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Best Wood for Smoking Ribs – Complete Guide and Tips

Wood smoked ribs are an American delicacy.  You’d be hard pressed to find something more delicious and packed with flavor than properly smoked ribs.  When you’re the one on grilling duty, you want to make sure you use the proper type of wood to achieve the best results!

In fact, using the wrong types of wood can be disastrous and possibly ruin your ribs.  In this post we’ll give you a complete overview of the best wood for smoking ribs, along with which woods to avoid when smoking ribs.

One thing to keep in mind with ribs is that they are typically packed with flavor and have a rub, BBQ sauce, or some combination thereof on the finished product.  With that in mind, the best wood for smoking ribs have stronger flavor to stand up to and compliment the other flavors that are in ribs.

Best Wood For Smoking Ribs

I like to “rank” the best wood for smoking ribs is to put them into tiers.  Flavor is subjective by nature, but there are some types of wood that will objectively be a better fit for smoking ribs.  The woods in each tier are comparable to one another and equally as effective as one another at smoking ribs.  You just may prefer one flavor to another within that tier as your personal preference.

Tier 1: Use These Any Time

Hickory

When it comes to ribs, or any flavor rich meat for that matter, hickory is a fantastic choice.  Hickory is most commonly found in southern and midwestern states.  Flavor wise, it gives sweet and savory notes – some say that hickory flavoring reminds them of bacon.

One thing to keep in mind with hickory is that the smoke hickory wood produces is pretty strong.  When it comes to ribs, that’s a good thing but you most definitely need to be careful to not use too much wood when you smoke, or you’ll risk over doing it and ending up with bitter ribs.  Over time, you’ll figure out that perfect amount of hickory to use for your ribs.

Hickory is also a great wood to combine with other types of woods, which makes it a good type of wood to have on hand.  It’s very popular to mix hickory wood with cherry or apple wood, for example.

Mesquite

Mesquite is the strongest type of wood for smoking and gives off an earthy flavor that just feels right for BBQ and ribs.  If used incorrectly, you’re sure to have harsh and bitter results.  But if used properly, you can achieve perfection with the smoky flavor of your ribs.

The thing to keep in mind with mesquite is that a little bit goes a long way.  If you are just getting started out, err on the side of caution on your first try and slowly add more wood until you find the perfect balance.

Mesquite is an oily wood that burns extremely hot – both of which contribute to the strong smoky flavor that it will lead to.  It’s also a great candidate for blending with a lighter wood to soften the harshness of the flavor.

Pecan

So as it turns out, pecan is part of the hickory family – so it shares a lot of qualities with Hickory.  Even though it’s a strong wood, the nice thing about pecan is that it falls firmly between hickory and fruitwoods in terms of flavor strength.

With that being said, too much pecan will definitely lead you to bitter results.  At the end of the day, it’s a smoke with strong flavor (which is why it’s one of the best woods for smoking ribs), so you should be careful to not over-do it.

Tier 2: Also Very Good for Smoking Ribs

Apple

Apple is a fruitwood and on the milder side, with a subtly sweet flavor that actually works quite well with ribs.  For some, the apple smoke flavor doesn’t quite hold up enough to the flavors in your ribs, but for me they certainly do and create a unique and complex flavor profile.

One thing to note about apple is that it is a slow burner so it takes a while for the smoke to absorb into your ribs.  Plan on smoking for at least a couple of hours to properly incorporate apple into your rib dinner!

Apple is also a great wood to have on hand because it’s an ideal choice for poultry, lighter beef, pork (especially ham), game birds, lamb and seafood.  Truly an all-purpose wood that is also a great choice to blend with hickory.

Cherry

Cherry is another one of the best fruitwoods for smoking ribs and is similar to apple in that its flavor is sweet and mild.  Personally I think it’s a great wood for ribs on its own but you can achieve some incredibly rich and complex flavors by blending cherry with hickory, oak, or pecan.

One very cool thing about cherry is that it will give your ribs a restaurant like, rich mahogany color on the finish.  If you use cherry to smoke your ribs and do it right, you’ll look like a pro in front of your family and friends.

Oak

Oak is a stronger wood than cherry or apple, but on the lighter end of the spectrum when compared to hickory or mesquite.  It’s quite versatile and works with just about any meat which makes it great to have on hand in addition to being one of the top choices for smoking ribs.

It’s also versatile in the sense that it’s a great blending wood, and if you like the flavor of a lighter fruitwood this could be a great option to not completely overpower that flavor.

Tier 3: Probably Best In a Blend Or As a Compliment

Peach

Peach is a fruitwood that has a very light, sweet flavor and works very well with pork.  It’s also a nice blending additive if you want to experiment with different types of flavors and change your results subtly.

Peach wood for smoking is rarer to find and more prominent in some regions of the country than others, so if you come across a bag don’t be afraid to snag one and try out the flavor.

Pear

Pear is very similar to peach in a lot of ways.  It’s smoky flavor profile is light and sweet, and it also works well with the same kinds of meats as peach.  Pear is a great blending wood so don’t be afraid to experiment with pear when blending to see what kind of results you get.

Maple

Maple isn’t typically the first choice for smoking ribs because it’s a lighter and has a light, sweet flavor.  The good news about that is that maple smoke flavor is not overpowering at all, and it actually pairs fantastically with a sweet BBQ sauce.

Tier 4: Don’t Use These

Here is a list of woods that you could use for smoking ribs, but we just don’t recommend because the other woods we just listed are superior:

  • Grape vine
  • Mulberry
  • Olive
  • Western Red Cedar (Untreated with chemicals)

And here is a list of woods you should never use under any circumstances because they’ll either ruin your food or cause harmful toxins to enter your ribs, or both.

  • Cedar
  • Cypress
  • Elm
  • Eucalyptus
  • Fir
  • Pine
  • Redwood
  • Sycamore

Chips, Chunks, or Pellets?

This part comes down to the type of smoker you are using.

It’s probably best to use chunks if you’re working with a traditional offset smoker, chips for an electric smoker, and pellets if you’re smoking ribs on a pellet grill.

Chips and chunks can also be used in tandem with charcoal if you have a kamado grill or a charcoal smoker!

Best Wood For Smoking Ribs – Wrap Up

I hope this guide has been a helpful starting point for you on your journey to delicious ribs!  Mastering the use of wood fired smoke in ribs is bar none one of the best skills you can learn as a grill master.  It will lead to unbelievably delicious results.  Let us know which ones you ended up trying!  And don’t be afraid to check out our other rib resources here:

And don’t be afraid to mix things up and experiment with different flavors and blends!  Just because somebody thinks a certain type of wood is better than another for smoking ribs doesn’t mean your taste buds will agree.  Everybody is different, so it might take a few goes at it to figure out which wood you like best with your ribs.