Choosing the right wood for smoking is something that a lot of people obsess about when they are learning how to smoke foods. However, it is equally important to know which wood to avoid. As they say at Bon Appétit, “some woods just aren’t meant to smoke food.” The following tips provide information about wood to avoid when smoking food.


Avoid wood from conifers such as pine, redwood, fir, spruce, cypress, or cedar. These trees contain high levels of sap and turpenes, which results in a funny taste and can make people sick. Cedar planks are popular for cooking salmon, but don’t burn the wood for smoke.

Elm, eucalyptus, sycamore, and liquid amber can give food a bad flavor and should also be avoided.

Wood Containing Toxins

A number of trees and shrubs contain toxins that are harmful to humans and should not be used for smoking. The toxins can survive the burning process and end up in your meat, making you sick. Some of these plants include mangrove, poisonous walnut, sassafras, oleander, yew, tambootie, and laburnun.

Lumber Scraps

Lumber, both new and used, is best to avoid when choosing wood to smoke. It is impossible to determine what kind of wood it is, where it was stored, or what it was used for; this makes it unsafe to use for cooking. Lumber also may be chemically treated, making it poisonous to humans.

Chemically Treated Wood

Any wood that has been chemically treated is dangerous to use for smoking. Anything on or in the wood gets on the meat when you smoke it, so you consume any chemicals that are on the wood you use. Many of these chemicals are hazardous to your health and make people sick. Besides lumber, frequently chemically treated wood includes wood scraps from furniture manufacturers and wood pallets. Not only are wood pallets usually chemically treated, but they also may have been used to carry hazardous chemicals.

Wood from old orchards presents a similar problem because many growers spray their trees with pesticides and other chemicals.

Painted or Stained Wood

Paint and stains often make meat taste bitter. Old paint also is likely to contain lead, making it hazardous for humans.

Moldy Wood

Old wood covered in mold or fungus will give your meat a bad taste. Some molds also contain toxins, making them dangerous to use for smoking. A good smoking wood with a fungus growth can still be used if you pre-burn it to coals before putting it in the smoker.

When in Doubt

If you aren’t sure what kind of wood you have or if it is suitable for smoking, don’t use it. Only use wood that you can identify and know is safe. For identified wood, check it against the BBQ List. If you are still unsure about what to use, purchasing wood for smoking is a good option. We can provide you with safe wood that is ready to use for great smoking.

Photo by Ervins Strauhmanis from Flickr using Creative Commons license.