Choosing Wood Chips for Smoked Ribs

Choosing Wood Chips for Smoked Ribs

When summer rolls around, it’s time to clean out the barbecue grill and the smoker so you can start cooking out on a daily basis. Nothing says summertime like a backyard barbecue, and one of the favorite eats at thee events are smoked ribs. If you’ve never smoked your own ribs, you definitely need to try it. However, you may be wondering how to choose the type of wood chips you want to use for smoking ribs. After all, each unique wood type has its own scent and flavor to offer your delectable treats. How do you know which one is appropriate for your taste? The answer is by no means simple, since it rests on your own personal preference, as well as the seasoning you’re going to be using on your pork ribs.  

In most cases, people smoking ribs choose to use hickory, mesquite, oak, or a combination thereof. Each of these has its own benefits and rewards, and you’ll want to remember that they should be untreated. You want to avoid treated woods because you don’t want the chemicals in your smoker, and you probably won’t want to use pine, poison oak, oleander, or cedar, since these are not good woods for smoking and adding flavor to your baby back ribs. Also stay away from green woods – they do not make for good flavor, either. Stick with the time-tested and approved woods that all barbecue experts trust.

You’ll also want to prepare whatever wood you decide on properly. You don’t want the wood to go up in flames, only to smolder and smoke, so you should soak your wood chips for one to two hours in advance of smoking ribs. Then, you’ll want to put the wood chips in a protected location. If you have a smoker box, this is perfect. If not, secure your wood chips in a foil pouch and poke several small holes in it to allow the heat to enter and escape without burning the wood. Be aware that you can use too much wood, and you can have too much smoke, so don’t go overboard when it comes to loading up the smoker. 

Now, the matter comes down to determining which of these woods is most appropriate for your particular recipe. If you like a sweet, bacon tinted flavor to your smoked ribs, you may want to try hickory wood chips. This is a typical choice in southern grilling, and the scent and taste produced can be quite strong. Because this particular type of wood can produce a great deal of smoke, you’ll want to be particularly careful of how much wood you use and for how long you let your spare ribs smoke.

If you are looking for a slightly mellower flavor with a little less smoke, you can try oak. With this wood, you’ll produce less smoke, so there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you will probably have to be smoking ribs a little longer to get the flavor really enhanced. At the same time, because the wood is so mellow, you are less likely to overcook them and make them dry and bitter.

Mesquite is the quintessential wood chip of the southwest, offering a spicy, smoky flavor that can’t be beat. It has an earthy tint to it as well and tends to be even stronger than hickory. Therefore, it is incredibly important that you pay attention to the amount of wood used.

If you can’t decide, combined the woods and see what you come up with. This will help to create your own unique recipe that everyone will love.


  1. Anonymous8:05 PM

    I like the mesquite myself but it is pretty strong so you don't have to use as much. Oak is the best to me because it burns consistently.

  2. Anonymous2:51 PM

    I smoke my ribs with apple wood. Apple has a distinct flavor without imparting too much smokiness.


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