Ribs are hands down, one of the best meats to smoke. But there are a number of factors that go into smoking ribs, which can make or break your dish.
Choosing the right wood is the first BIG STEP!
Just like you spend hours to get the most premium cut of meat, you wanna spend a while to get yourself the best wood for smoking ribs as well, otherwise, you might end up ruining your premium meat, and your weekend.
Best Wood for Smoking Ribs – Buyer’s Guide with Product Recommendations
There are a good number of types of wood available in the market to smoke ribs, but are we gonna consider them all? No, not all of them deserve even a try.
Our goal here is to get delicious tasting smoked ribs, and a general rule for selecting wood for that purpose which many smokers follow is – H.O.M.E – Hickory, Oak, Mesquite, and Everything else.
To get the best of hickory, mesquite, oak, or any other wood for that matter, buying from any name manufacturer is not the wisest option. Not all of them maintain the quality of any given wood.
Here’s our tire-wise list of recommended manufacturers for every wood type we discussed so far –
Tire 1: The Absolute Best Type of Wood for Smoking Ribs
Hickory is hands down, is considered as the best wood for smoking rib roast by a large number of pit masters. It’s known for its strong bacon-like, sweet & smoke flavor that makes the rib taste delicious. And it’s one strong wood that emits a lot of smoke with a rich aroma.
To get the best of hickory, the Traeger 100% all-natural hickory wood will be our top choice which is trusted by numerous other smokers as well. You’ll get the essence of hickory just when you open that bag – the smell will say it all.
This wood provides an admirable burn time without you having to babysit the smoker too often. It’s sourced and processed completely in the USA and 100% all-natural hardwood having no fillers or binding agents.
It’ll add that pure hardwood, strong and earthy bacon-like flavor to everything you grill or smoke.
This wood is formulated scientifically with the right amount of moisture content in order to achieve the perfect blue smoke and a clean burn.
If you crown the hickory as the king, you have to consider the oak as the fairer Queen. Alongside hickory, oak has been another go-to wood choice of top smokers for delicious tasting BBQ smoking.
Oak is known for its earthy aroma and infusion of smoky flavor in the meat. Its versatility is unmatched and it’s a tad less strong than the hickory which makes it a great wood for grilling over a longer period of time without overshooting and getting a bitter taste.
For the best oak wood for smoking ribs, we have the Post Oak BBQ Smoking Chips from Western’s premium BBQ product line. This is a heat-treated wood so there are no pests, mold, or rot.
Every pack contains 180 cubic Inches of large-sized oak chips for smoking. This oak will taste particularly delicious with Sirloin or Filets, Braised Brisket, Salmon or Trout, and Pork Loin.
It produces a basic and clean smoke that infuses the earthy aroma and taste of your meat. The burn time is above-average. This can be used both with charcoal, electric, and gas smokers.
Here’s a bonus tip: Mix this wood with hickory in a 1:1 ratio to taste some exquisitely delicious smoked ribs.
Mesquite is another wood that is a go-to option for many champion smokers. Mesquite combined with hickory produces excellent flavor.
Mesquite is known for being a strong wood and that is all reflected in the Weber 17150 mesquite wood chunks package. When you want a pronounced flavor of mesquite at an affordable price, this is your go-to option.
This pack of mesquite wood chunks is quite affordably priced compared to offerings from other manufacturers.
Though many wouldn’t go nuts about saving a few bucks when the great taste is at stake, it doesn’t hurt at all to not sacrifice on that yet save a few bucks.
However, I believe Weber had to cut a corner here, which is to add some wood chips instead of going full wood chunks. The flavor the overall package infuses is still admirable though, but it’s something you should be aware of before purchasing the pack.
Pecan compliments hickory really well and these two together are a great combination to use to get mild and nutty flavors to your ribs. It has a nutty smell to it, a little bit like hickory, and it mixes really well with fruit-wood.
This pecan wood pack from Weber works particularly great with gas grills to extract the flavor to the fullest. This wood will make beef and pork taste amazing. Pecan is one of the best wood for smoking pork ribs particularly.
Pure pecan is known to have a strong flavor profile and tends to overpower the natural flavor of the meat often when not mixed with any other wood. However, this bag, having quite a good amount of chips instead of all-chunks, seems to compensate for that by adding less strong flavor.
I’m sure that’s again cutting a corner to keep the price lower, but this time it seems to bring something good onto the table – I’ll take that.
Tier 2: Best Fruit Wood for Smoking Ribs
When we’re talking fruitwoods, in particular, Apple has to come first. Apple woods are known to add a mild and sweet flavor to your meat which will make your dine refreshing.
For our choice of Apple wood chunks, we have the Oklahoma Joe’s offering. It’s made of all-natural wood chunks with minimal bark and ideal for adding fruity flavor to pork and poultry.
The best result can be yielded when used in charcoal grills and smoked slowly for a long time. The sweet tone it’ll infuse has to be admired.
Try mixing this with some other earthy-flavored woods if you don’t have that sweet tooth in particular and enjoy the smokiness more over sweetish tone. However, my only complaint is that you’ll get a little less amount of wood than the stated 8 lbs. for the package – a quality control issue.
Cherry is another favorite wood type of many pit masters to infuse that fruity flavor but more importantly, that mahogany hue that it brings to the meat which makes it visually much more appealing.
However, cherry falls on the lighter side in terms of strength, and keeping that in mind, it’s considered as one of the best wood for smoking prime rib as stronger woods tend to overpower them.
And the Western Premium Cherry Wood pack for BBQ is our choice of cherry wood to get the best of it.
Unlike a few other offerings from Weber, this wood pack will not let you complain about the quality. The package has lovely fist-size pure wood chunks, no chips, with bare minimum bark.
Due to the ideal size of the wood chunks, the burn time is simply impressive – one pack will serve you for many weekends to come.
The wood is heat-treated, so it’ll not rot when stored for more than a while and will prevent mold and pests. They’re usable with charcoal grills, electric and gas smokers as well as personal and larger smokers.
If you can’t wait for the delicious look on your meat with a fruity tone of flavor to it, you can’t get any better cherry wood than this.
Tier 3: Commonly used in a Blend Or As a Compliment
Maple is best used with hard woods like hickory and oak and is known for adding a very subtle sweet and mild flavor to your meat. To do that job best, we’ll suggest the Maple wood pack from the Western Premium BBQ products range.
The core reason why we had to suggest their wood quite a few times now is the quality they maintain.
First off, Western heat treats all their wood to prevent mold and pests and also not to catch rot when the woods are kept unused for more than a while, which is very likely to happen to us as life doesn’t allow us to have a nice BBQ party every other weekend.
Then, when they say chunks, they mean chunks, same goes for chips.
This wood will yield great results in terms of bringing a nice aroma and subtle fruity flavor to your meat when mixed with other hardwood. It can be used with different types of smokers – charcoal, gas, or electric.
However, this package is particularly wood ‘chips’, which you can consider as one of the best wood chips for ribs.
Woods You Want to Avoid
There are a handful of woods that you may pick to get the most delicious tasted ribs, but there are also some you want to pass on. In general, you want to pick hardwoods and avoid softwoods. Softwoods have the bad reputation of emitting smoke that contain harmful toxins or tars which are likely to penetrate your meat.
And again, there are some woods that may not do the same, but their flavor profile suits fish or vegetables more, rather than meat, like Cedar – great for fatty salmon.
Considering both the factors, here’s a list of the woods that you want to avoid when smoking ribs (which may come up in your amazon suggestion) –
- Poison Oak
- Painted or Stained wood
- Unknown Scrap wood
- Chemically Treated wood
Choosing any of these may not only cause your ribs to taste awful but could get you sick if the toxins make it through to your meat. So be smart.
A Few More Words on Wood Quality
So, what is the best wood to use for smoking ribs stays the number one question? But does your job get over when you choose the wood type? Probably not.
You have to buy a good pack of that wood which is capable of meeting your expectations of why you bought the wood for. That’s why you want to check on the quality.
You don’t have to go nuts on this, but make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for. Quality check is quite simple here – If you’ve paid for wood chunks, make sure you’re getting good-sized wood chunks, not chips, and vice versa.
More importantly, you want to have as minimum bark and impurities as possible in the pack with no additives. Check on other users’ words to crosscheck.
Wood Chunks vs Wood Chips
By now, you’ve noticed me glorifying having wood chunks instead of chips, right? Well, if your answer is yes, you’ve probably got me wrong. I emphasized that when you’re buying a pack of wood chunks, you should be getting chunks but not chips.
However, ‘Wood chunks vs wood chips’ for smoking ribs is a matter of debate itself. Which is better?
For a bottom line, I’d say wood chunks for the primary smoking wood is the better way to go. For secondary woods that you add for extra flavoring, wood chips will do fine.
Wood chunks require less babysitting. They burn for a long time by themselves and you don’t have to check on the pit every once in a while. Whereas, wood chips will demand continuous maintenance.
Wood chips will do the same job as chunks but when you’re using them for the primary wood, you’re committing yourself to a continuous effort to the pit.
Few Expert Tips for You
Here’s a handful of tips regarding woods to make your smoking smoother –
- You want to purchase a wood pack with minimal bark in the first place, but it’ll hardly ever be zero. So, you want to remove whatever bark is there in the chunks before throwing them in the smoker. Barks will otherwise produce a nasty, acrid flavor.
- NO GREENWOOD is a good choice for smoking, avoid them all.
- Use less wood, to begin with, and add more if needed. Be timely with them and know when to stop. No good wood will make delicious tasted ribs when it has overpowered the natural flavor of the meat.
- My tip is, use wood chunks instead of chips for every wood you add, if possible.
- If you must use wood chips, you want to protect them in a foil that has few small breathing holes.
- Don’t rush. Go slow. Less smoke for a long time will yield the best taste in a general sense.
Best Wood for Smoking Ribs - Wrap Up
If you’re with me till now, I’d be brave enough to assume that you understand woods now. But if the number of options overwhelms you (likely to happen), I’d say stick with hickory and oak, or mesquite for your primary wood.
They simply are the best wood for smoking ribs and their strong earthy flavor can’t be beaten. If you’ve ever tasted a piece of rib taste of which you can still recall and cherish, strong chances are they were smoked by any of the three or a mix of them.
The other types of wood might be worth trying when you’ve got a handful of experience of smoking and you want to try something new.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Soak My Wood before smoking ribs?
This could be a debatable topic. Many will tell you to do so, many will forbid. If you trust my words as an expert, my suggestion would be to do so, and my decision is science-backed.
I always soak my wood because according to science, the water content will be helping to release the flavor of the wood better when you smoke. It’ll also help the wood to burn slowly and for longer, which you know that I prefer to give my ribs the best flavor and taste.
Prior to smoking, soak your wood for 30 minutes in clean water, wipe away the excess liquid and then throw them into the smoker to burn.
How long should I smoke ribs for?
It depends on two factors – the temperature and the weight of the rib.
The ideal temperature to smoke ribs is within 225 to 250 F. You can use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat which ideally needs to be around 130 F in the center.
Considering that you’ve achieved this feat, the next question is the weight. You need to smoke for around 35 minutes for every pound of rib. Usually, a family-sized rib weighs somewhere between 10-15 pounds.
Say you have got a 10-pound rib in your hand to cook, you’ll need to smoke for a good five hours at least to get a medium roast on your rib.
You also need a make time for a 15-minute-high-sear right at the end. This period will help to achieve a good exterior crust.
Should I wrap my ribs in foil?
Wrapping the rib in the foil yields benefits from multiple aspects. If you like the natural reddish hue of the meat, the wrapping in foil will help to retain that color as less smoke will be reaching the surface of the meat directly.
Wrapping also helps to retain the moisture in the meat and keep them juicy, while preventing them from drying out in the smoker. It could speed up the cooking process as well.
You could also take the help of wrapping to infuse your ribs with added flavor. You can add liquid like beer or apple juice inside the foil and the vapor created from that will add that extra layer of flavor to your meat.
So you see, wrapping helps!
When should I add my wood chunks or chips?
When you’re smoking using a charcoal grill, you want to wait till the charcoal has died and ready to grill. Then you may add your wood chunks or chips directly into it. Don’t add them prior to the time you can get started with the actual grilling process, otherwise, you’ll be wasting smoke.
For a vertical gas smoker, allow it to reach the desired temperature and then add your chunks or chips. Allow the smoke to start developing and then get going with the grilling process.