Having a hard time deciding between cherry vs apple wood? They’re both wonderful woods for smoking, but they have distinctive qualities that keep them from being interchangeable. Let’s find out more about each of these fruit woods.
Cherry vs Apple Wood
Both apple and cherry wood have delicate, fruity flavors that won’t overpower the meat. Cherry has a tendency to color the wood with a reddish tint, but the effect is pleasant rather than detracting. You can easily combine these two woods. If you want a stronger smoke taste, consider adding oak or hickory to the mix.
All About Cherry
The first thing you should remember about cherry wood is that it can leave a reddish tinge on the smoked meat. If you forget that, you might panic when you first take the meat off the heat, thinking that it might be undercooked.
We think the rosy hue adds great eye appeal, especially on pork and poultry products. A whole turkey that’s been smoked using cherry wood is a thing of beauty.
As far as the flavor goes, cherry is sweet and fairly mild. It will remind you of the fruit itself, but it isn’t too overwhelming. In fact, it’s mellow enough to fade into the background when used on robust-tasting meats like beef brisket.
All About Apple
Apple is another mild-flavored wood with a crisp, light taste. It’s a good bet if you (or your guests) are apprehensive about the smoke flavor being too bold. That shouldn’t be the case when you select apple as your smoking wood, no matter how long the cook lasts.
We enjoy using this wood when smoking ribs or pork butt. Since apple provides a sweet counterpoint to the fatty pork, it’s a natural pairing. Apple wood also goes well with poultry, including wild turkey.
Can You Combine Apple and Cherry Wood?
Absolutely. In fact, these two are an excellent match. Neither one will overshadow the other, but the fruit-tinged flavors play against one another very well.
If you want the smoked meat to have a bolder smoke flavor while retaining the sweetness of apple and cherry, try adding some oak to the mix. Oak doesn’t have as robust a flavor as mesquite or hickory, but it’s an all-purpose wood that lends depth to the milder fruity notes.
Cherry vs Apple Wood: Is One Better Than The Other?
Apple and cherry wood fall at about the same level on the intensity scale. They’re both fruit woods that carry a hint of sweetness, and both are easy to find. So how do you determine which one is best?
Fortunately, there doesn’t have to be a clear answer. As we mentioned, you can certainly combine the two if you’re having a hard time deciding. Otherwise, just pick the one that you feel would work best with whatever meat you’re smoking.
In general, we would choose the cherry wood when smoking chicken or turkey, and apple when smoking pork products. But that’s just a rule of thumb. You can use cherry on pork or even beef if you’d like, and apple lends a lovely flavor to poultry as well.
Can You Use Any Type of Wood For Smoking?
That’s a great question, because the last thing you want is to select the wrong type of wood for the smoker. In fact, some woods are not suitable for this purpose, and it’s important to know which ones—not to mention why they’re not a good fit.
Trees that contain sap or pitch shouldn’t be used for smoking. These resinous substances will contaminate the meat as it cooks. While the resin isn’t always harmful, there is a chance that it will make you sick, so it’s imperative to avoid these types of wood.
Even if you don’t get sick from eating the contaminated food, it won’t taste good. The vapor from the resin leaves behind a sour, bitter flavor. That’s not the result you want after working so long to cook the meat to the right temperature.
It’s better to buy wood chips, pellets, and chunks from a reputable manufacturer. That way, you’ll know that the wood is both safe and suitable for the smoker. Be sure only to buy the ones that are intended to be used as smoking wood and not plain firewood.
You can harvest your own wood for smoking, but we don’t think it’s the best idea. It takes a long time to dry and season the wood properly, and it’s hard to be sure whether the wood is truly safe or not. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety.
Once the wood has begun to smoke, take a good whiff. Does it smell clean and appetizing, or does it have a noxious, bitter quality? If it’s the latter, you probably shouldn’t be using that wood for cooking. The same flavors will infuse your ingredients as they cook.
Here’s a partial list of woods that you should certainly never put in the smoker:
Cherry vs Chokecherry
Don’t confuse cherry wood with chokecherry. While the former can be used to smoke just about any type of meat, chokecherry is a different story. It has a bitter edge which makes it unsuitable for prolonged cooking applications.
That’s not to say that you can’t use chokecherry at all. In small doses, it adds richness and complexity to smoked meats. But just like hickory, it should be used sparingly or mixed with other woods to dull the intensity.
Apple vs Crabapple
If your bag of wood chips or pellets is labeled “crabapple” instead of just plain apple, don’t worry. Crabapple is just another type of apple tree, and therefore makes a suitable substitute.
Other Popular Smoking Woods
What are some other woods that you can select—or blend with apple and cherry? Try one of these popular options.
This wood burns hot and has a strong flavor reminiscent of mesquite, though it’s not quite as powerful. Try it with rich-tasting game meats like venison and wild boar.
Like apple and cherry, alder is mild-tasting, but it lacks the fruity elements that make those woods stand out. It’s often used in the Northeastern US to complement the salmon that’s indigenous to that region.
If you enjoy the taste of hickory but find it too intense for you, give apricot a try. The flavor is similar, but it has a well-rounded sweetness that dials down the intensity.
Birch wood can be compared with maple, but it’s not quite as sweet. It’s a good match for poultry and pork products, so try mixing it in with apple or cherry (or both) the next time you smoke a rack of ribs or a whole chicken.
This is one of the more intense woods on the flavor spectrum, and can turn bitter if you’re not careful. Use it sparingly, and only with meats that can hold up to the robust flavor. Pork butt, beef, and lamb are all good bets.
Perhaps the boldest wood of all, mesquite should be reserved for hearty cuts of beef and game meats like elk, bison, and venison. It’s too overpowering for many palates, which is why we suggest mixing it with other, milder woods in most cases.
The complex sweetness that this wood imparts goes well with ham and bacon.
Fruity and tangy with notes of citrus, mulberry is similar to apple wood. It’s a great foil for smoked fish, poultry, and rabbit.
The heavy, intense smoke produced by walnut wood can be overwhelming, though it’s not as bitter as mesquite. Mix it with a milder wood and use it to smoke pork and beef.
If you don’t want your meat to have a reddish tinge to it once it comes off the smoker, you should choose apple wood over cherry. In terms of quality, though, we’re fans of both and would have a hard time choosing one over the other.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!