Learn what the best wood chunks are for smoking a killer rack of ribs. Check out this detailed guide on all things wood, wood chips, and pellets to help you master the art and flavor of pork ribs.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro pitmaster or a backyard BBQ novice, knowing how to slow smoke some 3-2-1 ribs or throw down some hot and fast baby backs using different woods, rubs, and sauces can all impart a variety of flavors and end results.
So how do you know what is the right wood to use and when? What is the difference between smoking with woods on a charcoal grill or pellet grill? How does that effect the outcome and different flavors of your ribs?
Below I break down everything you need to know about how to properly plan your grill set up to get the flavor profile you’re looking for to make some seriously show stopping bite off the bone ribs!
As a certified culinary instructor, I’ve broken down the best techniques and tips for getting as much smoke infusion into your ribs as well as my recommendations for products and more with this ultimate FAQ guide. Let’s dive in!
What woods are best for smoking ribs?
Most experts would agree that there are three popular smoking woods used most often for smoking ribs:
–Hickory Wood (hardwood, strong flavor, burns slower and provides less smoke)
–Pecan Wood (hardwood, fruit wood with a moderate to mild flavor, burns faster)
–Cherry Wood (hardwood, fruit wood with a slightly sweet flavor profile, produces a lot of smoke)
All three are a good choice when smoking pork ribs (or pork in general).
I often go with a combination of pecan and cherry on my charcoal grill, but love the smoky flavor of hickory when using a pellet grill for the best results.
Fruit woods are are pieces of wood or wood chips that come from a a hardwood tree that bears fruit. While they can be made into many things like furniture or flooring, they are also great for smoking meat (especially pork).
I would categorize the flavor of a fruit trees to be a more mild wood that gives off a slightly fruity flavor compared to your traditional smoke flavors found in oak wood or mesquite.
Most are considered to be a lighter wood and also work well with foods like chicken and fish too.
Some examples of fruit trees used in smoking are:
You want a formula of 2:1 when blending different types of woods together. I recommend blending two parts of a stronger wood flavor to one part mild wood.
I also suggest pairing only one type of wood together as well (fruit woods with fruit woods for example).
For many of my rib cooks, I like a 2:1 ratio of pecan to cherry. It creates a nice sweet yet nutty flavor that is an excellent choice for smoking baby back ribs for example.
Depending on the style of grill you own will determine what kind of wood is used to create smoke on your grill.
Here is a quick breakdown of what you need:
Wood Chunks: A charcoal grill uses wood chunks. I typically place them sporadically throughout the bed of coals (some directly next to hot coals and some near the cool ones) so that I have smoke throughout the cooking process. Typically 2-3 pieces are needs (medium size chunks) for a 5-6 hour rib cook.
Wood Pellets: An electric smoker gets it’s fuel and sole smoke flavor from wood pellets. Do not use wood pellets on a charcoal grill. Check with your pellet grill manufactured to determine what different types of wood pellets work best for your smoker.
Wood Chips: Typically I only find the need for wood chips is if I am using a smoking tube on a gas grill. Charcoal grills can also use wood chips as well, but I find a wood chunk is by far the most effective method in comparison. This wood type is the one I use the least.
No, please stop soaking your wood or wood chips!!! This is not an accurate way to actually get a good, clean smoke.
Despite what some people have practiced in the past, this is truly not the way to go. Stop using those aluminum foil packets full of steamed wood to try and add actual smoke to your food.
Dry wood creates smoke, wet wood only creates steam. Steam doesn’t actually flavor your food. So the best wood chips, are dry wood chips my friends!
That ever elusive and magical smoke ring is what we all covet, am I right? While it really is only for the looks, the smoke ring doesn’t actually add any flavor to the ribs.
In fact, it’s really just a naturally occurring chemical reaction that happens when the smoke hits the meat and interacts with the myoglobin (the proteins in the meat that determine the color when it’s in a raw or cooked state).
Here are some helpful tips for really getting that beautiful smoke ring color onto your ribs:
-Start with meat right out of the fridge. The colder the meat is the longer it needs to smoke. Adding more smoke initially helps with this interaction.
-Spray your meat once the bar is set. This encourages the smoking environment to be a lot more moist. Moisture helps with more smoke adherence to your ribs and keeps them from getting dry at the same time.
-You can also add additional moisture to the grill by adding a pan of water underneath your meat. I usually place this on lower rack or above the heat convector plates to allow the steam to help encourage a smoke ring.
-The smoke ring occurs in the beginning stages of the cook, if you cook for a short time or a long time; time doesn’t play a huge role in a rib recipe.
To avoid a bitter taste or overpowering flavor of smoke on your meat, avoid stronger woods like oak and mesquite when making ribs. These two woods are a great choice for foods like beef ribs or brisket.
Other woods like pine, cedar, elm, spruce, and aspen can be dangerous to use for smoking wood because they can produce harmful toxins that can be imparted on the food.
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