Choosing the type of wood to use when smoking ribs is simple but there have to be some considerations in terms of the flavor that would be added to the ribs.
There are a lot of woods that can be used for smoking ribs and the great thing about these types of wood is that they present different smoke flavors.
Some people prefer a little bit of sweetness to either spare ribs or pork ribs while others prefer a more robust smoke flavor on the food to give it the real BBQ flavor.
A great balance between the robust flavor and mild sweetness is great for both beef and pork ribs. The great thing about woods is that they can add both of these flavors.
While some types of wood accentuate the smoke flavor more, they can be mixed with other types of wood to dial down the robustness of the smoke.
So this list of woods for smoking meat contains both woods that can give a smoky flavor and sweetness to the ribs along with other flavors that will surely make ribs, briskets, and other cuts exciting!
Best Woods For Smoking Ribs
Hickory is a slightly robust type of wood that gives a bold smoky flavor to the food while also being mild enough compared to other types of wood.
It has a hearty flavor that accentuates the smoke and perfectly compliments sweet glazes. That means that hickory is perfect to pair with BBQ sauces as well.
While hickory is on top of most lists of wood for smoking ribs, it can overpower short ribs or spare ribs because ribs do not usually have too much wood so using hickory needs to be done in moderation.
Oak is also a bold and robust type of wood that gives off a slightly earthy flavor. The flavor is not quite comparable to any as it literally just tastes like BBQ smoke.
The advantage here, since oak does not add too many flavors aside from the smoky flavor, is that the oak is able to accentuate the flavors of the rub or marinade on the ribs.
Oak also needs to be used sparingly as the robust smoke flavor that comes out of it can easily overpower cuts of meat like brisket and short ribs.
Mesquite is strong and earthy so it is best to use it sparingly as well. The flavor it releases can be great for ribs that have a lot of glaze or sauce over them.
The strong flavor of mesquite is perfect for short ribs and spare ribs as it adds the earthy flavor that some types of wood lack.
When used with the right amount, it can easily make the perfect ribs but when used for too long or in large quantities, it also risks overpowering the flavor of the ribs.
4. Pecan Wood
One unique flavor that pecan offers to ribs, whether it is pork or beef is the nutty flavor. While pecan is robust, it is also sweet so it is perfect for both smoking and grilling.
I also love combining pecan with hickory as the hickory adds the bolder smoke flavor while the pecan dials it down with the sweetness and nuttiness from its smoke.
With the combination of sweetness and nuttiness, there also comes the earthy flavor that provides a delicious neutralizer if the glaze or barbecue sauce is too sweet.
Apple gives a really straightforward flavor of sweetness and is a perfect pairing for pork spare ribs. Applewood also combines really well with barbecue sauce.
The light flavor of applewood is good but it can take longer to penetrate the meat. That is why it is not good for grilling if you want the flavor to seep through the meat.
It is best if apple is used when smoking meat, as the longer the cooking process, the more flavors will get into the meat.
Cherry also gives a sweet and fruity flavor just like applewood. It matches any type of sauce as well so your barbecue sauce or glaze will drip with smokiness and sweetness.
Since cherry has a mild sweet flavor, it can be combined with hickory to add a more robust smoke flavor to the food.
One unique thing about cherry is how it adds absolutely gorgeous color to the meat. The ribs, whether it is pork or beef, will have this deep red color that is so pleasing and appetizing to look at.
Maple has a sweet flavor that is perfect for smoking ribs. It is not strong so even if it is used in large quantities, it will hardly overpower the flavor of the ribs.
It does not have the fruity flavor like applewood and cherry but the sweetness it brings perfectly complements barbecue sauces and rubs.
What BBQ Experts Use To Smoke Ribs
Johnny Trigg uses a combination of wood. Pecan and cherry are the most common combination he uses to bring in a cloud of smoke with complex and beautiful flavors.
The combination of hardwood from the pecan and cherry as the fruitwood is perfect for bringing in a bold smoke flavor while dialing it down with the sweetness of the cherry smoke.
Not only is the flavor layered but the combination of cherry and pecan gives the meat a color that is quite irresistible.
Post Oak is the preferred type of wood for Aaron Franklin when it comes to smoking meat. He also often mixes it with FOGO, a special type of charcoal made from blended Inga wood.
The result of this combination is a slow smoke that really penetrates the meat being cooked. That is why for Franklin’s recipe, he uses spare ribs because of the higher fat content.
There is a tendency that the Post Oak might overpower the flavor of the meat so it needs to be used in smaller quantities.
Melissa Cookstone prefers mild types of wood and for ribs, she uses a combination of applewood and cherry. This means that the mean has a sweet and fruity flavor when finished.
There is also a unique technique that Melissa uses wherein she uses Kingsford Professional charcoal to produce heat and allows the applewood to create smoke for the ribs.
Along with apple and cherry, Melissa also uses peach sometimes for ribs.
Should I Soak My Wood Chips Before Smoking Ribs?
It is not necessary to soak wood chips before smoking any cut of meat but soaking the wood chips in water can help delay the burnout.
The water inside the wood chips after soaking will need to evaporate first so it slows down the burning out of the wood chips.
Some of the water can also absorb the flavor of the wood so it releases better when smoking.
Soaking needs to be done for at least 30 minutes before using the wood chips for smoking. Drain the water so it does not extinguish the fire and the wood chips are ready for smoking.
Wood chunks do not need to be soaked as well as other options like wood pellets.
Wood Chips, Pellets, Or Chunks – Better Option
Chips are great for creating smoke as they burn easily. While the lifespan is not that long, they can still provide deep smoky flavors for the ribs.
Wood chips are used usually on electric smokers and charcoal grills. They can also be good for gas grills where they are placed in foil to allow to smoke.
Wood pellets are better when it comes to smoking using gas grills. Pellets can be placed in smoker boxes and allow them to create smoke while cooking on a gas grill.
They can also be placed over burning charcoal but there is a risk that they might light up. Because pellets are compressed, they can still produce smoke flavors like regular wood.
Wood chunks are slightly larger than wood chips but are smaller than logs. They are perfect for small offset, barrel, or drum smokers but wood chunks can also be used on grills.
Letting them sit over the burning charcoal will also help them release smoke faster.
So Which Is The Best Option?
Personally, I prefer using wood chips when smoking ribs because they are easier to handle. They can produce thick clouds of smoke and introduce flavors efficiently.
Wood chips can also be easily combined with each other and produce unique flavors with either robust smoke or sweetness.
Best Wood For Pork Ribs
Hickory and maple are the best types of wood for smoking pork ribs. Pork ribs do not release a lot of flavors compared to beef so the strong flavor of the smoke will accentuate that.
There is a chance that using too many hickory wood chips might overpower the pork ribs with the smoke flavor but this can be avoided by using smaller quantities or mixing the hickory with fruitwoods.
Best Wood For Smoking Baby Back Ribs
Pecan is the best choice when smoking baby back ribs as the bold smoke flavor of the wood perfectly complements the rich and fatty flavor of baby back ribs.
Going with milder types of wood like cherry is also great with baby back ribs to add a little bit of sweetness.
When I use a sweet glaze over the baby back ribs, I prefer using a stronger type of wood so pecan is the perfect option for such.
Best Wood For Competition Ribs
Cherry is a great choice for competition ribs because it adds a sweet flavor to the ribs. It can also add a little bit of deep mahogany color to the meat which is really eye-catching.
When ribs are smoked with cherry and are sliced after smoking, the smoke ring has a beautiful color that is quite hard to attain with wood chips other than cherry.
Best Wood To Smoke Beef Ribs
Hickory is a great choice for smoking beef ribs. Beef ribs can be tough and are full of flavor so hickory will not overpower the flavors easily, instead, it will impart a bold smoky flavor.
When done right, the hickory wood chips or chunks can also add a beautiful bark to the beef ribs and create a smoke ring that perfectly blends with the pinkish interior of the meat.
Time And Temp For Smoking Ribs
The temperature used for smoking ribs is usually between 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, some cuts of ribs can finish cooking within 2 hours.
The internal temperature of the ribs should be around 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit when using a meat probe.
The amount of time needed for smoking ribs will also depend on the thickness of the meat. The thicker the meat, the longer it might need to be cooked.
Since ribs are not that thick, they can even begin to show signs of being cooked at 2 hours as the collagen starts to break down.
Having the right type of wood is also important as a bad type of wood can ruin the flavor even with the right temp and timing. There are some clues as to which the right type of wood is.
What To Look For In The Best Wood For Smoking Ribs?
The two most important factors to look for when it comes to smoking woods are the flavor and the amount of time the wood takes to be burnt out.
How Fast The Wood Burns
Hardwoods are the best option when it comes to smoking for a long time because they burn for so long which is great for cuts of meat like brisket.
They also burn hotter than fruitwoods so they are perfect for tougher cuts like beef ribs. Hickory, pecan, and oak are the top picks for smoking ribs for a longer amount of time.
Different types of wood introduce different types of flavors. For ribs, the perfect flavor is a combination of sweetness and a robustly smoky flavor.
Apple and cherry can both give sweetness to the ribs while pecan and hickory are great for adding a bold smoky flavor.
Combining apple and hickory is a great way to produce both flavors and make sure that the ribs get a nice taste that blends well with the meat and the sauce being used.
Can You Combine Two Of The Above Woods To Smoke Ribs?
Yes, you can use two types of wood at the same time when smoking. This is to be able to produce a more complex flavor that will seep into the meat.
Hardwood can provide a robust flavor but if it overpowers a more delicate cut of meat like poultry, fish, or pork ribs, it is best to combine it with fruitwoods.
Hickory and mesquite are often combined with cherry and apple to produce a perfect balance of bold smoky flavors and sweetness to the smoke.
Using hardwood sparingly will accentuate the sweetness of the fruitwood and vice versa. So having the right amount of wood in the smoker is also essential.
How Much Wood To Use When Smoking Ribs?
A handful of wood chips or 3-4 chunks is enough for short smoking sessions like smoking ribs. Starting with a smaller amount is better than adding too much wood to the smoker at the start of the process.
A light smoke flavor is still great for ribs but too much smoke can make the meat taste bitter. That is especially true when using hardwoods like hickory, pecan, and oak.
Milder types of wood are great for poultry, pork, and fish so using them sparingly will give better results.
Grilling or smoking ribs is not hard but it is also not simple. The wood used for smoking should be right to give it a beautiful flavor.
It is also crucial to use the right amount so that the flavor of the ribs will not be overpowered by the smoke flavor.
The woods listed above are perfect for either pork or beef ribs so get your smoker ready and cook the best ribs for the next barbecue in your backyard!
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