Best Wood For Smoking Ribs

best wood for smoking ribs

Ok, serious question.  What is your favorite smoked meat to eat?  Trick question, everyone knows ribs are the best.  But smoked ribs aren’t the easiest thing to smoke.  It takes a seriously good recipe, some practice and the one of the most important things, the right wood.  Which brings us to the question, what is the best wood for smoking ribs?  There are quite a few different woods to choose from but some pair with ribs better than others.  We’ll take you through it below. 

What Is The Best Wood For Smoking Ribs

Hickory Wood

Hickory is probably the top choice and one of the best woods to smoke ribs. It is rich in flavor, and you can also taste a hint of bacon in the smoke. Beyond the smoke, the wood has a sweet taste, which you can perfectly complement with a BBQ sauce. Hickory is a heavy wood and needs proper control though. 

Whether you are using a Big Green Egg, a Traeger or a custom built smoker where you use whole logs, make sure to manage how much smoke you are exposing your ribs to.  Hickory smoke can go a long way. 

Mesquite Wood

Mesquite is one of the strongest flavored woods. It can be difficult to control the smoke because of its intensity, so you need to be careful when smoking ribs with mesquite wood. Mesquite wood has a natural oil in it which makes the wood burn faster so its best used in smaller portions like chips or pellets instead of logs.  

Mesquite flavor can be intense, so you need to make sure you control how much smoke the ribs are getting.  Otherwise, it will taste like the ribs came out of a cowboy campfire down in Texas.  There are a few techniques we will go over below to decrease the amount of smoke your ribs are taking.

Apple Wood

If you love a sweet flavored rib, go for applewood. It has a subtle smoky taste and goes well with a BBQ sauce glaze. Applewood is a less intense wood, which makes it ideal for the long smoke time that ribs usually require.If you want beautifully caramelized ribs, applewood is the way to go. It has high molecules of sugar that help in the caramelizing process. Pork ribs pair better with fruit wood rather than a hard wood like hickory or mesquite. 

Cherry Wood

Many consider cherry wood to be a team player. It works well with all types of meat and might be the most popular wood to smoke with. Just like apple wood, cherry pairs better with pork though.  It also pairs well with a BBQ glaze.

Cherry wood tends to add a thicker and more noticeable smoke ring to the meat.  The smoke ring is the dark red color the first ⅛ inch or so of whatever you are smoking.  It adds a visual appeal to the meat and is actually one of the things that is judged during BBQ competitions. 

Best Wood For Smoking Ribs – FAQs

wood chips for smoking ribs

Is Hickory Or Mesquite Better For Smoking Ribs?

Really that’s a question you are going to have to decide for yourself.  I’m partial to hickory myself.  Just remember to control how much smoke the ribs are taking on with both wood.  Another thing to keep in mind is hickory and mesquite are considered hardwoods and pair better with beef ribs instead of pork ribs.  The smoke will easily overpower pork ribs. 

Are Wood Pellets, Wood Chunks/Chips Or Whole Logs Best For Smoking Ribs?

This depends on what type of smoker you have and also your experience level.  

Pellet smokers like Traeger, Camp Chef and Pit Boss are super popular nowadays because they are convenient and easy to use.  They all use pellets.  

The Big Green Egg is another popular smoker and it uses wood chips or chunks.  There is a very dedicated fan base for this brand.  Even though it might not be as easy to use as a pellet smoker, it’s not very complicated and it produces some seriously tasty smoked ribs. 

Whole logs are usually reserved for custom built smokers.  They require a larger smoker too.  A lot of experienced and professional BBQ people use logs but they obviously know what they are doing.  I would recommend sticking with pellets or chips if you are just starting out.

What Woods Should We Avoid To Smoke Ribs?

Not all woods are good to smoke ribs. Softwoods should be avoided because they can completely ruin the meat.  Here are a few to avoid. 

  • Western Red Cedar
  • Olive
  • Mulberry
  • Cypress
  • Cedar
  • Sycamore
  • Eucalyptus
  • Elm

What Is The Right Temperature To Smoke Ribs?

Temperatures can vary depending on the recipe you go with but the most common temperature is around 225 degrees.  Anything too far above that will cook the ribs too fast and dry them out.  Anything below that, well it will take you a week to get them up to temperature.  

You’ve heard of the saying ‘low and slow’ right? The reason that is a saying is because ribs (and a lot of other tough cuts of meat used in BBQ) have a lot of collagen in them.  Collagen is a long still protein and it takes a low temperature to break it down properly.  Because of this, it takes a long time and that is where the slow part of ‘low and slow’ comes in.  The collagen needs to be turned into gelatin and that happens around 200 degrees.  

At What Temperature Are My Ribs Done ?

As I mentioned above, collagen turns to gelatin at around 200 degrees.  The standard is to pull smoked ribs off (along with brisket and pork butt) off around 205 degrees.  If you pull them off anywhere before 200 degrees, the ribs or whatever else you are cooking will more than likely be tough and chewy. Some people choose to let them ‘rest’ in tinfoil but if you’re ready to eat as soon as you pull them off, go for it.  A good meat thermometer can be an absolute lifesaver if you are planning on smoking ribs or any type of meat. 

How Can I Limit The Amount Of Smoke Ribs Take On? 

smoker for ribs

One of the best ways to limit the amount of smoke ribs are going to take on to use the Texas Crutch. This is when you wrap the ribs in tinfoil after a couple hours on the smoker.   Dump a little apple juice in the tinfoil with them and try to seal the tinfoil.  This will create a moist environment for the ribs to smoke in and make them juicier and retain more moisture.  You can also place some brown sugar on them or some honey while they are in the tinfoil to amp up the flavor. 

Smoking Ribs – Wrap Up

Ribs are one of the most popular meats to smoke but they aren’t the easiest or the most forgiving to smoke.  That’s why choosing the best meat to smoke ribs is essential.  Hickory and mesquite woods have more intense smoke flavors and pair better with beef ribs.  Apple and cherry wood have a more mellow flavor and pair better with pork ribs. 

If this is your first go around smoking ribs, I would stick with a more mellow wood like apple or cherry.  But if you are wanting to go bold and like a more intense smoke flavor, give hickory or mesquite wood a try.  Either way, smoking some delicious ribs and having a few drinks in the sunshine is a great way to spend the day and you can’t go wrong. If smoking a turkey is next on your list, make sure to check out the best wood to smoke turkey.

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