple tree branches from your backyard apple tree. Besides, orchard owners will be doubly happy to provide you with apple tree branches. 

Strip the leaves from the branches. Let the branches dry out for a couple of days. Then, set your woodchipper to produce the required chip size that matches the chicken BBQ rub. If you are a beginner at smoking chicken, you might as well go for this wood.


Cherry can render similar sweetness as the other fruitwoods. Yet, it differentiates itself by giving your chicken that fantastic color. It lets your chicken develop a delightful profound red result. It imparts an attractive dark red color to your chicken which makes for an excellent presentation. The flavor rendered by cherrywood would remind you of the cherry fruit’s color. Yet, this color is not overpowering the color of the chicken. 

One good tip if you intend to use the cherrywood for smoking chicken is to brine the chicken to allow it to imbibe or absorb the smoke for best results. You can also mix cherry with heavier hardwood. Experiment with it and mix it with hickory to add a touch of smokiness to your finish.

Also Read:  Reverse Flow Smoker Vs Offset Smoker


The maple wood produces an excellent result when smoking chicken. You can also pair it with pork cuts. It has a rich taste characterized by a certain sweetness. This sweetness permeates the flavor of the chicken, adding an exquisite taste to it. It also renders a golden color to the chicken for a better presentation. Smoking with maple, of course, is best if you intend to pair the chicken with sweet sides and sauces. 

The flavor offered by maple is more intense compared to that of apple. As such, you must be a bit careful when using maple wood. Nevertheless, it can be very forgiving regarding cooking times and temperature. 

Barbecue aficionados love to use maple when smoking or barbecuing. It adds the stronger and sweeter dimension of the applewood without getting heavy and rich like those of cherry and pecan. It also offers a sweet and light aroma to your chicken that is not overpowering.


You can also experiment with the pecan when smoking chicken. The pecan has a bit richer flavor that makes it stand out. Its flavor is not that strong and heavy but is distinctly nutty while being sweet tasting. Many use it for smoking turkey, yet it is also excellent for chicken. 

The pecan offers a medium smokiness with a sweet and nutty flavor that is perfect for chicken. So, if you want something that is not overwhelming, you can try the pecan. However, it is not advisable to combine the pecan with other wood like hickory or oak, for pecan doesn’t need any of these combinations. Thus, you should shy away from mixing it with anything strong like the hickory, for you might end up with something not pleasant tasting.


Another excellent wood for smoking chicken is oak wood. In fact, the list of wood chips for smoking meat is not complete without oak wood. The oak emits a strong smoke that can be overpowering for poultry. It is also perfect for layering. You can mix it with alder, applewood, and cherry for a more solid flavor profile. 

Oak is less harsh than the mesquite or hickory, but it is stronger than cherry and apple. It is also a wood type that is versatile enough. Thus, it is pretty popular among expert BBQ cooks. It offers even heat, clean burns, and a smoky flavor that isn’t overpowering. Thus, oak is perfect for smoking pork, lamb, big game, beef, and fish.

Also Read:  Should You Soak Wood Chips Before Smoking?

Additional Tips When Smoking Chicken

If you plan to smoke chicken cuts or a whole chicken, you can use any of the woods mentioned above. When smoking chicken, however, it will be best to remember that chicken cooks quite quickly. Thus, balancing the cooking time and the smoker’s temperature will be best to avoid drying the chicken. If you can balance these two factors, you can produce a flavorful and delicious chicken that you would enjoy eating.


Various factors contribute to the final flavor of a smoked chicken. First, the rub recipe you will use to flavor your chicken will factor in the overall taste of your smoked chicken. Moreover, the duration of smoking and the wood you will use will also contribute to the overall smoking result. Thus, if you want to achieve an exquisite taste for your chicken, it will help if you carefully choose the rub recipe and the wood you will use to smoke the chicken. 

If you’re a newbie in smoking chicken, check out the abovementioned woods for smoking meat and know their characteristics. Consult and ask for the opinions of the experts. In this way, you can raise your skills in smoking chicken a notch higher and soon become an expert in smoking chicken.

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