Pulled pork is a barbecue staple. It becomes melt in the mouth delicious when smoked slow and low for a few hours.
While you can make pulled pork in an oven, it really shines in a smoker or barbecue. The smoke helps to render the fat which in turn takes on the flavor of the smoke. This is why it’s so important to get the right wood.
Throwing any old wood into a smoker can make your food taste acrid and bitter. You need to balance the woody tones with the meat flavors.
In this article, we’re going to talk you through 5 of the best woods for making pulled pork. We’ve also put together a buyer’s guide that will talk you through choosing different woods.
Ready to smoke out that pig?
Best Wood for Pulled Pork
There is a lot to love about this box of wood chunks. First and foremost, according to the description the box is enormous. You get between 15 and 20lb worth of chunks which is double most of the other options here.
According to some reviews, however, the box actually weighs closer to 10 – 15lbs. If this is the case, it’s definitely disappointing. Compared to the other boxes on this list, the price is still great for the quantity.
The chunks are pretty dang consistent. They’re slightly smaller than other chunks, but we’re simply happy that they are consistent. It means that you can predict and manage the heat and temperature of your smoker.
The other great thing about these wood chunks is the fact that the wood is stripped of bark. Bark burns quickly and creates an acrid taste in your meat. Most suppliers strip as much of the bark off as possible, but they often miss some.
These chunks are definitely the cleanest we’ve seen in terms of bark which means they will burn cleanly and evenly.
The flavor of these chunks is oak and apple which means that the box contains both oak and apple chunks. Oak is a medium smoking wood that imparts quite a strong flavor. Adding a few oak chunks to apple chunks will give you a deep, full bodied base flavor with the sweeter, more delicate apple flavors.
- Consistently sized chunks.
- No bark on the chunks.
- Large volume for low cost.
- Rich, full bodied oak, and apple flavoring.
- Inconsistent weight of the boxes.
If you want cheap chunks that don’t dip in quality, these Weber wood chunks are a great choice. Immediately you notice the fact that this bag of chunks is about a fifth of the price of the other options here.
Sure, it’s only 4lbs of chunks, but even if you buy multiple bags these chunks work out cheaper than any other option. The question is whether they compare to the premium chunks.
In terms of size, you do not get the uniformity that you get with the more expensive wood. A decent amount of the bag seems to be taken up by small to medium chips rather than chunks. This is frustrating for sure, especially if you’re making pulled pork.
Pulled pork needs decently large chunks because it cooks for so long. You may need to add more chunks part way through to maintain the smoke.
That being said, there are also many reviews that provide images showing off the large amount of fist sized chunks. I think the best that can be said is that this product is inconsistent. They’re not consistently large, but they’re not consistently small either.
When in the smoker, this wood imparts a deliciously soft and sweet apple flavor. You’ll need to smoke it for a while to get the depth of flavor that you’re looking for. This isn’t an issue with these particular chips. Apple wood just has a delicate flavor that slowly seeps into meat.
- Great low price.
- Delicately, light, and sweet apple flavor.
- Wood is good quality.
- Decently long burn time despite size issues.
- Inconsistent sizing.
- Needs to be soaked before use.
Cameron’s Gourmet Smoking Wood Chunks are a hugely popular brand. They offer a huge range of wood smoking products from chips to chunks, and pellets.
This box of pecan wood chunks is a whopping 20lbs in weight which means that you more than double the amount of DiamondKingSmoker chunks and double the amount of Jax Smok’in chunks.
From the customer reviews it seems like there is a lot of discrepancy in the size of the chunks. Unlike the more expensive boxes, these chunks are not all fist size. It seems like you get a fair amount of smaller chips as well as the larger chunks.
If you’ve got a long smoking session planned, you might find that you have to use more of the smaller chunks to keep the smoke going.
The chunks have been kiln-dried for seasoning and flavoring however, unlike other woods, Cameron’s need to be soaked before use. This is because the natural moisture was removed during the curing process.
It’s slightly inconvenient to have to soak the chunks but for us, it’s not a dealbreaker. Not at this price!
The flavor you get from these chunks is deliciously nutty and rich. It complements the salty fat in the pork and gives it a deeper flavoring.
- Large quantity.
- Rich and nutty flavor.
- Limited amount of bark
- Inconsistent sizing.
- Needs soaking before use.
Diamond King Smoker is a reputable and well-liked brand. They have a wide range of woods in different flavors and sizes to suit any food and any smoker.
This box contains 7lbs of peach wood which is enough for 5 hours of continuous smoking. This does mean that it’s only really good for smaller cuts.
You can select larger boxes if you wish, but these can get awfully expensive. According to the manufacturer, these wood chunks are dried using a ‘patented’ system that preserves the sugars and removes the extra water.
There are plenty of happy customers who enjoy these wood chunks. Many claim that they won’t use any other wood from now on. The flavor is said to be light, delicate, and perfectly sweet.
That being said, the price is quite prohibitive. We appreciate that peach wood is quite difficult to come across, but this box is still incredibly expensive.
If you’re after premium smoking wood and you’ve got the cash to pay for it, then you should definitely try these chunks. Peach wood gives such a unique taste to your pork you should taste it at least once!
- Beautifully balanced peach flavors.
- Evenly sized chunks.
- Low amounts of bark.
- Expensive for the quantity provided.
Jax Smok’in Tinder create and curate their product range to provide the best smoking flavors possible. According to the company literature, these wood chunks are suitable for backyard barbecues and professional pitmasters.
What’s great about this wood is that it is all natural. It has been cured naturally in a kiln to season the wood perfectly for a light but robust maple flavoring.
The wood retains a small amount of moisture that prevents the chunk from burning up and making your pork bitter. This means that you don’t need to pre-soak your chunks before putting them in the smoker.
It might not seem like a big deal, especially when you’re going to marinate and cook for 10-12 hours each, but even removing the half hour soak time can help you speed up the process.
You get 10lbs of chunks in this box which works out at around 20 fist sized chunks. It is quite expensive for the price especially compared to some other boxes. However, Jax Smok’in Tinder does seem to be consistent in the size of the chunks.
- Beautifully light maple flavor.
- Naturally kiln dried wood.
- Small amount of moisture in the wood.
- Expensive for the amount provided.
- Some complain of lots of bark on the wood.
When it comes to buying wood chips for pulled pork, the most important thing is flavor. There are some tried and tested flavors that go with pork and there are some that you really want to avoid.
Flavors to Consider
1. Apple – Pork is famously paired with apple whether it’s apple sauce, apple cider, or apple wood.
Apple wood has a very subtle flavor, so you’ll need to expose the meat to the smoke for a good few hours. This works really well for pulled pork as the cooking times can be well over 6 hours depending on the size of the meat.
2. Pecan – This is another flavor that suits pretty much any pork cut. It works well with bacon, ribs, and most importantly pork shoulder.
Pecan wood is not as sweet as apple wood. It has a slightly nutty and richer flavor to it. It’s still milder than traditional woods like oak, so it shouldn’t overwhelm the pork or your dinner guests.
3. Maple – The sweet, fruity maple flavor complements pork fantastically. Smoking your pork with maple wood gives you wonderfully light flavors that are reminiscent of bacon and syrup without being unbearably sweet.
Maple can sometimes be difficult to find in stores, but it’s easy enough to find online. You have got to try maple smoked pulled pork at least once in your life.
4. Peach – Peach wood has both citrus and floral tones. It is a delicately soft flavor that works beautifully with pork.
If you’re looking to class up your pulled pork, then peach wood is an excellent choice. It is light, fragrant, and absolutely delicious.
5. Orange – This stuff can be difficult to find because it is a bit of a specialty item. If you can find some orange wood, then definitely give it a try!
Orange wood is, as you’d expect, a very citrus flavor. It can become sickly if overused. To give it a richer, less fruity flavor you could mix in some hickory wood.
Flavors to Avoid
In general, you want to avoid heavy flavored woods. Pork is quite a delicate meat, and it can become overwhelmed very easily.
1. Alder – This has quite a distinct smokey flavor that can easily overwhelm pork. Alder works best for smoking fish and seafood or stronger meats like beef.
2. Mesquite – Mesquite is often touted as the strongest flavored smoke. It has a thick, robust flavor that only needs a short time to permeate the meat.
Mesquite can be used for pork ribs because they don’t need to be cooked for too long. If you use mesquite to smoke pork shoulder over 7 or 8 hours, all you’ll taste is smoke.
3. Walnut – Walnut is a fairly bitter smoke. It will give your pork an acrid almost burnt flavor if applied for too long.
Pork is just too delicate to cope with walnut smoke. You will lose if you try to beautify pork flavor by using walnut wood.
Chips, Chunks or Pellets?
Flavor isn’t the only thing to consider when buying wood to smoke with. Wood smoking products come in a variety of forms from small pellets to large chunks.
Pellets are made from compressed sawdust. They are ideal for hot smoking over a shorter period of time because they burn up fairly quickly.
Wood chips are also good for shorter smoking sessions. They are quite slim and again, they have a shorter burn time.
For low and slow cooking, you want more robust wood. Look for wood chunks that can be added to your hot smoker. Wood chunks will slowly release their smoke during the long cooking times. This is particularly helpful for more delicate flavors like apple or pear.
Preparing Wood for Smoking
When you buy wood pellets, chips, or chunks the wood has usually been dried, treated, and seasoned by the seller.
You can put the wood straight in the barbecue or smoker without any preparation with the exception of wood chips.
To prevent wood chips from burning, which can make your pork taste bitter, you should soak the chips in water for half an hour before cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best cut of meat for pulled pork?
For pulled pork you have a choice of 3 cuts. The shoulder is the most commonly used cut. It has plenty of marbled fat which makes it deliciously tender.
You can also use a Boston butt cut which comes from above the shoulder blade rather than the rear of the pig! This also has lots of marbling, but it tends to be smaller than the shoulder cut. If you’re cooking for a smaller group this is a great choice.
Your other option is the picnic roast. This comes from the hock and is sold on the bone. It’s about the same size as the butt coming in at about 8lbs. It’s less fatty and has a meatier taste than the shoulder cut or the Boston Butt.
How long does it take to smoke a 9lb shoulder?
A lot depends on the temperature you cook at but as a general rule you should cook for 90 minutes per pound of meat. That gives you a cook time of 13 and a half hours.
Pulled pork isn’t something you can rush, and it’s definitely not an impromptu meal choice. You need to plan and prepare for pulled pork.
Can I use my own wood to smoke meat?
You can, but you need to be incredibly careful in a number of ways.
First and foremost, you need to make sure that the wood has never been treated, painted, or contaminated with chemicals. Even if this happened years ago, the remnants can be present in the wood and will be released into your food when cooked.
If you’ve found suitable wood to use, you need to cure it before you burn it. This process is sometimes referred to as drying or seasoning. There are two ways to season your wood. You can air-dry or kiln-dry.
Kiln-dried wood is more readily available because it is quicker and more controlled. Kilns are large gas or electric powered ovens designed to dry the wood. The high temperature in the kiln removes the moisture contained in the wood.
Air-drying is a slower, less controlled process that basically requires sunlight and warmth. During dry summers, wood left outside can be seasoned in a few weeks. Over the winter you’ll need to wait months, maybe even a year.
Kiln-dried wood often needs soaking before being used. This is because the heat of the kiln over dries the wood. If you use it without soaking it first it will burn too quickly, and you won’t get the delicious smokiness you’re after.
Once seasoned, you need to make sure the wood is free of bark, bugs, nails, and any other impurities. These will all ruin the smoke flavors that you’re looking for.