If you are smoking a rack of ribs in your pellet grill, choosing the right wood is probably your most important decision. It usually takes around 5 hours to smoke a rack of ribs, which is plenty of time for the meat to absorb the smoke flavor. Choosing the wrong wood can make your meat taste bitter—so I wanted to find out which flavor blends best with ribs.
Hickory or any of the fruit wood pellets are ideal for smoking pork ribs. Pork and hickory are a perfect match, but apple or cherry also blend well with ribs. Another option is to mix-and-match wood pellets such as hickory and cherry, oak and apple, etc. Pecan is always a safe choice but be careful with mesquite, as it will make the ribs taste bitter.
- Fruit wood pellets, such as hickory, apple, and cherry, are ideal for smoking pork ribs.
- Mixing different wood pellets, such as hickory and cherry, or oak and apple, can add different flavors to the ribs.
- Mesquite wood can give a strong and potentially bitter flavor to the ribs, so use it sparingly or mix it with another wood.
- Running the wood pellets through a sieve before loading them into the hopper can help prevent problems caused by dust buildup.
- Food grade wood pellets from any brand can be used in any pellet grill, but some brands may produce better quality wood that burns hotter and produces less ash.
What the Experts Say
“I always tell people to use a fruit wood like apple or cherry. The fruit woods are a little sweeter, they don’t have as much of a harsh bite as the hickory or the mesquite. And they’re just a little bit milder, so they’re a little easier to work with.” – Myron Mixon, BBQ Pitmaster
“The wood you use is just as important as the cut of meat you’re cooking. A good rule of thumb is to match the type of wood to the type of meat you’re cooking. So, for pork ribs, I like to use fruit woods like apple or cherry.” – Tuffy Stone, BBQ Pitmaster
“When it comes to smoking ribs, I prefer to use a combination of woods. I like to use hickory for its strong smoke flavor and mesquite for its unique, slightly sweet flavor. Together, they create a delicious balance of smoke and sweetness.” – Johnny Trigg, BBQ Pitmaster
“I always recommend using a fruit wood like apple or cherry. They’re a little sweeter and don’t overpower the natural flavor of the meat. Plus, the milder smoke allows the flavors of the rub and marinade to shine through.” – Aaron Franklin, BBQ Pitmaster.
“I love using pecan wood for smoking ribs. It’s a mild wood, but it has a nice nutty flavor that pairs well with pork. It’s one of my go-to woods for smoking.” – Chris Lilly, BBQ Pitmaster
“For ribs, I like to use a combination of woods. Oak is a great base wood because it burns hot and long and it has a nice mild flavor. Then, I’ll add in a bit of hickory or mesquite for a smokier flavor.” – Mike Mills, BBQ Pitmaster
“When it comes to smoking ribs, I always recommend using a fruit wood like apple or peach. They’re mild and sweet, which allows the natural flavor of the pork to shine through. Plus, the smoke from these woods is a nice complement to the sweetness of the meat.” – Ed Mitchell, BBQ Pitmaster
“I recommend using maple wood for smoking ribs. It’s a mild wood, but it has a nice sweetness that pairs well with the pork. Plus, it gives a nice, subtle smoky flavor that’s not overpowering.” – Rodney Scott, BBQ Pitmaster
Yes, there are many other pitmasters and barbecue experts who have opinions on smoking wood for ribs. Here are a few more quotes:
“For smoking ribs, I prefer to use a combination of woods. I like to use hickory for its strong smoke flavor, and then I’ll mix in a bit of fruit wood like apple or cherry for a sweeter flavor. Together, they create a nice balance of smoke and sweetness.” – Joe Pearce, BBQ Pitmaster
“I recommend using pecan wood for smoking ribs. It’s a mild wood with a nice nutty flavor that pairs well with the pork. Plus, it gives a nice, subtle smoky flavor that’s not overpowering.” – Shane Draper, BBQ Pitmaster
“For ribs, I like to use a combination of woods. Oak for its mild, smoky flavor and cherry for its sweetness. Together, they create a delicious balance of smoke and sweetness.” – Ryan Rogers, BBQ Pitmaster
“When smoking ribs, I always recommend using fruit woods like apple or cherry. They’re mild and sweet, which allows the natural flavor of the pork to shine through. Plus, the smoke from these woods is a nice complement to the sweetness of the meat.” – Matt Pittman, BBQ Pitmaster
Please note that these are quotes from different pitmasters and barbecue experts who have their own preferences and techniques. It’s always good to experiment with different types of woods and find the one that works best for you and your taste.
Majo Wood Pellet Brands
|Green Mountain Grills||check|
|CookinPellets Perfect Mix||check|
|Bear Mountain BBQ||check|
Mix and Match Wood Pellets
Mixing wood pellets is a great way to experiment with different flavors. If the hopper in your pellet grill has a pellet dump function, then I would suggest trying different wood combinations.
When smoking ribs, I find a 50-50 mix of hickory and either apple or cherry gives the ribs a nice flavor. Fruit woods can soften the smoke flavor, whereas some of the hardwoods, like hickory, can be harsh.
Be careful using mesquite pellets when smoking ribs because it’s a very strong flavor. Mesquite is a common smoking wood in Texas, but it’s an acquired taste. Unless you’re from that region, you may find the mesquite to be bitter. However, you can mix a little mesquite in with another wood. I find mesquite a good choice for fast cooks because it will give you a quick burst of smoke flavor.
Run Your Pellets Through A Sieve
I always recommend running your pellets through a sieve prior to loading your hopper. A buildup of dust can cause all kinds of problems in the auger and hopper. Some brands have more dust of than others, so I find the easiest thing to do is run them through a sieve.
Best Wood Pellet Brands
There are so many brands out there, but not all wood pellets are created equal. You don’t have to purchase pellets specific to your pellet grill. As long as you’ve purchased food grade wood pellets, that’s all that matters. If you own a Traeger, you do not have to use Trager pellets. If you own a PitBoss, you don’t need to use Pit Boss pellets. Just get whatever is on sale.
Not All Pellets Are Equal
Some wood pellets brands produce better quality wood than others. You’ll find that some burn hotter and produce a cleaner smoke. Some also produce less ash than others, which is important for cleanup. Check the fire pot after your cook once your pellet grill has cooled down. Have a look at the amount of ash left and take note.
Camp chef is one of the more popular brands and sells pellets in huge 20 lb bags with a variety of flavors. They are affordable, and burn clean, have little residue dust in the bags, and a nice and dry.
Weber has entered the pellet grill game, with the SmokeFire. So because Weber has a pellet grill, they now also make pellets—and they are of a high quality. The Weber pellets have a lovely flavor, and you can get hickory, apple, cherry, mesquite, and a grill master blend which is a mix of maple hickory and cherry.
The very popular Cookin pellets sell huge 40 lb bags, which lasts a long while. You can get a variety of flavours, including maple, apple, cherry, and hickory. Most other pellet brands bulk-up their pellets oak wood. There’s no oak mixed in with these wood pellets.
The best thing about this company is you can get small 1 pound bags so you can try out different wood flavors. If you don’t know what flavor to use on your ribs, I suggest buying a variety packs. You can try apple, cherry, mesquite, pecan, Jack Daniels, and hickory. They also produce Jack Daniels pellets which are made from old Jack Daniels whisky barrels. Check out Cookin pellets here.
Lumberjack is another popular brand in the barbecue community. These pellets are much smaller than other pellets on the market, but they burn hot and produce a nice clean smoke. An interesting feature of this wood pellet is the bark is left on the wood, which gives it another level of smoke flavor. Lumberjack have a variety of flavours, such as apple, cherry, pecan, hickory and a variety of blended mixes. The only downside I’ve noticed with Lumberjack pellets is they leave lots of ash in your firepot. Some people this is an issue, but I clean my fire pot with a shop vac before each cook.
Pitboss produce 20 and 40 pound bags and have a vast range of flavors. They have also a nice charcoal palette which is unique, and some other nice mixes or blends.
Obviously the original and the best, Traeger wood pellets are high-quality, affordable, and use natural hardwood with no binders or other additives. Traeger makes a variety of blends and they are sold in 20 lb bags—which is ideal to fill your hopper.
Bear Mountain produces 20 and 40 lb bags, with a variety of flavors and wood types. The pellets are over high quality, with very little dust.
Other Wood Flavors
Here is a table summarizing the information on different types of smoking woods:
|Hickory||Strong, bold||Very high||Few||Decent|
I find mesquite is best used for when you want to infuse a large amount of smoke in a short time. Mesquite is good for hot and fast cooks, such as reverse searing steaks or tri-tip, etc. I avoid using mesquite on long cooks, as this will make the meat taste better. Hickory is probably the best smoking wood pellet for pork. If you find it a little strong, again mix it with a fruit would such as apple or cherry.
Tips For Choosing Wood Pellets
- Wood plays a huge part in the overall color of your pork ribs.
- Charcoal smokers will produce a darker color on your ribs than a pellet grill with wood pellets.
- Make sure your wood pellets are kept dry, because wet wood produces bad smoke.
- Wood pellets are simply compressed sawdust.
- Make sure that you are using food grade wood pellets that are designed for smoking meat.
- Other types of wood pellets used in other machinery may contain binders or other additives that will produce unpleasant smoke and ruin your meat.
Non-Food Grade Pellets
Wood pellets, and smoking pellets are two different things. Some wood pellets are designed for heating, for stoves etc. Smoking pellets are what you need for smoking wood. Keep in mind wood pellets contain additives, which could be harmful if used with food. Always buy smoking pallets from the barbecue section, or online from Amazon.
How To Store Pellets
- If you’re buying a huge amount of wood pellets, place them into a storage bucket so they are kept dry. Damp pellets will cause problems in your hopper, your auger, but also will produce a bad smoke.
How To Smoke Ribs On A Pellet Grill
- Set the temperature of your pellet grill between 225°F and 275°F
- Season your ribs with a dry rub. To help the rub stick to the ribs, apply a binder using yellow mustard or olive oil.
- Place the ribs on the grill for around 2 hours uncovered.
- After 2 hours, remove the ribs from the grill and wrap in aluminium foil.
- Place the ribs back in the pellet grill for another 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Remove the ribs and apply a barbecue sauce with a basting brush.
- Place the ribs back in the pellet grill uncovered for 30 minutes to allow the sauce to set.
- Once tender, remove the ribs.
How Wood Pellets are Made
- - ½ Cup Paprika
- - ½ Cup Salt
- - ½ Cup Sugar
- - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
- - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
- - ¼ Cup Chili
- - ¼ Cup Cumin
- - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
- - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
- Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
- Store rub in rub shakers
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.