After watching one BBQ show on food network after another I came to the realization that there isn't one magic bullet for smoking woods. There are as many opinions on the subject as there are pit masters. There is controversy over bark or not, wet or dry, potency, and quantity. These are a matter of variety, mix and amount. This is a compendium on the consensus of the internet about what flavors each wood offers. After the break I will post the internet's response and my own along with pictures of the woods as I use them. I'll use all the woods I can find but I am not in a hurry to get this done. I'll also refer to the sources I have about adding wood to beer to contrast the flavors you get from soaking vs. smoking.
(please read more after the break.)
Mild (Use More):
Alder: has a light sweet, musky smoke flavor
Apple: is very mild in flavor and gives food a sweet but denser, fruity smoke flavor.
Ash: has a light, unique flavor.
Cherry: has a sweet/fruity, but mild flavor that goes great with virtually everything.
Maple: like fruit wood gives a sweet flavor that is excellent.
Pecan: burns cool and provides a delicate flavor. It’s a much subtler version of hickory.
Strong (Use Some):
Hickory: adds a strong bacon like flavor to meats.
Oak: is strong but not overpowering and is a very good wood. Non-offensive in every way.
Very Strong (Use Sparingly):
Mesquite: is probably the strongest flavored wood; sweet earthy flavor. Unique.
Walnut: has a heavy, smoky flavor. Bitter if over used.
Avoid The Following (Don't Use):
Anything from the pine family; Pine; Cedar; Redwood; avoid all of that.
For Brewing I have been able to find the following information:
Alder: Low Vanilla, mild earthy, with a light citrus flavor.
Ash: Toasted sugar, caramel, with a toasted woodsy flavor.
Cherry: Sweet flavors, mild cherry notes, some vanilla flavors, and earthy.
Hickory: Light woodsy flavors, light hay, with a slight honey sweetness.
Maple: Woody, maple sweetness, with a light spice.
Red Oak: Red berries, woody, and dominant.
White Oak: Soft, woody, with an earthy spice.
These are consistent with the flavors you get from smoking. Obviously the smoke is a factor as some of the subtler flavors are almost certainly lost in the combustion but as the meat absorbs the smoke it takes on many of these characteristic flavors. I would imagine that the gap between heavy toast and smoked flavors isn't so large.
I would be interested to know if anyone has any experience using smoked malts vs. heavy toast wood chips. I'll give that a shot at some point and see what I can come up with.
I made a smoked pork shoulder for slicing. I smoked with oak, hickory and cherry. It was good but there was more smoke flavor than other imparted flavors so I think I am going with more fruit wood next time. My dad seemed to like it. The smoke ring was underwhelming for the amount of smoke billowing forth from my smoker but I am satisfied.