Although the type of wood used for smoking meat is commonly based upon regional availability, most pitmasters agree that certain woods are better for specific flavor profiles.
It's best to use hardwoods for smoking as softwoods tend to be much higher in resin and oils, which creates excess smoke and a sooty taste. Another thing to keep in mind if you are newer to the smoked meat game is it may be best start with a milder, fruit wood, such as apple or cherry, until you're comfortable with the level of smoked flavor you are achieving. Then you can move up to the stronger, nutty woods. From my personal experience, a little goes a long way and using too much will leave you with bitterness.
Apple, Cherry, Peach:
These hardwoods are known for their subtle, fruity sweet smoke. They will create a milder profile for those who aren't as fond of that thick, smoky flavor.
Maple is good for achieving a mild smoke flavor, along with a subtle sweetness. It's typically best for poultry or wild game. However, it can be great for enhancing vegetables and cheese.
Because of its pungent smoke, hickory can be overwhelming to poultry but is well suited for meats, and with its bacon-like hints is great for pork and ribs.
Oak is more mild than maple or hickory, making it a great choice for virtually all types of meat and poultry.
The best way to learn how to get the end result you are looking for is to think of smoke as a seasoning. Then experiment, learn and devour.
Until next time,