There is no one best wood for smoking brisket - instead, you have to choose what is right for you.
Coming from a long line of pitmasters, I learned early on that the key to delicious brisket was the right kind of wood. I am now here to share everything I know with you.
In this post, I will outline the various types, sizes, and a whole lot more. Let's get started!
Before I go into the actual woods themselves, I want to give you a quick introduction to the various types of wood, namely hardwood, fruitwood, and softwood.
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Straight off the bat, I'm here to tell you that you should never use softwood for smoking brisket. These have higher levels of sap in them and have more air in their cell structure. Due to this, the wood burns too quickly and produces sparks. As you can imagine, this isn't ideal for the temperatures needed for low and slow cooking process associated with smoking.
Fruitwood is technically a type of hardwood. They are so named for the fact that these trees produce fruits.
Remember to avoid greenwood at all costs. This is wood that has been recently cut and, as such, hasn't had time to dry and hasn't been seasoned at all. These will make your food inedible.
Let's take a look at the different woods and different flavor profiles that you can choose from:
Now, typically, oak wood has a medium smoky flavor. One of the reasons that it is one of the favorites is because the flavor profile is notable, but will not overpower your senses at the same time. This wood is also readily available but maybe most commonly found in Central Texas style BBQ.
Oak is one of the more popular types of wood for smoking brisket. However, what a lot of people don't realize is that there is more than one kind.
Post oak is gaining quite a bit of popularity among pitmasters - it is a type of white oak. However, red and live oak wood are still in high demand. The main benefit of post oak is that it helps to build a great bark on the brisket. It also has a notable vanilla flavor.
There is a lot of similarity between post oak and white oak, with the exception of the slightly sweeter flavor. Red oak can give off quite a bit of smoke, so you have to make sure that it is well-seasoned. It is a fan favorite, though.
Live oak has a strong smoke flavor to it, but also burns in the same way as post oak if this is the feature that you are after.
In terms of fuel, hickory is the perfect choice. This is because it has a good flame, produces very few sparks, and it burns for a long period. What's more, it leaves behind clean ash.
Despite its popularity, hickory can be a bit of a divisive choice. This is only due to the fact that not even people recognize that this type of wood can differ based on genus as well as where it is grown. As such, hickory can come out sweet, with a slightly nutty flavor, savory or spicy, or have a bitter taste.
Thus, you need to do your research and know exactly which kind you are getting. Regardless of the type, though, this does produce a lot of wood smoke.
Mesquite is yet another one of the woods for smoking brisket that people aren't quite sure about. Now, it is a big part of West Texan barbecue, largely because the trees are so readily available in that area.
It is a stronger flavor wood for smoking meat. This wood produces a ton of smoke - so if you like a lot of smokiness, then this is the way to go. Although it boasts a unique flavor, this can be quite a strong flavor for many and so is best used sparingly.
As you can imagine, there is quite a bit of fruity flavor attached to this wood. The sweet taste is quite notable as well. All in all, this is a mild wood with mild flavors. The smoke flavor is minimal.
To be perfectly honest, apple wood isn't my top choice for beef brisket. I prefer it for smoking pork based dishes. It does work well to dilute the flavors of stronger flavored woods, though.
If you are new to smoking brisket, I would suggest maple. This is because it is hard to go wrong with this wood. It offers the best of both worlds - it boasts mild smokiness that is balanced out with a sweet flavor.
It works well with beef brisket as well as a wide variety of other meats. All in all, I would get started with this wood for smoking brisket and then slowly work your way up to woods with a more pungent flavor.
Similar to apple, this adds a fruity flavor when cooking brisket. The sweet yet subtle flavor gives it a mild taste that is still quite pleasant. Basically, if you want to err on the side of caution with your smoked brisket, cherry wood is a safe route for you.
You are going to find that people are fairly divided about pecan wood. You will be hardpressed to find a BBQ joint or a pitmaster who uses this wood. Ask most backyard pros, though, and they will tell you that this is one of their favorites. So, what gives?
Well, this has largely to do with how the wood burns. It does so quickly and turns to ash just as fast. Considering that pecan isn't exactly cheap, this isn't an issue. It can be a great choice to get your fire going, though.
Another thing to note about this wood is the sweet and nutty flavor. While it is quite pleasant, the sweet flavor can be pretty overwhelming for some. This is why I like to tone things down with a smokier wood such as oak.
When you are looking for wood for smoking brisket, olive isn't going to be at the top of anyone's list. That being said, this wood deserves to be given a chance. The flavor produced is similar to that of mesquite, but you don't get that intense flavor that can be a turnoff.
Therefore, if you are looking for mild smokiness, give olive a try.
If I am being perfectly honest, there isn't such a thing as the "best wood". This is because it is all about what flavors you are looking to impart in a brisket.
And if you think that I'm trying to dodge the question, go ahead and check out what some of the top wood choices of major pitmasters. It will undoubtedly vary from one person to another.
Despite this, each of these pros are celebrated for their excellent brisket. This means that there is no right or wrong answer - it is all down to what you like.
I am all for combining various woods together to create different flavor profiles. At the end of the day, each person is looking for something unique with their smoked brisket.
Most woods don't really cut it on their own for smoking brisket. As with mesquite and hickory, the strong flavors can be a bit much, overpowering the natural profile of the beef brisket. On the other hand, woods such as apple and cherry need to be punched up. Even oak wood can do with some improvement.
Remember, though, it is all a balancing act. Figure out which flavors you want to stand out and which ones you would like just a hint of. This will make it easier to figure out how to mix and match.
You are going to have to experiment a bit to figure out what works for you the best.
In addition to choosing the right wood for smoking brisket, you also have to think about the right size of wood for your meat and smoker. Here is what you need to know:
These are essentially wood scraps or shavings. They are about one-fourth of an inch thick and no more than an inch long.
What I like about them is they are small and light quickly. This also means these burn out just as fast, though. This is why you should use wood chips for smaller briskets as they don't have the longevity needed for a large cut.
These are popular because they are easy to find and due to their compact size are pretty easy to store as well. I prefer to use wood chips with an electric smoker or a gas one, although they work great sprinkled in a charcoal grill as well.
Wood chunks are typically used in charcoal grills or alongside charcoal in an offset smoker. They are about the size of a fist.
What I like about these is that due to their larger size, they burn for longer. What's more, you have to use fewer wood chunks as well. They are versatile and can be used in all types of smokers.
These are made from pressed sawdust and they are known for producing clean smoke and subtle flavors. As the name suggests, they are used in pellet smokers or a pellet grill.
They are convenient to use and they will readily produce smoke, cutting down on the wait time.
Logs aren't readily used for smoking brisket - at least not by most people. This is for two reasons. First, they are really large and it isn't easy to find a smoker that can accommodate these. You need oldschool offset smokers for this type of fuel.
The other reason is that it isn't easy to find logs - wood chips and wood chunks are far easier to find, commercially. The upside, though, is that you just need a single log for an entire cook and these are an excellent choice for larger briskets.
As mentioned, there is no such thing as the best wood, but here are a couple of tips to figure out what type is right for you:
Think about what type of barbecue you are trying to emulate. Do you want your brisket to taste like a certain Texan barbecue? Or, are you a bigger fan of Alabama or Kentucky cuisine?
Once you have narrowed this down, do some research. Figure out what the local BBQ joints or pros are using in those areas. And, then give these a try. With some time and practice, you will find the right balance for you.
I would always suggest starting off with a mild wood such as oak or maple. You can balance it out by adding a bit of mesquite or hickory. It doesn't matter if you like your brisket plenty smoky, always start off with mild.
The thing with strong flavored woods are that if you overdo them, it is hard to come back from it. They can lend an acrid or inedible taste to your meat. To avoid this risk, always start off with a lower amount and make the mild woods the center point.
Always choose a good quality brand, regardless of the wood size or type that you are opting for. In this instance, you get what you paid for. So, if you want the best tasting brisket possible, make sure to invest in a high quality wood.
These are both strongly flavored woods, but mesquite tends to work better for beef and thus may be a better fit for brisket.
Aaron Franklin prefers post oak wood that has been cured for up to 12 months. This type of wood creates limited soot but offers up a mild, smoky flavor.
Now you know what wood to use when smoking brisket. Go ahead and put this knowledge to good use and whip up the best possible brisket for you and your family!