Best Wood for Smoking Ribs Guide

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Whenever summer rolls around and the weather starts to get hot, many people throughout the United States are eager to pull out their smokers to get started barbequing. As anyone who enjoys making or eating barbeque knows, there are all kinds of ways to prepare it and a number of different meats you can prepare.

Perhaps the most popular meat to smoke for barbeque however is a rack of ribs. Once you’ve got your hands on some ribs, however, there are other things you need to buy before being able to properly smoke them. First, you might think of sauces and spices but just as important is the wood you use to smoke it. This article will teach you:

  • How to properly smoke ribs
  • How to choose the best wood for smoking them
  • The different types of wood
  • Frequently asked questions about smoking ribs

Read on to find out more.

What is Smoking Wood?

The wood you buy for your ribs is a primary component in the barbequing process. It’s what gives the meat its distinct smoky taste and tender texture. It is also the primary burning fuel for cooking the meat as well.

When you first start looking for smoking wood, you will likely notice that there are two primary types you can pick from. These are wood chips and wood chunks. The main difference between these two naturally is how well they burn. Because of their smaller size, wood chips will burn much faster than wood chunks. This means you will need to put more wood into your smoker more frequently than if you would use wood chunks.

Another difference between the two is the amount of flavor they give to the meat. Because wood chips tend to burn more quickly, they will likely give a softer less smoky flavor. By contrast, the wood chunks will imbue your meat with a distinct and pronounced smoky flavor.

One thing that smoking experts agree on when it comes to using smoking wood is that, no matter which kind you choose, you should soak it in water before burning it. Not only will this make the wood last longer, it but will also make the meat taste better.

Different Types of Smoking Wood

Beyond the basic division of wood chunks versus wood chips, you’ll also find that there is a large variety of different flavors of wood you can buy. While there are many out there, some of the most popular include:

  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Pecan
  • Apple

Each one of these types of wood has unique properties that can give your meat a distinct and tasty flavor profile. It’s best to give an overview of each of them individually to give you a better sense of what they’re like:

  • Hickory: This wood has a relatively pronounced smoky flavor but is less powerful than some other woods such as mesquite and also has sweeter undertones. You can also combine it with a number of other woods to get an even more complex flavor.
  • Maple: As you can probably guess, the primary flavor of maple wood is distinctly sweet rather than smoky. However, there is still some underlying smoke flavor as well. When cooking with maple wood, you may want to add spices to your meat that contrast with the sweetness of the maple.
  • Oak: For many smokers, oak wood is the number one choice for smoking their meat. This is because oak has an extremely mild flavor that is not overly smoky or sweet. If you want a stronger flavor, you can easily pair it with virtually any other kind of wood.
  • Pecan: Naturally, pecan wood gives the meat a nutty flavor but is also somewhat sweet and smoky. Because of its distinctly well-rounded flavor, most any type of meat will work well when smoking with pecan.
  • Apple: Of course, applewood is among the most well-known and popular of the fruit flavored woods. Though it will certainly make your meat taste sweet, it is not considered to be so sweet as to be overwhelming.

While there are of course many more types of smoking wood out there to choose from, these five are generally the most popular. There are a few other types you may want to consider such as cedar, cherry, and mesquite.

How to Smoke Your Ribs

While barbecuing ribs might seem easy at first, it is actually a delicate and intricate process that takes multiple steps. Because of this, some might prefer to just bake their ribs or bake them in barbecue sauce to make things easier. However, neither will give ribs that wonderful smoky barbecue flavor that cooking them slowly on the smoker will give them.
The very first thing you need to do before you actually put your meat on the smoker is to assemble all your ingredients:

Step 1. Picking a good set of ribs

Of course, when you’re looking to barbecue ribs, you shouldn’t be content with any cut of meat. You should make sure the meat is of high quality. When at the store, make sure the meat is colored pink or red and not pale. Also, make sure it doesn’t have an off smell.

Step 2. Assembling your spices

No set of barbecue ribs is complete without a proper set of spices. There are many different spice mixes you can use for your dry rub. Most dry rubs use common ingredients such as brown sugar, chili pepper, paprika, and more. There are many recipes online available for you to look at or you can experiment on your own.

Step 3. Applying the dry rub

After getting your dry rub mix together, it’s time to spice up your ribs. Applying the rub is a very simple process. You simply need to take the dry rub mix and literally rub it in with both your hands. Make sure the whole slab of ribs is coated to make sure every inch is well spiced.

Step 4. Refrigeration

Once the rub is well applied, find a large plastic container to set the ribs in and cover it with a lid, tin foil, or plastic wrap. Then store it in the fridge over night until you’re ready to smoke it. This helps the meat absorb the flavors of the spice mix.

Step 5. Getting the smoker started

First load up the portion of your smoker where burning fuel is stored with whatever wood type you’ve chosen. Also add in some charcoal to help the wood burn. Once it’s assembled light the fire and get the temperature up to your desired point. The ideal smoking temp however is around 225 degrees. Once everything’s ready you can put your ribs on to start smoking.

Step 6. Maintaining the fire

Unfortunately, you can’t just light a smoker fire and leave it like with a normal grill. You have to periodically check it to make sure the temperature stays at the same level. In order to do this, you first need to add more wood chips or chunks to the fire. You also need to adjust the vents on your smoker to maintain oxygen levels.

Step 7. Finishing off the ribs

After about 5 hours the ribs should be finished. If you want, you can cut them open to make sure they’re done before shutting off the fire completely. If they are finished all the way you have the option of adding barbecue sauce on top of the rub to give it some extra flavor though some experts argue this drowns out the flavor of the meat. Otherwise, your smoked ribs are all ready to enjoy.

While there are many different ways to cook your slab of ribs, this outline follows the general rules for cooking them on wood in a smoker. To get more detailed instructions and spice mixes, there are many full recipes published online you can consult.
What is the best wood for smoking ribs?

Ultimately, the type of wood best for smoking ribs largely depends on what flavors you prefer and how skilled you are at cooking them. If you have a lot of experience smoking ribs then you can choose virtually any wood type considering you know what to do with it. If you are a beginner, however, you may want to go for a milder wood type so that you don’t accidentally create too overwhelming of a flavor.

For those who are new to barbecuing and want to go for a milder wood, there are several different types you can choose from. Most experts suggest woods such as oak, hickory, or maple for beginners. However, it is also advised that you don’t use too much of a single wood as even a large amount of even a mild wood can overpower the meat itself.

For experienced smokers with a plethora of knowledge, there is a much larger array of woods you can pick. You can choose one of the milder woods listed above or a more flavor type. If you want your ribs to taste sweeter you can pick a fruity wood like apple or cherry. If you want a nutty flavor you can use pecan or something similar. If you want an especially smoky flavor you can use mesquite.

Where Can You Buy Wood for Smoking?

You can find most smoking wood either online or in a number of different brick-and-mortar stores. For those that live in the US you should be able to find some in a number of large chains that sell home goods such as Home Depot or Lowes. In addition to large chains, many areas will have stores that specialize in selling barbecue products including wood for smoking.
If you do not have a brick and mortar store near you that sells wood, there are a number of places you can buy online. Among the most popular online stores, Amazon, sells smoking wood. However, there are also several specialist stores that also sell wood including:

  • The Barbecue Company
  • BBQ Guys
  • Fruita Wood and BBQ Supply
  • Southern Fuelwood


Choosing the right wood for smoking your rib can be a complicated task. You need to consider your skill level as a smoker, what type of flavor you want the meat to have, and what spices you want to mix with the flavor of the wood. There are many flavor combinations you can use to get the proper flavor you want for your ribs. If you want, you can mix woods that are sweet, smoky, or nutty together to create a unique taste wholly suited to your palate.

While there may not be a single best type of wood to use for smoking your ribs, there is a type of wood that’s suited perfectly for your preferences. Take time to make sure the wood you’re buying will give your ribs the flavor you truly want.


Question: Do I have to soak my wood in water before smoking?

Answer: While many smokers traditionally soak their wood chunks in water before using it, this is not something that you have to do. Though soaking the wood is supposed to create more smoke flavor and make the wood last longer, in practice there is little difference between how soaked and non-soaked wood burns.

Question: Can I smoke using wood pellets?

Answer: Though less common than using wood chunks or chips, wood pellets can also be used to smoke food. In fact, using wood pellets may have a couple advantages over using traditional cuts of wood. They burn longer than other cuts of wood making it easier to control the temperature and also create hotter fires. However, some pellets are also made using chemicals that may give an off flavor to the meat.

Question: How much wood do you need to smoke ribs?

Answer: This depends largely on which type of wood you’re using. If you smoke using wood chips, you should have between 10-12 ounces of chips ready to put on the fire. If you smoke using wood chunks, you should have 3-4 chunks on hand.

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