From the first bite you can taste the distinct bold smokey flavor of smoked ribs. Ribs are a great flavor canvas and are rather forgiving in what wood they can be smoked with. A lot of it comes down to your personal preferences and whether you prefer sweet, fruity, or stronger smoky flavors. The best woods for smoking ribs are 100% all natural hardwoods. In terms of flavors and burning qualities, we’ve tested and explored the best wood for smoking ribs.

Hickory

Flavour Profile:
Smokiness:
Strong
Flavors:  All-Rounded & Bacon-like

smoking Chips

What Matters The Most:

  • The savoury and strong smokiness of the wood really brings out the bold rich flavor of the ribs.
  • If over-smoked, hickory can impart a bitterness to the meat. Generally this isn’t a concern unless you’re looking at doing a very long smoke. 
  • Very bacon-like and all rounded flavor not too overpowering in any sense.
  • Pairs well with sweet rubs and sauces.
  • Hickory has been made famous from the success and popularity of Southern or Midwest barbecue. 

Overall

Hickory consistently delivers a strong but not overpowering barbecue flavor, as long as you don’t over-smoke the meat. Generally because of how thin a rack of ribs are, it’s harder to over-smoke, but it’s important to keep an eye on them and test their readiness. Try pairing a nice sweet or spicy rub to the ribs when using hickory and it will further compliment the ribs. As long as you control the smoke you will be rewarded with a classic and traditional barbecue flavoured rib.

Check Best Hickory Wood On Amazon

Oak

Flavour Profile:
Smokiness:
Medium-Strong
Flavors:  Solid Smokiness

smoking Chips

What Matters The Most:

  • As ribs are much thinner than other meats you tend to cook them over much shorter smokes. This doesn’t give you the luxury of slowly imparting the smokey taste that you would get with brisket or pork butt. Oak does a wonderful job at delivering that strong smokey flavour, just in a shorter time.
  • Other woods deliver fruitier, nuttier, or sweeter flavors, whereas oak is predominantly a smokiness. 
  • Produces a good amount of consistent white smoke, and burns hot.
  • It’s very versatile in its use, and blends well with fruitier or sweeter woods like maple or apple. 
  • Oak helps build a deep brown which is very visually attractive on the ribs.

Overall

Oak is definitely a solid choice for ribs, with a solid smokiness to pair with the rich savoury flavor of the ribs. It works well over shorter smokes, as it still imparts the traditional barbecued smoky flavor. Oak doesn’t add any subtle sweet, fruitier, or nuttier flavors like other woods but blends well. When blended you get the sweeter/fruitier/nuttier flavor from the other wood, but the great smokiness comes through from the oak. For these reasons it’s also the best wood for smoking chicken wings.

Check Best Oak Wood On Amazon

Apple

Flavour Profile:
Smokiness:
Mild
Flavors:  Sweet & Fruity

smoking Chips

What Matters The Most:

  • The fruity and smokey flavour of apple really stands out on smoked ribs.
  • Apple wood naturally produces a lot of smoke which helps impart the smokey flavor on the ribs, even when cooking over a shorter amount of time. 
  • Because apple wood smokes well, it’s important to keep the heat a bit lower, around 240 – 260°F to avoid producing too much smoke.

Overall:

Apple has a distinct fruitiness which adds complexity to the smoked ribs, instead of being just smoky. The fruitiness does stand out, and pairs well with the savoury ribs and sweet & tangy traditional barbecue sauce. There is still a subtle smokiness which can tie it all together. Be sure to keep the heat low with apple wood, as it produces more smoke than other woods.

Check Best Apple Wood On Amazon

Maple

Flavour Profile:
Smokiness:
Mild
Flavors:  Subtle & Sweet

smoking Chips

What Matters The Most

  • Maple is more of a subtle and sweeter smoke and won’t overpower the ribs.
  • Maple can also be blended well, so if you prefer a stronger smokey flavour you can add equal parts hickory or oak. This will add stronger smokey flavour, but still have the sweetness from the maple.
  • Maple brings an orange-brown colour when smoking, which gives the ribs an appealing look. 

Overall:

Maple is a classic pairing with ribs, and although it’s not naturally as potent in smokiness, it does add a uniquely subtle sweetness. If you prefer more of an oomph with your ribs, maple can be blended well with oak or hickory. As it’s not overpowering, it also makes the best wood for smoking turkey.

Check Best Maple Wood On Amazon

Mesquite

Flavour Profile:
Smokiness:
Very Strong
Flavors:  Distinctly Strong Smokiness

smoking Chips

What Matters The Most

  • Mesquite is known to be the strongest smoky wood, and must always be used in caution as it’s easy to over-smoke if smoking while covered.
  • In saying that, if controlled right mesquite provides a distinctly powerful barbecue flavor which is wonderful with ribs.
  • When smoking with mesquite it’s recommended to only add about ¼ of the wood as mesquite, and the rest being another dried hardwood, such as apple or maple.
  • There is a little bit of sweetness and earthiness to the wood smoke. 

Overall:

If you love a strong smokiness, mesquite will provide everything you need. You really do need to be cautious, but because you smoke ribs for a shorter amount of time, if you’re blending mesquite wood chips/chunks/or pellets with another wood you should be fine. If you want to just use mesquite, it’s recommended for open smokes such as in traditional log pits.

Check Best Mesquite Wood On Amazon

Cherry

Flavour Profile:
Smokiness:
Medium
Flavors:  Sweet & Fruity

smoking Chips

What Matters The Most:

  • Revered as one of the sweetest flavors of wood and is quite smokey.
  • Cherry also gives a deep mahogany colour to the ribs, which is one of the most attractive.
  • With cherry wood, it really does give off a strong sweetness, so if you prefer a full-bodied smokiness it’s recommended to blend it with hickory or oak.
  • Cherry is quite forgiving, and it’s hard to naturally over-smoke the ribs which makes it an easy option.

Overall:

Cherry isn’t always the first choice for cooking ribs, but it does naturally pair well and it is hard to go wrong. The only downside is that if you smoke it without blending it sometimes the smokiness can be a bit underwhelming as the sweetness does come through. For ribs, cherry wood gives it a deep, slightly red-mahogany appearance which really is attractive. Because it’s naturally sweet, it will pair more evenly with a tangy or spicy barbecue sauce.

Check Best Cherry Wood On Amazon

Woods To Avoid When Smoking Ribs

The most common and effective woods to use when smoking ribs is 100% all natural dried hardwoods. Any softwood, such as pine, cedar, or redwood for example are to be avoided as these will impart an unwanted or off taste to the ribs. Traditional barbecue never uses softwoods as they are resinous, pungent, and the smoke does no good at all to the meat, in fact it harms the taste and quality.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *