The Best Wood for Smoking Pulled Pork: Enhance the Flavor of Your Barbecue

Smoked pork butt on butcher paper with two meat claws, the top part having been pulled and shredded.

Today, we’re diving into the world of smoking woods and exploring the best options for adding that perfect touch of flavor to your pulled pork. There’s something magical about smoky, tender pork that makes it a joy to savor. Whether you’re piling it onto sandwiches or enjoying it on its own, finding the right wood can make all the difference.

Why Smoke Your BBQ Pulled Pork?

There’s no denying the incredible taste of grilled meat, but adding smoke takes it to a whole new level. It’s like upgrading an already amazing experience. Smoke flavor adds depth and complexity to your food, giving it that extra kick that sets it apart.

Preferred for Pork — Slightly Milder Woods

When it comes to pork, it’s important to choose woods that enhance its mild flavor without overpowering it. Fruit woods are a popular choice because they offer a subtle smoke flavor with hints of sweetness. They not only allow the pork flavor to shine through but also complement the sweet rubs and sauces commonly used with pulled pork.

Peach

Peach wood chunks on a dark wooden table background.

A staple of Southern BBQ, peach wood has a classic mild and sweet flavor that is ideal for smoking pork. It’s perfect for those who want to savor the natural taste of pork or enjoy fruit-based sauces and injections.

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Maple

Maple wood chunks on a dark colored wooden table.

While not as fruity as other options, maple wood adds moderate smokiness and sweet notes to your pork. It pairs wonderfully with brown sugar-based rubs and is a favorite choice among novice smokers.

Apple

Apple wood chunks on a gray background.

Apple wood is a beloved favorite across North America. It offers a sweet and fruity flavor with just a hint of smokiness. If you’re unsure if your guests are fans of smoke, apple wood is a safe and delicious choice.

Cherry

Cherry wood chunks on a dark colored wooden background.

Known as the prince of fruit woods, cherry brings a trifecta of goodness to your pork. It offers sweetness, mild smoke, and a beautiful red color to the surface of the meat. Smoking with cherry wood gives your pulled pork an appealing and delightful flavor.

Stronger Tasting for Real Smoke Lovers

For those who crave intense smoke flavor, there are options that pack a stronger punch.

Hickory

Pile of hickory chunks on a charred wood-looking background.

Hickory is one of the most popular smoking woods, known for its medium-high smoke level. It has a touch of sweetness and pairs well with almost any barbecue sauce. Consider combining hickory with fruity sauces and sides for a flavor explosion.

Oak

Chunks of oak smoking wood on a white wooden background.

Although some consider oak to be a generic flavor, it’s loved by many and offers a robust smoky taste. It pairs perfectly with any sauce or rub, allowing you to create your desired flavor profile.

Mesquite

A pile of mesquite chunks on a light wooden table.

Mesquite is a bold and controversial choice for pork. Its smoke is delicious and pairs well with bold sauces. However, be cautious as it can quickly overpower your meat if you’re not careful. If you’re a fan of intense flavors, mesquite might be the perfect addition to your pulled pork.

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Pecan

Pecan wood chunks on a gray wooden background.

With a bold, sweet, and nutty flavor, pecan wood adds a medium-heavy hit of smoke. Some find it a bit too sweet, so it’s important to balance it out with a well-suited sauce or rub.

Experiment with Other Woods

While the woods mentioned above are among the best for smoking pulled pork, don’t be afraid to get creative and try different fruit and nut woods. Barbecue is all about experimentation, and discovering unique flavors is part of the fun. Lemon, mulberry, nectarine, orange, pear, plum, and walnut are just a few examples of woods that can add their own twist to your BBQ.

Pair Different Woods for Custom Flavors

Who says you have to stick to a single wood when smoking? Mixing different woods is a popular approach to creating unique smoke flavors. For example, combining oak with apple creates a balance between strong flavor and fantastic color. The possibilities are endless, allowing you to tailor the smoke intensity and taste to your preferences and create a truly personalized barbecue experience.

What the Experts Use

Smoked pork butt on the grates inside a smoker.

Let’s take a look at what some of the best barbecuers in the world use when smoking pulled pork.

Steven Raichlen

Renowned barbecue expert Steven Raichlen opts for a combination of hickory and fruit woods such as cherry. This allows him to build flavor using rubs, sauces, and toppings, while the hickory provides a neutral smoke base.

Malcom Reed

Malcom Reed, the mastermind behind How to BBQ Right, prefers a mix of hickory and cherry. This combination adds a touch of sweetness that complements his choice of a spicy BBQ rub, resulting in a flavor-packed pulled pork.

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Melissa Cookston

Melissa Cookston, one of the true Queens of BBQ, chooses apple pellets to enhance the sweet-with-heat rub she applies to her pork butt. The light and fruity taste of apple blends harmoniously with the sweet brown sugar found in most rubs.

Myron Mixon

Myron Mixon, a legendary champion of competition barbecue, opts for peach wood when smoking his pork shoulder. The sweetness and mildly smoky flavor of peach wood balance out the spiced-up mop and sauce he favors, without overpowering the delicious sauces with heavy smoke.

Logs, Chunks, Chips, Pellets, or Dust?

Now that you’ve chosen your ideal wood species, it’s essential to consider the form it should take for smoking. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide which type of wood is suitable for your smoker or barbecue.

  • Logs: Best suited for large offset smokers and smoking pits.
  • Chunks: Perfect for smaller offset smokers, barrel or drum-style smokers, and ceramic or kamado grills.
  • Chips: Ideal for scattering over charcoal for quick and easy smoke. They can also be used in smoker boxes or in foil packs for smoking on gas grills.
  • Pellets: Compressed hardwood powder and shavings used primarily in pellet grills. Some smoker boxes on gas grills can also accommodate pellets.
  • Sawdust: Used in smoker guns, handheld smokers, and some electric smokers for quick bursts of smoke on grilled meats.

Final Thoughts

While a slow-cooker can make a decent version of pulled pork, the authentic and unmatched taste of natural hardwood smoke cannot be replicated. Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of the best wood options, it’s time to pick your favorite and let the fire work its magic!

For more smoking suggestions and barbecue tips, visit Hook’d Up Bar and Grill. The more you learn, the more exciting and delicious your BBQ journey will be. Happy smoking!