Ribs must be one of the tastiest things to throw into your smoker and are definitely something that anyone with a smoker in their yard should try at some point.
But if you want to make sure that they taste their absolute best then you need to give some thought to what flavor you are adding with the smoke. Of course, all smoke tastes good, but in this post, we will show you the best wood for smoking ribs that will knock your taste buds off.
There are more than 20 different varieties of wood that people often use to smoke ribs, In this post, we are going to look at the 8 which we think are the best types of wood for smoking ribs.
Some of the best wood for smoking ribs produces heavy smoke, whilst other top woods for smoking ribs make a lighter smoke. Keep reading to find out which woods are best for smoking ribs just the way you like them.
Why does smoke make meat taste better?
Here is something that might surprise you. We can’t taste smoke! It is true! There just isn’t a responder in the taste buds for smoke. So why do we love it so much? Well, that is because flavor and taste aren’t quite the same thing.
Flavor is made up of taste, smell, and physical stimulation (how it looks, the texture, etc). With smoke, it is mainly the smell that gets us going, even before you get close to the food it is the smell wafting around the yard that gets you salivating.
This is apparently because of some ancient part of the brain called the limbic system. This houses emotion and long-term memory and something is lodged in there from our cave-dwelling days when all food was cooked on the open fire and came nicely smoked.
You know I said that we cant taste smoke, well that is true, but there is a taste element to great smoked meat thanks to the Maillard reaction which happens when heat on a dry surface breaks down sugars and amino acids. This is what gives the crunchy browned exterior on perfectly cooked meats, this is what we know as ‘bark’ in the barbeque world.
So, that was the science bit. The important thing is that smoke makes our food taste great. Even if technically, we can’t even taste the smoke!!
But the choice of what wood to use when cooking your ribs makes a difference and in the rest of this post, we will take a more detailed look at the best woods for smoking ribs.
Best Wood for Ribs with a Heavy Smoke Flavor
If you like your beef or pork ribs really smoky then these are the types of wood you should be looking at for a really smoky flavor.
Hickory is one of the most popular smoking woods and is often used in used widely in Midwestern and Southern BBQ. Hickory is perfect if you want really juicy ribs that are full of flavor and easily fall off the bone.
Hickory gives a really bold flavor that is much stronger than wood from fruit trees although it is not quite as intense as oak or mesquite. Hickory has a definite hint of bacon to its flavor and has sweet and savory notes. It is my top wood for smoking prime rib and it will go really well with almost any BBQ sauce.
It is worth knowing that you shouldn’t go overboard with hickory, using too much can overpower the flavor of the meat and even lead to an unpleasant bitter taste. It is worth getting the amount right, or you can pair hickory with fruitwoods to reduce the intensity. Hickory mixed with cherry or apple works really well.
Top Pick – Western Hickory BBQ Smoking Chips
You get nice consistently sized chips which makes it much easier to judge how many wood chips you will need to use.
They are kiln dried so there is no moisture to worry about and they are made from all-natural timber.
They are the perfect choice for mouth-watering ribs!
Oak is a traditional and very popular choice for smoking ribs. It provides intense, bold flavors and deep rich colors. It is kind of a standard choice for smoking and it is hard to find any particular flavor notes, it just tastes smoky, and gives a soft woody flavor to the meat.
It is a good choice to use as a base if you want to experiment with mixing different woods to give you more complex flavors. Oak is popular with both beginners and more experienced smokers, it can burn for a long time and reach high temperatures if required. It is a very versatile fuel choice that works well for low and slow rib cooking.
Mesquite gives a really intense smoky flavor. This is the best wood for smoking pork ribs if you want them to taste like pure smoke. Mesquite imparts a strong earthy aroma to your ribs which will give them a delicious flavor.
At least, I think it is delicious. Mesquite can be a bit divisive with some people not too keen on the strong flavors, but those who love it tend to really love it.
Some people do wonder ‘is mesquite too strong for ribs?’ or ‘is mesquite ok for pork ribs’? This really comes down to personal choice so if you have friends coming around, and you are not sure what they like, it might be a good idea to act on the safe side and choose one of the other top woods for smoking ribs
Mesquite is an oily wood and you won’t need to use too much as it can reach very high temperatures. So go easy otherwise your smoker will get too hot and you will use too much wood and extend your cooking time. It is also possible to ruin your meat with mesquite, if you add too much you can turn your ribs acrid and inedible.
To prevent this, mesquite is often blended with a lighter flavor of wood so that you get the complex flavors but without it being too intense and overpowering.
Pecan wood gives off a similar flavor to hickory, but it is a bit milder which makes it a safe choice for most meats and one of the best woods for smoking beef ribs or pork ribs. The flavor is strong and sweet but with a kind of nuttiness to it. Pecan is often used for Southern-style ribs, be sure that you don’t overdo it as you could end up with overly sweet ribs.
Pecan is a great choice to mix with hickory as this gives a great balance between the earthy smoke flavor of the hickory and the rich sweet pecan flavor.
Top Pick – Western Pecan BBQ Smoking Chips
They give a fairly mild flavor which makes them a good wood for smoking ribs and pretty much any other cut of meat.
They make a good all-rounder and you will have no problem using up any leftover wood chips.
Best Wood for Smoking Ribs with a Subtle Smoky Flavor
In this section, we will look at the types of wood that will give your ribs more of a subtly smokiness rather than the sense that you are eating an actual lump of smoke (exaggeration but you get the idea!).
A simple tip to remember is that wood from fruit trees will generally give off a fairly mild and slightly sweet flavor. Peach is no exception as that is exactly what you get. Peach wood chips are known for their distinctive fruity sweetness but the flavor is relatively mild. It goes well with pork ribs especially but isn’t a very commonly used wood in much of the country.
Peach is the state fruit of Georgia making this a popular choice of wood for Southern barbeque. Peachwood works well when you combine it with wood that has a more assertive smoke flavor, it is really good mixed with hickory.
Maple wood doesn’t impart a fruity flavor but it does give a fairly sweet flavor (as pancake lovers might have guessed!). This sweetness goes perfectly with ribs which tend to be cooked in sweet bbq sauces.
Maple is one of the most subtle smoking woods and is great for a sweet, light, mild smokiness.
Top Pick – Camerons Kiln Dried Maple Wood Chips
This kiln-dried wood is made with 100% natural raw wood with no added chemicals.
You so get pure organic wood that is perfect for smoker boxes, charcoal grills, and smokers.
It is easy to light and burns evenly to give you a steady, smoky flavor.
As you have probably guessed, apple wood is ideally suited to anyone who likes a sweet note to their wood. It is sweet and fruity and goes perfectly with ribs, especially if you like to glaze them with bbq sauce.
Applewood has a very subtle and mellow flavor that can take a while to permeate into the meat and give it flavor. To make sure that the flavor imparts into your meat you should cook extra low and slow. This will mean that you need to allow for a bit more time to get your ribs ready.
It also probably makes it a slightly more advanced wood and maybe not the best choice for beginners smoking their first ribs.
Cherry wood is one of the most popular woods for ribs that taste amazing. It has a rich flavor with a mild sweetness and a little bit of tartness (anyone else started thinking about cherry tarts? mmmmm!). They also help your food look incredible by adding color, especially with ribs, which will go a lovely red mahogany color.
Cherry wood goes perfectly with most sauces and can be mixed with hickory, the two kinds of wood go together like peas and carrots.
Top Pick: Oklahoma Joe’s Cherry Smoking Chips
This all-natural bag of wood chips will give you the chance to try out a unique flavor with your ribs and I think that they are some of the best wood chips for smoking ribs. The bag is quite small so it’s perfect for taste testing.
Best Wood for Ribs FAQ
Can you mix different woods when smoking ribs?
You can mix different varieties of woods when you are smoking and it is often done by keen pitmasters. By combining different woods you can create some awesome blended flavors, just think of the wood like any other ingredient and have fun experimenting with different combinations.
Some classic combos are made by blending fruit woods with the more intense smoky woods. So you might like to try cherry with hickory or apple and mesquite.
Of course, once you have thought of your combination your next decision will be how much of each, and this will depend on how smoky you like your meat.
If in doubt, most woods can be safely mixed with oak to give a great flavor.
What size of wood should I use for smoking ribs?
Smokers use wood chips, wood pellets, wood chunks or wood logs to provide the all-important smoke. The size of wood that you use will largely be determined by the type of smoker that you are using.
These are small, thin pieces of real hardwood that are easy to light and provide good smoke. They are generally used in electric smokers, charcoal smokers, and propane gas smokers which have a tray for them
Wood pellets are made from sawdust compressed into small pellet shapes. They are generally used with pellets smokers like those made by Traeger or ZGrills. You must ensure that the pellets you buy are compatible with your smoker as they could get stuck in the hopper. The best wood pellets for ribs will come in all the different flavors mentioned in this post.
Large offset smokers and old-school smoker pits can use wood logs. Which are just normal wood logs am sure you can imagine what they look like.
Wood chunks are like logs but smaller. Logs that have been cut into chunks if you will. They are great if you have a smaller offset smoker, barrel smoker or kamado cooker. You just chuck some chunks on top of the charcoal and boom you are away. Hopefully, there is no actual boom but you get the idea!
Is hickory or mesquite better for ribs?
Whether hickory or mesquite is better for ribs comes down to personal preference. If you like a really earthy smoky flavor then go for mesquite. Hickory still gives a really intense smoky flavor but it is milder than mesquite.
Is apple wood good for smoking ribs?
Applewood is a great wood for smoking ribs. The sweetness of the wood complements the sweet rubs that tend to be used when cooking ribs. If you are using applewood you will need to cook extra low and slow for the best flavors.
What are the best wood chips for ribs?
The best wood chips for ribs will vary depending on how smoky you like your pork ribs or beef ribs to be. If you are looking for the best brand of wood chips then I like to use wood chips made by Western, Oklahoma Joe’s, Weber, and Cameron.
Is mesquite too strong for ribs?
Some people find that mesquite is too strong for ribs. Other people love it! and I mean really love it! It is all down to personal choice, but if you are cooking for guests and don’t know how they like their meat, I would suggest that you steer clear of mesquite (or mix is with a milder wood), as some people really don’t like it.
Is mesquite OK for pork ribs?
Mesquite is fine to use with pork ribs. It will give a really deep smoky flavor. If you like that then go ahead and use Mesquite. If you aren’t sure then it might be best to try something like hickory.
The Best Wood for Smoking Ribs – The Bottom Line
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about the best types of wood for smoking ribs. I have tried to describe the different flavor notes that you will get when using different woods.
This should give you a good idea of which type of wood you would like to use when smoking ribs, but the best thing to do is experiment with different flavors until you find the one that you like best. This mix pack is the perfect way to get started:
As ever with Western you can expect to get good quality and consistent wood chips.
There is a good selection here that will allow you to try out some different wood and also experiment with mixing different types of wood.
If you buy in bulk you can get a good discount