A well-smoked brisket is a true delicacy. It is, by far, my favorite type of smoked meat, but it is also one of the most challenging ones to prepare.
Due to its sheer size and toughness, a brisket takes plenty of time and effort to get right.
One of the critical things you have to decide is the type of wood you will use for smoking.
It took me a long time to answer the question, “What is the best wood for smoking brisket?” To be honest, I’m not sure that I even have a straight answer for you. The truth is, no one type of wood is perfect for brisket, but several types can produce a delicious smoked brisket.
In this short guide, I will outline some of the most important factors to consider when choosing the best wood for smoking brisket, and I’ll toss in some general advice about how to get the best out of your brisket-smoking experience.
Smoking a perfect brisket takes practice, experimentation and maybe even a good smoker recipe cookbook, but I’m here to help by offering some tips on how to find your signature taste!
So, let’s get going!
Reminder: Of course, if you haven’t found the best smoker for your needs then you need to start here
Let’s get going!
Blanket Bits about Brisket Smoking
Brisket is a rather large piece of beef that is notoriously difficult to prepare and requires extensive preparation with the right materials and experience to master the art.
Preparation requires quite a bit of tenderizing to break down the toughness, followed by hours and hours of slow cooking in a smoker.
Brisket is high in fat and tends to absorb flavors more slowly than other types of meat. A lot of flavors will not stick around when the fat melts. With this in mind, I find it crucial to use woods with a stronger flavor and longer burn duration to get the best results.
With years of experience, I have landed on several factors that play important roles in choosing the best wood for smoking brisket.
Hardwoods vs. Softwoods
I already mentioned that brisket takes a long time to cook and tenderize, so it’s only logical that the best wood for smoking brisket should be able to burn and produce smoke for a long time.
That factor pretty much eliminates most of the softwoods because they tend to burn quickly and produce smoke and flavor that isn’t strong enough for smoked brisket.
Different hardwood – such as hickory, oak, mesquite, maple, apple, or cherry – are better suited for smoking a brisket.
Hardwoods also tend to pack more flavor, which is necessary to penetrate the tough structure of brisket, so stick with hardwoods.
Be sure that the wood you are using for smoking is dry and not freshly cut. Avoid using wood that has any paint or other chemicals that might release when burning.
In short, use plain, dry wood.
It is essential to consider the size of the wood you use to smoke meat.
Depending on the type of smoker used, the size of the wood will vary dramatically. In general, I tend to separate the wood sizes into three categories, each intended for different types of smokers.
Wood ChipsI use primarily wood chips when smoking a brisket in a gas or electric smoker. Gas and electric smokers can’t accommodate large pieces of wood in their wood compartments, so using chips is a must. You can either purchase pre-made chips or make some of your own. Wood chips are usually 1 to 2 inches in size, and about ¼ of an inch thick. Wood chips tend to burn more quickly than wood chunks or logs, but you can replace the chips with new ones during smoking.
Wood chunks are anywhere from 4 inches to 6 inches in size and used in small and medium offset smokers that can accommodate them. They tend to burn longer than chips and also are available in grocery and BBQ specialty stores.
Wood logs are used exclusively in large offset and commercial smokers. Logs can produce heat for cooking, besides the smoke for smoking. They are perfect for slow-smoking meat in large commercial smokers.
Strong vs. Mild Taste
Besides the seasoning, the type of wood you choose for the smoking process has a direct influence on the final flavor of the smoked brisket.
The hardwoods I mentioned earlier in the guide all have distinct smokes and flavors. I will outline some of their characteristics so you can pick the best wood for smoking brisket to your specific taste:
- Hickory is a powerful, smoky wood that gives a bacon-like flavor to the brisket. Please do NOT overdo it! Too much hickory smoke can make the brisket taste bitter.
- Oak is a safe bet for most beginners. It has a medium-strong flavor and makes for a slow, controlled burn.
- Mesquite is the wood of choice for Texas-style smoked BBQ, with a robust earthy flavor. Just like hickory, do not overdo it!
- Apple and cherry produce sweet and fruity smoke, which is quite mild. You can mix them with stronger, smokier woods, like hickory and oak, to create wonderful mixes.
- Maple and pecan are the woods-of-choice for people with a sweet tooth. Don’t go crazy on them, either, or the brisket will be too sweet to eat.
Experimenting with different wood types has helped me become better at smoking brisket.
If you really want to find the best wood for smoking brisket and that distinctive taste you are looking for, you will have to do some experimenting on your own.
I hope this brief guide helped clarify the most important factors to consider when choosing the best wood for smoking brisket.
Smoking a perfect brisket is more craft than science, and the process of discovering new flavors and tastes is an integral part of the experience.
I might never be able to provide a simple answer to the question, “What’s the best wood for smoking brisket?” But I hope I’m leaving you with a better understanding of how to smoke a killer brisket that will WOW your friends and family.
Use your new-found confidence to fire up the smoker and get to experimenting.
Additional food for thought: If your trying to know the pros and cons of a good wood burning grill then read this article about Traeger Renegade Elite vs Pro Series 22
Off you go!