Brisket is a cut of meat that matches perfectly with smoked aromas and flavors. Its soft and tender textures makes it perfect for absorbing moisture and smoke, so it’s important to pick the right wood to smoke with it. With a lot of varieties of wood out there, how should you know what to choose?
Here are my top 7 picks for the best wood for smoking brisket.
New to smoking meat? Check out my guide to the best meats for smoking.
Brisket famously isn’t the easiest cut of meat to smoke. Because it comes from the cow’s pectorals, one of the most muscle-packed areas on the cow’s body, it can be tough to grill or smoke. It requires a good amount of marinade, and then to be cooked for as low and slow as possible so that the meat’s fat and collagen can start to break down. All of this while ensuring that the meat doesn’t dry out. It’s a lot to bear in mind, and you need to know what you’re doing
And then there’s the flavor. Wood type can heavily impact flavor, so you can’t just throw whatever you happen to have lying around at it. Thankfully, brisket is such a tough meat that it can withstand the strongest of smoke flavors without having the meat’s natural taste completely overpowered.
What wood size to choose
Before deciding on flavor, I think it’s also important to take size into consideraton. In general, there are three different sizes of wood to choose from.
- Logs. Sometimes intimidating in size, but perfect if you’re using an offset smoker due to the large amount of smoke they emit. The downside is they can be difficult to ignite and keep lit, but fantastic with the right smoker.
- Chips. My go-to if using a charcoal grill or electric smoker. Sometimes called wood shaving or scraps, these are very small. As a result they do burn out very quickly, so only really suitable with smaller cuts of brisket.
- Chunks. These can also take a while to ignite, but they do burn for a very long time. These are the perfect choice if needing to smoke for long period of times.
This is one of the most commonly used types of wood out there for smoking, particularly for brisket. It’s one of the staples of Texan smoking, and for good reason. It’s a pungent wood that packs in a very intense flavor.
One of the flaws in mesquite is that it does tend to burn through quite quickly, so you’ll need to use a good amount if you’re cooking a particularly large cut of brisket.
If you’re unsure about pairing an intense wood like mesquite with brisket, then what I’d recommend is mixing it with a softer wood. For example, you can dilute it by mixing it with apple wood to give it a softer edge without compromising too much on overall flavor.
Hickory remains one of the world’s most popular types of wood for smoking and barbecue, mainly due to its beautiful nutty flavor. It’s available almost everywhere, so in the case of brisket it makes for an excellent fallback option if you can’t find anything else. That said, it’s still an excellent choice.
It has an oak-like flavor that is not as strong as mesquite. Despite this, if you use too much of it then you do still run the risk of letting it overpower your meat with a very define bitter taste.
In order to ensure that you don’t go too far with it, try to tone it down by using slightly less of it, or even by diluting it with some applewood.
Another very popular wood choice, partly owing it to it being one of the easiest types of wood to smoke with. One of the reasons for this is its long potential burning time, meaning that you don’t need to tend to it as much as you would for other types of wood. Not only this, but its flavor profile is far more subtle than that of hickory or mesquite, so you can match with it other types of wood to produce a more fully rounded taste.
Definitely not for everyone, but pecan produces a beautifully sweet and rich flavor that, in my opinion, works brilliantly with BBQ brisket.
If you want to dial down its sweet aromas a bit, then you can temper it with some oak to even it out.
Maple is another great wood for newbie smokers. It’s a mild wood that imparts a light smoky and sweet taste on brisket without ever overwhelming it with its aromas.
What I particularly like about maple is that not only does it go really well with brisket, but also other types of meat. I’ve used it to great effect with poultry and pork.
I’ve mentioned apple wood a couple of times already on this list, but I also wanted to mention it in its own right as well.
It’ll come as no surprise that it has a lovely fruity and sweet flavor, but it’s also a great diluter for use with other woods to try and even out any strong flavors. It goes beautifully with brisket, but also turkey, ham and chicken.
Olive wood isn’t always the first to come to mind for people choosing wood for smoking, but I think it deserves to be mentioned. It’s a far more mild alternative to mesquite, in that it features a fairly similar flavor profile but just isn’t anywhere near as overpowering.
As well as brisket, it goes beautifully with poultry and even, if you’re feeling brave, fish.