Which wood is best for smoking ribs?

Would you love to spend a day getting to eat your favourite meals all the time? Talking of favourite meals, ribs are one of the most delicious and flavourful food options for many people. But the preparation of this cut might be tricky!

Listen, one of the most important parts in preparing smoked ribs is what we use to create smoke. Read through and we will take a look at the options we have to see which wood is the best for smoking ribs.

In a nutshell, the main wood types used for smoking ribs are: hickory, pecan, maple, oak, apple, cherry and mesquite.

While ribs can have a basic “ribs” taste, we can easily bring a twist on that. Cooking it with different types of wood, can influence the taste drastically! Using claimed “the best wood” makes ribs juicier, tender and smoky every time it is prepared. Different type of woods can bring different flavours to your plate, so to make sure what you really want to get from your ribs, I have made a list of different types of woods and how they influence ribs taste.

[su_quote]…most important part in preparing smoked ribs is what we use to create smoke…[/su_quote]

Thus, it might become confusing and difficult  to choose the best wood, as there are plenty of wood types available in the market. Honestly, I always preferred to smoke ribs with wood rather than pellets.  The wood smoke gives a deep and smooth taste to the meat, unlike pellets being quite punchy.


Honestly, I smoke fish, veal, chicken, pork, beef, cheese and so on. I would say the best results depend on the type of meat and the piece of cut you are trying to smoke. Whenever I am out of ribs, my number 2 is to smoke brisket. If you are planning on smoking a brisket, I have written an article about the best wood for smoking delicious brisket.

In addition, I must mention that how we smoke the meat greatly impacts the texture of the meat – which obviously has impact on the flavour.  The technique of low and slow smoking greatly impacts the texture of the meat as it is observed to impart more flavours to the meat and adds a smoky aroma that makes the ribs immensely delicious.

Wood types for smoking ribs

There are couple of different types of the material we can use to produce the smoke. Although wood pellets, smoking chips, and smoking chunks are responsible for releasing flavourful smoke, there is a quite a difference in the amount of smoke they produce. Lets dive deeper into differences of each type:

Wood chips

Wood chips, also called smoking chips, are small and thin pieces of wood that are easily available on the market. They are generated from hardwood trees such as oak, hickory, and cherry. 

It works best in smoke boxes, gas grills, smokers, and charcoal grills. However, I prefer them because of their small size, which is perfect for smoking ribs.

Additionally, many chefs use the wood tray to hold the wood, and therefore, manufacturers widely suggest using wood chips as they are smaller in size and wood chunks are much larger for the wood trays.

Many people note that chips tend to burn at a faster rate and do not overcook the meat, and provide perfect delicious ribs that are ready to eat.

Little trick I have learned along the way is to soak the wood! I have to admit that with the help of soaking wood, the smoke becomes more intense and more ventilation is needed for the meat being smoked, otherwise the product can be become sourly-bitter due to huge amount of smoke.

Wood chunks

Bigger pieces of wood, also known as wood chunks, are commonly called smoking chunks. Wood chunks also originated from the same hardwood trees and created a taste for the meat.  

The ultimate aim of a wood chunk is to facilitate long cooking periods as chunks burn and char slower, releasing smoke for longer periods. 

It is usually preferred for large meat smoking as we don’t need to change the wood trays more often. Wood chunks can release smoke for long hours and perfectly smoke big pieces of meat. 


Almost all wood pallets are made from hardwood that has been dried, ground into dust, and pressed into a pellet shape.  Due to wood being ground to the dust, it release a lot of smoke, therefore the smoke becomes very intense and punchy, which I prefer especially for large cuts, i.e. a whole leg, brisket or a whole hog!

To use wood pallets effectively, it is mandatory to own a pellet grill. Wood pellets are the exclusive source of smoke for pellet grills.

Wood impact on flavour to the ribs

While smoking ribs, the meat is exposed to flavourful smoke, which influences the flavour of the ribs. Charcoal contains a great amount of carbon which releases less smoke when burned. To avoid such a situation, we should always add wood in order to add “flavour zone” to the grill or smoker. 

Soaking the wood pieces will prolong the duration of the material burning out, but be careful – the smoke become more intense, therefore a better ventilation is needed…

There are numerous kinds of trees, and each of them has its characteristics that are different from the others. Therefore, it is clear that different kinds of wood add different flavour to the smoked ribs. It is important to choose the right wood that will turn the meat into the perfect flavour to eat.

Some woods provide a bitter flavour to the cooked meat, whereas some provide a sweet and delicious flavour that enriches the meat with the right flavour. Woods that provide a bitter taste should be avoided.

Complete list of the best woods for smoking ribs

Different types of wood bring out different flavour in the smoke, and we prefer the flavour according to our choice and preference. However, the following suggestion of the best wood for smoking ribs is based on the personal experience of the majority of people. Lets dive in to each wood and see what characteristics it poses:


Hickory is one of the finest woods used to smoke ribs by many chefs and regular people. It is specifically famous in the regions of the south and Midwest of the USA. The majority of the people who smoked BBQ in these regions say it was cooked over hickory smoke.

The flavour of the ribs cooked over hickory smoke has a hearty and sweet flavour. Moreover, it produces a huge amount of smoke. Therefore it should be carefully used as exposing a lot of heat would spoil the natural flavour of the meat. If we are using some BBQ sauce, then the smoky flavour provides a sweet flavour to the ribs and helps to create perfect smoked ribs with amazing flavours.


Oak is another type of wood that generates perfect, flavourful smoke for the BBQ. IT definitely produce a lot of smoke and, in term of amount, it can be compared to hickory.

Smoking with oak wood is recommended for beginners as it has a strong smoke flavour that is really easily controllable. Moreover, it adds an admirable smoke flavour if perfectly done.


Mesquite has a dark and earthy smoke which really fits the perfect ribs.  It should be used in smaller quantities as the smoke is quite strong, intense, and earthy.

However, the wood is very capable of burning up at a faster rate because of its natural oil content. I recommend to soak the chips/chunks in water first, in order to slow down the burning process.


Applewood is the top preference for people who desire a sweet flavour to the meat. It works really good with the ribs, especially if we use BBQ sauce with it.

Applewood is one of the woods that can take some time to mix its flavours with the meat rightly, so be ready to smoke for longer periods of time – use thicker cuts of meat.


It is similar to apple wood, which means it is also a sweet-tasting wood, but much richer in taste than that.

Pecan can be the wood that mixes and blends well with the hickory wood, creating a whole new and different flavor of smoke, a rich sweet flavor.


Cherry is a wood that is fruity in taste and mixes well with hardwoods such as hickory. The two flavors combine and produce well with each other to provide an amazing result.

It is used as a coloring agent and, along with its mesmerizing flavor, also helps to provide color to the meat. Cherry woods provide an attractive red layer to the ribs.


Maplewood smoke produces a light, sweet and mild smokiness. Definitely a good wood to mix with others – it blends and enhances and supports other types of wood characteristics. 

If we prefer sweetness then such woods should be considered as a priority. Maple could be used to smoke pork, poultry, lamb and even veggies if we’d like.


Which wood I shouldn’t use to smoke ribs with?

All the woods in the category of softwoods should be neglected while smoking ribs, because they can completely destroy and spoil the meat.  Softwoods include: pines, larch, spruce, linden and etc.

Considering the best woods for smoking brisket you should avoid woods, such as pine and cedar. As well, remember to never use any briquette for smoking, as they are usually made from softwood.

For obvious reasons, we should avoid wood that is partly or completely painted or stained – you definitely do not want to consume any chemicals!

Do not use fungus-infested or mould-infested wood. It contains harmful toxins that, when released in smoke, can cause us to fall sick.

How long should I smoke the ribs for?

Ribs are cooked in a very short time as compared to other meat. It should be smoked at a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

They should be smoked for approximately 2 hours. This is more than enough to break down the ribs, making them flavorful and delicious to eat.

Should I wrap the ribs in the foil?

It is suggested that we should keep the ribs in aluminum foil to protect them from drying out.

Additionally, we should put a small amount of beer and apple juice inside the foil to flavor the ribs. This way, the ribs stay rinsed in the liquids and a texture become moist.

Is it necessary to soak the wood before smoking meat?

It is recommended to soak the wood chips in water as it will help release the flavor in the chips better and facilitate them to burn brightly. Remove all the excess liquid and transfer it to the pouch for smoking.

How to pick the best wood for smoking ribs?

It is important only to pick good-quality wood, as poor-quality wood can make the ribs taste bitter and savory.

The excellent quality of wood will fill the ribs with the right flavor, texture, and deliciousness.

Keep in mind that:

  1. The woods that are left to dry out for about 6 months are the best woods for smoking ribs because it moisturize the woods immensely to create a good amount of smoke.
  2. Woods that are purchased from stores tend to burn hot and fast, and it will become challenging for the people using such fires to control the temperature of such wood.
  3. It is recommended that we must moisten the wood thoroughly to burn at a slower rate of heat. It is excellent if we wish to cook low and slow.

Where can I buy the wood for smoking purposes?


There are numerous smoked wood chunks and chips that are easily available on Amazon that will be pre-packed the same way as they are in BBQ stores. We need to ensure that there is enough storage and space available for storing the woods. It would be best if we keep an eye on the shipping cost as it generally costs higher and is approximately equal to the price of the woods.

Purchase wood from a BBQ store

We can purchase it from a local BBQ store. In this way, we can save ourselves from high shipping charges. BBQ stores only stock some specific kinds of wood, like apple, cherry, oak, pecan, and alder.

Local wood suppliers

We can contact different wood suppliers in our area and get the specific type of wood that we require. The supplier would rightly update us with all the essential details about how old the wood is and from where.

Which Are The Four Stages That Wood Goes Through?

  • Dehydration stage. In this stage, the wood should be heated with the help of an external source. As a result, the wood dries out, and the water evaporates along with gas such as carbon dioxide is produced, but there is no release of heat.
  • Gasification stage. This is the stage where combustion starts to begin. The various compounds present in the wood begin to change, and most of the changes become flammable gases, while others turn into oily liquids and tars.
  • Burning bush stage. In this stage, a flame appears, and many gases combine together, which is vital for the formation of a smoke ring.
  • Charcoal formation stage. This is the final stage in which most of the compounds have completely burned, leaving behind gases such as carbon or char with less smoke.


Choosing best wood for smoking ribs can be a confusing, however, after reading this article I hope you can make a decision and find wood the fits your expectations. To summarize, each wood has a different flavor, amount, intensity and punchiness of smoke, which makes the taste of ribs vary accordingly. 

In my opinion, the best wood to use depends on animal and type of cut, but I most of the time I would go with hickory in most cases.

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