The first time I smoked chicken wings I used hickory wood, as it’s all I had. I liked how it made the chicken wings taste more savoury and smokey, and it imparted a sweet bacony flavour. But, over the years I have experimented with most woods and their smokey flavours, and am always trying new combinations. I’ve learnt a lot since my first session of smoking chicken wings, and I believe I’ve now found the best wood for smoking chicken wings.
I smoked my last lot of chicken wings earlier this year for a friend’s birthday which were a huge success. There is an element of personal preferences that does play a part in which flavour you prefer. Although hickory is known to have an all-rounded smokey flavour that pairs well with most foods, the last few times I’ve smoked chicken wings I’ve been using oak and here’s why.
What Is Best Wood For Smoking Chicken Wings?
Overall Best Wood for Smoking Chicken Wings: Oak Wood
- Solid smokey flavour
- Burns very hot
- Less nutty or sweet than other woods
What Matters The Most:
- Chicken wings are much smaller in size than other smoked meats. When smoking smaller sized meats they cook faster, which gives you less time to work with to develop the strong smokey flavour. Oak does an excellent job at delivering that strong smokey flavour in a lesser time as that’s it’s main flavour. Other woods deliver fruitier, nuttier, or sweeter flavors but don’t impart that classic barbecue flavor as profoundly.
- Produces a lot of heat and has a smooth light smoke.
- Versatile in its use, some like to actually blend oak with woods like maple or apple.
- Adds a nice deep brown colour to meats.
Oak is the best wood for smoking chicken wings because of its quality in smoke, and it’s reliable in delivering the classic smokey barbecue flavour. Although it doesn’t naturally have sweet, nutty, or fruity flavours, it’s able to be blended well with other woods. Oak can deliver the smokey flavour and the other wood to deliver the desired flavour
Runner-up Wood for Smoking Chicken Wings: Hickory Wood
- Traditional Midwest and Southern barbecue
- Very well rounded savoury flavor
- Reminiscences of bacon
- If over-smoked it produces a strong bitter taste
What Matters The Most:
- Hickory is made famous from it’s popularity and success in Midwest and Southern barbecue.
- Very bacon-like however, because of its strong smokey flavour, can be overwhelming if the meat is over-smoked.
- Pairs well with sweet rubs and sauces as it is balanced by the savoury flavor.
As long as you don’t oversmoke the meat you will get a strong barbecue flavour. Because chicken wings are smaller meats, they are naturally easier to over-smoke, so just be sure to control the temperature and not burn the wood too hot. If you can control the smoke well then you will be rewarded with a classic and powerful barbecue flavor.
The strong smokiness of hickory is perfect if you’re smoking frozen chicken wings too. As they tend to absorb less flavor, hickory provides that extra oomph!
Best Sweet Wood for Smoking Chicken Wings: Maple Wood
- Mild smokiness lets the sweet flavour shine.
- Smoke gives the meat a darker, more appetising colour.
- Works well blended
- Doesn’t deliver a strong smokey flavour
What Matters The Most:
- The subtle smokiness and strong sweet flavor works especially well with chicken wings when paired with a spicy or salty rub or sauce.
- Because of its flavors it can be blended with wood like hickory or oak that will create a strong smoke with a sweeter note from the maple.
- Doesn’t deliver a strong luxurious smoky flavour like oak or hickory.
Definitely a contender to the best wood for smoking chicken wings if you prefer a sweeter flavour than a strong smokey taste. Especially if you mix it with hickory or oak at 50:50. This way you get the advantages of a strong smokey flavour from the other woods while keeping the sweet flavor of the maple.
How to Smoke Chicken Wings
Luckily chicken wings are quite forgiving in how you can smoke them. However, there are a few easy steps to take to turn good smoked chicken wings into great smoked chicken wings. Here is a simple but effective guide to smoking chicken wings.
Select Your Wood
It really is up to you which flavour you prefer. Just remember you’re looking for a nice smokey flavour, but you also don’t want something overpowering such as mesquite. Depending on your smoker it may also take a preferred wood size such as a pellet smoker. Each wood size has slightly different burning qualities but the flavour delivered will be the same.
Select Your Rub
Rubs help the skin and surface of the chicken wings get crispy. It also penetrates the meat and overall gives the chicken wing a flavour profile to play with. Again, it comes down to personal preference. In general make sure to coat generously, and try flavours that pair well with the smoke, such as bourbon, something spicy, or something sweet or tangy.
If you notice your chicken wings have little hairs on them, you may wish to remove them before you add the rub, as generally smoking chicken won’t rid of them!
Tip: don’t make the rub too wet, as it won’t result in the same crispy texture. You can always add a sauce afterwards!
Different smokers have different ways to preheat, so it’s important to get to know yours. The manufacturers manual will usually have sufficient instructions to get a feel for things. As a general rule of thumb you should let it get up to temperature, and have nice light and white smoke. Smokers tend to need to preheat for ~15 minutes to get a consistent temperature and smoke.
Set Your Temperature
For smoking chicken it’s recommended to smoke between 275°F and 300°F. However, because chicken wings aren’t the thickest pieces of meat I like to smoke them no higher than 275°F to give them that little extra time when cooking to absorb enough smoke to get that real smokey flavour.
Make sure you have a reliable temperature gauge and a good thermometer to keep an eye on the smoking temperature. If the smoking temperature starts to exceed 290°F close the vents to let less oxygen in, reducing the temperature. Similarly, if it dips below 250°F open the vents up more.
Although other meats benefit from smoking much lower and slower, if you smoke chicken at low temperatures you will likely end up with rubbery skin!
Depending on whether you have hefty wings, or smaller ones the smoking time will differ. Usually it will take between 1-2 hours but it’s not abnormal if it takes a bit longer. The main thing to keep an eye out for is the internal temperature. Once it measures 165°F on your trusty thermometer they are safe, and ready to eat!
If you really like the skin nice and crisp, try raising the temperature for the last 10-15 minutes or until the wings get a nice classic char on them. That’s it, they’re ready for serving. Have them with a nice barbecue sauce, with side dishes, by themselves, or simply however you most enjoy them!