Best Wood for Smoking Ribs


Ribs are a delicious staple of any party, from barbecues to sports gatherings to more formal get-togethers. If you’re the one responsible for the party’s ribs, you want to make sure you bring a good offering. Ribs are one of the best meats to smoke. But there are many factors that go into rib smoking that can make or break your dish.

Using the right wood means that your ribs will be infused with flavor. But the wrong wood can make your ribs bitter or even cause you to get sick. These are some of the best woods to use when you’re smoking ribs.

ProductFlavor Impact Level of Smokiness
#1. Hickory
Strong Average
#2. Oak
Average Lower than average
#3. Mesquite
Strong Above average

The Best Woods for Smoking Ribs

#1. Hickory

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Hickory tends to be the most popular wood when it comes to smoking anything, but it’s especially good for smoking ribs. This wood is best known for Southern-style smoking and barbecuing.

People describe hickory as having one of the strongest possible flavor impacts. The smoke infuses your food with a bacon-like flavor that’s strong, smoky, and sweet. Since hickory is so well known for being a strong option, it’s important to be careful when you use hickory wood.

You should pay attention to the amount of wood you use. You should also be aware of how long the smoke is staying around your ribs. Too much smoke or long exposure can lead to ribs with a bitter, unpleasant flavor.

#2. Oak

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Oak is the second most popular wood used for all kinds of smoking. Since this wood is more commonly found in the North, you’re likely to see it used for northern-style barbecues and parties.

Oak has some marked differences from hickory. It’s a fairer, mellower wood. The wood won’t produce the same amount of heavy smoke, and it infuses a milder flavor than hickory wood.

Because oak isn’t as strong as hickory, it’s often favored by people who are just getting into smoking. It’s also a good option if you need to smoke your ribs over an extended period of time. Ribs that are smoked with oak won’t generally become bitter, but too much hickory will lead to bitter ribs.

Oak is the most versatile wood you can purchase, and many people highly recommend it when you smoke ribs.

#3. Mesquite

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Mesquite is a wood that can be most commonly found throughout the southwestern United States. The smoke tends to be sweet and earthy, but it’s even stronger than hickory wood. If you use mesquite, you need to be even more careful than you would be using hickory.

Some people who smoke ribs like to use a mixture of mesquite and hickory wood. If you use three-fourths hickory with one-fourth mesquite, you get all the flavorful benefits of both woods without risking bitterness. You can even add in a third wood to infuse your ribs with more three-dimensional flavors.

There are a number of champion smokers and pit masters who like to use combinations of wood. You can try your hand at some experimentation to see what gives you the best-tasting ribs.

Other Good Woods for Smoking Ribs

Ribs have connective tissue collagen in them. As time goes on, this collagen breaks down into sugars and gelatin. This means that non-smoked ribs tend to taste sweet. It’s best to look for wood that infuses ribs with a smoky and earthy flavor to offset the sweetness.

#1. Apple

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If you want to lean into the sweetness of your ribs, consider using apple wood. This wood is more sweet and mild. In comparison to mesquite and hickory, apple is much more mellow.

It’s important to note that apple smoke takes time to permeate your meat. If you do use apple wood, you should make sure your ribs smoke for a few hours.

#2. Pecan

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Pecan wood will infuse your ribs with a nutty and rich flavor. The flavor of pecan wood tends to be so rich that many smokers recommend using another type of wood to balance it out. Hickory is a popular choice. Ribs smoked with pecan wood alone can sometimes be too sweet.

Pecan wood tends to burn slowly, and the smell of the smoke is pungent. That’s another reason you might want to add an additional kind of wood.

#3. Cherry

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Cherry is a favorite wood of many longtime smokers. One of the benefits of cherry wood is that it infuses your ribs with a good color. Cherry-smoked ribs tend to have a lovely mahogany hue.

Cherry wood gives your ribs a fruity and mild flavor. It works best when you pair it with hickory wood, since this layers your ribs with a strong combination of earthy and fruity flavors.

#4. Maple

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Maple is another good wood to use. This wood is especially common in the northeast. Maple-smoked ribs pair extremely well with a delicious barbecue sauce.

Maple wood gives off a sweet and smoky flavor that’s light enough not to overpower. If you’re worried about how strong hickory and mesquite wood are, maple is a good alternative. It gives you similar flavors but with a lighter infusion.

Final Thoughts

For the strongest possible flavor, hickory has long been the most popular option. Hickory smoke will infuse your ribs with a sweetness and richness that’s hard to beat with any other smoke. However, hickory may be too strong if you need to smoke your ribs over an extended period.

Oak is a more versatile option for people who want to smoke their ribs over long periods of time. It’s also a good choice if you’re a beginner. However, it won’t provide flavors that are as strong as hickory.

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