It's Spring BBQ Season! What's Cooking?

Best Wood For Smoking Ribs

Walk into just about any barbecue joint in the US and you’ll find some version of smoked ribs. That could be baby back ribs, St Louis-cut ribs, or even beef ribs. Now you want to try your hand at smoking ribs in your backyard. So what is the best wood …

Accessories Grilling & Smoking Guides How To Smoking Woods

Angry BBQ is reader supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.

Photo of author

By AngryBBQ Team

on

Updated on

Walk into just about any barbecue joint in the US and you’ll find some version of smoked ribs. That could be baby back ribs, St Louis-cut ribs, or even beef ribs. Now you want to try your hand at smoking ribs in your backyard. So what is the best wood for smoking ribs? If you’re smoking pork ribs, cherry and hickory is a wonderful combination. If you’re smoking beef ribs, you can’t go wrong with oak.

Pork ribs are best paired with a sweet fruitwood, and cherry works especially well because it can help develop that beautiful deep red color we all love in ribs. I personally love adding hickory as well to give that more traditional smoky flavor while also adding a flavor reminiscent of bacon. It’s perfect for pork ribs.

When it comes to smoking beef, I prefer a strong yet simple wood flavor because the meat can handle that. In my mind, the best choice is oak. It’ll give you flavors just like a Texas-style brisket on a rib. It just makes sense when you’re trying to enjoy a dino rib, also known as brisket on a stick. 

However, you aren’t locked into these options. There are plenty of flavors of hardwoods that you can experiment with to determine your personal preference. We’ll give you the complete rundown, add a nice visual aid, and even talk about what kinds of wood your smoker or grill needs. 

Best Wood For Smoking Pork Ribs

Depending on where you are from, you probably think of pork ribs when you think of smoked ribs. You also probably have strong feelings about the debate between baby back ribs and spare ribs. Regardless of where you fall on that argument (I’m pro-spare ribs for the record,) I think the best wood for smoking pork ribs is a combination of cherry and hickory wood.

Cherry wood gives a mild flavor, so if you might be serving ribs to someone who isn’t the biggest fan of wood smoke, it’s a great option. It is a sweeter flavor which is perfect for most pork rib recipes. It also does help add some red coloring to the ribs themselves which is an added bonus.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Cherry
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCameron Wood Chips: Cherry
  • 100% natural wood
  • Coarse Cut
  • Made in USA
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageDiamond King Wood Chunks : Cherry
  • 100% natural wood
  • USDA certified
  • Stored indoors
CHECK PRICE

However, if you’re looking for a bit more smoke flavor, I like hickory wood for smoking pork ribs. It’s got a heavier wood smoke flavor that will give your ribs a bit more punch. The nice part of hickory is that it still has a sweet tone to it that reminds people of bacon. You really can’t go wrong with hickory when it comes to smoking pork.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Hickory
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Wood Chips : Hickory
  • 100% natural wood
  • Heat treated
  • Large sized chips
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCamerons Wood Chunks: Hickory
  • 100% natural wood
  • Precision Cut
  • Made In USA
CHECK PRICE

When you combine cherry and hickory, you get the best of both worlds. You get a combination of sweet smoke with a stronger smoke flavor while also helping the ribs develop a beautiful color. Is this combination the only way to go, though? Absolutely not! Let’s take a quick look at a few other options that pair well with pork ribs.

Fruit Woods

Apple is a great option to help play up the sweetness of your pork ribs. There’s a reason why you see a lot of applewood-smoked bacon out there. It just goes well with pork. It’s also fairly easy to get your hands on as well. That’s a big bonus when you’re smoking at home. 

If you want to get a little more adventurous, you can also try your hand at maple, pecan, or peach wood for your pork ribs. All three have a sweet element while pecan adds a bit of a nutty undertone and peach offers some fruitiness.

Hardwoods

While technically all of these wood types are hardwoods, these definitely aren’t fruitwoods so for simplicity’s sake, we call them hardwoods. These woods are typically stronger in wood flavor with more potential for over-smoking.

The only other hardwood I would smoke my pork ribs with is oak. It’s a traditional wood that gives a good smoke flavor. If you pair it with your favorite fruitwood, you’re going to have a good time. 

You can certainly try mesquite with pork ribs, but it’s arguably the strongest wood out there. The potential for turning your ribs bitter is high so you need to be careful.

Best Wood For Smoking Beef Ribs

This is a big pivot from smoking pork ribs. I favor a deeper, much more savory flavor profile when it comes to beef ribs. My favorite, and what I think goes best with beef ribs, is oak. It’s that central Texas traditional smoke flavor that pairs so well with beef brisket and works just as well with beef ribs regardless of what type you are smoking.

Aaron Franklin Teaches Texas-Style BBQ

Aaron Franklin teaches you how to fire up flavor-packed Central Texas barbecue, including his famous brisket and more mouth-watering smoked meat.

Check Price

Don’t limit yourself, though. If you’ve got a flavor (or flavors) of wood that you use for smoking brisket, use that for your beef ribs. You’re almost guaranteed to love the experience.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Oak
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageCamerons Wood Chips: Oak
  • 100% natural wood
  • Coarse Cut
  • Made in USA
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Cooking Chunks : Oak
  • 100% natural wood
  • Large size
  • Heat treated
CHECK PRICE

If you’re looking for another idea, you can give mesquite a chance here. It’s a staple of West Texas BBQ, and beef can handle it a lot better than pork. You still need to be careful, though. Even hearty cuts of beef can get over-smoked and turn bitter if exposed to too much mesquite.


Mesquite

You could try balancing mesquite with a fruitwood like apple, pecan, or maple. It will help balance the strength with some sweetness, giving you a unique flavor profile. 

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBear Mountain Wood Pellets : Maple
  • No binders or fillers
  • Works well with all major grill brands
  • Low moisture
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Wood Chips : Maple
  • 100% natural wood
  • Heat treated
  • Large sized chips
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageWestern Premium Cooking Chunks : Maple
  • 100% natural wood
  • Large size
  • Heat treated
CHECK PRICE

What Kind Of Wood Should I Use When Smoking Ribs?

We’ve talked flavors, now it’s time to talk about what kind of wood as in logs/splits, chunks, chips, or pellets. This is largely dependent on your smoker or grill. 

If you’ve got a traditional offset smoker, you’ll be using wood logs or splits as they are sometimes known.

If you are smoking in a charcoal grill set up for indirect heat, I prefer using wood chunks. These are logs or splits that have simply been cut down into smaller, more manageable sizes. You can also use wood chips that have been wrapped up in packets of aluminum foil or in a smoke box.

If you are using an electric or propane vertical smoker, the vast majority of these smokers use wood chips. You don’t need a big hunk of wood because the heating element or burner is creating the heat. You just need to add some smoke flavor, so wood chips are perfect.

If you’re smoking on a gas grill, I would use either wood chips or wood pellets in a smoke box or tube. 

When it comes to a pellet grill, the only choice is wood pellets. You do want to make sure that you’re purchasing wood pellets that are made from hardwood and are designed for cooking and not heating. Heating wood pellets can have all sorts of fillers and other ingredients that would make cooking with them unsafe.

FAQs:

Question: Can I Actually Smoke Ribs On A Gas Grill?

Answer: Yes, it is possible. You can do it with your standard gas grill using a smoke tube or box. Is it going to be the same as smoking on an offset smoker or as precise as a pellet grill? No, but it is possible.

If you’re looking for precision temperature control on a gas grill, check out my thoughts on the new Broil King iQue line of gas grills from HPBExpo 24. These grills are built to handle smoking low and slow at 225°F with the same level of temperature control as a pellet grill.  

Question: What Are The Best Wood Pellets For Smoking Ribs?

Answer: We are partial to Bear Mountain BBQ Pellets here at Angry BBQ. They offer a wide variety of flavors and blends, and it’s what I use in my personal pellet grill. Regardless of what you choose, make sure you are using all-natural hardwood pellets made for smoking. No heating pellet should ever go into your grill’s pellet hopper!

Question: Can I Use Wood To Smoke On My Charcoal Grill?

Answer: As touched on above, you absolutely can smoke ribs on your charcoal grill with wood. Most charcoal grills aren’t able to fit wood logs or splits easily so those aren’t good options. I have used both wood chunks and wood chips to great success when smoking pork ribs on my charcoal kettle.

Question: Will Wrapping My Ribs Affect The Smoke Flavor?

Answer: It makes sense to wonder if wrapping your ribs in aluminum foil or butcher paper will reduce the wood smoke flavor. After all, that’s a major part of smoked ribs. You don’t need to worry, though. If you leave your pork ribs unwrapped for the first three hours or so of your smoking process, they will have picked up enough wood smoke flavor. For more on wrapping pork ribs, check out the video below!

How to Wrap Ribs In Foil: Don’t Lose Those Juices

Beef ribs are quite similar, but you’ll treat them more like a brisket, smoking them unwrapped until they hit the stall and you are happy with the look and feel of the bark. They will pick up plenty of wood smoke flavor before you wrap.

Wrapping It Up

If you’ve ever been tripped up trying to figure out the best wood for smoking ribs, this article should help you out. We recommend a blend of cherry and hickory for pork ribs while using oak for beef ribs. However, don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve enjoyed my pork ribs smoked using oak as well, and there are plenty of people who like a touch of sweetness with beef ribs.

Do you have a preferred flavor of wood for smoking ribs? Or perhaps a preferred brand of pellets, wood chunks, or wood chips? Let us know in the comments below! 

Also, please take a moment to share this article with your friends who enjoy barbecue or are looking to get into smoking ribs at home!

4 thoughts on “Best Wood For Smoking Ribs”

  1. I have been using a cheap ball shaped BBQ and using wood instead of charcoal on a regular basis.
    Having a small apple orchard means a constant supply of dead wood. There are also chokecherry bushes on the property. The method for smoking is to put the meat in a small frying pan without a handle. This buffers the heat from the burning wood and prevents scorching the meat. When the fire is off to a good burn, put the cover on the BBQ and open the vent noting the prevailing wind direction. Ribs are well done in an hour and very tasty. Works with hamburgers and rear chicken quarters also.

    Reply
  2. I am fortunate enough to live close to wine country in Northern California where, as you might guess, there are many used oak wine barrels. A local guy who makes wine barrel furniture sells (and often gives away) chunks that are cut from the pieces he makes. I use the Cabernet (and other reds) white oak chunks, often in combination with cherry chunks, in my Camp Chef 24 smoker. The output in terms of flavor, aroma and color is simply amazing. When the oak starts to smoke, you can really smell the wine (which decreases in strength as the chunks dwindle).

    Reply
    • Hi Ron,
      That sounds like a great idea. I’m jealous of how close you are to wine country. My wife Jannah and I went to Napa and Sonoma for our honeymoon back in 2005. We want to come visit again. We were beer/whiskey/vodka drinkers until we went to wine country. Everything changed.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply

Leave a Comment