Buying a premium cut of meat is not the ending, it’s just the beginning.
Picking the right WOOD for your taste is one BIG STEP to flavoring your grilled meat according to your liking and making it taste delicious.
However, reviewing woods for grilling could get a little tricky. Because the answer to ‘what is the best wood for grilling’ is subjective and could vary from person to person according to their taste bud.
It’s not about good or bad wood, it’s about different flavored woods.
Let us stay in the neutral point, break down the flavors different woods infuse to your meat, and let you decide.
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.
Hickory, Oak, and Mesquite are the most popular wood types among smokers to smoke ribs but there are few other good options as well. Let’s dive deep.
Hickory is often crowned as the king of grilling woods. It’s known for its strong bacon-like, sweet & smoky flavor that makes the rib taste delicious.
It’s a great classic wood that is excellent for pork. However, it can be a little too heavy for chicken.
This wood is particularly popular in the Southern area, so chances are if you’ve had smoked barbecue from this region, you’ve already tasted meat smoked by hickory because of its wide usage.
Beyond exuding the smoky and bacon-like flavors, Hickory has a real earthy feel to it and offers some sweet notes as well. The hearty, sweet, and even slightly bacon-like flavor of Hickory is loved by most pro smokers.
The flavor of Hickory will perfectly complement if you’re using any BBQ sauce to glaze the ribs.
Hickory has a rich aroma and is a heavy wood that produces a lot of strong smoke. Thus, you want to be careful when you’re using hickory to smoke ribs, as they don’t offer an awful lot of meat like a brisket.
So overexposing might make the natural flavors of meats get overshadowed by smoke’s flavor, and might even lead to quite a bitter taste which is the last thing we want.
A good idea is to mix hickory with another flavoring wood to temper its flavors.
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 has an earthy aroma which adds a beautiful layer of smoky flavor to the meat. However, it is a little less smoky and slightly more mellow than hickory.
Oak is especially a good choice when you have to smoke your ribs over a longer time. Because of the slightly less strong smoke it produces, it’s less likely that you’ll overshoot and get a bitter taste.
For versatility, you can’t get anything better than oak. For pork, oak is amazing.
However, smoking poultry with oak is still not the best choice as it tends to overwhelm that.
Oak generates quite a lot of smoke with an earthy tone to add a light yet beautiful layer of smoky flavor. Oak is a great choice for beginner smokers, because of the great earthy flavor, a lot of smoke yet forgiveness it offers when you tend to overcook.
It’ll be wise to start with oak if you’re new to smoking and then progress to strong wood like hickory or mesquite when you’ve gained control over what you do.
Want something even stronger than the hickory? Well, the mesquite is. So you want to be even more careful when you’re smoking with mesquite and remember to use smaller quantities and not to over smoke. Mesquite is also relatively more prone to burning up as it has a natural oil content.
This wood is most commonly used in the southwestern United States. The smoke it produces is sweet, spicy, and earthy, quite like the hickory except for the bacon-like flavor, but the strength is unmatchable even by the king, hickory.
Using a mixture of hickory and mesquite could be a great combination. Three-fourths hickory with one-fourth mesquite and occasional other wood like apple, pecan, etc. for extra flavor could yield great results.
Pitmasters and champion smokers often tend to try combinations of different types of wood and see the outcome.
You could do the same and see what is your best combination for your taste of ribs. A great starting point is the recommended combinations of woods of the masters and then once you start getting the concept, try your own to cook for your own taste bud.
Apple is known for infusing a sweet flavor to your barbecue. People who prefer such sweet notes to their barbecue, which goes superbly with ribs, will find apple as the ultimate fruitwood for barbecue.
Apple wood seems to complement pork very well, but not the best fit for smoking poultry, again.
Compared to hickory and mesquite, apple wood is much more mellow. The flavor is quite subtle.
And because the wood flavor is subtle, one thing to keep in mind while smoking with apple wood is that it’ll take a while to permeate through the meat and infuse the flavor into it.
So, it’ll slow down your cooking time as you need to cook at a lower temperature, and for a longer time. So, apple can be considered as a more advanced wood to use to extract its full benefit.
But if you love that mild and sweet note to your ribs, a little bit of research and taking time to watch a few videos of the experts is worth it completely.
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, quite like hickory, and it mixes really well with fruit-wood, even when used for smoking poultry (finally something!).
It has similarities with apple as well having similar sweet notes, but the flavor seems far richer to many admirers of it, as there’s the note of nut underneath the sweetness. Many smokers recommend using pecan with another type of wood to balance out the really rich flavor of it so that it won’t overwhelm the natural flavor of the meat.
Ribs that are smoked alone with pecan wood are sometimes too sweet for most people’s taste. But if you’ve got a sweet tooth particularly, you may give solo pecan a try.
Also, pecan is a slow-burning wood and the smoke is quite pungent, which makes for another reason why it should be used with another kind of wood. Speaking of a combination, hickory wood is your best bet with pecan.
Cherry is best used with other hardwoods like hickory and infuses a nice mild and fruity flavor to your ribs. Not only will it infuse a different taste to your meats, but it helps to add a really beautiful red and mahogany color layer to your meat which makes it look much more attractive and delicious.
Many smokers tend to mix cherry even as a third wood to the combination just to get the beautiful mahogany hue to their ribs, which makes it visually much more appealing. When mixed with hardwood like hickory, your rib will have a strong mix of earthy and fruity flavor with the nice red-ish hue, perfect!
However, keeping the lightness of cherry in mind, it’s considered a great wood for smoking prime ribs as stronger woods tend to overpower them. In fact, any fruit wood will be the better fit for smoking prime ribs, instead of strong woods like hickory or oak.
When you’re looking to add a really mind note of sweetness to your ribs, maple could be a great option. It’s one of those fruity woods for smoking but is really subtle and light. Sugar-maple is an exceptionally good wood for smoking turkey.
When you like a note of sweetness to your ribs but are concerned that Apple or Pecan would be too pronounced and could be hard to control and get the perfect flavor out of those, maple will make up for the best alternative.
It’s one of the most subtle woods for smoking and will not overpower your meat, just add a gently sweet note to your ribs. Maple-smoked ribs seem to pair really well with a delicious tasting barbecue sauce.
Peach is another fruitwood having a light and sweet-ish smoke flavor to it. Peach seems to pair really well particularly with pork to make it taste delicious.
It’s mainly used with other hardwoods to add a different shade of flavor to the meat. If you want to have a subtle layer of a different flavor to your meat, it’s a nice blending additive to try out and see the results.
However, peach could be a little rare to find in many areas of the country. Don’t be afraid to snag a bag of peach when you come across one and try the subtle flavor out.
When you can’t find peach, pear could be a great alternative to that having quite similar attributes. It also has got a sweet-ish tone to it which is similarly subtle like peach. And pear too makes a great pair with pork to enhance its taste.
So, when you have the mood of experimenting, consider blending pear, if not peach, with other hardwoods to discover new subtle tastes.
Wood Quality is Crucial
Picking the right wood type still doesn’t get the job done. You have to get your preferred wood from a reputable brand that does what it promises.
Say you’re really appealed by the taste hickory offers and what veteran smokers have to say about it.
With all the excitement in the world, you order a pack of hickory, fire up the grill, and when it’s finally time to taste the meat, you’re all disappointed – it doesn’t taste how it is supposed to be.
So, did all those people lie to you? Nope.
Out of excitement, you’ve probably ended up buying a wood pack that had more bark and impurities than pure hickory. No wonder why it tastes so different than described by those people.
That’s why it’s crucial where you source your wood from. However, it itself seems like a job. With an overwhelming number of options, how do you know which pack is quality and which one’s trash?
Here’s help. Head over to our guide on woods for smoking ribs where we had recommended and provided the link to buy the best offerings for all these wood types. Thank us later.
So, Which Fits Your Taste?
Have you decided yet? Which wood seems to be the best wood for grilling for your taste? Is it hickory, Oak? Or something else?
Or are you planning to go badass and thinking of an innovative combination to mix two, even three types of wood and see how it turns out?
Let us know your thoughts and we’ll be waiting to hear how it went out.