What’s the Best Type of Wood for Smoking Ribs?

What’s the Best Type of Wood for Smoking Ribs?

If you’re planning to smoke ribs in the near future, you might be wondering what type of wood to use. Smoked ribs offer the perfect combination of mouthwatering flavor and fall-apart tenderness, which is why many people prefer them over baked and grilled ribs. But you need to use the right wood. Otherwise, you may discover your ribs are less tender and less flavorful.

Why Is Wood the Best Option for Smoking Meat?

When it comes to imbuing that desired smoke flavor into a rack of ribs, wood stands unrivaled. The primal allure of cooking over open flames taps into ancient culinary traditions, emphasizing the deep, smoldering aroma of natural wood as it infuses the meat. This ancient method transcends modern BBQ techniques, bringing forth the inherent, earthy tones that only wood can provide.

While the control and convenience of electric smokers, pellet grills, and gas grills may seem appealing at first, they lack the rich flavor profile obtained from using wood. Wood chunks or logs, unlike wood chips or wood pellets, sustain the burn longer, providing not just heat but a steady release of smoke, infusing the meat with distinctive, mouthwatering flavors. 

The essence of fruit woods, like apple or cherry, imparts a subtle, smokey-sweet, and fruity flavor, enhancing the taste of pork ribs and making each bite a harmonious melody of tastes.

Unlike the uniformity of heat from electric and gas grills, smoking pork ribs with wood paints every rack of ribs with a strong flavor and a smoky depth, enriching the culinary experience beyond mere cooking. The wood’s natural compounds, like lignin and cellulose, break down to create a complex bouquet of flavors that range from sweet and smoky to robust and earthy.

How Wood Affects the Flavor of Smoked Ribs

When you smoke ribs, you’ll expose the meat to flavorful smoke created by the wood. Charcoal consists almost entirely of carbon, so it produces minimal smoke without any flavor when burned. Therefore, you must add wood to your grill or smoker to fill it with flavorful smoke. As the heat inside your grill or smoker builds up, it will cause the wood to release smoke that rises up and into the meat.

There are over 60,000 species of trees in the world, however, each of which has its own unique characteristics. As a result, different types of wood produce different flavors when using to smoke ribs. Some types of wood have a bitter flavor and should be avoided, such as pine, whereas others have a savory and sweet flavor that complements the natural flavor of ribs. Using the right wood will help you smoke better-tasting ribs

Wood Logs vs Smoking Chunks vs Smoking Chips: Which Is Best for Ribs?

You can use different kinds of wood to smoke ribs: cooking wood logs, splits, smoking chunks or smoking chips. Cooking wood logs consist of flavorful varieties of wood cut into small- to medium-sized logs. Smoking chunks are blocks of flavorful wood (usually less than 2 inches long).Our Splits are 8”. And smoking chips are thinner and smaller pieces of wood. Of those three options, cooking wood logs typically burn the longest. Choose the largest wood that will easily and conveniently fit in your grill or smoker, although chips hardly offer any flavor

Cherry Wood for Ribs

Whether you prefer cooking wood logs or smoking chunks, you can’t go wrong with cherry when smoking ribs. Cherry offers a subtle smokey sweet flavor that works well for ribs. It complements the natural flavor of ribs to provide a flavor that’s simply out of this world. For these reasons and others, cherry wood is an all-around great choice for smoking ribs.

Pecan Wood for Ribs

In addition to hickory, another excellent type of wood for smoking ribs is pecan. Technically, pecan wood is a variety of hickory. Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) grow natively in certain parts of the Southern United States as well as Northern Mexico. While most known for the nuts they produce, their wood is equally prized. Pecan wood is used to make everything from hardwood floors and cabinets to chairs and building materials. Additionally, it’s harvested and used as cooking wood because of its mouthwatering nutty flavor. Pecan wood is milder than its hickory counterpart and, not surprisingly, as a nuttier flavor.

Other Types of Wood for Smoking Ribs

Cherry and pecan are just two of many types of wood that you can use for smoking ribs. Other popular types of wood used for smoking ribs include white oak, hickory and apple. Of course, each type of wood has its own flavor, so you should conduct your own tests to determine which flavor you prefer best. You may discover that cherry or pecan offers the best flavor.


With applewood, embark on a sensory exploration, unlocking the subtle, sweet, and fruity flavor that softly infuses the cut of meat. This gentle embrace enhances the natural taste of the ribs, evoking the timeless tradition of communal gatherings around a fire.

Peach Wood

Peach wood offers a unique, mellow, and fruity flavor, infusing the ribs with a delicate hint of sweetness. The smoke from peach wood marries harmoniously with the meat, painting every fiber with a soft, fragrant essence.


Mesquite, bold and earthy, stands as the epitome of strong, hearty flavors. It infuses many types of meat with a profound, robust, and smoky flavor, from brisket to beef ribs. 

The notes of mesquite enhance the rich textures of the ribs, conjuring a sublime feast of rustic goodness, echoing the enduring tradition of open-fire cooking. However, it’s important to remember that mesquite can easily overpower pork.

How Do Different Types of Ribs Respond to Various Woods?

Every type of rib has its distinct character, a unique flavor canvas waiting to be artfully enhanced by the right type of wood. 

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs, with their tender, succulent meat, resonate with the gentle, fruity flavors of applewood or cherry wood. This pairing brings forth a sublimely sweet and smoky flavor, enriching the pork without overshadowing its natural, delightful taste.

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs, heartier and with ample marbling, find their match with pecan wood. This combination augments the meat’s robustness with a soft, nutty undertone. The pecan wood’s flavor mingles gracefully with the ribs, offering a subtle infusion that accentuates without overwhelming, tantalizing the palate with every savory bite.

St. Louis Ribs

St. Louis ribs, with their rich fat content, harmonize beautifully with the stronger profile of mesquite wood. The bold, earthy essence of mesquite marries the depth of St. Louis ribs, creating a symphony of flavors that echo the primal allure of open-air cooking.

Short Ribs

Mesquite wood, with its potent, earthy flavor profile, compliments short ribs impeccably. It imparts a bold, vigorous smoke flavor, melding seamlessly with the beefy richness and offering a feast of rustic, hearty tastes bound together by the elegant dance of smoke and fire.

The adaptability of ribs allows for the use of multiple wood types. Combining hickory with post oak or maple wood produces an ensemble of flavors, a blend of strong and mild wood aromas, crafting a nuanced smoke flavor spectrum that enriches the meat, making each bite a unique experience.

Experimenting with different woods helps us understand our own personal preferences, giving insights into the delicate balance of flavors and smoke and highlighting the importance of choosing the right wood.

Can I Use Multiple Types of Wood?

If you’re struggling to choose a specific type for smoking ribs, you can always use multiple types. For example, you can combine hickory wood with white oak wood to achieve a milder yet still deliciously smokey flavor. Pecan wood by itself may be overbearing for some people. By mixing it with white oak wood, though, you’ll achieve a milder flavor with your smoked ribs.

What Are the Common Mistakes To Avoid While Smoking Ribs With Wood?

Amidst the artistry of smoking ribs, ensuring the perfect infusion of flavors, certain missteps can dilute the richness of the experience, marring the delicate interplay of meat and smoke.

One common error lies in the excessive use of wood, overwhelming the ribs with an intense smoke flavor and overshadowing the natural, subtle taste of the meat. Strive for balance, allowing the wood's essence to complement rather than overpower, enhancing the rib's flavors with a delicate touch.

It’s also important to avoid the use of softwoods, which impart a bitter taste and produce undesirable sparks and flames. Opt for hardwoods like applewood, cherry wood, or mesquite, ensuring a consistent, pleasing smoke that tenderly infuses the ribs with a depth of flavor that echoes through every bite.

Another mistake to avoid is forgetting to add wood during the cooking process. An uninterrupted flow of smoke is crucial for infusing the ribs with that perfect, smoky flavor. Replenish the wood when necessary, ensuring that the ribs bask in the continuous embrace of flavorful smoke.

In addition, ensure that the ribs are not too close to the heat source to avoid charring. Position them for indirect heat, allowing the smoke to circulate freely, infusing every fiber with the rich, robust flavors of the chosen wood. 

Pro tip: Try reverse searing baby back ribs (for advanced cooks only). 

In navigating these potential pitfalls, you can embrace the journey of smoking ribs with wood, honoring the ancient tradition and basking in the shared joy of a meticulously crafted meal.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of which type of wood you use to smoke ribs, remember to add more so that your grill or smoker remains full of smoke. Even if your charcoal is still hot, your wood may burn to ash. And if you don’t add more wood, your ribs won’t be exposed to a sufficient amount of flavorful smoke. 

Find the best deals on premium smoking wood by visiting our online store today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking wood, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan, and apple, all of which will allow you to smoke delicious meat.


BBQ 101: What’s the Difference Between Direct Heat and Indirect Heat? - 2023 | MasterClass

Are Spareribs a High-Fat Food? | livestrong

The smoky science behind what makes food grilled over an open flame taste so good | PBS NewsHour

About The Author

Leroy Hite

Leroy Hite is the founder and CEO of Cutting Edge Firewood, an ultra-premium firewood and cooking wood company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Leroy's mission is to give people the experience of the perfect fire because some of life’s best memories are made in the warmth of a fire’s glow. He founded Cutting Edge Firewood in 2013 with a goal to provide unmatched quality wood and unparalleled customer service nationwide. The company offers premium kiln-dried firewood, cooking wood, and pizza wood in a wide variety of species and cuts to customers around the country.