There are a lot of different opinions out there on the best wood for smoking ribs. Some people say that hickory is the only way to go, while others claim that cherry is the key to tender and juicy ribs. So what do each bring to the table? And are there even more options than these two popular smoking woods that work? Below we cover some of the best woods for smoking ribs, along with details on why each works, so you can choose the right wood for you.
Table of Contents
- Top option: Hickory wood
- A sweet alternative with a look: Cherry
- A dynamic duo: A hickory and cherry wood blend
- A bold twist for smoking beef ribs: Mesquite
- Don’t overlook for smoking pork ribs: Apple wood
- Must-read related posts
Top option: Hickory wood
Hickory wood is a strong-flavored wood, so it’s best used sparingly. When used correctly, it can add a lovely hint of smokiness to your ribs that really takes them up a notch.
The taste? It has an earthy and nutty flavor. You know the taste better than you may think. Hickory is the flavor used in bacon, so it’s known for how well it works with pork (and pork ribs.)
However, if you use too much hickory, it can overpower the flavor of your smoked ribs, particularly pork ribs. If you’re looking to experiment with hickory smoke, start with a small amount of wood chips and see how it goes. You can always add more if needed.
A sweet alternative with a look: Cherry
Cherry is a milder wood (like all fruit woods), so it’s a great option if you’re worried about hickory being too strong. It will still give your ribs a nice mild smoke flavor, but it won’t be as intense as hickory. Cherry is also a good option if you’re looking to add a sweet taste to your ribs.
But perhaps best of all is the color your ribs take on from the smoke of cherry wood. They take on a red hue, similar to that of (of course) a cherry. It’s a real appetizing look
Cherry wood is an excellent option for smoking pork ribs given its more subtle smokiness. Just note: cherry wood tends to burn fast, and ribs are best smoked for long periods. You’ll need to have a good stock of wood chips at the ready to really make the most from this wood.
A dynamic duo: A hickory and cherry wood blend
These two smoking woods pair very well together, particularly for pork ribs. The sweet, more subtle smoky flavor of cherry wood is an excellent foil to the nutty, earthy taste of hickory. Plus, the cherry wood cuts back on some of the hickory intensity, making this pairing an excellent option for pork ribs where pure hickory is often too intense.
A bold twist for smoking beef ribs: Mesquite
Mesquite is an even stronger-flavored wood than hickory, so it should be used sparingly when smoking ribs. It can give your ribs a rich smoky taste. But it can also quickly become overwhelming with that smoked taste if you’re not careful. This wood is best used with beef ribs, not pork. The flavor of your pork ribs will be completely overpowered by mesquite.
One option, if you like the bold flavor of mesquite but you’re concerned it’s too much, is to cut it with hickory. Hickory is a big enough flavor to meld well with mesquite, cutting down on the bold mesquite smoky flavor and adding some additional depth to the flavor of your ribs.
What doesn’t work as well? Cutting your mesquite with cherry wood (or any fruit woods.) Fruit woods, like cherry, provide milder smoke flavors, and they tend to be completely overwhelmed by mesquite.
Don’t overlook for smoking pork ribs: Apple wood
Apple wood is a great option for smoking ribs, particularly pork ribs which can be overpowered by the more intense options above. It provides a lovely fruity sweet flavor that can really elevate the taste of your ribs. Apple and pork are a common pairing for a very good reason. It also has a very pleasant smell when used for smoking.
Two things to note: like cherry wood, apple can be a bit milder in flavor than some of the other options on this list, so you may need to use a bit more of it. Additionally, because this is a fruit wood (again, like cherry), it burns relatively quickly. You’ll want to have plenty of wood chips on hand if you’re smoking ribs with apple wood.
Must-read related posts
- Our Smoker Wood Chips Guide: Learn about the various smoking wood types, plus tips on how to get the most from them.
- How To Add Smoky Flavor To A Meal Without Smoke: Certain spices can bring a taste of the smoker to your table.
- Smoking Ribs On A Charcoal Grill: Charcoal grills aren’t optimal for smoking, so you’ll want to approach it correctly.