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Kamado Joe When To Add Wood (Explained)

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Kamado Joe When to Add Wood

A Kamado Joe has high thermal efficiency, which means you need to add wood as you are building your charcoal bed or add them to the firebox just as you install the heat deflectors.

With proper heat control and strategic placement of wood chunks, you should be able to maintain consistent smoke density for 10 to 12 hours, without having to sacrifice heat control.

When building a charcoal bed, you should try to put a few chunks of your preferred smoking wood right in the middle where you will light the fire.

For a longer smoking session, you might want to put some more smoking wood at the periphery of the Kamado Joe’s firebox or use a layering strategy.

The type of meat you are smoking can also influence your choice of wood. Oak and hickory tend to be very versatile and can be used for pork, beef, ribs, lamb, and most cuts of poultry.

Mesquite tends to be popular with cuts of beef and is traditional in the Southwest.

Applewood is also very versatile, but you don’t want to use a heavy hand. Pecan, maple, and cherry tend to be accent woods that you add in small amounts with oak or hickory.

When Should You Be Adding Wood to a Kamado Joe?

Smoking woods should be added directly into the original batch of jumbo lump charcoal when you fire up your Kamado Joe.

This ensures that the smoke is permeating the fat as it starts to render deep into the meat, carrying the smoky aroma and flavor with it.

With thoughtful heat control and strategic placement of wood chunks, you shouldn’t need to open up your Kamado to add more wood or charcoal.

Most will burn for 10 to 12 hours with a thoughtfully constructed coal bed. So, make sure all your smoking woods are in the firebox when you light it or place them just before installing the heat deflectors.

What Kind of Wood Should You Be Using in a Kamado Joe?

You should always use dried hardwood like oak, hickory, applewood, mesquite, or alder in a Kamado Joe.

Softwoods like pine, cedar, and redwood have resins that contribute chemicals to the smoke and bad flavors.

The size of the wood pieces you use in your Kamado Joe also matters. Wood chunks tend to smolder more which will give you a consistent amount of smoke with less risk of flaring up.

Wood chips tend to give you their smoke very quickly if they aren’t soaked in water for an hour or two. They also tend to cause flare-ups, which can make heat control difficult.

What Meats Go Good with Certain Types of Wood?

Some meats do better when cooked with a gentle smoke like applewood or hickory, while other meats like beef do great with robust smoke from wood like mesquite.

There are also regional biases and traditions that some purists hold to when it comes to choosing a certain type of wood to smoke with a specific cut of meat.

Alder works well for smoking seafood, salmon, trout, and foods that benefit from a light smoke treatment. It has a gentle flavor that is similar to a lot of fruitwoods with hints of delicate sweetness

Applewood is a great option for pork, poultry, ring sausage, and many types of fish. It tends to have a mild, sweet flavor with fruity notes. Like hickory, it is very versatile, though you don’t want to be too heavy-handed with it. A little applewood goes a long way.

Cherry is great for smoking pork, lamb, beef, and dark-meat poultry like a duck as well as a lot of game meats. It is more of an accent wood that brings a sweet, slightly fruity smoke that blends well with oak Though, like applewood, too much cherry can be overpowering. A telltale sign that you’ve been too heavy-handed with cherry is a strong odor like burning school glue with opaque, white smoke.

Hickory is very versatile and works well for smoking beef, pork, ribs, game meats, dark-meat poultry, and ring sausage. Some people feel that hickory is a little too strong for white meat cuts of chicken. So, if you are smoking a whole turkey or chicken you should keep the amount of hickory light.

Sugar Maple does a great job of smoking turkey and white meat poultry. Silver maple needs to be exceptionally dry to use for smoking or it can give off-flavors to the meat during a long smoking session. Maple is more of an accent wood to pair in small amounts with oak and alder.  

Mesquite is traditional smoking wood for beef. Especially in the state of Texas and other parts of the Southwest. It has bold flavors, and a little bit goes a long way.

It can also be used for pork, game meats, and ring sausages. While you should typically work with dry mesquite, some brisket enthusiasts love to smoke with green mesquite for the intense, bold smoke it gives off.   

Oak is very versatile and works great for smoking pork, beef, and poultry. It is less intense than hickory with a medium earthy smoke profile. It also tends to be easy to find and inexpensive.

Pecan is primarily used for smoking poultry, though there are a lot of people who also love to use it for pork. It can also be used as an accent wood for bone-in cuts of lamb.

Ground wine barrels & bourbon barrels are relatively rare and hard to find unless you are near a vineyard or distillery.

These are oak barrels that have been saturated by wine or charred and saturated with distilled spirits.

They can do everything oak does but brings an added dimension of flavor to smoking sessions where you are “Mopping” the meat with a sauce of extra marinade.

Rosemary can be grown as a perennial in warm climates or can be harvested and dried at the end of a summer growing season.

Just a small amount of rosemary wood can create a powerful herbaceous smoke that is great for most poultry and is exceptional with lamb and venison.

Though rosemary burns very quickly, it’s better to simply lay it on your Kamado Joe’s heat deflectors where it will smolder before burning away into ash.

How Do You Get the Wood to Smoke in a Kamado Joe?

If you are using wood chunks in your Kamado Joe, you want to start the fire with two to four chunks near the center.

If you want to punch up the initial smoke in a short to medium session, you can add a ring of wood chips scattered just outside the central fire.

Putting wood chips in early can give you a nice burst of smoke but will burn up quickly. This will give the wood chunks time to ignite and smolder their own contributions to the Kamado Joe’s smoke density.

How Do You Use Wood Chunks in Kamado Joe?

Wood chunks can be placed directly in the charcoal bed, without having to do anything to them. Wood chunks tend to smolder on their own and aren’t as prone to flare-ups as wood chips are.

If you do want to use wood chips for adding smoke to high heat, direct flame application, you should soak them in water for at least an hour before adding them.

This will reduce the risk of flare-ups and keep the wood chips from burning up too early.

Where Do You Put Wood Chips in Kamado?

You can place the majority of your wood chips or smoking wood chunks near the periphery of the Kamado Joe’s fire chamber, with a small pile in the middle.

Then light the center of the lump charcoal. This will ensure that the meat gets an initial burst of quality smoke, early in the cooking process. Then as the fire spreads and the coalbed grows the wood at the periphery starts to burn to keep the smoke density high.

Another option for maximizing the smoke density in a very long smoking cook is to try to create a layering effect. This calls for putting charcoal at the bottom, with a few chunks near the center.

Then start the fire, and immediately layer more charcoal over top with a ring of smoking wood chunks outside the diameter of the lower chunks. You carry this pattern through until you have wood chunks at the periphery edges of the firebox.

Then the lower damper is set to just a sliver of perhaps a quarter to half an inch to keep the fire slow and low.

As the center of the charcoal starts to burn away, more fresh charcoal and smoking wood chunks will naturally fall in to maximize the smoke density throughout a long cook.

Final Thoughts

The impressive thermal efficiency of a Kamado Joe means you need to add any smoking woods as you are building the charcoal bed or just before installing your heat deflectors.

You should get consistent smoke by placing a few chunks of smoking wood in the center, near where you light the fire.

If you are planning a very long smoking session, you might want to use a layering strategy, with an additional ring of wood chunks near the periphery of the firebox.

When choosing a smoking wood, versatile oak, and hickory are often used for pork, beef, ribs, lamb, and many types of poultry.

Mesquite is seen by many as the perfect pairing for beef Applewood is also very versatile, you just want to use it in moderation.

Other woods like pecan, maple, and cherry should be used more as accent woods to keep from overpowering the flavor of the meat being smoked.