If you want big flavor there’s nothing like smoking ribs to elevate your basic pork recipes. And for good reason – combining the flavor of smoking wood with pork ribs is a match made in meat heaven. The smoke from the wood infuses the meat with a flavor that you can’t get from baking them in the oven.

Rack coming out of the smoker.

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Now, let’s talk about choosing the right type of wood for smoking ribs. Different types of wood can affect the flavor of your ribs. For example, mesquite wood adds a bold flavor to your ribs, whereas pecan wood adds a more subtle flavor. Understanding the various wood types can help you choose the right flavor profile so you can confidently smoke ribs like a pro grill master. 

In this post, we’re going to break down the best wood for smoking ribs so that you can craft your own smoky, delicious ribs right at home. No matter what type of ribs you choose, from smoked pork spare ribs to smoked pork loin back ribs, we’ve got you covered. 


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Choosing the best wood for smoking Ribs

What is smoking wood?

Although smoking meat has been around for quite a long time as a preservation method. Now, it’s used as a fun way to infuse flavor into meat for a downright mouthwatering experience.

Smoking wood is used in the process of smoking meat to add delicious flavor. People use different types of smoking wood, like hickory or mesquite, to make their meat taste better, usually based on regional preferences and availability. The wood creates a nice, smoky flavor that makes smoked pork ribs extra tasty during the cooking process. 

A person is holding a rack of ribs out of a grill.

The Best Types of Wood for Smoking Ribs

Hickory Wood

  • Popular Choice: Widely popular, hickory wood is known for infusing rich and slightly sweet flavors into ribs, making it a favorite among barbecue enthusiasts.
  • Natural Flavor Enhancement: Hickory enhances the natural flavors of ribs, creating a balanced and enjoyable taste, like in these Memphis style smoked spare ribs.

Apple Wood

  • Delicate Flavor: Apple wood brings a delicate, fruity, and sweet flavor to ribs, adding complexity to the overall taste.
  • Milder Smoke: Known for producing milder smoke, apple wood enhances the meat without overpowering it.
  • Versatile Pairing: Its versatility allows it to pair well with various meats, making it a go-to choice for enhancing different cuts.

Oak Wood

  • Smoke Flavor: Oak wood offers a medium to heavy smoke flavor, providing a robust smokiness appreciated by those seeking pronounced flavors.
  • Well-Balanced Profile: With a well-balanced flavor profile, oak complements the natural flavors of ribs without overwhelming them, like in these smoked St. Louis ribs
  • Deep Richness: Oak adds a deep, smoky richness to ribs, enhancing the overall flavor and creating a hearty taste experience.

Cherry Wood

  • Bold Flavor Profile: Cherry wood offers a sweet, subtle flavor that pairs well with the smokiness of barbecued ribs.
  • Unique Twist: Adding a unique smoky twist to ribs, cherry stands out, adding a beautiful red color to your meat.


Western Wood is our favorite brand for Smoking Wood Chips and Chunks – you can find these in local grocery stores and hardware stores. Western wood is kiln-dried and burns consistently.

Our favorite Smoked Ribs recipes

Tips for Using Smoking Wood with Ribs

Soaking vs. Dry Wood

When it comes to using smoking wood, there’s a debate – to soak or not to soak. Soaking wood can add moisture, slow down the burn, and create more smoke. But here’s the catch – it takes longer to start smoking because, initially, you are steaming. Dry wood, on the other hand, ignites faster, giving you a nice clean smoke sooner.

Quality wood chips, like the ones we use from Western Wood, are kiln-dried to remove all moisture for a cleaner burn, so unless you are using an electric smoker that specifically says to soak your wood chips.

Pork ribs seasoned to go on the grill.

Choosing the Right Wood Type: Wood Chunks, Chips, Charcoal, and Briquettes

Before starting the smoking process, there are a few things you need to do besides trimming your ribs

Choosing the right type of wood is the key step to ensuring you infuse the right amount of smoke throughout the process. This step covers the various wood types and their uses, such as wood chunks, wood chips, wood pellets, charcoal, and briquettes – all have their perks and can be used for smoking ribs. 

Wood Chunks

Using wood chunks for smoking meat is popular because they provide a more extended and steady release of smoke compared to wood chips. The slow-burning nature of wood chunks ensures a consistent smoky flavor over an extended period, making them ideal for long smoking sessions like smoked baby back ribs.

You can use wood chunks in a charcoal grill, offset smoker, or even in a drum smoker, like these vertical smoked ribs

Wood Chips

Using wood chips for smoking ribs are popular because they are small and quick to produce smoke, infusing the meat with a rich flavor.

When placed in a smoker box or foil packet, these wood chips can be easily added to a gas grill, providing a convenient way to introduce smokiness to the ribs. The smoker box helps control the release of smoke, ensuring a steady infusion of flavor throughout the grilling process. This method is especially handy for those smoking on a gas grill, as it allows them to enjoy the benefits of smoking without the need for a dedicated smoker.

You can also use wood chips over charcoal, like in a kettle grill. You can add the chips directly to the coals, but they do ignite quickly. We recommend a foil pack or smoker box just like with a gas grill.

Wood Pellets

Wood pellets are an excellent choice for smoking ribs because they offer consistent and controlled heat, impart a rich and specific flavor to the meat, are easy to use in pellet smokers, and come in various hardwood options for diverse taste profiles.

The convenience of pellet grills makes them a popular and effective option for achieving flavorful and perfectly smoked ribs. However, for added flavor when smoking, we use Jack Daniel’s Charcoal Pellets, especially these Traeger 3-2-1- ribs.  


Racks of Ribs on a Masterbuilt grill.

Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Because real charcoal is made of carbonized wood, you get a natural smoke flavor using only charcoal. So, go easy on adding additional smoking wood – less smoke usually means better taste. Usually, one to two wood chunks are enough for great flavor.

Lump charcoal is an excellent choice for smoking ribs due to its steady heat and for pairing with additional smoking wood, convenience in lighting, long burning time, and minimal ash production, providing an optimal smoking experience. The only thing we recommend is adding more fuel for longer smoking processes to maintain a constant heat source if needed.

Charcoal Briquets

Briquets are a great choice for smoking ribs due to their consistent burn, steady heat output, and longer burning time, providing a reliable and controlled environment for slow cooking. People like using briquettes for smoking ribs because they give steady, even heat, making it easier to control the temperature while cooking. This helps in getting perfectly smoked ribs with a great taste.

Briquets also produce a consistent amount of smoke, adding the right smokiness without messing up the heat. Just like lump charcoal, use additional smoking wood sparingly for the best flavor.

Whether using lump charcoal or briquets, choose charcoal that’s all-natural, without any extra stuff like fillers or chemicals. If your charcoal lights up super fast and flames up quickly, it might have some quick-burning stuff added, and that can mess with the taste of your food. We really like the real deal – Cowboy Brand products that only use veggie binders.

We use a natural fire starter and a charcoal chimney light our charcoal. It takes about 15 minutes for the charcoal to be good to go.

Never used a charcoal grill before? Learn how to use a charcoal grill ​before smoking those delicious ribs. Check out tips on how to cook competition ribs for in-depth info from a pro pitmaster.


Not all grills use the same fuels. Here are our favorite combos no matter what type of grill you own. New to smoking ribs? Check out our best grills to see our favorite grills to buy:

Proper Storage and Seasoning

It’s important to store wood chips properly for better results when smoking. Keep them in a cool, dry place away from humidity and direct sunlight. You can store them in sealed bags to prevent exposure to air, and avoid storing them near strong odors. Label the containers if you have different wood types.

How Different Smoking Woods Work with Rub or Marinade Flavors

When it comes to smoking meats, the choice of wood can significantly impact the overall flavor, especially when combined with rubs or marinades. Different smoking woods bring distinct characteristics that interact with the spices and flavors in rubs or marinades. For instance:

Mesquite Wood: Mesquite’s bold and robust flavor pairs well with savory and spicy rubs. It complements strong flavors, adding a Southwestern flair to your ribs. But remember, mesquite has a bold flavor that not everyone loves. Use only if you know you have the right audience. Spicy Mesquite Rub for Mesquite Wood: A rub with ingredients like chili powder, cumin, and black pepper adds a spicy kick to mesquite-smoked ribs. Mesquite’s bold flavor enhances the spice, creating a robust and fiery combination.
Hickory Wood: Known for its rich and slightly sweet profile, hickory works wonderfully with sweet or savory rubs. It enhances the natural sweetness of the meat and goes with a variety of spice blends.Classic BBQ Ribs with Hickory: A traditional BBQ rub, featuring a mix of brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper, pairs well with the rich and slightly sweet smoke from hickory wood. Our favorite is GirlsCanGrill PK Pork Rub.
Apple Wood: With its delicate and fruity notes, apple wood is a fantastic match for sweeter rubs or marinades. It imparts a subtle fruitiness that harmonizes with brown sugar or honey-based rubs.Apple Cider Glaze with Apple Wood: An apple cider-based marinade or glaze, combined with apple wood smoke, creates a sweet and fruity harmony. The apple wood naturally goes well with the apple flavor, resulting in ribs with a sweet hint of fruitiness.
Oak Wood: Oak’s medium to heavy smoke flavor makes it versatile for various rubs. It can complement both sweet and savory profiles, making it a reliable choice for a wide range of flavor combinations.Oak-Smoked Herbed Ribs: A rub featuring herbs like rosemary, thyme, and garlic, paired with oak wood smoke, brings out the earthy and herbal notes. We love this for open-fire grilling and basting the ribs the whole time for an amazing live fire experience.
Ribs on a pellet smoker.

Controlling Smoke Intensity and Duration

Controlling heat and air circulation plays a crucial role in achieving the perfect smoke intensity when smoking ribs. Here’s why it matters:

  • Even Smoke Distribution: Proper heat management ensures that the wood chips or chunks smolder evenly, distributing smoke consistently around the ribs. This even distribution prevents certain parts of the meat from receiving too much or too little smoke.
  • Balanced Flavor Absorption: Maintaining the right heat allows the ribs to absorb the ideal amount of smoke. Too high a temperature may lead to a quick burn of wood, resulting in an overpowering smoky flavor. On the other hand, too low a temperature might not generate enough smoke for the desired taste.
  • Avoiding Bitterness: Adequate air circulation helps prevent the the build up of stale or bitter smoke around the ribs. Good airflow allows for the continuous flow of fresh, flavorful smoke, enhancing the overall taste without any undesirable aftertaste. It’s also important to know adding too much wood or not allowing the smoke to burn clean before adding the ribs can result in an acrid taste.
  • Consistent Temperature Control: Proper management ensures that the smoker maintains a consistent temperature. Fluctuations can impact the cooking time and the absorption of smoke. Consistency is key to achieving the intended flavor and tenderness in your ribs.

The “2-2-1 Method” for Perfect Smoke Balance with Ribs

The “2-2-1 method” is a popular technique for achieving a balanced smoke profile and tenderness in ribs. Here’s how it works:

  • 2 Hours Unwrapped (First Stage): In the initial two hours, ribs are exposed to direct smoke. This allows them to absorb a substantial amount of smoky flavor without being overwhelmed. The unwrapped stage ensures a good smoke infusion.
  • 2 Hours Wrapped (Second Stage): Wrapping the ribs in foil for the next two hours helps retain moisture and tenderness while limiting additional smoke absorption. This stage allows the ribs to cook in their juices, enhancing their succulence.
  • 1 Hour Unwrapped (Final Stage): The last hour involves unwrapping the ribs again for the final touch of smoke and to achieve the desired bark or crust. This stage adds the finishing smoky touch while preserving the tenderness gained during the wrapped phase.

The “2-2-1 method” is a reliable approach for achieving the right balance of smoke intensity and tenderness, resulting in deliciously smoked ribs with a perfect combination of flavors and texture.

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Choosing the right wood for smoking ribs is one of the best ways to infuse the meat with a mouthwatering smoky flavor reminiscent of your favorite BBQ joints. The best part is that you can experiment with different woods to discover your favorite flavor profile, allowing you to create a personalized eating experience. If you’ve ever smoked ribs before, let us know your favorite wood-smoked rib recipes in the comments section.

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Well, Hey, Y’all.

Kita is a multi-talented individual, boasting numerous accomplishments such as being an award-winning recipe developer, world-traveled professional photographer, and journalist. As the lead creative force behind Girl Carnivore®, she is widely recognized as an authority on all things meat.


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