Wood Not To Use For Smoking- Alternatives To Opt For

Some beginner smokers and grillers are unaware that certain wood types are not to be used for cooking or smoking meat. Today, we will consider wood not to use for smoking, and to assist our readers we will be providing some alternatives to opt for.

Some woods are not deemed to be ideal for smoking because they are toxic to humans or negatively affect meat’s taste, making it bitter and acrid. Though intuitively, it may seem that wood not to be used for smoking has been chemically treated to contain toxins, it would be surprising to discover that some naturally sourced wood logs, too, are seemingly harmless and harmful.

So let’s take a closer look at wood not to use for smoking and the alternatives to opt for so you all can approximately proceed to be a step closer to becoming a master griller. 

Avoid These Woods for Smoking Meats

Never under any urgency or a circumstance you must be using. So, before you fire up your charcoal smoker, let’s explore the woods that are best left out of your grilling repertoire, ensuring that your smoked meats are not only delicious but also safe for everyone to enjoy.

Here is the list to avoid to use for smoking.

  • Eastern Cedar
  • Elm
  • Cypress
  • Sassafras
  • Eucalyptus 
  • Liquid Amber 
  • Redwood
  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Fir 
  • Sycamore 

These trees have significant amounts of sap and turpenes, leading to an unusual taste and the potential to cause illness in people. using cedar planks, especially red cedar, which are popular for grilling salmon. ( For optimal results, ensure the plank is soaked for 15-30 minutes, then grill it for 5 minutes on each side before placing your fillet on it. This technique enhances the salmon’s flavor.) Be cautious with other woods, as they can impart unusual flavors, and should therefore be avoided.

To smoke meat or any kind of meal in a smoker grill, it’s essential to be aware of certain woods that are unsuitable for smoking. This list highlights those woods that should be avoided at all costs. They must be kept away from a smoking grill, as they are high in oils and resins. When burnt, these woods emit a thick smoke that can cause various consequences and create unsafe situations even create impact on smoker such as creosote.

Additionally, a specific group of woods have fungus or mold growth and might have been extracted from softwood trees; these must never be considered for smoking. Though these wood kinds constitute excellent choice for a fireplace, furnace, or pit, they are extremely dangerous in a griller. 

Unsafe Wood Chip Options

Basically wood Chips work best with smaller grills, such as kettles, and also with offset smokers. Beginners might not realize the dangers of using scrap wood (they just want to produce heat), which might have been chemically treated, painted, or stained and the sawdust of any of these types of wood. These treatments can release toxic fumes when burned and contaminate the food with harmful chemicals and carbon to nitrogen to build healthy compost. so, you must avoid the use of lumber scraps, stained, painted and treated wood.

wood chips is that good for smoking

If you own various types of wood in your smokehouse (such as Construction materials or fenceposts) and are unconfident about species, then it is not recommended that you use it in the grill. Most of the master grillers do not use wood chips rather they use pellets in their smoker.

Other Kinds Of Wood To Watch Out For

Coniferous And Soft Wood

Softwoods are usually extracted from coniferous trees, and instead of typical leaves, they tend to have needles that stay green all year. As the name implies, wood derived from these trees lays on the softwood side and tends to burn up fast, meaning they are not conducive to slow, prolonged, consistent burning; therefore, they are not required for grilling or smoking any dish of your choice.

Additionally, if used, the resin in softwood will provide the meat with a stringent flavor that not only tastes awful but, depending on the species, can also make many people sick. These softwoods generally include redwood, pine, cypress, fir, cedar, and spruce. 

Fresh Or Green Wood 

People often really want to cut down a tree and use its wood right there and then, but freshly cut wood is never good to be used for smoking. This is because the “green” wood has a high moisture content, which, if used for smoking, will lead to foul-smoking, pungently flavored, and bitter-tasting grilled meat. 

Rather, you should leave fresh wood to be seasoned and then use it. Typically, wood that efficiently burns in a smoker has a moisture content of 20%, whereas freshly cut wood has a moisture content ranging between 60 and 120%. So, you must wait before using this green wood.

Moldy Wood

Sometimes, you might have some logs of old wood lying in your home’s backyard that have not been touched in months or even years. Understandably, you may be tempted to use them for your next grilling session to get rid of the pile log. However, before you consider doing so, these woods must be inspected for mold, which can adversely impact your health.

You may think a little mildew or moss is safe and cannot be injurious. Especially if you reside in a humid or rainy climatic area, the wood is likely to get mold-containing toxins, also known as mycotoxins. 

These toxins can seriously impact your health if released and consumed in food. Also, remember mold does not go away with burning; it is resistant to burning and attracted to moisture that may be present on the surface of a juicy steak.

Even being around the burning of moldy wood is harmful and can cause throat and eye infections, coughing, and other respiratory problems. 

Toxin Containing Wood 

Some naturally occurring woods contain toxins, such as oleander, laburnum, sassafras, black walnut, yew, tambootie, and mangrove wood. These woods could be used in a fire pit but never in a smoker!

Chemically Treated Wood 

Commonly, it does seem obvious not to use chemically treated wood for smoking, but you must be clear and confident in your stance on what classifies as chemically treated wood. Any wood sourced from farming groves, old orchards, or any other kind of land mainly used to grow flowers and fruits would count as chemically treated wood.

The underlying reason behind this is that these logs are more likely to have been treated with insecticides, pesticides, or other chemicals that farmers use to encourage tree growth. 

Plywood And Lumber

The problem with using lumber for smoking is that it consists of assorted wood, which cannot be easily identified as they have been cut out uniformly and packed together cautiously when shipped from their original source. Hence, these woods could be softwoods or naturally containing toxins. You never know. Thus, it is safer to stay away than to speculate.

Likewise, plywood also has several sheets of different wood types that have been strictly bonded together through adhesives. Though this glue is a waterproof formulation of formaldehyde resin, it is a substance you would not prefer to penetrate in your smoked steak. 

With the use of plywood, you will not see consequences materializing immediately, but later on, the adhesive glue can cause dermatitis and potentially be carcinogenic. 

Eastern Red Cedar Wood 

Scientifically known as Juniperus Virginiana and ordinarily known as eastern red cedar wood, this wood is the most commonly found in the east of the United States. Owing to the strength of this wood, people easily confuse and assume that eastern red cedar is a hardwood when, in actuality, it is a softwood.

Keeping in mind that eastern red cedar is a softwood, all the standard drawbacks of softwood also accompany this wood type. Consumer reports have confirmed that the wood is likely to cause gustatory issues such as a profound stomach ache and vomiting whenever ingested in large amounts.  

However, no large-scale scientific studies support this claim with evidence. Still, generally, doctors recommend people avoid smoking food on eastern red cedar wood. 

Alternatives To Opt For

best wood for grilling

Even though we have highlighted some wood types as wood not to use for smoking, there is still a vast majority of wood options out of the wood kingdom that are perfect for smoking and serve as alternatives to opt for.

Such as:

  • Apple wood’s sweet, subtle, and fruity flavor complements beef, poultry, game birds, pork, and some seafood. Apple wood is a great option, similar to how fruits and nuts from orchard trees are perfectly fine to eat.
  • Mesquite wood is bold and strong yet has an earthy flavor, which brings a nice addition to the taste of all dark and red meets. One specialty of mesquite is that it burns hotter and longer compared to all other woods.
  • Hickory wood, despite possessing a strong flavor, also has a tinge of sweetness in it, which is the wood’s strength and is perfect for game meat and pork.
  • Pohutukawa wood is a flawless choice to consider for smoking any kind of white meat. 
  • Cherry wood’s well-rounded fruity and sweet mild flavor goes well with all vegetables and meats.
  • Peach wood’s light and smoky, fruity flavor profile is good for smoking light meats such as Cornish hens, chicken, turkey, and pork.
  • Oak wood has a medium smokey, smoky flavor but is usually used in conjunction with other woods to smoke pork, seafood, poultry, beef, game, and lamb. 
  • Pearwood imparts a slightly sweet flavor with a hint of fruit and smoked poultry, pork, and beef.
  • Wine Oak’s fruity wine barrel and heavy smoky flavor are good for smoking game and red meat. 
  • Pecan, in its flavor, resembles hickey; however, it is more subtle and smokes lamb, beef, poultry, and pork. 
  • Manuka wood has a robust and broad flavor that releases a thick smoke, imparts sweetness, and smokes any meat but is precisely chosen to be paired with seafood.
  • Ash wood is good for smoking. It’s considered a hardwood, which makes it suitable for smoking meats. Ash provides a light, yet distinct flavor, making it a popular choice for various types of meat. Its mild flavor doesn’t overpower the meat, so it’s a good option for those who prefer a subtler smoke taste.


Now that you are aware of wood not to use for smoking, and also know of the alternatives to opt for; next time you go wood shopping, make wise and well-informed decisions. Do not choose any wood kind that could cause you to be sick or for your food to taste bitter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is birch good for smoking meat?

Using white birch for smoking meat is possible but not generally recommended. Birch wood, when used for smoking, tends to produce a lot of smoke and can have a resinous taste that may not be pleasant for all types of meat. If you have just the option to use it then you might use it in combination with other woods. Mixing birch well-seasoned (dried) with a milder, fruitwood like apple or cherry can help balance the flavors.

What wood is toxic to smoke out of?

When it comes to smoking, certain types of wood are toxic and should be avoided. These include: Poisonous walnuts, mangroves, oleander, sassafras, yew, and laburnum are some of the woods that are toxic to smoke out of. It’s important to choose the right type of wood for smoking to ensure both the safety and the quality of your food.

What wood should you not cook with?

You should never cook with eastern red cedar, fir, redwood, pine, and cypress.

Can you smoke with all wood?

No, you cannot smoke with all wood, particularly softwood, which should never be used for smoking. Certain types of wood should be avoided due to health hazards or because they can impart unpleasant flavors to the food such as Softwoods like pine, fir, and spruce.