The Best Woods for Smoking Ribs to Get That Signature BBQ Flavor

Woods for Smoking Ribs

Whether you’re hosting a BBQ with friends or just enjoy cooking, smoking ribs is a whole lot of fun. Not only do you get an incredibly tasty and juicy dish, but you get to immerse yourself in a long and slow process to get it done.

But when smoking ribs, you need to make sure you’re loading the smoker with the right wood.

Different types of smoking woods impart different flavors. And as a pitmaster, it’s important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of these different woods. That way, you can start mixing and matching flavors to get your signature blend!

In this list, we’re looking at the 5 best woods for smoking ribs, what makes them good for smoking ribs, and we’ve also included some key information you need to know before lighting up the smoker.

1. Hickory

Hickory

Even if you’ve never smoked ribs before, there’s a chance you know that hickory is always a good choice. The beauty of hickory for smoking meat is that it’s consistent and reliable. There are tons of commercial smoked meat products that use hickory in the process, so there’s a high chance you’re already familiar with the flavor.

Balance is a key feature of hickory flavors. When you use this for your meats, you’ll find that it’s much bolder than any fruit wood available. However, it isn’t as overpowering as other woods like Mesquite or Oak.

If it’s your first time smoking, we recommend going for hickory and making adjustments from there. And when you light up the grill, we found that the Western Premium BBQ Hickory chips are a great way to get the heat going and cook your ribs.

Pros:

  • Balanced, yet bold flavor
  • A favorite for pitmasters
  • Easily accessible
  • There are tons of hickory options available
  • Can be used for many different meats

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have the most distinct flavor

Our Picks

  • Western Premium BBQ Hickory Wood Chips
  • Oklahoma Joe’s Hickory Wood Smoker Chips
  • Bear Mountain Premium BBQ Woods

2. Cherry

Cherry

If Hickory is known for its bold and balanced flavor, cherry is on the more subtle side of things. However, just because it’s subtle, doesn’t mean it’s a bad option. In fact, adding this to the smoker gives pork ribs a beautiful and slightly fruity aroma that instantly stands out.

With that said, cherry wood is still stronger than many other fruit woods available. It will impart a special sweetness to the meat while also giving it a beautiful dark color. If you want your ribs to stand out at the next BBQ, consider adding a couple of cherry chips to the mix.

Additionally, we really like using cherry wood for smoking ribs as it goes well with any sauce. So, you won’t even have to change your recipe if you’re using cherry for the first time. And if you’re struggling to find the right cherry wood for your smoker, we recommend trying out Oklahoma Joe’s Wood Cherry Chips, as they are affordable yet very high-quality.

Pros:

  • Bolder than most fruit woods
  • Gives a slightly sweet and fruity flavor
  • A great option to mix into the smoker
  • Different from the common smoking woods
  • Gives the meat a beautiful dark color

Cons:

  • One of the more expensive options

Our Picks

  • Okalahoma Joe’s Cherry Wood Smoker Chips
  • Bear Mountain Premium Hardwood Pellets
  • DiamondKind Smoker Wild Cherry Smoking Chunks

3. Oak

Oak

Oak is largely known as the smoking baseline for most pitmasters. This wood is known for its bold flavor and would be a welcome foundation to any smoker wood mix. So, even if you want the sweet notes of apple or cherry wood in your ribs, it wouldn’t hurt to lay some oak chips down first.

It’s hard to assign one particular flavor to oak aside from smokey. It’s a very classic flavor that is very recognizable. And for the classic oak taste and aroma in your ribs, we recommend using the Bear Mountain Premium FK18 BBQ Smoker Wood chips. These chips will surely give you the flavor you’re looking for!

Pros:

  • Classic smokey flavor
  • Great foundation and baseline for your smoker mix
  • Easy to find
  • Works great on its own as well
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have any particular and distinct flavor notes

Our Picks

  • Bear Mountain Premium BBQ Woods
  • Cameron’s Smoking Chips
  • Western Premium Oak Chips

4. Mesquite

Mesquite

Mesquite is a tricky wood. It has a very strong flavor that might overpower your meat. This is why some pitmasters don’t like it. But when used properly, mesquite provides your ribs with a complex flavor that will definitely impress anyone who tries it out.

Mesquite is hit or miss. There are some people who love it and some who don’t like the intensity. Either way, its unique flavor makes it one of the best smoking woods for ribs available. And if you want to try out Mesquite for yourself, we recommend this Fire & Flavor All Natural Wood Chips pack, as it will give you exactly what you need.

Remember that you may want to take it slow with Mesquite, as too much of it can easily overpower the dish.

Pros:

  • A bold and unique flavor
  • Very different from most smoking woods
  • Great for ribs with an intense flavor
  • Ideal for pitmasters who want something different

Cons:

  • Too much mesquite can easily overpower the dish

Our Picks

  • Fire & Flavor Premium All Natural Smoking Wood Chips
  • Bear Mountain Premium BBQ Woods
  • Weber Mesquite Wood Chunks

5. Maple

Maple

We end our list with maple, our most recommended type of wood for beginners. Maple wood is a very light and subtle wood that still gives off a slightly fruity flavor. And because of its lightness, you won’t have to worry about putting in too much wood.

WIth maple wood, you won’t get the same sweetness as from other fruity woods. However, you will get a classic smokey flavor that you can’t complain about. If it’s your first time lighting up the grill for ribs, we recommend the Camerons Smoking Wood Maple Chips, as they offer everything you would expect from maple wood.

Pros:

  • Light and subtle
  • Great for beginners
  • Easy to find
  • Lots of chips and pellets available
  • Comes with a unique history

Cons:

  • Doesn’t give off the strongest flavors

Our Picks

  •  Camerons Smoking Wood Maple Chips
  • Western BBQ Maple Barbecue Flavor Wood Cooking Chunks
  • Western Premium BBQ Products Maple BBQ Smoking Chips

What Size Wood Should I Use for Smoking Ribs?

Choosing the type of wood you should use for smoking ribs is just half the battle. Another thing you need to consider is the size of the wood. Typically, smoker woods are available as chips, pellets, logs, sawdust, and chunks.

In this section, we’ll be looking at the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Chips

If you have a propane or electric smoker, wood chips are a great option. They are thin and easy to light while still providing enough smoke for a great flavor. These are the most common options available and could be a cost-effective way to smoke ribs. With that said, the downside to chips is that you need a smoker box if you plan to use this with a gas grill.

Pellets

Pellets are condensed pieces of wood. These are the scraps from the milling process but pack a lot of smoke. Be careful when using pellets as they can be very intense, which is why they are best used with pellet grills. But if you have a smoker box, you can use wood pellets just like with wood chips.

Logs

Logs are great and can burn for a long time. However, you need a large smoker to use it. So, if you have an offset smoker and the gear to handle smoker logs, then these are a great option to give your ribs a bunch of flavor.

Sawdust

Sawdust isn’t the most common option for smoking as it can be tricky to get it to smoke without burning the dust. Ideally, you’d want to use this type of wood for electric smokers or handheld smokers. If you use these with more traditional grills, it might burn away too quickly.

Chunks

Chunks are considered the ideal middle ground for most people looking to smoke ribs. They aren’t as hard to light up as logs but they don’t burn as quickly as chips. To use wood chunks, you just have to arrange a bunch of them on top of the charcoal and wait for them to start smoking.

You may be able to use wood chunks on a gas grill, but the process is pretty difficult. On top of that, using wood chunks on a gas grill could void your warranty, which isn’t something you want to happen.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment!

Pine biomass and pellets

In this article, we chose to feature our favorite woods for smoking meat. We took all the primary factors into account such as how they burn, the flavor they impart, and how popular they are among pitmasters and foodies alike. With that said, don’t be afraid to develop your own blend of woods when smoking meat.

Certain wood smoke flavors are instantly recognizable. For example, people can easily distinguish Mesquite-smoked meat from Maple or Hickory-smoked meat. But on the other hand, there are woods that are a bit more subtle such as Apple, Peach, Cherry, and other fruitwoods.

While you can always choose to only use one type of wood to really highlight the flavors, there’s nothing wrong with mixing and matching. In fact, some of the world’s best pitmasters regularly blend different smoking woods when they load it into the grill, and some of them even keep their blend a tight secret that they don’t share with anyone.

The beauty of smoking meat isn’t just in the food you create, but it’s also in the actual smoking process. Everything from bringing the meat, rubbing the meat, loading the wood, and even buying the chips for the smoker is incredibly fun. So, whenever you light up the smoker, make sure to relish the process, and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on the recipe.

Trust us, once you find a blend of woods that matches your preferences, you’ll find it hard to go back to only using one type of wood for the smoker.

How Can I Tell Which Wood Is Good for Smoking Meat?

The thing about finding meat for smoking ribs is that everyone has their own tastes. The reason we couldn’t name one “best” wood for smoking ribs is that each person would like different flavors in their ribs.

For example, if you want that classic smokey flavor, you wouldn’t go wrong with woods such as Oak, Maple, or Hickory. These are our classic options for any pitmaster and are highly recommended for people who enjoy strong and bold flavors when smoking ribs.

However, if you prefer something a bit more subtle, fruity, and with a hint of sweetness, you can also try out fruitwoods. Some of the common fruitwoods that people use in their smokers include cherry, apple, and peach wood.

Regardless of the flavors you enjoy in your smoked ribs, one thing needs to remain constant: use hardwood for smoking. The reason for this is that softer woods generally won’t burn as long and don’t have that much smoke. So, while you might be able to get some flavor from softwoods, it won’t be nearly as much as what you can get with hardwood. Additionally, if you want to improve the smokiness of the wood (you might need to do so if you chose poor-quality wood chips), then we recommend soaking the wood in water before lighting it up. This allows the wood to develop much more smoke when you apply the heat, giving the meat a much stronger and more distinct flavor.

Conclusion

Smoking ribs is a fun task. While it may take a while and requires a lot of effort, all of it will be worth it once you get to taste the fruits of your effort. But if you want to have the best ribs possible, you need to choose the right wood for the smoker.

We made sure to feature various woods on this list. But remember, you shouldn’t be limited to just one wood. If you want a more complex flavor in your ribs, don’t hesitate to mix and match woods you believe would jive well together.

And once you do that, you’ll have a smoked ribs recipe that’s truly your own!

Norah

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