The answer to, what's the best wood to BBQ with depends on a couple of things: your personal taste preferences, and the type of meat you'll be grilling. There are many, many types of wood chips, chunks, and even planks... but we'll only cover the more popular ones, since they're the easiest to find and the most affordable.
Mild and subtle flavors, some with a hint of sweetness, go well with chicken (or other poultry). Apple wood and alder are both popular with poultry, although if you leave the skin on chicken, apple wood will tend to darken it. Maple and orange are also wonderful with chicken. Oak is popular too but it has a stronger flavor.
Stronger flavors are popular with beef, like mesquite or hickory. Both of these types of wood provide intense flavor, so use sparingly! They are best used in small amounts, for short periods of time.
For thicker cuts of beef, try a wood chip that offers a mellower flavor that can infuse itself throughout the meat. The versatile oak is a good choice once again... or try pecan, which has been compared to a milder version of hickory.
Pork lends itself to light and sweet flavors, which can often be found in fruit woods. Apple wood, maple, and peach are all great. If you want a bit of a stronger flavor, mix one of the milder woods with oak. Or if you're feeling adventurous, mix in a small amount of pecan or even hickory (and even smaller amount!) with your apple, maple, or peach wood for a bolder taste.
Salmon is a staple for the grill. Who can resist fresh, barbecued salmon? But fresh fish and seafood of any type is popular too. Enhance the flavor with some alder wood chips. Its light, sweet flavor is perfect accompaniment to the delicate taste and texture of fish. For a heartier flavor, mix in a bit of maple. Want a sweeter flavor? Mix in some apple wood chips or chunks.
Salmon is often grilled on a wood plank - alder or cedar is nearly always the type of wood used. Soak the plank for several hours (you might need to weigh it down to keep it under water) before using. This will cause it to give off lots of smoke.
Follow the directions for the smoker that came with your barbecue (or you can buy a smoker box). You can also just dump handfuls of wood chips on top (or along the edges) of the hot coals but the chips won't last as long this way. Remember to soak the wood for at least an hour prior to use, and shake off any excess water first. If you've never used BBQ wood chips / chunks before, start slow - use a small amount of wood, and for a short period, to see how you like it. Generally speaking, the milder woods are great for smoking meats for a longer period at low heat. The woods that give off strong flavor, like hickory or mesquite, should be used only for short periods in small amounts (using too much, for too long, can give off a bitter flavor).
You don't necessarily have to use pre-packaged wood chips for the BBQ. But don't pick up any piece of wood you find lying about, either! Processed or painted lumber, wood with nails or other construction material or debris isn't something you want contaminating your food. Wood should be untreated and when burned, shouldn't smell weird or noxious - if it does, don't use it!
The best wood to BBQ with really depends on what type of flavor you're looking for. The smoke enhances the taste of the meat and gives it that unique 'cooked over charcoal' taste that we love. So give it a try to see what wood, or combinations of wood chips, work best for your taste buds. Look through our other BBQ tips for cooking over a charcoal grill.