Need something to take your BBQ smoked ribs to the next level? Smoking woods are a great way to take your meat rack from dull slabs to melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Here are 7 of the best woods for smoking 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 woods pellets for smoking, 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.
What wood shouldn’t I use when smoking ribs?
As you can tell from the list above, a lot of the woods that go well with ribs are sweet in flavor, and also offer a subtle layer of smoke. These are all hardwoods. In contrast, what you really need to avoid is any kind of softwood, because these are resinous and can really harm your meat, even ruin it. These include woods like pine and cedar.
Also be sure to not to use any kind of briquette, as these tend to be cheap, and are not designed for smoking at all.
How long should I smoke ribs for?
Compared to other types of meat, ribs are pretty quick to cook in a smoker. If you smoke them at 225°F, they should only take about 2 hours.
This should be long enough for the collagen in the ribs to break down and render, making your ribs beautifully delicious.
Should I wrap my ribs in foil?
Wrapping ribs in aluminum foil helps rib retain their moisture as they cook, and helps protect them from drying out in your smoker.
You can also use foil to help infuse your ribs with added flavor. Add a little bit of beer or apple juice to the inside of the foil, and the vapour created will create an extra layer of taste.
Wrap the ribs and your chosen liquid in foil, and leave enough room for the meat to breathe. Seal tightly to stop moisture leaking from the wrap.
Should I soak my wood chips before smoking ribs?
There’s plenty of debate around wood chip soaking, but personally I always try to make time to soak mine. The science suggests that the water content will help release the flavor in the chips better when smoking, as well as help them burn for longer.
Try to soak your chips for 30 minutes. Wipe away any excess liquid and then transfer to your smoker box or pouch for smoking.