Best Wood Chips for Smoking Turkey, Brisket, Ribs, Salmon: Top 5 Products Review
Knowing which fuel to use is one of the fundamental aspects of barbecue. It's never as simple as throwing some meat on a charcoal grill, despite what you may have heard. Barbecue is an art, and like all great art it takes time and practice. So too is smoking. The fundamentals of smoking meats sound easy enough. Set something on fire and let the smoke wrap around the meat. Simple, right?
Well, no. You can't just light some poor-quality charcoal and expect that to give you the rich aroma that comes from hickory smoking! There is plenty of fuel to use for your smoker, but sometimes you can't beat the smoke you get from actual wood. If burning through logs sounds too expensive, and you just don't trust wood pellets, wood chips are right for you!
We'll be reviewing the five best wood chips for smoking, so you know which chips you'll need to have a barbecue none of your friends will forget!
At a Glance of Our Top 5 Picks:
Top 5 Best Wood Chips for Smoking - Reviews
No, you didn't read that wrong. This is the same Jack Daniels company famous for their whiskey. We're as surprised as you are that they expanded into barbecuing products, including some wonderful sauces! These wood chips are made from their old whiskey barrels, which have a limited lifespan. Rather than throw these barrels away, Jack Daniels decided to recycle them into wonderful wood chips!
These are oak chips with just a hint of whiskey. The flavor isn't added, instead it's the leftover whiskey that remained in the barrel. Wood is porous, after all, and even when charred some whiskey will sink find a way inside. The end result are some wonderful wood chips that go with just about anything! If you want to add a new kick to your smoked meats, look no further than Jack Daniels.
Hickory? Maple? Apple? There is plenty of flavors of wood chips on the market, and while everyone loves hickory maybe you want to try a different flavor. Buying an entire bag of wood chips just for a new flavor seems rather wasteful, doesn't it? Well, why not try a sample instead? With this gift set you get eight wood chips to sample: Hickory, Pecan, Apple, Cherry, Mesquite, Maple, Oak, and Bourbon Soaked Oak.
Whoever said gift sets were just for fancy chocolates or soap? This is a fine gift set for anyone who loves barbecue, or a perfect way to sample different smoking flavors without buying a full bag of wood chips. These wood chips are quite small, however, and are best suited for a tabletop smoker and not your normal smoker. Still, this gives you plenty of room to explore and experiment!
If you want to experiment with different flavors, a variety pack is the way to go. Not everyone has a tabletop smoker, or alternatively not everyone wants to use a tabletop smoker. If you want a variety pack for your grill or smoker, then Western Premium's variety pack is what you want. You only get four different wood chips as opposed to eight, but you're still getting Apple, Peach, Maple, and Cherry chips.
The wood chips are of a nice size and texture, so they'll work perfectly on your grill or smoker. This being said, the bags are rather small so expect only a few smoking jobs from each bag. You do get a reusable smoker tray, however, and the entire set is for a great price from a company that's been in the barbecue business for years!
Another variety pack, this time from Zorestar. A relatively new company from Europe, they're been aiming to get in on the barbecuing action here in the states, and what better way than to provide a sample of their products? In the variety pack you'll find six different packs, but only four flavors. Oak, Alder, two Cherry, and two Apple.
The smoking chips are small, but not like the finer cut of the Cameron wood chips either. They look like wood chips, not shavings, but just very small. This makes them perfect for tabletop smokers, as well as smaller grills and smokers. The packing is reusable, in that once the chips are used the bags can be used as a fire starter. Better than throwing the bag out, we feel!
The last wood chips on our list are from Western once again, which like we said are a quality brand name company. Their pecan chips are widely regarded as some of their best wood chips, because pecan just seems to go with everything. Unlike hickory, there isn't any bitterness in the smoke and flavor, leaving behind a much more tangy flavor.
With two bags per order, you'll have plenty of pecan chips to last you at least twenty of so smoking sessions. The chips are of nice size and texture, so they'll pair perfectly with most grills and smokers. Speaking of pairing perfectly, pecan chips go with just about everything! Consider mixing them with hickory chips if you need to mask the harshness of hickory, or combine with apple chips for a sweet and tangy flavor!
These were our top five best hardwoods for smoking. We absolutely loved Jack Danial's wood chips the best due to their bold flavor profile, but we also understand if not everyone likes that. This is why we reviewed three variety packs, which we thought were great. Variety packs are a great way for you to find the flavor that works best for you!
How to Choose the Correct Wood Chips & Types of Wood Chips for smoking
Now that we have gone over our top five best wood chips to smoke turkey, chicken, salmon, ribs and brisket. We've put together this handy guide that'll cover the highlights for finding the best wood chips and give some better detail on wood chips in general!
What Is A Wood Chip?
Now, let's start with the basics. What is a wood chip? It's a small chunk of wood taken from the tree, and can vary in length and thickness. Some wood chips appear to be practically wood shavings, while others are nice and thick like they were ripped right off the tree. Wood chips are popular due to being pieces of actual wood, and not a wood-based product like pellets or charcoal.
How Do I Pick Out The Best Wood Chip?
This question is a bit harder to answer than, say, the best charcoal or best wood pellet. In terms of quality, most wood chips are going to be the same. After all, they're chunks of wood. Unless they've been enhanced, which will be included on the package, what you see in the bag is what you get. When looking for the best wood chips for brisket, you need to look at the chips themselves.
The commonly seen flavors, which is a misnomer as these are the actual pieces from specific trees, of wood chips are oak, hickory, maple, mesquite, pecan, apple, alder, and cherry. When picking your wood chips, you need to keep in mind that not every wood chip will produce the same smoke. So, let's look at the strengths of each flavor to give you a better idea of which one you want!
Oak is the classic wood chip of choice for smoking practically everything, and this is due to the rather nonabrasive flavoring. Oak creates a medium-to-strong flavor that normally pairs well with poultry, beef, lamb, or game fowl; like ducks, for example. Briskets are a popular choice of meat for smoking with oak wood chips. Oak is going to be your great starting wood chip, and because the flavor is mild it's easy to combine with other wood chips!
Next to oak, hickory is one of the more popular flavors. The flavor that's left behind after a smoking with hickory wood is normally described as sweet and savory. This makes hickory quite distinctive flavor-wise, but also a challenge to use properly. Too much hickory and the food becomes quite bitter. Hickory goes well with practically all meats, and even seafood!
This said, thinner meats like ribs or slices of seafood shouldn't be used with pure hickory as they can easily turn bitter. Use another wood like oak to support the hickory smoke and keep a balance. Still, it's hard to go wrong with hickory.
Maple trees give us maple syrup, so the wood should be sweet. Right? If this is your thought, then you're right! Maple is a popular sweet wood that pairs perfectly with meat, chicken, and game fowls. More hearty meats, like red meats, aren't going to benefit from maple. This is due to maple being a rather subtle and sweet flavor, which doesn't pair well at all with strong flavors.
Maple pairs well with other milder wood, such as apple and cherry, and can also work with oak due to their share subtle flavoring.
Pecan trees, a very common sight in the south, produce a wood that can be described as having a nut-like aroma. Pecan is suited well for fish, beef, poultry, and cow. Much like oak, pecan tends to work with just about everything. The one downside of using pecan is much like hickory wood, the flavor can be overwhelming. So pecan chips are usually mixed in with other wood chips to produce better, concentrated flavors.
Pecan is also suited for briskets, roasts, and ribs. Even tried pecan-smoked sausage? Give it a try, and be surprised with how well the flavors pair together!
Another popular sweet wood, although milder than maple. Because of the subtle flavoring, apple works well with meat and chicken, not so much with red meats or any foods with stronger flavors. Some even use apple wood with seafood! One of the biggest challenges with apple wood is the smoke takes longer to penetrate your foods, so make sure to pick something that can handle long-term smoking.
Apple pairs well with cherry and other milder, sweeter woods. Apple wood also works great with cheese!
Mesquite is one of the harder woods to work with, right up there with hickory. This is thanks to the very intense aroma and flavoring that mesquite leaves, which can easily leave your meats with a bitter taste and not that proper southwest flavor.
Much like hickory, you should use mesquite sparingly or mixed with other woods. Mesquite works wonders with red meats, game, and poultry.
A sweet wood, although delivering a rather fruity flavor to any food smoked. This makes cherry wood popular with turkey, poultry, and beef. Not so much with red meats due to the stronger flavor blocking out the fruitier flavor of cherry wood.
Cherry is also popular with cheese and of course fruits. Can you believe that people actually smoke fruit? Cherry works well as a pairing wood, so try it with apple or oak.
The final wood chip commonly seen is alder. This wood provides a subtle smoke and very delicate aroma, which makes it perfect for seafood, poultry, and some cuts of beef. A great pairing chip would be pecan, due to their shared subtle-flavors. Others argue that cherry and apple work the best with alder chips.
What's The Difference Between A Good Wood Chip And A Bad Wood Chip?
With eight wood chips on the market, you're likely asking yourself which one is the best? Or at least which ones are good and which ones are bad? The answer is that it completely depends, and we already went over this by describing the strengths of the wood chips based on flavor. If your grilling ribs, you don't pour an entire bag of hickory wood chips on the grill unless you really like that bitter flavor.
Good Wood Chip:
All wood chips have their strengths and weaknesses, and it comes down to flavor. With this said, what's the difference between wood chips you should buy and wood chips you should avoid? A good bag of wood chips will be all natural and have nothing added. It's just the pieces of wood from the tree, and that's it.
Bad Wood Chip:
Bad wood chips are made of oak or cheaper filler woods and are flavor enhanced. In practice this means a load of chemicals being used as an excuse for a different "flavor" which nine times out of ten ends up leaving a chemical aftertaste. Another sign of inferior wood chips is the use of softwoods, like pine. These wood chips are going to produce a lot of natural resin that'll outright ruin your food.
From our review you saw the Camerons' wood chips and how thin they were, practically like sawdust. This doesn't make them bad wood chips. They're still natural hardwood, but cut much thinner to accompany smaller tabletop smokers and grills. A good wood chip doesn't have to be this big, thick piece of wood ripped straight from the tree even though we prefer those.
For us, the best wood chips are going to be the all natural ones, nothing else in the bag but wood chips, and flavors derived from the wood itself. Nothing else added. That's how you can sort your good wood chips from the bad ones. Also remember to take the size of your smoker or grill into consideration. Smaller wood chips, like the Camerons' variety pack, isn't going to work in a full-sized grill or smoker.
When picking out the best wood chips for smoking, the major factor that should guide your choice is the meat you're planning on smoking and the size of your grill and smoker. Thankfully most wood chips will fit with most grills and smokers, so it's only the smaller grills and smokers you need to plan ahead on.
Smoking is an art form, and you have plenty of room to experiment. You can stick to one flavor, or try mixing different wood chips to make exquisite new flavors!