Best Smoking Wood

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Many types of wood are good, but different woods are used to achieve different flavors and strengths of flavor. Since our goal is great tasting smoked ribs, it may help to remember the word H.O.M.E. when learning the best wood for smoking: Hickory, Oak, Mesquite, and Everything else.

But...(fill in the blank)

OK, we've named wood names and made a claim, and now the impassioned do the same. One wood is too hot, one wood is too strong, another isn't available...etc. Our goal is great tasting ribs, not to hamstring folks or be dogmatic (except when All of the mentioned woods are time-tested for enhancing ribs, and you can trust the pro's....usually. We will not tell you to use pine, cedar, and treated lumber*. If you want to be a renegade and buck hundreds of years of tradition, we'll forgive you, but you won't get a Christmas card. *You might be a redneck if....

Before we reveal the best wood for smoking ribs-

Your choice of woods is important, and we realize the field has been narrowed, already. HOW you use the woods is probably more important. Think of each element as a tool: the smoker/grill, the rub, the wood, the sauce... We are aiming to build the best tasting ribs, but you have to use the tools right.

Tips for your wood-
  • -NEVER use pine, cedar, poison oak, oleander, treated wood, or worse.
  • -NO GREEN WOOD makes good smoke flavor.
  • -Remove any bark from wood chunks. Bark produces a nasty, acrid flavor when burned.
  • -Use less to begin. Avoid overpowering the meat's flavor.
  • -Be timely. Good wood over too long a time makes bad, overpowering smoke flavor.
  • -Wood chunks are best, because you have to replace them less often. If you must use chips, protect them with a foil pouch that has a few small holes.
  • -Based on fuel type, you might need to position chunks or planks to avoid flames.
  • -Yes, you CAN have too much smoke. Less is more.
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Hickory- For great tasting smoked ribs and about everything else, Hickory is King. The quintessential Southern wood, its flavor impact has been described as bacon-y, sweet, smoky, and strong. Since it is noted for the strong quality, use care with how much and how long hickory smoke is around your ribs.

Oak- If hickory is king, then oak is the fairer Queen. Oak is the second-most commonly used wood for smoking, and it is slightly more mellow, less smoky than hickory. If you feel you must smoke your ribs over a longer time, you're less likely to overshoot and get bitter if you use oak. For versatility, there is no better wood.

Mesquite- This wood more common in the southwest has been described as sweet, earthy, smoky, and always strong. Even more care should be used than with hickory over how much and how long mesquite wood is used. I prefer 3/4 hickory and 1/4 mesquite, with an occasional 'everything else' wood for extra flavor.

Speaking of fractions, many pit masters and champion smokers use varying combinations of wood. Try it. Using just one type may cause you to miss out on the addition of other subtle flavors.

Everything else- The fact that the connective tissue collagen in ribs breaks down over time into gelatins and sugars helps determine what other woods are good to use. Ribs cooked without smoking (yikes) will tend to have a sweet taste, so you can add a bit of the woods like cherry, apple, maple, or pecan to complement that with their own light, sweet, fruity undertones. But beware, most folks who eat your ribs will NOT be able to pick out the exact woods you use, nor will they care. They will only care that it tastes smoky, not bitter or like creosote.

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Use the woods and combinations you think make the best tasting ribs, because you care about Piggy Ribs, and he cares about YOU.