7 Best Woods for Smoking Ribs [Hickory, Mesquite, Pecan]


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.

Glazed Smoked Baby Back 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.

bbq ribs covered in homemade barbecue sauce


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.

Our Pick: Oklahoma Joe’s Hickory Wood Chips

This hickory wood has an admirable burn time, and is created with no additives, giving you a long, clean run rate of smoke. These chips will infuse your ribs with a strong, sweet flavor that isn’t a million miles away from the taste of bacon.

oklahoma joe hickory


oak smoking wood chunks

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 oak smoking wood 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.

Our Pick: Camerons Oak Wood Chips

To get the most out of these chips, you’ll need to soak them for about 20-30 minutes prior to smoking, before transferring them to your hot coals. Also available in a range of flavors like alder, apple and cherry. But for me their classic oak blend is their best.

camerons oak chunks for smoking


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.

Our Pick: Western Premium BBQ Products

These large wood chunks are great for charcoal, gas and electric grills, as well as BBQ smokers. Heat treated to prevent any contact with pests, these wood chips bellow out beautiful, heavy mesquite flavored smoke.

Western Premium BBQ Products


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.

Our Pick: Weber Wood Apple Chips

Anything by Weber always catches my eye is always worth trying. Thankfully these apple chips don’t disappoint. This generously sized bag should last close to half a year if you use a gas grill smoker box, or at least a few months if you use it for regular smoking.

weber apple


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.

Our Pick: Weber Wood Pecan Chips

These wood chunks are great with pork, but are also brilliant with steak. They add a beautiful smokey layer to your meat without overpowering it. These are particularly great if you have a gas grill and want to add more flavor.

weber smoking pecan


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.

Our Pick: Traeger Cherry Wood Chips

These cherry infused chips provide clean burning wood infused with a beautifully rich cherry flavor. Made from 100% natural hardwood, without any artificial additives or binding agents. This stuff is the real deal.

traeger cherry wood


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.

Our Pick: Camerons Smoking Maple Wood Chips

Works great with smoker boxes, charcoal grills, and smokers. Made with 100% natural raw wood, and kiln dried. No added chemicals, so what you’re getting is pure organic wood. This stuff is easy to light, and burns at an even pace to give you a steady, smoky flavor.

camerons smoking maple wood


About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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