Best Wood for Smoking Ribs

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When it comes to choosing the best wood for smoking ribs, you have quite the task ahead of you, especially as the wood you select can either make the meat taste better or worse.

Smokers have access to numerous varieties of wood—some being better for pork, while others are best for beef or poultry.

This is why you won’t want to just choose any old random lumber.

In this guide, we’ll go over what type is the best for dealing with ribs and how you can make the most of your smoker for the next backyard barbecue or tailgate party.

How Much Wood Should I Use to Smoke Ribs?

Before we get into the best wood choices for ribs, you will want to know much to add to your smoker.

Our top recommendation is to look at the instruction manual that came with your smoker.

Ideally, it will suggest not only the ideal amount of wood for the unit but also the type of wood that you might need.

Some smokers work best with sawdust, while others are better suited for full logs of wood.

The type of wood that you choose to use will have a large bearing over the amount. However, you can also go by trial and error until you find the distinct flavor that you and your family enjoy the most.

Many smoker aficionados suggest you weigh the wood before putting it into your smoker so that you have an exact number for how much is required for the perfect flavor.

On average, you might find that eight ounces of wood should be sufficient enough to produce an ideal amount of smoke for a fantastic flavor, appearance, and texture for your ribs.

It’s important to note the weight may vary depending on the wood texture, as well. Eight ounces of chunks may equate to 10 to 12 ounces of wood chips in your smoker.

Another fantastic tip is to start with eight ounces and keep an eye on the amount of smoke produced, only adding more wood if necessary.

Best Wood for Smoking Ribs

Everyone will have their preference for the best type of wood to use for smoking ribs, although there are a couple that seems to be the fan-favorite.

All in all, the wood that you choose will provide a smokey flavor that is unmatched by any other cooking method.

As such, it’s a good idea to try different types to help you find the perfect one.


Hickory is by far one of the most popular options when working with ribs, especially if you live in the Southwest or Midwest.

The most notable element of hickory wood is that it provides a sweet yet savory texture with plenty of delicious undertones that you are bound to appreciate.

However, working with hickory wood isn’t a fool-proof option, especially for beginners, which is why smoked ribs are more of a delicacy than an everyday meal.

If you wind up using too much Hickory in your smoker, your ribs will taste bitter, souring the meat for everyone.

This is why you must start with a small amount of wood and work your way up as necessary, as you won’t want to overdo it right out of the gate.


You’ve likely heard of traditional mesquite barbecue, and for a good reason.

It’s another highly popular smoking flavor throughout the South and Midwest.

Mesquite is bold and powerful, which can pack a powerful punch and boost any seasonings and rubs that you use on your ribs.

Another advantage of mesquite is that it can help make your wood easier to burn, as the natural oils won’t make it hard to burn over time.

Like hickory, as mesquite is a potent flavor, you will want to make sure that you don’t overdo the amount of wood you add to your smoker.

Red Oak

If you’re a beginner, you’re going to want to opt for a hardy wood that is easy to use and will offer a subtle flavoring to your ribs—at least until you get the hang of using your smoker.

Red oak is one of the most popular options for beginners because it has a strong flavor.

It’s relatively impossible to overdo, offering a gentle but still noticeable smokey flavor to your meat.


Another fantastic option for beginners is applewood, especially if you want to add a small sweet flavor to your ribs.

You might also want to consider using applewood if you are looking for a material that will take quite a while to burn for extended smoking sessions.

If you prefer slow-cooking your ribs, you’ll love switching to applewood.

Then again, this means that it’s not the best choice for someone who is working under time constraints; it can take several hours of smoking to achieve the perfect flavor and texture.

Overall, applewood is the right choice because it has a mellow flavor compared to a bolder one that you would typically find with either mesquite or hickory.


How can you use cherry wood for ribs when it has a robust fruity flavor?

Like applewood, cherry wood offers a subtle difference to the meat, especially if you’re working with pork ribs.

Not only will it help to make a mild fruity difference, but it also helps to transform your ribs to have a rich red coloring that will undoubtedly make them appear more appetizing.

Our recommendation is to pair the cherry wood with another wood type, such as hickory, to help mellow the bold flavor and add a unique twist.

best wood for smoking ribs

Worst Wood for Ribs

Just as there are several types of wood that you will love to use with ribs, there are also varieties that aren’t suited for this type of cooking.

In general, you’ll find that hardwoods are the best option for ribs, as they allow you to thoroughly cook the meat without overcooking but will add a robust flavor into them instead.

Softwoods are what you are going to want to avoid, especially as they have dangerous tars and toxins that can be absorbed by the meat.

A few examples of the worst types of wood for ribs include:

  • Spruce
  • Pine
  • Hemlock
  • Chemically-treated wood
  • Scrap wood of unknown origin
  • Painted/stained wood
  • Sycamore
  • Poison Oak
  • Fir
  • Cedar

Tips for Smoking Ribs

If you haven’t had the opportunity to use your smoker yet, it’s a good idea to have a few of the best tips and tricks under your belt.

Apart from getting advice from enthusiasts, as there are plenty on the Internet, it can be a great experience to learn via trial and error to know how to achieve the perfect flavor, texture, and appearance for all types of ribs.

Tip 1: Remove Bark

Regardless of the type of wood you have bought for your smoker, it’s a great idea to remove the bark before smoking.

This is because the bark can be responsible for producing an arid and sour smell that will penetrate the meat.

Tip 2: Gradually Add Wood

As earlier mentioned, you don’t want to overfill your smoker with wood.

Doing so will produce far too much smoke at first, which can ruin your meat within a matter of minutes.

A better alternative is to start with small amounts and gradually add more if you find that the smoker isn’t making enough smoke, especially if you’re using one for the first time.

Tip 3: Opt for Wood Chunks

You’ll find that wood chunks are the preferable option for smokers as they are packed with flavor, affordable, and easy to use.

In comparison to pellets, for example, you won’t have to worry about changing the wood as often.

Using wood chunks allows you to have a steady and consistent flow of smoke throughout the smoker for the most flavorful finished product.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is pecan wood good for smoking pork ribs?

Pecans are delicious in a variety of ways, as is their wood, especially when it comes to making ribs.

You’ll find that pecan wood is another popular option for people who own smokers, as it has a very mild flavor and is in the same family as hickory.

Pecan is also a great option because it burns slowly and adds a soft and delicate flavor to the meat that you won’t soon forget.

Not to mention, it works quite well when paired with other types of wood.

The main tip to remember when using pecan wood is that it should be done so moderately so that the wood doesn’t produce a pungent smell that will affect your meat.

2. Do you keep adding wood chips when smoking?

Our top tip is to make sure that you put yourself in a position where you are adding wood chips at regular intervals while smoking.

In turn, this will give you optimal control over the flavor of your meat.

Even seasoned professionals find that they will have to add more wood to their smoker to ensure the meat reaches the ideal flavor and texture.

3. Why does my smoked meat taste bitter?

There are a couple of reasons as to why your smoked meat could taste bitter, including:

  • Dirty Smoker

When you make smoked meats, creosote covers the inside of the unit, which will work its way into the meat if it is not cleaned beforehand, creating an acrid taste.

  • Improper Ventilation

Another issue that arises with the production of creosote is not having enough ventilation inside of the smoker to release the smoke, which can cause bitter-tasting meat.

  • Too Many Chips

The more smoke that your smoker has, the more bitter your meats are going to taste, which is why you will want to manage the amount of wood you are using.

Final Thoughts

One of the most exciting aspects of smoking is being able to customize the flavor and appearance of your meat by merely opting for different types of wood chips.

You can easily find the best wood for smoking ribs, whether you’re looking for something more potent like hickory or a mild sweetness like pecan wood.

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