If you have chosen your smoker with an electricity or gas supply, you will need wood chips and you might wonder what wood chips are best to be used when smoking. Different types and cuts of meat might require some alterations in terms of wood chips, and in this review, we have covered all the best wood types for cooking the finest briskets.
What is a Brisket?
Briskets are obtained from the breast or the lower chest of beef or veal. They support a lot of the weight of the cattle, thus, they are rich in connective tissue and muscle. For these reasons, brisket is not actually a tender cut, it is more of a tough cut, but it carries a great flavor potential when cooked correctly. As you smoke and slowly cook the brisket, it becomes more and more tender and packed with layered tastes. The old and classic way to cook briskets is to season it with a bit of salt and black pepper, then with the help of the correct wood chips, you can cook the most amazing briskets in your smoker.
A Glance at Our Top Picks
There is the option to choose already bundled wood packs in the market. We've also listed some single woods packs from the most popular brands, so you can make your own mixture if you want to put a more professional touch on your brisket's smoke.
Western BBQ Smoking Wood Chips Variety Pack Bundle - 4 bags
Camerons Wood Smoking Chips - 4 Pints
Weber Apple Wood Chunks
Oklahoma Joe's Mesquite Wood Smoker Chips
Types of Woods According to Size
Chips have a versatile use: you can either soak the chips in water for a slower burn, or you can directly load them into your smoker. Soaking chips is a bit controversial, there are lots of debates going on the internet and some smoking enthusiasts say that you never really need to soak chunks or chips in water in any case. They argue that wood chips have to lose all their water anyway to start burning effectively and produce smoke; and that the water has no effect in the main process. However, we believe that there is no harm in doing so and extending the fun if you enjoy preparing for your cooking. These wood pieces may vary up to 4 inches as width and length.
Chunks, on the other hand, are larger pieces of wood and they are usually used for larger cuts of meat. However, not every smoker is made to work with both chunks and chips. We suggest checking your manual before using any type of wood in your smoker. In our article about vertical smokers, you can find out more about smoker appliances, wood chips, and how to use them. Chunks are nearly 1 inch in size and have the fastest performance to burn and produce smoke. Chips and chunks are used to add extra smoke flavor after your primary heat source lit the smoker, since they are fragrance providers.
Pellets are the smallest wood form among the others in this list for producing smoke. Wood pellets are made by the compression of natural dry sawdust, without any additives, since the lignin contained in the sawdust is used as a binder, compressing the sawdust at high pressure to form the pellet, which makes the pellets have a very dense and hard composition. Pellets look like chicken feed in shape and dimensions and burn more slowly and hotter than wood chunks, allowing you to have more even smoke, convenient heat and very less ash. That being said, wood pellets are made specifically for pellet smokers/grills as the direct fuel source. Their primary purpose isn't providing smoke flavor, but still you can give it try by tossing them in your gas/charcoal smoker or pellet smoker tube to achieve a less intense flavor.
5 Best Wood Kinds Used When Smoking Brisket
#1 Mesquite - Strong, Bold and Earthy
Mesquite is the special type of tree that produces the most smoke and the superior flavor. Since briskets are tougher cuts and mesquite is an intense wood, they match perfectly. In fact, the flavor of the mesquite tree is quite distinct, thus, it can be referred to as the source of the most noticeable and dominant tastes in the meat. However, when smoking, you might expect a rich, almost dark brown color from the meat but mesquite doesn’t turn the color of the meat as much as other strong wood options - hickory and oak - do.
Best Mesquite Chips
Oklahoma Joe's Mesquite Wood Smoker Chips, 2-Pound Bag
Mesquite is quite common in Texas for both construction and cooking purposes, and they grow commonly in Mexico and America. In addition, lignin* levels of mesquite are super high and it burns quite quickly: mesquite chips will even burn quicker than mesquite chunks. Since the flavor is so intense in mesquite, not only is it used in small amounts but it is also used by mixing other types of woods that complement it, usually with hickory, or milder and lighter ones. The mixing of the woods brings about a more complex flavor palette and causes the mesquite to be less dominant when infusing its flavor.
*Lignin is a structural element in plants that push water away, thus, helps to burn.
#2 Hickory - Rich, Colorful and Deep
Hickory is a nut tree that grows in many different places on earth: China, Canada, India, and the United States. Each country has its native hickory species and the total almost adds up to 18 different types. Hickory wood is a quite hard one, thus, other than its use in the kitchen, it is a common tree when building tools, cabinets, closets, and it was even used for manufacturing baseball bats back in the day.
Western Premium Hickory 180 cu inches BBQ Smoking Chips
It is a classic in wood chips, and when used for smoking, it produces a deep smoke, more flavorful than the oak tree could provide but not as fierce as a mesquite tree would infuse. Furthermore, hickory trees give darker and more rich colors to the smoked meat than mesquite wood. Depending on the flavor strength you want, hickory can be mixed with lighter and milder woods likewise. It is famous for cooking bacon, so it is no surprise when the fragrance coming from the hickory wood resembles a bacony and delicious taste.
#3 Oak - Mild, Slow and Complementary
Oaks can be great strong flavor providers as well. Even though it is considered a strong wood chip and it gives an intense smoke taste to the meal, it is the lighter option among strong ones and oak doesn’t overshadow the characteristics of the meat. Among many oak species - there are approximately 500 - red oaks stand out and they are the most common ones used in cooking procedures. The best part about using oak when smoking your briskets is the slower burn of them, they will last longer than other strong woods and give the meat a lovely deep color.
Camerons Oak Smoking Chips 260 cubic inches, Kiln Dried
Oak itself, is not as assertive and aromatic as other strong wood chips: if you don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of smoke, oak is the great choice to thin the dominant woods and it can still be mixed with other types of chips in order to layer and enhance the taste of the meat. Most of the time, oak is used as a base wood and paired with cherry or other light-mild fruit tree chips. If you are not sure about where to start, oak is the essential tree to begin with and find the smoke intensity you want.
#4 Apple - Mild, Sweet and Fruity
Appletree is also a good resource of wood for smoking brisket. It is of medium intensity and characterized by its sweet-smelling smoke. If you are a lover of hams, applewood is the best option. It goes perfectly with pork legs, especially if they are cooked with the bone. Make a note for your Christmas meals.
Weber 350 cubic inches Apple Wood Chunks
Chunks or chips of applewood may produce a slightly sweet smoke great for turkey, chicken, poultry, and just about any bird. It has the most assertive flavor in the fruit tree category and is ideal for pork, ribs, sausage, and any cut of meat. Its sweet taste can enhance the flavor of almost any food and is a favorite of many barbecue professionals.
#5 Pecan - Savory, Rich and Nutty
If you are looking for another mild alternative flavor for hot smoking a brisket, pecan wood will deliver sweet and smooth with a taste similar to hickory. Tasty with a subtle character. It's also good with poultry, beef, pork, and cheese. Pecan is a superior and versatile smoking wood.
Best Pecan Pellets
Traeger Grills All-Natural Multicolor Pecan Pellets, PEL314 20 lb. Bag
Though pecan woods is not widely known, I think it's a great option to balance flavor by mixing it with other wood types. That's why we couldn't help but include pecan in our list as the final item.
Just to make a reminder of all above, different types of wood add different flavors when smoking brisket, depending on the type of wood. Some are interchangeable. For example, alder and cedarwood grills add a very mild flavor. The wood of fruit trees, such as apple and cherry, also result in a mild flavor, while mesquite and walnut are varieties that provide an intense smoky flavor.
We hope that our article can help you learn about some of the most popular woods for smoking brisket. There really isn't one that is way better than others. Each type has its own flavor profile and characteristics when burning and smoking. Since preferences and tastes are personal, we tried to express what kind of a flavor you'd come up with each type of wood, so you can make a choice.