Choosing the Right Wood to Smoke Turkey: A Guide to Deliciousness

Smoking turkeys or other large birds is a great way to cook them without drying them out and to add some serious flavor to the meat.

Naturally, the type of turkey you intend to use is the first decision you must make when smoking one. The type of wood you’ll be using and the flavor you want it to impart, however, are very close behind.

Personally, we like the rich color and sweet-smoky flavor of cherry wood with a hint of hickory.

But, the type of wood you use will depend on your preferences, so rather than dictating a single best option, we’ll present you with all of your options.

Smoking turkey is an art form, and one of the most important aspects of that art is choosing the right wood. The type of wood you use will have a significant impact on the flavor of your turkey so it’s important to choose wisely.

The Importance of Wood Selection

When it comes to smoking turkey, the wood you choose plays a crucial role in determining the final flavor profile Different woods impart different flavors, ranging from sweet and fruity to smoky and savory The key is to select a wood that complements the delicate flavor of the turkey without overpowering it.

Best Woods for Smoking Turkey

Here are some of the best woods for smoking turkey:

  • Cherry: Cherry wood is a classic choice for smoking turkey, as it imparts a slightly sweet and fruity flavor that pairs well with the bird’s natural sweetness.
  • Pecan: Pecan wood is another excellent option for smoking turkey. It has a similar sweetness to cherry wood, but with an added nutty flavor that adds complexity to the overall taste.
  • Maple: Maple wood is a milder option than cherry or pecan, making it a good choice for those who prefer a more subtle smoke flavor.
  • Apple: Apple wood is a very mild wood that is often used for smoking poultry. However, it can take longer to impart its flavor, so it’s important to use it sparingly.

Woods to Avoid

While there are many great woods for smoking turkey, there are also a few that you should avoid. These woods tend to have strong, overpowering flavors that can easily overpower the delicate flavor of the turkey.

  • Hickory: Hickory wood is a popular choice for smoking meats like beef and pork, but it’s too strong for turkey. The intense smoky flavor of hickory can easily overpower the turkey’s natural sweetness.
  • Mesquite: Mesquite wood is another strong wood that should be avoided for smoking turkey. It has a very smoky and pungent flavor that can make the turkey taste bitter.
  • Oak: Oak wood is a good choice for smoking meats like beef and lamb, but it can be too strong for turkey. However, you can use oak in a blend with a milder wood like cherry or pecan.

Tips for Using Wood

Here are a few tips for using wood when smoking turkey:

  • Use the right amount of wood: You don’t need to use a lot of wood to get a good smoke flavor. In fact, using too much wood can make the turkey taste bitter. A good rule of thumb is to use about 1/2 cup of wood chips for every 5 pounds of turkey.
  • Soak the wood chips: Soaking the wood chips in water for 30 minutes before using them will help them to release their flavor more evenly.
  • Add the wood chips gradually: Don’t add all of the wood chips at once. Instead, add them gradually throughout the smoking process. This will help to prevent the turkey from getting too smoky.

Choosing the right wood for smoking turkey is essential for achieving a delicious and flavorful result. By following the tips above, you can select the perfect wood to complement your turkey and create a truly memorable meal.

What are the best types of wood for smoking turkey?

As we’ve mentioned, different woods produce different flavor profiles that work nicely with turkey. Some of the most common choices include:

One of the most popular woods for smoking meat, pecans give your turkey meat a wonderful balance of sweetness, smokiness, and sharpness.

Pecan is a little more robust than many of the fruitwoods we’ll talk about later, but it still has a delicious depth of flavor and subtle nuttiness.

We advise against adding hickory to it the first time you smoke it due to its deep flavor, although you may do so with apple or cherry. The combination of two strongly flavored woods can add an unpleasant sour harshness to the turkey meat.

However, you can always add a small amount of mesquite or hickory shavings to increase the volume if you want a stronger smokey flavor after your first smoke.

Your smoked turkey will taste more earthy and spicy with the addition of maplewood, without overpowering the meat’s flavor.

Smoking over maple can help you bring out the flavors of any strong herbal flavors in a rub that you’re already using.

The meat is also given a beautiful golden color and a sweetness that is almost honey-like by the maple’s sweeter smoke.

Cherry makes a delicious smoking wood, and it can be further enhanced with rubs, marinades, or small amounts of other wood.

Our pellet grill turkey recipe uses cherry pellets as they impart a crowd-pleasing mild flavor.

what type of wood should i use to smoke a turkey

As we’ve already indicated, we enjoy combining cherrywood and hickory to give the turkey meat a deeper, more complex smoky flavor.

Using cherrywood also gives your turkey a beautiful red-brown color when it comes out of the smoker, which is another fantastic advantage.

Apple is one of the more subtle woods on this list. Applewood, which has been smoking for a long time, gives the turkey a delicately sweet flavor that complements the earthiness of the meat.

But, the flavor can be extremely subtle, so you’ll need to smoke your turkey for a longer period of time to taste it.

The only drawback is that you will have to give your bird some extra attention, making sure the meat doesn’t dry out by always having an apple juice or water spray bottle nearby.

Less dense than some of the denser woods on our list, alder adds a rich, earthy, smoky flavor that isn’t quite as strong as that of hickory, oak, or mesquite.

Because of this, it’s a useful tool to have on hand because it can be used to balance out stronger woods or amplify milder woods like apple or maple.

Hickory is an excellent traditional smoking wood that will find use in nearly all smokers. However, it is really quite strong, more often used in barbecue than it is in smoking poultry.

But one of the best things about smoking is that you don’t have to limit yourself to a single kind of wood. You can use fruitwood, such as an apple or cherry, to trim your hickory and add a rich, smoky flavor and deep brown color to your turkey without overpowering the flavor.

Oak, which is more frequently used in European smoking, is similar to hickory in that it offers a deep, smokey flavor that, if not used sparingly, can easily become overwhelming.

One advantage of using oak is that, when used sparingly, red oak varieties give the meat a very striking reddish tint and blend beautifully with cherrywood.

Another wood that packs quite a punch, mesquite delivers the strongest smokey spicy flavors. It’s best to stay away from this one because mesquite, which is frequently used in barbecue from the Southwest, can quickly overpower the flavor of turkey and leave an unpleasant bitter taste if used in excess.

Top tips for smoking turkey with wood

Although we’ve already written a lengthy post with tons of fantastic advice on smoking turkeys, we’ll highlight some of the greatest here:

Smoking With Wood – How to Choose the Right Wood for Smoking Meat


What is the best wood to smoke a turkey?

For smoking turkey all year long, try hickory, pecan, and apple smoking wood. Our favorite wood chips and wood chunks are by Western Wood because they are kiln-dried and burn clean. Our favorite pellets for smoking turkey are B&B Pecan pellets or Jack Daniel’s Pellets.

Is hickory too strong for turkey?

A: We would generally recommend avoiding the more strongly flavored woods like mesquite, oak, and hickory when smoking a turkey.

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