When it comes to the best woods for smoking brisket there is no set in stone answer. It will honestly come down to your personal flavor preferences and style. But, obviously there are some smoking woods that just naturally pair with the rich savoury flavors of the brisket.
This list is compiled from my own personal preference and by reviewing the top choices of other well-known smoking enthusiasts to bring you the ultimate flavor guide for smoking brisket!
Flavors: Traditional & Strong
Hickory is one of the most traditional smoking woods. Although it’s known for its strong smoke it does have notes of nutty, savoury, and bacon-like flavors. Because brisket is smoked for an extended period of time, you can make use of this and impart as much smokiness as possible. Hickory does great at this without over smoking the meat, so long as you don’t use heaps.
You really can’t go wrong with hickory smoked brisket. The smokiness and savoury flavors add a rich traditional barbecue flavor. It’s not only one of my top picks but is constantly raved about as the best wood for smoking brisket.
Flavors: Very Strong Smokiness
Mesquite is known to be the strongest smoking wood, delivering a distinct and intense flavor. If you’re from Texas you may even have this as the number one pick, and deservedly so.
Mesquite does have a reputation for more easily over smoking meat. However, it’s a much safer pick for smoking brisket rather than a more delicate meat such as turkey or chicken so long as you don’t go overboard with it.
If you absolutely love smokiness and are confident in smoking a brisket then mesquite will deliver a solid smoky punch to the brisket. If you like the strong smokiness but want other flavors to balance it out, try blending it with more mild smoking woods such as maple, apple, or cherry.
Flavors: Subtle & Sweet
Maple is on the other side of the smokiness spectrum, being known to impart a softer, mellow, but sweeter smoky flavor. If you aren’t crazy about a strong smokiness then maple wood may be your top wood for smoking brisket.
Maple lets the richness and savoury flavors of the brisket shine while still delivering the barbecue smokiness we all love, just much more subtly. It’s also a much sweeter wood, which helps add another layer of flavor to the brisket. Maple is also one of the better woods for smoking brats for the same reason.
Maple also works particularly well to soften the blow of much stronger smoking woods such as mesquite, hickory, or oak. Therefore it’s always helpful to keep some on hand should you want to go for a more mellow option.
Flavors: All Rounded
Oak is another classic and versatile smoking wood. Personally a favourite wood for smoking wings or smoking ribs, also a very popular option for brisket. Oak is reliable and a safe option for smoking without the risk of overdoing it.
Although oak delivers the consistent smokiness we all love, it doesn’t tend to have any sweet, fruity, or nutty flavors. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you do prefer some diversity to your smokiness, oak can be blended very well with your wood flavor of choice. Whether it’s apple, maple, pecan, peach, or cherry you can’t go wrong.
Flavors: Mild, Sweet, & Nutty
Pecan is one of the top smoking woods that provide a distinct nuttiness in it’s smoke. It’s classified as a mild smoky wood that also has a bit of sweetness. Although the sweetness isn’t overpowering, pecan is often combined with oak, hickory, or mesquite to balance out the flavors.
If you haven’t tried pecan smoked brisket then you’re missing out. There is no risk of over-smoking the meat at all, but it’s recommended to pair it with a spicy rub or sauce rather than a sweet one to avoid the meat being overly sweet.
Flavors: Sweet & Fruity
Apple is a favourite for many, and it pairs beautifully with brisket, chicken, and is even one of the best woods for smoking turkey. Although it’s not known for being a strong smoking wood, it’s one of the finest sweet and fruity picks.
It also works extremely well when blended with stronger smoking woods to add a little sweetness to the traditional barbecue smokiness.
When smoking apple wood you’ll find it gives off a much more dense smoke. This isn’t cause for any alarm, and in fact it helps the smoke work it’s magic and develop bark, and the smokey sweet flavor on the brisket.
Flavors: Mild, Sweet, & Fruity
Cherry is known to give off a good amount of smoke and burn very hot. Although it gives off a mild smokey taste, it’s the fruitiness and subtle sweetness that makes it an excellent choice for brisket. During longer smokes cherry will impart a delicate smokiness, and unique fruitiness, similar but not the same as apple.
It also doesn’t risk any kind of over-smoking, and works extremely well when blended with oak or hickory for a full-bodied flavor. For these reasons cherry is almost one of the most popular woods for smoking pork butt.
Which Wood Size to Use For Smoking Brisket
Although logs are primarily used in commercial smokers, larger smokers and offset smokers can still accommodate them. When smoking brisket using logs you are relying on the wood to be the source of both the smoke and the heat. It’s important to note that because of the sheer size of the wood, a lot of smoky flavor will come out of it, so choose your wood accordingly.
Logs are traditional, and will often impart the most smokiness to the meat, which makes them an excellent choice if your smoker has enough room to fit them comfortably.
Chunks are the ideal choice as a middle ground, in between a log and a chip, a wood chunk will stay lit for a good amount of time and also provide a good amount of smoke and therefore smokiness.
Chunks are the most popular choice for smoking brisket, simply because you end up smoking the brisket over a long period of time, and generally chips will burn out more quickly and you will have to do a refill. It’s possible to primarily use chunks but add a few chips of a different flavor to give it a bit of a boost and add another flavor.
Wood chips are the modern day option, easiest and most convenient for use in an electric or gas smoker. They are usually the sole source of the smokiness in this case, and when it comes to smoking brisket, because you will be doing a longer session you will often need to do a refill or two throughout the session.
Wood chips really are convenient for this kind of use, and even adding them to your primary smoking wood chunks will add a bit of flavor of your desired choice.
Pellets work exceedingly well, and are designed to give off a good amount of smoke and burn for an extended period of time. However, they do require you to have a pellet smoker to really get the best out of them.
Smoking Brisket Using Gas Or Electric Smokers
If your go-to smoker uses gas or electricity as the fuel source then the best way to infuse the smokiness into your brisket is by utilising smoking wood chips. You’ll find that these are no different in quality to wood chunks, they are just much smaller and thinner.
It’s important to get to know your smoker and to see how quickly the wood is burnt up, and top it up during the smoking process. Be sure that you get the temperature right as the wood chips shouldn’t actually fully ignite, just slowly burn and let off smoke. If you periodically add more wood chips over the brisket smoking session you will still achieve a great, real smokiness on the brisket!
The Final Smoke
All in all, you’ll get to know which wood type is your favourite for smoking brisket with. My go-to is hickory, but often I will add a chunk of apple or cherry in the mix too. However, to become a more well rounded barbecuer I would recommend trying each different type of wood at least once so you know the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Your favourite might not even be on this list. If you are passionate and think your flavor combination needs a mention, let me know and i’ll try it out if i haven’t already!