Choose whether you want a stronger smoky flavour, or a lighter hint. Mesquite is quite possibly the strongest-flavoured wood, and imparts a great deal of flavour in a small space of time – this is great for meat that needs to be barbecued for a short space of time. Hickory is another strong flavour, and works great for barbecuing thick, dense meats like beef. Acacia and oak are medium to mild, and serve as toned down versions of mesquite, while woods like alder are exceptionally light.
Use the wood depending on the type of meat you are barbecuing. Heavier woods like walnut and mesquite are best for meats like beef and pork, while the lighter woods like alder work great for poultry and fish. Sweeter woods like maple or birch are excellent for bringing out the natural flavours of poultry and ham.
If you are looking for a rich, nutty, and earthy flavour, go for woods that come from nuts you like to eat, or those that you feel will complement the flavour of the meat. Almond and pecan are both sweet woods that give a deliciously full and nutty flavour to the meat being barbecued. Black walnut and walnut are both heavy flavours that can turn bitter very fast – these need to be mixed up with other wood chips, to neutralise their taste.
Go for fruit woods if you are looking to impart a lighter and sweeter flavour to meat like poultry, fish, and ham. Apple is a popular wood for lending a mild sweet flavour to meats, although it does tend to discolour the skin of poultry. Cherry, apricot, peach and pear are all light fruity flavours, while plum is darker, richer, and great for barbecues on festive occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving. Woods from citrus trees like orange, lemon, nectarine, and grapefruit are also excellent for white meats and ham.