While in some places finding good wood for smoking turkey, chicken, beef, pork, and other meats might be easy, not all of us live in a place where cherry or mesquite grow in abundance. Because of this, first-time smokers may find themselves wondering where to get good wood when they want some additional flavor with the smoking.
Basic smoking doesn’t require any specific type of wood to create that pleasant smoky flavor that so many of us fell in love with from barbecue or from smoke-treated meat. However, just as you want to avoid rotted wood or wood with fungus or other potential contaminants, some types of wood imbue an additional flavor that can take smoked meat to the next level.
Many great options exist for finding great smoking wood including collecting from public woods, asking neighbors living in the country, buying wood chips at grocery or specialty stores, or even ordering them online!
Let’s dive into the best ways for finding wood for smoking meat, what to look for, and how to get the best deals on what’s available – either locally or otherwise.
First Pick Hardwoods for Smoking
There’s no question that hardwoods are much better for smoking than softwoods. Aside from the fact that certain softwoods like spruce, pine, can give off tar when burning…it’s not great for the smoker, the grill, or for the flavor. On top of that, smoking means you want good heat for a long period of time and hardwoods will simply burn better, smoother, and longer.
This means even if you can’t get something fancy like mesquite, cherry, or apple, you should still at least start with basics like:
These will assure at least a solid smoky flavor. There are many, many more hardwoods that work and depending on what type of meat you’re cooking, this might be enough to get an extra bit of flavor.
Some meats react to certain hardwoods in a unique way so that the smoke really compliments the flavor and makes the complete smoked meat package even better than the sum of its parts. Pork, for example, gets a little extra bit of flavor when it’s smoked with hickory or maple as opposed to something like oak or walnut.
Maple is good for poultry and also adds something nice to cheese or veggies.
So it’s worth seeing if a hardwood that is locally available and common might be a perfect combination with your favorite meats or skewers. This is the basis for smoking, and if you are smoking meat with a covered grill versus an actual smoker, most of the wood will be regular hard wood with some of the wood for smoking flavor put on the top at the end.
This is also a trick my Dad used for regular grilling to still imbue some extra smoky flavor into steaks, chicken, or other meats while grilling out.
Where Can I Get Wood for Smoking Meat?
Finding the right wood for smoking meat can take a little effort, but here are some the best options for finding the hardwood or flavorful wood that you’re looking for.
Here are six of the best options for finding a wood supply for smoking meat and are widely available to most individuals.
1. Look in Local Woods
Public woods ae kept up by state and county authorities for use. Head to the nearest river bank or nearest bit of public land with woods on it. Certain hardwoods can be easily found throughout the entire country, and each region tends to have certain specialty woods that might be the extra bit of flavor you’re looking for.
If you’re not good with identifying trees, take a field guide or some friends with you. If you live in a place with mushrooms, local mushroom hunters are always going out to the woods to see what they can find so hitch a ride. You can not only get good at knowing all the areas with good patches of woods and certain types of trees but you can pick up mushroom hunting skills, as well!
2. Local Facebook Groups
Find local Facebook groups focusing on grilling, barbecuing, smoking, or even just general outdoor groups. These will tend to have overlap and you can ask some questions and anyone in those groups who loves the backyard barbecue days or smoking meat for the family will often be happy to share basic tips, especially for an innocuous question like finding good wood sources.
Depending on how friendly the group is, you might even get some offers of various wood that other local smokers have on hand. At worst, you will normally get someone who sells bundles of wood, which at least gives you a consistent source for finding wood for firing up the smoker.
There’s even a giant smoking meat Facebook group dedicated to the craft and full of hundreds of thousand of individuals willing to share their knowledge on this awesome past time.
3. Look at Local Outdoor Stores
Most areas don’t have a store that focuses just on grills and smokers, but these are often found at outdoor stores who cater to individuals who love summer. Sometimes that means picking up new gear for that upcoming trout fly fishing trip and sometimes that means picking up grilling and smoking supplies for a lot of summer nights on the back porch.
Seeing what they have in supply can lead not only to a reliable source of wood chips if they stock them, but also talking to knowledgeable people who might be able to give you a lead on other sources.
If you grew up in a very small town in a rural area like I did, anything related to the outdoors or grilling was most likely to be provided by the local hardware store, but the same concept applies. Find the local store that handles grilling supplies and see what they have in stock.
4. Local Grocery Store
Local grocery stores won’t carry bundles of wood in most places, but wood chips for smoking meat are a common item sold in the grilling and barbecue section.
The selection options will likely be limited, but most have cherry or apple, and hickory. There are also many stores that carry mesquite wood chips, or even basic oak/walnut. In other words, you have at least some options.
Case in point: the area I live in has a grocery store two blocks away and they are a poor urban neighborhood and a store that corporate clearly doesn’t care about. Despite having the lowest selection of about everything (other than booze) I’ve ever seen in an urban grocery store, here’s a picture of wood chips for smoking right by the charcoal:
If I can find those options in this store Corporate is trying to shut down away from let’s call it common grilling/smoking demographics, then you will be able to find some (likely more) at your local store.
5. Look Online
Online tools are amazing. What can’t you find online? If you want basic smoking chips or are looking for information on more exotic woods, you can find plenty of companies specializing in good wood chips for smoking meat on Amazon as well as many other online marketplaces.
A few clicks later and you have great wood chips on the way. This won’t allow you to start using the smoker same day, but it does allow you to get the smoky meat flavors that you want and to prep up for months or years of smoker use ahead of you.
Right below is a classic example of how jumping online gives you access to apple, mesquite, hickory, and cheery BBQ smoking chips even if you don’t have those trees in your area. Easy as that!
6. Talk to A Small Local Saw Mill
These are a bit harder to find but especially when it comes to setup with Wood-Mizer saws, but if there is one in your area this can be an amazing source of hardwood pieces.
I worked in the family saw mill for years growing up and can tell you that logs don’t become boards without a LOT of scrap wood. If you’re willing to come in and take a lot of it, no one is going to complain. This can also give you access to hardwoods that might not be within dozens of miles depending on where the shipments of logs come from.
You can even ask if there are certain specialty trees that ever come in like cherry or cedar and they can give you a call when they’re cutting that so you can take it away. Make sure to tip.
If they’re giving you the wood for free and bothering to call you in, that’s worth a $20 bill, especially if you’re loading up an entire trunk full of wood scraps perfect for grilling or smoking.
Where To Get Flavorful Wood Chips for Smoking
Even if you’re not in an area known for its natural hardwood growths, you still have plenty of options. As shown above, if you do a little bit of research you’ll know what all your options are. You don’t need the best option from day one.
You just need a place to reliability source wood or wood chips for smoking and you can refine your process later. In the beginning, you won’t necessarily know which wood you prefer for smoking. Most meats have multiple woods recommended for them, and you may find you like one more than the others or prefer a more unconventional pick altogether.
At the end of the day if you can’t find good wood chips for smoking meat from:
- Local outdoor stores
- Local woods
- Meat smoking Facebook groups
- Local lumber mills
- Online stores (including Amazon)
You are probably looking for something that doesn’t exist, or is impossible to get outside of a far away locality.
There are often options when it comes to getting wood for smoking whether gathering some from homes in the country, getting some from a neighbor, or even heading to a local grocery store’s barbecue section. Mesquite, cherry, and hickory wood chips are commonly found in many if not most grocery stores in the same section that sells grilling supplies or charcoal.
You have plenty of options when it comes to finding wood for smoking, so get yourself some good wood or wood chips and get that smoker fired up!
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