Is Oak Wood Good for Smoking Meat?

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There are so many types of wood that it can sometimes be hard to choose the right one when you’re barbecuing.

And is oak one of the good types of wood for smoking meat?

After all, oak is one of the most widely available types of wood you can find.

However, there are several different types of oak which make this matter a bit more complicated.

There’s the red oak that grows all over the East Coast, the post oak which is popular in the South and the less common but highly praised pin oak.

So are any of these oaks good for smoking meat?

Is oak fine for smoking meat?

When it comes to smoking, there are a number of different meat and wood combinations used throughout the US.

In Georgia, fruit woods such as apple and peach are most often used to smoke pork, while hickory is a more popular choice in the Carolinas.

However, Texas style barbecue is arguably the most common way to smoke meat. And even though there are plenty of different wood varieties across Texas, most pitmasters use oak.

In fact, oak is considered as one of the best types of wood for smoking meat. This is because oak is a hard wood that reaches a high temperature and takes a long time to burn. In addition, oak also adds a mild to moderate amount of flavor without overpowering the taste of the meat.

Types of oak wood flavors

Sine oak wood is such a jack of all trades when it comes to smoking meat, you can use it as a base and add other types of wood for flavor.

I’ve found that adding some hickory, cherry or maple to the mix gives my meat a nice sweet aftertaste. You can also use mesquite if you’re looking for a more pungent flavor.

With that said, there are different kinds of oak you need to consider before firing up your smoker. In general, oaks can be classified into two categories:

Red oaks and white oaks.

The family of white oaks includes:

  • post oak
  • burr oak
  • white oak

White oaks are typically harder than red oaks and burn hotter.

They’re extremely versatile and are well suited for smoking pork, beef, poultry like chicken, and even fish.

The only difference between the different types of white oak is taste.

Even though it’s barely noticeable, post oak usually gives foods a slightly more pronounced flavor.

The red oak family on the other hand consists of:

  • the black oak
  • water oak
  • black jack oak
  • pin oak
  • red oak

These types of oak have medium hardness and generally burn slower than white oaks.

They also have a milder taste and impart smoked meats with a rich cherry color.

This makes them perfect if you want to have great color on a rack of pork ribs or smoking some pork butt.

When it comes to individual differences, red oaks typically produce similar results, so you should be fine using any type you have at hand.

Even though there are only marginal differences between the different types of oak, I’d say the best type of oak you can use for smoking is post oak.

Post oak burns hot, slow and leaves a sweet aftertaste which makes it stand out from other oak woods.

Best types of wood for smoking?

One of the most important factors you need to consider when you’re smoking a hunk of meat is wood.

The type of wood you choose will greatly impact the taste, tenderness and visual appeal of your meat.

In this list, I’ve chosen the five best types of wood you can use to smoke meat, fish and poultry:

5. Cherry

Even though it’s not something I use often, cherry is certainly one of my favorite varieties of wood.

It has a sweet and fruity flavor which goes perfectly with turkey, chicken and ham. However, its flavor isn’t the reason why I love it so much.

In my opinion, cherry gives foods an amazing color that can’t be matched by any other type of wood.

So if you want to achieve the best possible color on your pork ribs then you should definitely use some cherry wood.

Since cherry has a relatively mild flavor it’s good to combine it with another hardwood. I’ve found that hickory works best because its sweet flavor compliments that of cherry.

4. Hickory

Hickory is one of the most popular types of wood used for smoking. It is extremely versatile and can be used for pretty much all red meats and poultry.

It comes from the same family as pecan, but it’s less sweet and has a stronger smoke flavor.

This makes it exceptionally great for smoking larger cuts of meat such as pork ribs and pork shoulder.

Find out: How to defrost a large cut of pork shoulder?

Hickory is also the go to choice for a friend of mine who occasionally smokes a whole hog over charcoal. This is because hickory provides enough flavor to infuse the hog even when there’s less smoke.

You can also use hickory to smoke salmon or trout since it has a strong flavor that won’t get overpowered by the fish.

3. Mesquite

Mesquite can impart an enormous amount of flavor in a short period of time compared to other types of wood.

This is because it burns extremely quickly and produces a lot of smoke. As a result, it’s best to use mesquite for meats that require less time to smoke such as steaks.

Mesquite also provides meat with a nice mahogany color, even though it’s not as pronounced as the one from oak or cherry.

Since mesquite can give meat an intense flavor, it’s a good idea to combine it with other woods such as oak and pecan.

With that said, it’s best to avoid using mesquite for anything besides beef as its flavor can be overpowering.

2. Pecan

Pecan wood gives smoked meats and fish a nicely sweet and nutty aroma. Unlike most other types of wood, its flavor is also more rounded out and rich.

In addition, pecan also lends meat with a fine caramelized color which is always a feast for my eyes.

I prefer using pecan when I’m making roasts, briskets or ribs, but it also works great with other meats and fish.

If you find the flavor of pecan too sweet, you can mix it with oak or hickory to make it more nuanced.

The only downside of pecan is that it can burn too fast without leaving strong coals.

1. Oak

Oak is easily the best type of wood you can use for smoking especially if you’re a beginner. It has a dense texture, burns hot and has a moderate smoke flavor.

These qualities make it well suited for smoking pretty much any food you wish including cheese and fish.

It’s also widely available throughout the entire country so you probably won’t have any troubles finding it.

Oak is also one of the best types of wood you can use if you want to give your smoked meat a richly colored bark.

Even though oak and pecan have similar qualities, I find that oak usually gives me more consistent results and a better color.

This is why I think oak has the upper hand and is slightly better than pecan.

As a pro tip: when in doubt – use post oak for smoking your meats.

Read next: The Best Type of Ribs for Smoking?

My conclusion

Whether you’re an experienced pitmaster or a newbie, you’ll find that using oak works especially well for smoking meat.

In fact, with its hard texture and moderate flavor, oak is arguably one of the best types of wood you can use for smoking.

In essence, you can’t go wrong when choosing oak as the primary source of fuel for your smoking projects.

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