Best Wood for Smoking Ribs (8 Types of Wood)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: December 5, 2023

One of the best meats you could ever smoke is ribs; now that’s what I call the perfect barbeque. The Great British Chefs say that cooking ribs on a barbeque charcoal grill is the perfect way to get that unique depth and rich, delicious smoky flavor and aroma.

And of course, perfect smoking ribs come with the best of the best smokers. Make sure your smoker delivers its purpose.

Quick Summary

  • The best woods for smoking ribs include oak, hickory, mesquite, apple, cherry, maple, peach, and pecan, each imparting unique flavors.
  • The choice of wood depends on the type of ribs (pork or beef) and personal preference, with some woods offering sweet, nutty, or robust flavors.
  • It's recommended to blend strong-flavored woods like hickory or mesquite with milder ones like apple or cherry to balance the smoky flavor.

Most chefs recommend using the 3-2-1 method when cooking ribs; this is where you will infuse, then steam, and then glaze them for a few hours until they are perfectly cooked and tender [1].

What Is The Best Woods To Smoke Ribs?

Chopped wood logs stacked on each other

Before deciding on the best wood to use, it is essential to understand how the smoke affects the flavor of the ribs.

The Great British Chefs explain how ribs absorb the smoke flavors; this happens through the fat. When ribs are smoked, the fat initially absorbs the smoke flavor.

As the oils from the fat are absorbed into the meat, the flavor moves with it giving it a rich smokiness while also tenderizing the meat [2].

You can choose whether you would prefer to cook beef or pork ribs on your barbeque; this all depends on your preferences.

When cooking these meats, the thing to remember is that certain woods go better with beef and pork. Before choosing your wood, decide what meat you are going to cook.

Let us go through the different woods that are great for cooking ribs.

1. Oak

Oak wood is common for many different types of meat as it is very versatile. It goes with both pork and beef ribs giving your dish a beautiful sweet vanilla flavor.

Oak burns for a long time which is excellent as you will use less wood for your entire barbeque. Oak is also very affordable and readily available.

This is a great primary wood that can be mixed with any of your fruit wood.

2. Hickory

Hickory is a very strong flavored wood that burns for an extended period. It goes well with both pork and beef ribs giving them a delicious nutty bacon flavor.

Since the hickory taste can be intense, it can easily overpower your ribs if too much is used.

It is crucial to mix it with a more subtle flavored wood such as cherry wood or apple.

3. Mesquite

Mesquite wood logs stacked

This wood has the most robust flavor compared to the other woods; due to this, it should be mixed with more subtle flavored woods.

Add the wood slowly onto your barbeque until you are satisfied with the amount you would like to use.

Mesquite goes with both beef and pork and gives your meat an earthy flavor that would remind you of that authentic Texan flavor.

4. Apple

Applewood is also a commonly used wood, especially when blending with strong-flavored woods like hickory or mesquite since it has quite a subtle flavor. This wood goes very well with pork due to its mild sweet fruity flavor.

Applewood is used for smoking because it takes a long time to burn and so it works well with ribs that need to be cooked over a long period.

5. Cherry

Cherry wood has a richly sweet, fruity flavor, and due to this, it goes very well with smoked pork ribs.

This fruit wood is excellent when used on its own but can also go very well with oak, hickory, or pecan, which will increase the richness of the smoke flavor and give it a more subtle sweetness. This wood also gives the food cooked a beautiful mahogany color.

6. Maple

Maple wood is excellent to use if this is your first barbeque; it has a mild smoky-sweet flavor that is easy to work with. This wood is versatile and mixes wonderfully with other flavored wood.

7. Peach

This wood gives you that natural southern barbeque flavor, a mild smoky-sweet flavor. It is a very light-flavored wood that mixes well with other woods.

8. Pecan

Wood pecan logs chopped off

Pecan goes very well with pork; it gives your smoked meat a delicious nutty, sweet flavor.

The flavor is not as strong as hickory; it can be mixed with citrus wood which is excellent for pork.

The intense flavors such as hickory, oak, mesquite, and pecan should always be blended with more subtle woods to prevent overwhelming the taste of the meat.

Meathead Goldwyn is a well-known chef who loves barbequing ribs; his go-to wood blend is oak or hickory with the sweetness of applewood [3].

Pairing the correct wood chips with the glaze you decide to add to your ribs will beautifully bring out the smoky flavor.

Also Read: How to Smoke Meat Using Wood

What Wood Not To Use When Smoking Ribs?

Mulberry woods and other wood chops

Certain wood flavors are not typically used because they are honestly not the best wood for smoking ribs, but if you have no choice, you can try to use them.

This includes:

  • Olive
  • Mulberry
  • Grapevine
  • Western Red Cedar

Then you get a list of wood chips that should never be used to smoke ribs because they will ruin the flavor of your ribs, and these wood chips can also be harmful to humans.

This includes:

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

What Are The Best Ribs To Smoke?

Smoked spare ribs with vegetable garnish

You should also know what ribs are the best for smoking, this may depend on where you are from, but we recommend buying either spare ribs or baby back ribs.

Spare ribs are bigger than baby back ribs; they are found on the bottom of the rib cage close to the belly of the animal.

Spare ribs are much fattier and so are said to absorb more flavor than baby back ribs. Baby back ribs are found higher on the back and are shorter.

Due to their position on the animal, they are known to be more tender, as the animal doesn’t use these muscles as much.

Baby back ribs cook much quicker than spare ribs, which take 1 to 2 hours longer to cook if you have time constraints when smoking the ribs.

When smoking ribs, it is best to cook them with the bone side down.  The reason for this is that if they are sitting the other way, the juices form a pool in the concave, stopping the smoky flavor from being absorbed into the meat.


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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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