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So you’ve acquired a smoker and have a big ol’ brisket set aside that’s ready to go on to the grates and get cooking.
But it’s important to not gloss over one of the most overlooked parts of the brisket smoking process. To get the most out of your smoker and your brisket, you need to be using the right kind of wood.
The best wood for smoking brisket undoubtedly will take your food to the next level. Many beginners overlook this part, but it’s super important and as you’re about to see – each type of wood will impart a different flavor on your brisket.
In this article, we’ll go over our picks for getting the optimal flavor out of your cooked beef. From there, we’ll touch on some types of wood that you should definitely avoid on your quest for brisket glory.
What’s the Best Wood for Smoking Brisket?
It’s not uncommon for a brisket to cook for as long as 12 hours or more depending on the size. That’s an incredibly long time – and for that entire duration your beef will be exposed to the smoke created by the fire you create.
That’s not a bad thing! The best wood for smoking brisket will impart delicious, complex, traditional BBQ flavoring onto your food. It’s what you want!
This is not an exhaustive list – there are certainly other woods you can smoke brisket with to achieve delicious results. We came up with our top picks for best wood for smoking brisket based on flavor, ease of use, how widely available the wood is.
Hickory is the MVP when it comes to smoking meat. It’s versatile, works with just about any cut, and brisket is no exception. On a practical level, hickory is widely available and relatively inexpensive to acquire.
Flavor wise, hickory will impart the “traditional” smoky flavor that many of us have come to expect with our BBQ. The flavors are pretty strong relative to other woods, and interact very well with strong beefy flavors.
One thing to note with hickory is that it’s a wood which produces a lot of smoke. With that in mind, you want to be careful to not go overboard.
Oak (Post Oak)
Texas Monthly does a yearly roundup of the best BBQ joints in Texas. You don’t have to spend a ton of time scrolling through the list to notice a pattern – almost all of the top joints use Post Oak as their wood fuel of choice.
That’s not to say everybody should feel the need to use Oak – variety is good! But at the same time, Texas style brisket has earned a reputation as some of the best of the best in the world of BBQ.
Oak is one of the best woods for smoking brisket for a few different reasons. First of all, it burns for a long time and is very consistent and easy to manage. Those are really nice attributes for a day long brisket cook.
The other main reason is the flavor of oak smoke. On the scale of light to strong smokiness, it’s pretty firmly in the middle. Because of that, it’s a great, safe choice that will appeal to many different types of taste buds.
Oak’s flavor strength also makes it a great candidate for blending with other woods. No matter whether you blend oak with stronger woods like mesquite, or lighter ones like cherry, oak is a definite value add and will add a beautiful layer of flavor to your brisket.
If you’re looking for a more intense flavor profile, give mesquite a try. Relative to the rest of this list, mesquite definitely gives off the strongest flavor. It’s the wood of choice for lovers of strong smoky flavor.
If you like the flavor of mesquite but want to soften it a little bit, it might be a good idea to blend with a different type of wood. This is a great way to get the benefit of delicious mesquite flavor with a little less intensity!
Mesquite is one of the fastest burning woods, so you should take this into account – especially considering you might be smoking a brisket for an entire day.
Maple falls a little bit lighter on the smoky strength spectrum – and many people use maple as a primary wood for meats like ribs, chicken, pork, and turkey. Because of that, you might not first consider it as a top choice for brisket – but brisket and maple can be a great match.
With maple, the wood is long burning and imparts a somewhat mild flavor onto your brisket. It’s a great choice for beginners because it’s really hard to over smoke your brisket when using maple. So if you’re just getting the hang of smoking, this is one of the best woods that you can start out with.
The “downside”, if you can call it that, with maple is that for some, it might not be quite strong enough of a flavor if you prefer smoky flavor in abundance with your brisket.
Like oak, it’s also a great wood to blend with. In particular, maple is a great companion to mesquite if you want to soften out your strong mesquite flavoring.
If you’re the type who can appreciate complexity and maybe a little bit of sweetness in your smoked brisket, cherry is a fantastic choice. It’s a milder flavor that works well with lighter meats like turkey, but it also has plenty of flavor to hold its own with beef.
For a fruitwoods, it’s flavor works extremely well with this cut of beef. It also provides the added benefit of imparting a beautiful, dark red color to the surface of your brisket that just makes it look even better.
For those who enjoy stronger smokey flavor in your brisket, cheery is also a great blending candidate. When paired up with a stronger wood like oak, or hickory, or even mesquite, you’ll still get that hint of fruitiness combined with an elevated smokiness.
It’s maybe not the best to blend with mesquite, as mesquite’s flavor can completely overpower cherry’s flavor profile.
Where I live, pecan is a little harder to find than some of the other woods on this list, but it’s a great wood for smoking brisket.
Similar to maple, pecan is a great choice for beginners as the flavoring is pretty mild. It would be really hard to over-smoke a brisket with pecan.
Of course, if your audience prefers a stronger flavor you can certainly blend pecan with woods like oak or hickory.
Pecan is one of those flavors that you kind of have to taste to appreciate. It adds a certain delicious sweetness and nuttiness to your brisket that you just don’t get from other woods.
As far as suitability for brisket goes, apple isn’t too far off from cherry. Apple is a hair further on the mild side of things though, and will lead to a sweet and lightly fruity flavor addition to your brisket.
Just like cherry, apple is a great choice to blend with other woods like oak, hickory, and maple if you want to layer different flavors into your brisket!
Olive is another one that’s a little harder to come across, but can provide really nice results for a brisket.
Flavor wise, it’s actually pretty similar to mesquite, but it’s got a lighter flavor profile. It’s a great intro to mesquite and also works well in blends with other woods, depending on what you want to go for.
Benefits of Using Wood Smoke With Brisket
The brisket comes from the chest area of a cow – it’s a muscle that upholds the gargantuan weight of a steer. So naturally it’s a pretty tough cut of beef to work with.
That’s why smoking is an ideal cooking method. It needs to cook low and slow over long periods of time to tenderize and break down tough parts of the meat. Trimming your brisket the right way can also make a big difference in the end result of your brisket.
Sure, you could definitely cook a brisket without using smoke. But there’s a reason the professionals and avid pit masters always utilize smoke when it comes to cooking brisket. Smoke, along with their brisket rub, are the two most important factors when it comes to the end flavor of brisket.
The best wood for smoking brisket will impart smoke into your food for hours and hours, many times an entire half day. It takes that much time for the smoke to penetrate deep into your brisket so that it reaches every delicious bite.
Smoke is also what makes properly smoked brisket end up with a beautiful and scrumptious bark. I promise you if you prefect the bark, your brisket will be the stuff of legend amongst family and friends.
On top of all of that, you can experiment with different types of woods and wood blends until you perfect your brisket recipe. Half of the fun in smoking is the discovery process of figuring out what’s best for you!
Different Sizes of Wood Fuel
Wood fuel for smoking comes in a few different shapes and sizes. Most commonly, wood for smoking comes in the form of wood pellets, wood chips, wood chunks, and logs.
Wood chips are a nice option especially if you’re smoking in an electric smoker or in charcoal grills that don’t have enough room to fit chunks. Chips are super easy to work with and are very easy to burn. This size of wood is widely available in all sorts of flavors. Check out the differences between wood pellets and chips here.
Wood chunks are another step up when it comes to size. If you’re smoking with a charcoal grill or even an offset smoker, wood chunks are a really nice choice. Chunks are a little more robust and only require a couple of them to a handful for an entire smoke.
Wood chunks are great in tandem with charcoal and are also widely available in different flavors of bags.
Wood logs are the size of choice if you want a pure, wood only fire to smoke your brisket. Quality logs are typically a bit harder to find, and they mostly only fit in large fireboxes or offset smokers, but if you are able to pull it off – wood logs are the way to do it.
Lump charcoal is also a fantastic source of fuel for brisket. Lump charcoal is a little healthier and organic and is sold in all sorts of different wood species. A quality bag of lump charcoal will come with many pieces sized between chunks and logs.
Best Wood for Smoking Brisket – Wrap Up
Smoking a brisket takes a ton of time. It’s not the easiest food to prepare, but it’s without a doubt one of the most rewarding when you get it done the right way. And you’ll be set with tons of leftovers after all of that hard work!
The only way to get there is to pair your beef cut with the best wood for smoking brisket. Experiment with different types of wood and figure out what works best for you! All of the suggestions on this list are a great starting point.
I hope this article is a springboard for you in your journey to delicious brisket! Which wood did you choose to use? Let us know about it in the comments section below.