I get a lot of questions on which smoke wood to use for which foods. Here are some suggestions. Like anything else to do with BBQ, this is no exact science. And remember, what kind of rub or sauce you use and the spice level should also be part of the consideration.
Pork – Pork works well with lots of different smoke woods. I like to use almost anything for pork. I use mesquite a lot for pork, and I use apple (real good for ribs), cherry and pecan wood. Sometimes when I really want smoke taste on pork butts, I use hickory as well. Want something light? Try Alder.
Beef – Beef=hickory in my mind. Sometimes I’ll mix 50/50 hickory and mesquite. Oak is also good, the Jack Daniel’s oak wood chips are great for steaks for instance.
Poultry – For poultry I would normally pick something lighter, like cherry or apple. Sometimes I use mesquite, it can be real tasty with duck, which has a stronger, more gamey taste than chickens
Fish – Oak or alder is very popular for smoking fish. Here in Norway the juniper bush is sometimes used, but I find the taste too owerpowering.
Vegetables – Since they’re not the stars of the show, my vegetables usually get smoked with whatever I’m using for the meat. Hickory and mesquite is great for baked potatoes and ears of corn (prick the potatoes with a fork first).
Lastly, experiment. A lot. It’s the only way to learn what’s best for your tastes. There’s also other ways to make smoke, rosemary smoke from fresh rosemary for lamb for instance. Vines of various kinds can also be used. But don’t use fresh wood, it needs to be dried. Nothing green should go on the grill as smoke wood.