Experimenting with different types of wood is one of our favorite aspects of the grilling and smoking lifestyle. Cherry is an interesting pick, but does it go well with cuts of pork? And if so, which ones does it suit best? Let’s take a look.
Is Cherry Wood Good For Smoking Pork?
Cherry is a nice wood to use for smoked pork. It has a gentle tart flavor that pairs well with many cuts, from tenderloin to Boston butt. Be forewarned, however, that it does leave behind a reddish tinge. If you like the sweetness but find that the taste is too mild for you, try combining cherry wood with oak, hickory, or mesquite.
About Cherry Wood
The wood of the cherry tree has a light, sweet flavor. Unlike some other wood types, it won’t overpower the meat. Its delicate nature makes it a great partner for stronger flavors, such as oak and hickory.
You’ll notice that cherry wood will imbue the smoked meat with a reddish tinge. This is particularly obvious on lighter meats like chicken, but you’ll also see it on beef and pork.
We like this effect—especially when it comes to beef, which takes on an almost mahogany shade when it’s exposed to the cherry wood smoke. If you aren’t a fan, try mixing in some apple wood to offset the rosy hues. Cherry and apple make an excellent flavor pairing.
Is It Safe To Use Cherry Wood For Smoking?
You might have heard that cherry wood is a dangerous pick for the smoker because it contains trace amounts of arsenic. Before we get into the specifics, let us assure you that cherry wood is safe to use for smoking meats.
The chemical that has people worried isn’t arsenic—it’s a compound called hydrogen cyanide. That might not sound much better on paper, but it won’t have a negative effect on your barbecue.
For one thing, these compounds have to burn rapidly in order to cause any harm. That doesn’t happen when you’re smoking meats, because the wood is smoldering slowly rather than bursting into intense flames.
What’s more, small amounts of hydrogen cyanide aren’t necessarily harmful. The same chemical compound is contained in apple seeds, but if you eat a handful of those, you shouldn’t suffer any ill effects.
Finally, the compound is only found in the pits and leaves of the cherry fruit. The wood itself is perfectly safe, as long as it hasn’t been treated with any hazardous chemicals on its journey to your smoker.
Best Wood For Smoking Pork
You can use cherry to flavor any type of pork, from tenderloin to spare ribs. For leaner cuts, we would suggest using cherry by itself. Robust, fatty cuts like pork shoulder or Boston butt might benefit from a dose of hickory thrown in as well.
In fact, that’s a good rule of thumb to follow whenever you’re using a mild wood like cherry. That way, you’ll get the sweet fruity flavor, but it will be supported by a hearty kick of smoke.
Be forewarned that cherry doesn’t come forward very well if you use a particularly spicy dry rub. Stick with basic rub ingredients if you want the cherry flavor to stand out.
Pork chops and applesauce are a classic pairing, which means that apple is a nice choice when smoked pork is on the menu. Again, the flavor is gentle, so you might want to add a handful or two of a more robust wood as well.
As with cherry, try to use a milder spice rub when working with apple wood.
Because it doesn’t have a particular flavor of its own beyond the smoky goodness, alder pairs well with just about everything. You can even use it to make cold-smoked cheese.
The rich spiciness of pecan wood will add complexity to your smoked ribs and pulled pork. The flavor is slightly nutty, with a nice undercurrent of sweetness.
Oak wood chips and pellets have a medium-strong intensity that moves things up a notch on the flavor scale. Try oak the next time you’re smoking a Boston butt or picnic shoulder to make pulled pork.
This is another excellent option when pulled pork is on the menu. The smoke itself carries a savory hit that’s reminiscent of bacon. However, you might want to combine it with a milder wood, as the taste can be quite bitter if you overdo it.
Does Cherry Pair Well With Mesquite?
Mesquite provides a strong dose of smoky-sweet flavor—so strong that it can ruin the dish if you’re not careful. That’s why many pitmasters opt to mix it with a different wood, often adding just a handful toward the end of the smoke.
We typically reserve mesquite for hearty cuts of beef, like brisket or short ribs. It goes well with pork ribs and the shoulder cuts, but we would opt for milder woods when making smoked pork chops or pork loin.
Can you mix cherry and mesquite together? Sure. In theory, you can combine whichever wood types you prefer. There’s a chance that the mesquite might overpower the milder flavors, but hints of cherry should remain, bolstered by the natural sweetness of the mesquite.
Wood Chips or Wood Pellets?
Once you’ve decided on a flavor, you still need to determine whether you’ll use wood chips or wood pellets for your smoked pork. Here’s the rundown on each one.
Wood chips are just what they sound like—small bits of hardwood that have been fed through a wood chipper. As a result, they have a rough, irregular appearance, with jagged edges.
When you’re smoking with wood chips, you’ll probably put them in a foil packet with holes punched in it. The foil keeps the chips burning slowly, while the holes give the smoke an outlet for escape.
The smoke provided by wood chips can be erratic and intense. This means that the flavor might end up overpowering the meat. For this reason, it’s better to stick with mild woods if you’re planning to smoke the meat for a long time.
Some pitmasters soak the wood chips in water before adding them to the foil. This prevents them from catching fire too quickly. However, we don’t think this step is worth the trouble. The water doesn’t really permeate the wood enough to make a difference.
Use wood chips when you want an extra dose of smoke flavor toward the end of the cook, especially with stronger woods like mesquite and hickory. We would recommend saving the chips for hearty cuts like spare ribs and bone-in pork chops.
These small cylinders are made out of compressed hardwood sawdust. They’re most commonly used in pellet smokers, but you can use them in other grills and smokers as well.
In a pellet smoker, the fuel sits in a compartment called a hopper until the auger system feeds it into the cooking chamber. Once inside, the pellets ignite and smolder, sending heat and smoke circulating throughout the cooking environment.
Pellets burn hotter and cleaner than wood chips, giving them advantages that range from the practical to the aesthetic. You’ll also be able to control the grill temperature better when you use wood pellets.
Another nice thing about pellets is the way they allow you to experiment with various flavor combinations. They’re available in a range of different wood types. With wood chips, your choices may be more limited.
Pro Tip: No matter what kind of smoker you have, you should opt for pellets whenever you’re cold-smoking meats or cheeses. They provide a more consistent smoke, which is essential for this type of project.
The Bottom Line
If you’re like us, you’ll appreciate the rosy hue that cherry wood provides. Its sweet-tart notes offer a lovely counterpoint to savory cuts of pork. Better yet, it’s mild enough to use on lean cuts that might be overpowered by a stronger wood.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
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!