Cooking with smoking woods is the best way to make your barbecue ribs tender and smokey every time. From mesquite to cherry, and hickory to pecan, here are the best types of wood to use to use on your BBQ ribs.
Smoked ribs is one of the best cuts of meat that you can cook outdoors. The combination of its fall-off-the-bone texture and incredible taste represents everything great about outdoor BBQ cooking.
At a Glance: The Best Woods for Smoking Ribs
- Hickory: strong and rich aromas that exudes a bacon-like flavor that makes it perfect for smoked pork cuts
- Oak: an earthy aroma that adds a light and beautiful layer of smoke flavor
- Mesquite: strong and spicy notes make this a gold standard wood that’s popular with BBQ experts worldwide
- Apple: sweet and very mild notes that combine well to produce the ultimate fruit wood for barbecue
- Pecan: a mild and nutty flavor that can be blended well with hickory
- Cherry: perfect for adding a beautiful deep red color to pork ribs
- Maple: perfect for a sweet and subtle layer of smoke
The types of wood chunks that are best for pork ribs are traditional woods like hickory, oak and mesquite. However pork also matches really well with chips that are sweet and fruity in flavor, like apple, pecan, cherry and maple.
BBQ smoking involves a lot of steps, and so many variables that you can change to tweak your smoked meat to your liking. With this though some plenty of opportunity for error, particularly when it comes to choosing the right wood to use.
Get it right, and you’ll be able to pair some wonderfully beautiful flavors with your meat. Get it wrong though and you could end up with some really bizarre flavor profiles, and ruin the texture of your meat.
Here’s my guide to the 7 best types of wood for smoking ribs.
Hickory often makes its way onto any list of the best smoking woods, but it’s such a rich and dependable wood to use that it undoubtedly deserve its place as the best wood for smoking ribs.
It’s particularly popular in the South and Midwest of the USA, and chances are that if you’ve had any smoked BBQ from these regions then you will have had something cooked over hickory smoke.
It has an unmistakably hearty, sweet and even slightly bacon-like flavor.
It’s a heavy wood that can generate a lot of smoke, so you need to be careful when using it. Unlike smoked brisket, ribs don’t offer an awful lot of meat, so it’s important that we don’t overexpose it to too much smoke otherwise all of the meat’s natural flavors will be overpowered.
Beyond its smoky flavors, it has a real hearty feel to it that also offers some sweet notes. This makes it a particularly good option if you are also using some sort of BBQ sauce to glaze the ribs, as it’ll complement it perfectly.
Just be careful not to use too much hickory. It’s a wood that is easy to overpower the natural flavors of meat with, and can even lead to quite a bitter taste. As a result, you might find that it’s a good idea to mix it with another wood, in order to temper its flavors.
Along with hickory, oak has long remained one of the go-to woods for good BBQ smoking. It also generates quite a smoke, but does so with an earthy tone that adds a beautiful layer of smoke flavor if done lightly.
This makes it a great choice of wood for beginners, because it has a strong smoke flavor that is quite easy to control.
The problem is that when a cook goes overboard with the wood, it can really overpower and overwhelm the flavors of the ribs. It’d be a shame to go through hours of smoking and prep, only to ruin it by chucking in one too many piles of oak, so tread lightly.
Mesquite packs in a flavor that is simply perfect for ribs. It’s very strong and earthy, and can actually be quite intense, so definitely best to use in smaller quantities. It’s also relatively prone to burning up because of its natural oil content.
This is a favorite of people who prefer a sweet note to their wood, which goes superbly with ribs, especially if you’ve used BBQ sauce as a glaze.
It has a slightly more subtle and mellow flavor, particularly in comparison to mesquite.
One key consideration though is that because it’s so subtle, apple wood can actually take a while to permeate through the meat and infuse it with flavor. This can mean that it can slow down the cooking time for your meat as you will have to cook at a slightly lower temperature. As a result, I see apple as more of an advanced wood to use.
Much like apple, pecan is a very sweet-tasting wood. But where it differs is that it’s far richer in flavor, and also offers notes of nut underneath all of that sweetness.
If you’re looking for a wood to match and blend in with hickory, then I think is a fantastic option to go for as it’ll create a really good balance between earthy smoke, and a rich, sweet flavor.
Cherry is mild and fruity, and when mixed with other hardwood like hickory, the two flavors compliment each other well for an amazing result.
As well as added flavor, cherry can also help to color your meat. In the case of ribs this is fantastic, as it adds a really beautiful red and mahogany layer to it.
One of the most subtle smoking wood, maple is great for a sweet, light, mild smokiness.
Just like you’d assume with maple syrup, maple wood matches beautifully with ribs as it creates a really lovely sweet and lightly smoked flavor. If you like sweetness then this is a great option because it isn’t quite as rich as the other sweet woods.