For achieving excellent and rich tastes in the kitchen, you will not only need smokers and grills, but also wood chips, for flavoring your ribs by smoking them slowly. Prior to placing your ribs in your smoker, you will want to prepare the smoker before cooking to get it to the right temperature. After curing the smoker or any other preparation you want, delicious ribs are ready to cook and wood chunks or chips will be put to the fire to infuse the strong smoke around your meal.
What are Ribs?
Ribs are the cuts of meat we get from the back of the cattle; it is not as tough as briskets also not it is not the softest cut. To illustrate, we can classify ribs as if it is in the middle from a scale most tender to most tough. Thus, ribs can be paired with both mild and strong wood chips, or even better, a combination of both.
When cooking heavier meats such as pork and beef, hardwood is recommended as it goes well with the strong flavor of them. However, you have to be careful in order to deepen the taste with rich notes.
Our Top Picks
Below we've created a summary table to help you access some of the top-flavored wood brands and species by saving you some time. While first two picks offer sets that are bundled, the latter ones are single-kind packs, so you can enjoy one intense flavor or mix different chips according to your recipes.
Banger Sunz Wood Chips for Smoking - 4 pack
Zorestar Wood Chips for Smokers + Bonus e-Book
Weber Mesquite Wood Chunks
Oklahoma Joe's Cherry Wood Smoker Chips
Types of Woods According to Strength
Smoking woods can be classified in mainly 3 categories according to their intensity: light woods, mild woods, and strong smoking woods.
Light woods are the ones you should prefer when cooking tender cuts, fish, or poultry. These are delicate foods and a strong-aromatic wood chip can be overwhelming for them. The light and sweet taste with a small touch of the smoke is the best when cooking chicken and fish.
Mild woods can be defined as the woods that the smoke characteristic they have is a little dominant than lighter ones. As we go from light options to strong ones in the wood scale, the aromatic aspects and the smoke they produce tends to increase. Mild woods can be considered in the middle. Light woods can not be sufficient for cooking pork shoulder or ribs and strong woods can be too overpowering, in this case, mild woods are the perfect woods that provide the desired flavor for slightly tougher cuts of meat.
At the end of our wood spectrum, strong woods are taking place. These are the most powerful ones, and they cook the toughest cuts just the right way. Beef briskets, pork, or poultry will be done perfectly when smoked with strong wood options. However, by strong, we mean a really controlling smoke taste, thus, it is easy for the wood to overshadow the characteristics of the meat. Therefore, most of the time, users prefer mixing strong woods with bland ones, in order to balance their dominance and build up a layered and complex taste.
How We Choose
The choice of wood is essential for the flavor we will get. You should never fetch a random wood in your yard and try to use it in your cooking. Many think that different wood types are not that distinct except for the mesquite and other strong woods; however, wood chips are made to be used especially in cooking, so they specially chosen trees that are free from any harmful chemical - resin, sap, tar etc. - this is why picking the wrong wood may ruin your meal in terms of taste, and even harm you.
All the types above on the chart are traditional options and reliable for enhancing the taste of meat. Trying different woods, or even experimenting with different combinations can be quite fun. In this article, we covered the different types of wood chips that will give you the most delicious and rich ribs.
If you use wood chips, you can either soak them in water or wrap them in a foil pouch that has few holes on it to provide a slower burn. Soaking chips or chunks might not be that essential to some, however, many enjoy the cooking experience itself and let their chips sit in water for approximately 30 minutes before loading them into the smoker. Since the chips will have to lose all their water before they can start burning, this will make them last longer.
You should NEVER pick pine, cedar, oleander, fir, painted wood, poison oak, and so on. Those emit toxic gases when burnt, and so likely they will penetrate the meat. Please purchase specially packed wood chips that are safe for cooking.
Avoiding greenwood as well might be a good idea too since it does not give the smoke flavor you expect.
7 Best Wood Species Used When Smoking Ribs
Smoking ribs is one of America's favorite pastimes. But which wood should you use? It all depends on where your taste buds lie. Here are some different types of woods and what they offer in terms of flavor profile and smoking characteristics.
#1 Mesquite - Best for red meat
Mesquite is a very popular wood in the Southwest and it is known to be the strongest wood option when it comes to smoking. Mesquite is the tree that produces the most smoke: basically, it is a hardwood that gives an intense, rich flavor to the thicker cuts of meat just perfectly. When cooking ribs, using 100% mesquite as wood chips might overwhelm the meat. Therefore, as some smoker enthusiasts do, we recommend using a mixture of half hickory and half mesquite, or any other ratio.
Weber Mesquite Wood Chunks, 4 lb, 350 cu. in.
Mixing the chips will allow you to control all the tones these 2 trees have: the more mesquite you add, the more smoke it will produce. Last but not least, Mesquite is described as naturally oily, rich in lignin tree, in other words, it burns quite fast; so you might need a lot when you are having longer cooking sessions.
#2 Hickory - Best for bigger cuts of ribs, pork shoulders, any type of red meat and poultry
Hickory is almost everyone’s favorite when it comes to best-smoked ribs. Its smell and taste are often found bacony and just the perfect amount of smokey. Hickory is a lighter tree option than mesquite, so many prefer mixing hickory with mesquite in order to balance the flavor of both. Due to its strong and intense notes, maybe using less amount than you would use with a light-mild wood option might be a good idea. However, note that the excessive use of strong woods might result in the meal becoming bitter, thus, use hickory, oak, and mesquite with extra caution and try to add in small amounts to be in control.
Western Premium Hickory 180 cu inches BBQ Smoking Chips
It is often used in the United States for cooking purposes, and the tree usually grows in the Southern and Midwestern areas of the United States.
#3 Oak - Best for lamb, brisket, beef, sausages, and ribs
Oak is one of the classics and the most preferred type of oak is red oak. Red oak is chosen commonly to enhance the flavor of heavy meats, such as ribs, but not to overshadow the characteristics. If you are new to smoking, you can choose red oak since it is an excellent type for starters: not too dominant in smoke taste and not too bland or mild. Oak chips will probably not be overpowering; nevertheless, it has a capacity of lending a flavor on a range from medium to strong; depending on your choice of chip amount and ratio.
Camerons Oak Smoking Chips 260 cubic inches, Kiln Dried
Oak is not as strong and smoky as hickory or mesquite, and it is chosen by many because of its mellow structure. Also, oak is a quite beginner-safe wood, you can hardly get a bitter taste when you believe you made your meat stay in the smoker over a longer period.
#4 Apple - Best for chicken, ribs, wild fowl, and pork
As many fruit woods do, apple lends milder, sweeter flavor to your meat; not that intense as strong woods but a taste that is very rich and packed with fruity undertones. Not only the taste apple offers is a soft one, but you can catch a sweet and beautiful whiff when you are slow-burning your apple wood chips in your smoker. Due to its mellow structure, it might take some more time for apple wood to infuse your ribs and give its flavor nicely to your meat.
Weber 350 cubic inches Apple Wood Chunks
Thus, if given the time it demands, apple wood will give your ribs a soft and delicate characteristic with a touch of smoke.
#5 Pecan - Best for roasts, ribs, and briskets
Pecan can be an amazing choice if you wish a nut tree to smoke your meat as it lends rich, sweet and, nutty notes. It is one of the sweetest woods, so some smoking enthusiasts often use it with other types, such as the strong hickory to balance the sweetness.
Best Pecan Pellets
Traeger Grills All-Natural Multicolor Pecan Pellets, PEL314 20 lb. Bag
If you prefer savory tastes and a bit dark, rich and sharp smell around your ribs, then you should enhance the meat by using another dark and non-sweet type of wood. In addition, pecan is a tree that also burns slowly.
#6 Cherry - Best for chicken, turkey, ham, ribs, pork, and beef
Cherry is mild and sweet wood like apple which gives a fruity and amazing smell in addition to the flavor to your meat. Not only it enriches the meal’s taste but it also gives a vibrant color to the mat that many pursue when smoking. You can make wonderful combinations of cherry: mixing it with oak tree, hickory or any other wood you want will produce the most amazing and layered taste.
Cherry is a real complement for other strong woods when it comes to cooking ribs. It softens the dominant chip’s effect in your mixture, and it can be paired with almost any type of wood.
#7 Maple - Best for poultry, pork, and ribs
Maple is a tree that lends a subtle, sweet, and light smoky taste to the meat just like the fruit trees. Many say that meat cooked with maple chips matches the best with BBQ sauce. Just like you imagine, the smell and the taste of maple remind the maple syrup. If you want a bit of maple flavor on your meats, this is a great option for you and plus, it is not as rich as other sweet wood variations.
Since maple tree can endure different climate changes, they can easily thrive at many locations, more technically those which have hardiness zone between 3 and 9 in the U.S.
Since mixing different wood chips will give you the chance to experiment and adjust the taste by using different combinations, we recommend getting a chip set that has both fruit woods with mild notes and strong woods with dominant ones. However, if you're looking for single packed chips to make some custom combinations, you can check out the table we have prepared with the most-preferred brands.