When cooking in a smoker, the choice of wood is as important as the cut of meat. Different woods have different flavors and aromas. Some are not at all suitable for smoking meat, and some go better with certain meats than they do with others.
If you found yourself wondering which Australian wood is good for smoking meat, we’ve got just the thing for you, as that is exactly what we are going to talk about in this article.
Read on to find out.
Apple, cherry, and peach make for excellent firewood for poultry and game. Beech, ironbark, and pecan hickory are good choices for beef and pork. Manuka and tea tree go well with seafood, and red box and yellow box go well with lamb.
Also worthy of calling out early on are two of the most versatile Australian hardwoods for smoking meat: messmate, also known as stringybark, and red oak.
Let’s start with two ground rules to make sure your smoked meat is safe to eat and tastes good when it comes out of the smoker.
Use only hardwoods to smoke meat:
Whether you’re grilling thick-cut steaks hot and fast on the kettle grill or cooking brisket low and slow in your smoker, hardwood is the only kind of firewood you should be using.
Softwoods (cedar, fir, larch, pine, spruce, and others) not only impart a sharp, menthol taste to your food, but the smoke from some of these woods can be toxic and, therefore, harmful to your health.
The good news is that there is a wide range of hardwoods for the job. And, once you learn to choose your wood like you choose your spices, which we will get to in a moment, you can bring your smoked meats up to the level of a pitmaster.
Always smoke meat with seasoned wood:
I still remember my physics teacher preaching in school that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Instead, it is only transferred from one form to another, and it is up to us to learn to use it efficiently.
(Obviously, his sermon worked: I am telling you this after God-knows-how-many years).
Armed with this knowledge, it gets easy to understand why we dry wood for months on end before throwing it on the fire, and that reason is related to the amount of moisture it contains. When preparing meat in a smoker, you want to transfer the energy of the fire to the smoking of the meat—not to the drying of the wood.
Seasoned wood has been dried to remove much of the moisture from the fibers, producing a delicate, pleasant smoke. Freshly-cut wood (or “green wood,” as most of us call it) can contain up to 50% moisture, and burning off this moisture can impart undesirable flavors to the meat.
Best Australian Woods for Smoking Meat
Of all the hardwood trees that grow in Australia, which can go in the smoker?
Decades of experience with smoking meat, a collection of the best books on the subject, and the general consensus among Aussies on the Aussie BBQ Forum led me to compile the following list:
|Apple||Burns slowly when dry. Yields a sweet and fruity smoke flavor.||Chicken, grouse, pheasants, turkey, pork ham, and quail.|
|Beech||Burns slowly and evenly. Imparts a moderately-smoky, not-too-strong flavor.||Beef and pork.|
|Black wattle||Burns well and for a long time, with a mesquite-like, yet gentler, smoke flavor.||Beef and lamb.|
|Cherry||Burns at a medium heat with a fruity, syrupy sweet-flavored smoke.||Fish and poultry. Also good with pork.|
|Ironbark||Burns hot and long. Gives off a dense smoke with a mild, smoky flavor.||Beef, lamb, and pork.|
|Manuka||Burns with a hot fire and for a long time. Has heavy, somewhat bitter, smoke.||Seafood.|
|Messmate||Burns for a long time with a smoke that smells like popcorn and imparts a slightly nutty flavor.||Highly versatile:|
Beef, chicken, game birds, lamb, pork, seafood.
|Peach||Burns with moderate heat, giving off a subtle and fruity, almost peachy smoke.||Chicken, grouse, pheasants, and turkey. Also, pork when sweet sauces are used.|
|Pecan hickory||Burns hotter than most firewoods. Has a strong, sharp-flavored smoke.||Beef and pork (especially bacon). Possibly poultry when combined with milder woods.|
|Red box||Burns slowly, for hours on end, with a caramel-like smoke that colors the meat dark-red.||Lamb and pork.|
|Red gum||Burns slowly, with moderate heat and deeply-flavorsome smoke.||Beef, lamb, and pork, possibly poultry.|
|Red oak||Burns for a long time with a strong, yet not overpowering, smoke.||Highly versatile:|
Beef, chicken, game birds, lamb, pork, seafood.
|Tea tree||Burns well, with an earthy, woody flavor.||Seafood.|
|Walnut||Burns cleanly, with a moderate amount of strongly-flavored smoke.||Beef, particularly brisket.|
|Yellow box||Burns slowly, for hours on end, and its smoke imparts a caramel-like taste to meats.||Lamb and pork.|
The golden rule, as you can see from the above combinations, is to use mild firewoods for seafood and poultry, moderate firewoods for poultry and game birds, and aggressive firewoods for beef, lamb and pork.
This is because the smoke from aggressive firewood will overpower the delicate and subtle taste of fish or chicken. The opposite is true: the mildness of certain firewoods isn’t enough to flavor beef or lamb, meats that already have a strong aroma and flavor.
Ironbark, messmate, red box, red gum, and yellow box all sit within the Eucalyptus genus. The taste of their smoke is found to be pleasant by some, and too bitter by others—so try them out and see if you like them.
Some smokers mix several types of wood together to give their meat a more complex smoked flavor. With a good blend of woods, you can tone down or turn up the character of the smell and taste the slab of meat picks up from the smoke.
Worst Australian Woods for Smoking Meat
Although grilled fish wrapped in banana leaves is a real treat, the banana tree is of little value to the meat smoker: it is a porous plant that absorbs a lot of moisture and doesn’t burn well.
Blackbutt, a species of eucalyptus, is another Australian-native wood that’s isn’t suitable for smoking meat. As we explained in “Can You Grill and Smoke Meat Over Eucalyptus Wood?”, most of the trees from the Eucalyptus genus impart a bad flavor to your meat when used as firewood.
This concludes our list of the best Australian hardwoods for smoking meat. If we have missed your favorite wood—or a really good pairing—do shout it out in the comments below.
When in doubt, use wood chunks for large smokers with a hefty, thick-walled firebox, and wood chips for more compact smokers and kettle grills.
For best results, soak the wood chunks in cold water for up to 1 hour, or the wood chips for up to 30 minutes, before placing them on the mound of coals. Doing so makes them last longer and causes them to give off more smoke.
Very informative. I just have one question which is why does it have to be dried so much when lots of recommendations are to soak it overnight to stop it burning too fast?
I appreciate you stopping by and raising a good question!
Seasoned firewood smolders with clean, bluish smoke that makes the meat taste good. Seasoning evaporates, if slowly, much of the moisture from freshly-cut wood. Along with it evaporate the chemicals that make its smoke dirty and bitter. (Much like, when you leave a loaf of bread out, it dries out.)
Soaking the wood chips in water makes them moist again. It does help you control the rate of burning, so that the chips don’t give off too much smoke too fast. The bigger the piece of wood, the less it makes sense to soak it. Soaking, for example, does little to chunks, and almost nothing to split logs.
The moisture in seasoned firewood, even after soaking it for a few hours or overnight, is still less than in freshly-cut wood. Thanks to the evaporation of the naturally-occuring chemicals, the wood itself is also cleaner. So you get the merits of a slow smolder without the perils of a harsh, greenwood flavor.
The team and I have written more on the topic at Can You Smoke Meat With Freshly-Cut Wood and How to Dry Wood for Grilling or Smoking.
Hope this helps!
Hi there, what about a acacia’s? I have a nursery variety acacia ‘coppertip’ that grows like crazy and I always have offcuts.
Here is a list of more Australian smoking timbers that were not on this list:
Mallee Root: Medium to heavy smoke. Long burn – earthy with a slight sweetness. Traditionally used for Charcoal, but the forests are dwindling and take 100’s of years to regenerate, so supply is decreasing. I love the flavour of Mallee Root, but it’s hard to justify using it regularly (conservation).
Mountain Ash: The tallest hardwood in the world. Light to medium smoke. Quick burn. Goes well with fish, poultry, smallgoods and cheese. In plentiful supply in my local area. Lots of storms came through last year and brought down hundreds of 50m+ (160ft) trees. Grows alongside Messmate, another fantastic wood.
Spotted Gum: Similar flavours to Mountain Ash, but a little more intense. Medium burner, pretty good with fish and poultry. A very common street tree here in Australia. Does often have gum veins though, so avoid pieces with those.
Jarrah: Very tall tree from Western Australia. Tastes similar to Red Gum. Medium to long burn with a flavour suited to red meat. Again, hard to find outside Australia.
Macadamia: Native Australian nut tree. Have not had a chance to try this, but I have heard good things.
Banksia Cones: Now this one was a surprise. You need really dry cones that have either fallen, or are ready to fall. They look somewhat like pine cones, but don’t be fooled! They impart a lovely, mild flavour that just about goes with everything. The wood is supposed to be good too.
Casuarina (she-oak): Now this one is very common in the USA (particularly Florida, where it is known as Australian Pine). Another one I haven’t tried, but apparently produces a good flavour. Burns very hot. Buloke (bull-oak) was frequently used to fuel the Paddle Steamers on the Murray River because of how hot and long it burns for.
Avoid burning sapwood and wood with gum veins in it. It will produce a lot of creosote and nasty flavours.
Macadamia has been my smoking wood of choice since I started. I’m very happy with it’s clean burn and nice flavour.
I’ve also heard macadamia nut shell is good to but I’ve never had enough to try it.