Even once you’ve settled on smoking as your cooking method, you still have a few decisions to make For one thing, what type of wood chips or pellets are you planning to use?
This is an important factor in the process, as the flavor of the wood has a direct bearing on your results. Can you smoke with maple wood, and if so, which types of meat does it complement best?
Is Maple Wood Good For Smoking?
Maple is one of the most popular woods for smoking because it has a flavor that’s sweet yet not too bold. Some folks find the flavor too cloying, especially if it’s used in large quantities or if the cooking process takes too long. If you’re unsure about whether this applies to you, feel free to experiment by mixing the maple wood with another type.
Popular Types of Wood For Smoking
Remember that when you select a wood for smoking, your goal is to complement the natural flavor of the ingredients. You want to improve the taste of the meat without overwhelming the qualities that made you select that cut of meat.
Here are a few of the most popular smoking woods available.
As you can imagine, apple wood smoke lends fruity notes to any meat that it comes into contact with. Because it’s also very mild, it holds up well to long cooking applications. Try it the next time you smoke a whole chicken or turkey.
Nut lovers should enjoy experimenting with pecan wood, which burns slowly and is therefore a great choice for long smoking sessions. It’s rich without being overpowering, and works well with a variety of meats (and for cold-smoking cheeses).
You can use black walnut wood for smoking, but it has a strong, almost bitter edge that isn’t for everyone. If you do enjoy the flavor, try mixing it with a milder wood and using it to smoke beef, pork, or wild game.
If you’re hosting a barbecue and aren’t sure how many of your guests enjoy that bold smoky flavor, opt for alder. This is a mild-tasting and versatile wood that can be used for anything from grilled veggies to shrimp to beef kabobs.
This is another fruit wood with a delicate flavor. As a bonus, it imparts a lovely reddish tint to chicken, pork, and turkey. It’s also suitable for beef, but its taste might not be as pronounced.
Medium in intensity, oak is a good option if you want the smoke to play a larger role in your flavor profile. It’s great for pork, including sausages, and complements steaks such as filet mignon to perfection. You can even use it for firm-fleshed fish.
Hickory has been described as earthy, bacon-like, and robust. It’s an intensely flavored wood, and one that’s best used in small amounts or paired with milder varieties. It goes best with pork and beef, as these meats are bold enough to stand up to the flavor.
We advise beginners to stay away from mesquite until they really know what they’re doing. While it’s a must for true Texas barbecue, it has a uniquely rich flavor that can turn bitter when it’s used in large amounts. Save this wood for beef and fatty cuts of pork.
Can You Smoke With Maple Wood?
As long as you follow the safety advice we’ll get into later, you can absolutely use maple wood for smoking meat.
Maple has a pronounced flavor that’s instantly recognizable to most diners, likely owing to the popularity of maple syrup. Because many people associate that taste with pancakes and French toast, the sweetness can be off-putting.
However, if you enjoy the flavor, there’s no reason why you can’t use maple wood chips or pellets for smoking. Blending it with other, bolder woods is also an option if you’re worried about the food turning out too sweet.
Which Foods Go Best With Maple Wood?
Maple-smoked ham is a particular favorite. Ham is naturally salty, so the sweet edge helps to keep things in balance. You can also use it to smoke regular pork butt or pork shoulder.
We also enjoy maple-smoked poultry, especially turkey. The richness of the meat holds up well to the sugary maple notes. It also makes wonderful slow-smoked chicken thighs.
Since we enjoy using the smoker for every aspect of the meal, we’ve been known to use maple to smoke veggies such as carrots and Brussels sprouts. As a bonus, smoking vegetables doesn’t take very long, so you can make them even on a busy weeknight.
Wood Chips vs. Pellets
While wood pellets are made from compressed hardwood, wood chips are exactly what they sound like—small chunks of hardwood that have been fed through a chipper. Pellets burn more slowly, and it’s easier to control the smoker temperature when you use them.
Wood chips offer aesthetic value, but they also create more ash buildup. They catch fire and burn up faster, so you’ll need to pay closer attention to the fire. Otherwise, you could wind up with bitter-tasting food.
We’ve found that wood chips work best when grilling or smoking robust, hearty cuts that can handle a good hit of strong smoke flavor. Porterhouse steaks and bone-in pork chops are two prime examples. The chips will add flavor without the attendant burst of heat.
For cold smoking, wood pellets are the ideal choice. They can burn low and slow, keeping the smoker temperature below 100 degrees. In fact, if the meat requires a long cooking process, pellets work better in general.
Important Safety Concerns
When dealing with wood for smoking food, there’s more to consider than the prospect of unwanted or unpleasant flavors. There are also some critical safety concerns to keep in mind.
First—and most importantly—don’t use wood if you’re not sure of the type or where it came from. Some types of wood aren’t safe to use in the smoker, as we’ll talk more about in a moment.
Similarly, don’t use any wood that’s been chemically treated in any way. That includes wood that has paint on it, lumber, or old packing pallets.
Be aware that not all wood types can be used for smoking food. If it’s a softwood, it may contain chemicals and resins that can make people sick when ingested in large amounts. Moreover, the food won’t taste very good anyway, even if you manage to avoid illness.
Here are some of the woods that should never be used for smoking:
- Cedar (suitable for planking, but not smoking)
- Sweet Gum
If you aren’t sure about a certain type of wood, refer to our list of popular smoking woods, or do a quick Google search.
The Bottom Line
Is maple wood good for smoking? Absolutely! In fact, it’s one of the best ones you can choose—assuming you enjoy the distinctive sweet flavor that it offers.
Try mixing some maple in with another mild-tasting wood, such as apple or alder, when smoking poultry or vegetables. If you enjoy the taste, you can always ramp up the amount the next time.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!