No list of best meats to smoke would be complete without chicken on it.
Different parts have different compositions, meat density, as well as fat content. As a result, the types of wood that go best with them will vary.
In this guide, I lay out the best woods for smoking chicken, and list which part of the chicken goes best with which.
So let’s get into it.
In general, a lot of people tend to prefer woods that are derived from fruit trees. This includes applewood and cherrywood, as well as maplewood.
So where better to start than with one of the barbecue world’s most beloved smoking woods?
Kicking off this list is one of the most popular wood chip types for smoking chicken, and it’s for good reason.
Applewood has a subtle sweet and fruity flavor that’s a bit more mellow than some other fruit-based smoking woods (e.g. cherry, maple, pecan).
Its subtle taste might be too delicate for some who might want something stronger, but its delicate flavor profile makes it perfect for matching with a good chicken BBQ rub.
If you want something with a slightly stronger sweet taste than apple, then maple is a great go-to for chicken fans.
It adds a light layer of sweetness to chicken that doesn’t risk overpowering the natural flavors of the chicken.
Maple is usually associated with pork, which might make you think that it’s quite thick or sickly, but fortunately it goes really well with poultry.
If you want something stronger than apple but don’t like the sound of something heavy like pecan or cherry, then maple is a great go between.
Cherry achieves a similar amount of sweetness to other fruit woods on this list, but what really separates it from the rest is the beautiful color it paints your poultry.
A few hours cooking over cherrywood will help your chicken develop a beautiful deep red color.
Cherry is also great when mixed with deeper, more earthy types of hardwood. Try mixing it with a little bit of hickory to help add a touch of added smokiness.
If you like your sweet flavors a bit richer then this is the wood for you.
If you find that cherry isn’t doing the job for you, then pecan is a great level up in terms of sweetness.
What really makes pecan stand out isn’t just its strong flavor, but its remarkable nutty layer of flavor that sits beneath that sweetness.
Pecan is often more closely associated with turkey, but for my money it goes well with chicken too.
Just a word of warning: A lot of sweet or fruity woods can be matched with a little bit of hickory or oak to give it a bit more of an earthy quality. I recommend steering clear of this with pecan. It has a much more pronounced flavor than any other fruity wood, so doesn’t really need it. Plus, mixing it with something strong like hickory will combine to give you something altogether unpleasant in taste.
If you want to steer clear of sweet flavors, then sometimes the old traditional woods just do the job best.
Hickory has long remained one of the BBQ world’s most trusted barbecue smoking woods. It has a nutty flavor that goes well with so many different types of wood, and chicken is no different.
It’s widely available everywhere, and makes for a great starter wood if you’re new to smoking.
While not as strong as other earthy woods like mesquite, it can still be overpowering if you use too much. If you use too much then your chicken will end up tasting overly bitter, and won’t be any good.
If this is your first time smoking with hickory, then I’dd err on the side of caution and only use a little bit. If you find that you undershoot then you can add a little extra next time.
Don’t forget to get your smoking down to a tee
You can have the best cut of chicken in the world, as well as the perfect choice of wood, but if you can’t get your BBQ smoking down right then it’ll all go to waste.
When smoking with wood, you need to make sure that you allow your food to be exposed to the aromas of the smoky wood for long enough to give you a good enough dose of the flavors emitting from the wood.
This can be a challenge when smoking with charcoal, as the coals themselves can overpower the wood, but if you can strike the right balance then you’ll have a beautifully smoked chicken.
Pay attention to temperature
With long form cooking like smoking, the low and slow principle is key. This entails cooking meat at low temperatures for hours to slowly bring it to target temperature, allowing the juices to enrich the flavor of the mood, and allow the exposure to coals and flavored woods to infuse the meat with rich flavor.
It’s imperative that you maintain a consistent temperature within your smoker chamber by controlling air flow to maintain a cooking temperature of 220°F/105°C for at least 2 hours.