The first step in smoking your ribs is choosing the appropriate wood. There are many types of woods that can be used as fuel for smoking, but not all woods work with all smoker configurations and smoker temperatures and cooking times need to be carefully considered when selecting the right type of fuel.
Some commonly used woods include apple, cherry, peach, pecan, and oak among others and we are here to help you pick the best wood for smoking pork ribs.
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Before we get into which is best wood for smoking ribs, let us consider how wood should be selected and how much fuel you will need. Why? Because not all smokers are created equal. Some smokers can be as small as a duffel bag, others can be as large as a backyard patio. Some smokers use charcoal to create heat, others use propane and still, others use electricity. There are also some smokers that have their own dedicated wood chips and chunks to use as fuel, while others use pellets that can be purchased at local stores and they do require a little more preparation.
There are several types of wood that will work best with your smoker. Some will give you the strong smoke flavor, others will give hints of sweetness, and still, others will add a balance to the overall profile. Of course, there are many more things you need to consider when selecting the right type of wood for smoking ribs, including the size and shape of your smoker and the temperature setting you will use.
Size of the smoker
The size of your smoker will determine how much fuel you will need. A small smoker will only use a few chunks or a couple of handfuls of wood, while larger smokers like the Big Green Egg can hold as much as six logs of wood and require a lot more charcoal or propane to get it started and maintain the right temperature. If you add too little fuel, then your smoker won't have enough heat to do the job effectively. The last thing you want is for your ribs to come out undercooked or for them to turn out too dry or overcooked. The best thing to do is prepare for how many racks you want to smoke in advance so that you always have enough fuel on hand.
As far as temperature goes, it's best to have a wide range of temperatures to use during the smoking process. Many pitmasters will start their smoker off with a higher temperature and then lower it to maintain the right temperature the rest of the way through. Some smokers will even come with multiple fireboxes so that you can adjust your heat without having to leave your smoker. The only thing you should be careful about is not opening up your smoker too frequently, as this can release too much heat at once and cool down your smoker before you are able to get it heated back up again.
Lighting your smoker
If you are using a smoker that requires an open flame, then it is important that you are able to control the heat as well as keep it burning steady. As a beginner, it would be best to use charcoal or a propane grill lighter rather than attempting to light your smoker with a match. When using wood chunks as fuel in your smoker, it is important that they are placed on top of hot coals so they can ignite and then start smoking. It is very possible to light your smoker using a match, in which case you will want to turn the temperature down while you are lighting the fuel and then turn it back up.
You should also consider where you will be lighting your smoker. If it's in the garage and there are a lot of fumes or ventilation issues, you might want to have a window rolled down and the garage door opened so that any fumes will be able to escape. If possible, have a friend help with lighting your charcoal or propane so that any potential problems can be avoided.
Types of woods are best for smoking pork ribs.
So, which wood should you choose for smoking ribs? As mentioned above, many are available and there are many different types of woods all with their own unique flavor.
Some smoker owners prefer the heavy flavors of oak while others prefer the lighter flavors of apple, peach, and even cherry. Most will recommend using wood that is a few years old to get that mellow smoke flavor that everyone is looking for. We always recommend using wood from the region you live in so that you can get a taste of what the local farmers hand-harvested.
For those who prefer a lighter smoke flavor, then alder, apple wood, or almond should be your preferred choice for smoking ribs. Alder is known for a sweet and delicate smoke that pairs well with salmon and other types of seafood that require a milder flavor. Applewood gives meats that nice apple or fruity flavor while almonds are great with poultry, as they bring out an almond flavor while adding sweetness.
In the mid-range, there is hickory and cherry wood. Hickory gives meats that strong robust flavor while cherry gives you hints of sweetness along with the smoky taste. Hickory is also best used when cooking pork butt and pork shoulder as it gives your meat the really desirable rich flavors it needs to shine through.
And then there's mesquite. Mesquite is what we use when smoking ribs - it's simply the best wood to smoke ribs with. It gives the meat a deep, concentrated flavor that's more intense than any other wood type and it pairs beautifully with pork ribs in particular. It's also very good when used for the grilling of beef brisket, but you'll want to make sure you have a steady temperature that stays around 225ºF so as to prevent any flare-ups.
The benefits of smoking pork ribs with wood
While the benefits of smoking ribs are obvious, it is important to note that there are a lot of other benefits as well.
First off, it brings out the natural flavors of your meats and spices them in ways you might never have imagined. Smoked meats that are perfectly smoked hold a natural layer of moisture on each cut while simultaneously helping you lose weight by keeping your meat juicy. It also gives you a chance to enjoy various flavors that traditional barbecuing would not allow for and it softens the meats giving them an extra dimension that can only be found in smoked meat.
If you smoke your meat or fish the way it was meant to be smoked, then the health benefits that go along with it are even more numerous. Smoking is a great way to keep your food free of harmful chemicals and free of artificial flavors as well as preservatives. It also helps keep your meats at a safe temperature so that you can enjoy them without getting sick or poisoning yourself.
Not only are smoke woods delicious, but they are also totally natural and they don't generate any air pollution in your backyard or even in your neighborhood. You can also forage for your own fuel and make sure you are getting the freshest possible wood as well so that you always get that best possible flavor when smoking your meat.
Which wood gives the best flavor profile for pork ribs
Woods that burn at a really high temperature like oak, hickory, and mesquite will give your meat a really strong flavor and they do a great job of getting the juices flowing. This is perfect for when you are grilling on an open fire that doesn't have a lot of temperature control options, but it also means you'll have to cook your ribs for a longer amount of time so that the smoke can permeate everything properly.
Woods like apple wood are perfect for smoking ribs because they provide the perfect balance between smoky flavor, sweetness, and subtle hints of wood. Applewood is often recommended for cooking fish, poultry, and even kebabs and it does a great job of adding a nice mild flavor to your meat without overpowering it.
Alder wood, hickory, and maple wood
Woods like alder, hickory, and maple wood are great strong woods that create the perfect environment for meat. They will give you a really strong flavor that only needs about an hour or so to cook through before you can fully enjoy its natural taste.
If you want to make sure your ribs are fully cooked on the inside then be sure to invest in a good meat thermometer that will let you know when it's time to take them out of the smoker. You don't want to take them out early when they are still moist and juicy and then end up with dry and tough meat, but if you wait too long the outside may start to get too brown before the inside is ready. There's no need to have an expensive thermometer either since they're fairly affordable.
Tips on how to smoke pork ribs using a smoker and wood
Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your smoker and your wood.
To get the most from any wood, be sure to soak it and prep it before putting it in your smoker. This way, you'll guarantee a steady burn and an even flow of smoke to help create that perfect taste. Don't worry about soaking the wood for too long either, as all you really need is about an hour or two for the water to seep into the center and season it properly.
When smoking ribs, try not to use a single flavor of wood all at once as this may cause them to overwhelm each other and create improper taste combinations. Instead, try mixing and matching the woods so that you get two or three separate tastes in each bite. You can do this by using the same wood but selecting different types or even by using a blend of them.
This is great for beginners as it gives you a chance to see which flavors go well together and which taste combinations are too overpowering and don't work with ribs at all.
Smoking ribs also takes time, which can be seen as good news or bad news depending on your point of view. However, you can speed up the process by cooking them at a higher temperature for about an hour and then dropping the temperature down to about 225ºF before continuing with the smoking process. This way, you can still get the juices that are being produced to flavor your meat, and then you can use it for all kinds of other dishes that might be easier to bring to a boil.
Is hickory or mesquite better for ribs?
While it's true that both these woods are known for their strong and smoky flavors and they are often used in tandem with one another, they have very different tastes. Hickory has a bolder flavor while mesquite is more subtle, and each one also adds a slightly different aroma to the meat. While it's still up to personal preference as to which wood you like if you're not sure what to pick then it's probably best to keep these two separated and build your own flavor profile that way.
How much wood should I use for smoking meat?
It all depends on how much meat you are cooking and whether or not you want to add flavor or just smoke the meat. If you just want to smoke the meat, then about an hour for a full slab is really all you need. If you add wood chips to your smoker every hour on the hour then it will also give your meat a great flavor and it will cook even faster than if you just let it smoke for an hour.
When smoking ribs that are larger or smaller, should I adjust the time?
Not really, since ribs take about three hours to cook anyway especially when you're smoking them at 225ºF. However, they can be cooked on a grill over an open fire instead and this will lead to them taking a little less time.
How long should I smoke ribs for?
If you want to get the best possible taste and still have them retain a little moisture then you need to smoke the ribs for two to three hours. When you first put them in the smoker, they will start smoking right away but this will stop after about an hour, so it's best not to open the door back up and let more air in after an hour because they might not be fully cooked yet.
There are many different kinds of smokers out there and some can be more difficult to use than others, but it's best to invest in one that is at least a little bit cheaper. That way, you can make sure that you're going to have a great experience using it before you spend a lot of money on something really high-end that you might not use very often.
Do your research and make sure you know what kind of smoker is best for you, the best wood for smoking pork ribs, and then make sure you fully understand how to use it before you even start cooking.
At the end of the day, smoking your ribs will give you a taste and taste experience that is truly unique from any other method of cooking, whether it's indoors or outdoors or whether it's using gas or wood. You'll get different flavors depending on which wood you select, but all will produce wonderful results when it comes to giving your meat that great barbecue flavor without any artificial additives.