Can you use cherry wood to season your smoked foods? You certainly can. In fact, this type of wood isn’t just safe to use in the smoker, it’s one of the most popular ones. Read our guide to find out why.
Smoking With Cherry Wood
Cherry is a wonderful wood to use in the smoker. It imparts a mellow, sweet flavor and a lovely reddish color to smoked meats. It burns hot, smells wonderful, and blends well with oak, hickory, and apple. Cherry wood is also easy to find in pellet, chunk, or chip form. Use it on mild-tasting meats such as pork, chicken, and turkey.
About Cherry Wood
In case you hadn’t already figured it out, cherry wood is harvested from the trunk and branches of cherry trees. Its lovely reddish-brown color makes it a popular choice in cabinetry, but the benefits don’t stop there.
In terms of flavor, cherry is fairly mild, with a well-rounded sweetness. It can be compared to apple wood in that sense. If it’s a mellow smoke flavor you’re after, cherry is a superb choice.
On the other hand, if you want the smoky goodness to take center stage, then cherry might be a little bit too subtle for you. You can always combine it with woods that have a stronger flavor, but its qualities might end up being overshadowed.
When it comes to overall performance, cherry wood earns high marks. It’s a dense hardwood that burns for a long time, so it’s ideal when you’re putting a large cut of meat on the smoker.
Although oak and hickory have better heat output, cherry doesn’t do too badly in this category. It produces a little over 20 BTUs per cord—a number that’s more than sufficient for cooking.
As a bonus, cherry wood smells amazing when it’s burning. That’s true of most woods used to smoke meats, but the fruit-tinged aroma is sure to get you psyched for the meal to come.
Which Foods To Smoke With Cherry Wood
When cherry is your wood of choice, be sure to select meats that have a relatively mild flavor on their own. Pork loin and pork chops are great candidates. You can also use cherry wood to smoke chicken or whole turkeys.
One of the loveliest aspects of cherry wood is its ability to impart a rosy tint to the ingredients. Your smoked meat will look as impressive as it tastes. For example, if you’re making a smoked ham, the natural pink color of the meat will be nicely embellished.
This reddish hue can throw some beginners off because they think the pink color is the result of undercooked meat. However, when you use cherry wood, the meat will still be pink even when it’s fully cooked. Always use a meat thermometer to test the temperature.
As we pointed out, cherry doesn’t impart an intense smoke flavor to the meat. Those of you who want to taste the smoke above all else are bound to be disappointed when using cherry wood by itself.
What’s more, it isn’t the best fit for flavorful meats like beef and lamb. The subtle nature of the cherry smoke will likely fade into the background. Again, however, you can offset this by combining it with another type of wood.
Wood Chips vs. Pellets vs. Chunks
When you’re smoking with cherry wood, should you use chips, pellets, or wood chunks? The answer may be less complicated than it appears, based on the type of smoker you’re using.
If you have a pellet smoker, the choice is obvious. Wood pellets are the only fuel source that will work with this type of unit. You can choose from a myriad of flavors, but most manufacturers will have cherry wood pellets on their roster.
You can use pellets on a charcoal-fired grill or smoker, too, but this practice isn’t as common. For charcoal grills, wood chips or chunks are preferable.
Most gas and electric smokers don’t really work with anything except wood chips and pellets. While you can toss chunks of wood directly on a bed of coals, that isn’t an option with these smokers. We think chips work better than pellets, but you can certainly use the latter if that’s all you have available.
If you’re worried about availability, that shouldn’t be a problem when it comes to cherry wood. Pellets and chips are both easy to find, though you might have to resort to online retailers if you prefer wood chunks.
Do You Need To Soak Cherry Wood Chips Before Smoking?
While we’re on the subject of wood chips, let’s spend a few minutes discussing the great debate: to soak or not to soak?
Proponents of the soaking method claim that it results in more consistent smoke, or more smoke overall. They believe that since the wood is smoldering instead of igniting, the smoke will be of higher quality.
That said, we don’t think it’s necessary to soak wood chips, no matter what flavor of wood you’re using. The “smoke” you create will resemble steam more than anything else, and you’ll need to soak the chips for at least 24 hours in advance.
In other words, we think you can skip the soak. If you’re dead set on trying it, consider soaking the wood chips in beer or apple juice instead of plain water, just to improve the flavor.
Is Smoking With Cherry Wood Safe?
For a long time, people believed that cherry wood contained hazardous compounds. While hydrogen cyanide can be found in the leaves of the tree and the pits of the cherry fruit, there’s no need to worry when using the wood for smoking.
Here’s why. During the smoke, the wood isn’t really igniting, it’s merely smoldering. That prevents the cyanogenic compounds from developing into dangerous chemicals. Furthermore, hydrogen cyanide isn’t harmful when consumed in such small amounts.
While it’s perfectly safe to use cherry wood for smoking meats, it’s crucial to choose the right product. Whether you’re selecting pellets, chunks, or wood chips, make sure they’re intended to be used to flavor food and not for some other purpose.
Which Woods To Blend With Cherry
Although you can mix cherry wood with whatever type of wood you prefer, we enjoy the results when it’s blended with oak. This combination takes the smokiness up a notch or two on the intensity scale, but the cherry flavor still shines through nicely.
Apple and cherry are another winning combination, particularly if you want to keep the smoke flavor on the milder side. Try it the next time you’re smoking a whole turkey, especially on Thanksgiving.
For pork, try mixing a bit of hickory in with the cherry. This will lend an earthy, bacon-like flavor to the smoked meat. Be sure not to overdo it on the hickory, though, or your pork will taste unpleasantly bitter.
The Bottom Line
Even if you’ve never tried smoking with cherry wood, you should be able to get the hang of it in a hurry. The process is no different from smoking food with any other type of wood, but you should be pleasantly surprised by the flavor and appearance of the results.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!