There really are few foods that bring drool to the tongue quite like the thought of a perfectly cooked brisket.
And by perfectly cooked, we of course mean a perfectly smoked brisket. I mean, is there really any comparison?
But what you may not realize is that not just any wood goes when it comes to a great smoked beef brisket recipe.
Not all trees are created quite equally, and there really are differences. Let’s dive into the best wood for smoking brisket, so you can get cooking in no time.
How To Smoke A Brisket
First thing’s first. Don’t just choose the wood, run and buy some, and get going without knowing how to handle this marvelous cut of meat.
You’ve got to get a handle on how to smoke a brisket, or else you may as well end up with a lump of jerky, for what the end result would be like.
The reason why brisket is best when smoked is that the (flavored) smoke is actually capable of seeping deep into the cut of meat if exposed to it long enough. THAT is how you get that incredible flavor that no marinade can touch.
(Why do you smoke a brisket? Because it softens and beautifully flavors an otherwise tough piece of meat, simple as that.)
Some notes on how to get the most out of your wood smoked brisket:
1. Adjust the cooking time to match the wood chosen.
You’ll learn more about the different wood types below, but know this:
If you want a stronger smokier flavor, you either need a fairly smokey piece of wood and to cook the meat longer, or you need a piece of wood with more powerful smoke and shorter cook time.
2. Check your total cook time based on the size of the cut.
I don’t care what a recipe says. If you have a 10lb cut versus a 5lb cut, all things the same the smaller cut will be done smoking sooner.
Make sure to watch the clock more if you’re smoking a small cut, so you can be sure not to overdo it. Plan on 30-60 minutes per pound, to be safe.
3. Match the wood size to the size of the cut.
If you’re cooking an exceptionally small wood smoked brisket, you might get away with using wood chips without an issue.
If you’re cooking a big old hunk of meat, on the other hand, you’ll want to go for logs for smoking, to avoid needing to “refuel” in the middle of smoking, if possible.
Consistency of the smoke (i.e. temperature) is key!
(We’ll cover more on sizes later in the article.)
4. Be patient and don’t overdo it.
It’s true that good things come to those who wait. Waiting it out for the end of the best smoker recipes for brisket is no different. The secret to good brisket is a good slow smoke.
If you’re an old pro at smoking, you’re prepared for the wait time.
If this is your first time up to bat, you’re in for a very slow surprise. Grab a good book if you can’t resist sitting and watching it cook!
No, but seriously. One of the best ways to ruin your smoking experience is to overdo it on the wood and end up with meat with a very overpowering flavor. Don’t add more of the wood unless you need it, especially for some of the stronger woods listed below, and don’t throw your money away on ruined food.
The 7 Best Woods For Smoking Brisket
Generally speaking, you’ll notice a number of familiar tree names on the list, because they’re used in either the production of fruits, nuts, or other common products.
If the tree is known for producing common nuts or sweet fruits, you can expect that it will add a sweeter or nuttier flavor to your finished brisket. Using apple wood for brisket, for example, will be a sweet and fruity flavor (think applewood smoked bacon), whereas using mesquite wood for smoking brisket will give a more earthy flavor.
There are some other options for wood smoking not on this list, such as alder wood for smoking or boxelder, but the seven below are the most common.
This list is not in any particular order but for the first four being the fruity, sweet woods and the last three give more mild and savory flavors.
I mean, who are we to tell you which flavor is best? It’s your tongue.
Sweet, Fruity Wood For Smoking Brisket
Smoking beef with apple wood is one of those things where you pretty much can’t go wrong. When it comes to the fruity or sweeter flavored woods, this is definitely one of the most commonly chosen woods.
Apple wood for smoking is a great choice to use alone for both its sweet, mild flavor and also because it gives off a dense smoke. This density is what allows it to permeate deep into many cuts of meat, giving that easily-recognized “applewood smoked” flavor.
Fun fact about smoking with apple wood: despite the more dense smoke, it is great to pair with another wood choice to somewhat dilute out stronger smoke flavors.
Cherry wood has a similar sweetness to apple but will result in a darker finished brisket versus using some of the other options on this list.
Just like cherry wood in furniture and flooring is easily recognized by its characteristic deep red color, meats smoked with cherry wood often come out with a touch of red color to the surface of the meat.
Using hickory and cherry for brisket at the same time results in a very nice sweet and smokey flavor!
We all know that from maple trees comes maple syrup — and that’s VERY sweet stuff! Be prepared for the same extra sweetness in your finished meats. Maplewood smoked meats are about as commonly found on the shelves and in restaurants as applewood-smoked meats.
This is a great choice for first-time and beginner smokers who are still earning their chops. It’s a more mild wood and a more mild smoke so you’re less likely to overdo it and ruin your meat.
Since there are different types of maple trees that can be used for smoking meats, do yourself a favor and try the different varieties and see which specific maple wood you think comes out the best!
Using pecan wood for brisket is less common, but still worth trying. Instead of a sweet, fruity sort of flavor, you’ll finish with a sweet and nutty flavor.
This does tend to be a little stronger, however, so you may want to combine with one of the savory woods below to soften the sweetness some.
Savory Wood For Smoking Brisket
Hickory for wood smoking is kind of the old workhorse of the pitmasters. It’s a very commonly used wood in smoking all different cuts of meat and offers a nice nutty flavor but without being overly strong.
This is also a wood that pairs well with multiple cuts of meat, so it’s a very versatile addition to your cooking arsenal to simply keep a supply on hand.
You do run the risk of using too much if you don’t really know what you’re doing, so go lighter with this wood if you’re a beginner.
While oak is one of the best woods for smoking brisket, the best oak for bbq and smoking is often white oak. Most commonly you’ll find “post oak” on the shelves with the smoker wood chips, and this is a type of white oak.
The reason many people love and even swear by using oak wood for smoking brisket is due to the clean and even burn that oak provides. With little smoke and a mild flavor, it’s one that’s hard to overdo.
Another great choice for beginners.
Mesquite brisket is what most people immediately associate with a classic Texas barbeque joint. Using mesquite wood for smoking brisket brings a strong flavor to the table.
Here’s why those delicious Texas barbeque joints are so expensive — mesquite wood burns quite fast, so you’ll need more wood on hand than other options to keep things cooking nice and consistent.
Due to that fast burn, you’ll also want to be cautious not to overpower whatever you’re cooking, so consider diluting it with something milder to help keep the flavors under control.
Differences In Wood Sizes For Smoking Brisket
Best Wood Pellets For Smoking Brisket
Wood pellets for smoking are essentially compressed sawdust. These will burn quickly and are better suited for smaller sized cuts. You’ll want to look into these if you’ve got a pellet smoker at home that you’re using for smoking brisket.
If you want the best pellets for smoke flavor, you won’t go wrong with Traeger Grills Mesquite Hardwood Pellets.
You can either buy single flavors and try custom mixing wood pellet flavors or you can buy their pre-mixed blends to try out. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Best Wood Chips For Smoking Brisket
You’ll be able to use wood chips for smoking in a variety of grill types, but they might be best suited in an offset smoker. You can also use them in an electric smoker, although that’s not an ideal setup.
They will burn fairly quickly though, so make sure you get a sizeable bag if you’re dealing with a bigger cut of meat. Depending on your exact setup (ie a kamado grill) and the chips chosen it is often recommended to soak them in water first to slow the burn and get better smoke.
Wood chips can also be used on a gas grill, with the use of a smoker box.
Want to go for a really standout smoking experience at your next backyard bbq? Give these Jack Daniels Wood Chips a try!
They’re made from Jack Daniels No. 7 whiskey barrels, and will give you an oaky whiskey flavor your guests will be talking about for a long time.
Best Wood Chunks For Smoking Brisket
Using wood chunks in a charcoal grill is a great way to add a unique smokey flavor to your already flavorful charcoal-grilled meats. You can just lay the (pre-soaked) wood chunks straight over the coals after the fire dies down some, and get that nice smokey flavor you’re drooling over.
These Oklahoma Joe hickory wood chunks are a great choice for those new to smoking brisket.
Since many charcoal grills are designed to double as smokers, this is a great way to get a new cooking skill under your belt without having to invest in new equipment.
Best Wood Logs For Smoking Brisket
Using wood logs for smoking brisket means we’re pulling out all the stops. You’ve got yourself one heck of a hunk of meat, you’re in this for the long haul, and you are not messing around with risking anything going wrong.
Whether new to smoking or a pro, you can’t go wrong with the solid choice of oak for smoking brisket. The consistency, mild flavor, and long-lasting burn makes it a winning option every time.
These Smoak Firewood Cooking Logs come in 3 different sizes to fit whatever size smoker you’re working with.
Best Wood For Smoking Brisket Tips + Tricks
How Much Wood To Use When Smoking Brisket
Generally speaking, you’re likely going to want a lot of wood. But it’s very easy to go overboard.
Base your calculations on your cut of meat, your specific setup (and check manufacturer recommendations), and what the estimated burn time is for the type of wood (both size and species) you’re using. Generally speaking, you’ll want to budget for 30-60 minutes per pound.
If you’re using chips or chunks and cooking a larger cut of meat, plan on having a lot on hand to be sure you don’t run out.
If you’re smoking with logs, you’ll still need a fair amount, but it’s a more manageable quantity both to have on hand and for stoking purposes.
Can I Use More Than One Wood When Cooking Brisket?
Yes, you can absolutely use more than one wood!
Many people like hickory and cherry for brisket.
Where To Buy Wood For Smoking Meat
Honestly, you can find the right wood for smoking meat almost anywhere, from your local Home Depot to a farm with untreated wood to right on Amazon.
Store-bought wood is a great way to make sure you’re getting wood that’s been well-seasoned, properly identified, and no bringing anything funky to your smoking, like bugs or rot.
Take a look on Amazon for the best wood for smoking meat.
Wherever you buy your wood from, just make sure it’s labeled as “cooking wood.”
Tips For Choosing Wood For Smoking Brisket
This is really a personal choice, so we aren’t going to try to tell you exactly what to pick.
Do you prefer a smokier flavor? Use a wood type and size that will lend to a smokier cook.
Do you prefer a more subtle flavor? Try logs and one of the types that burn clean and slower, so it’s less overpowering.
Regardless of the type of wood you end up using, just make sure it’s dry hardwood. This will result in the cleanest smoke possible. Too much black smoke will bitter the final flavor.
If you’re new to smoking brisket, choose a beginner brisket recipe to get started, and follow the instructions pretty closely. It’s tried and tested so you know it’ll turn out about right.
As you gain more experience and confidence in your smoking skills, try mixing and matching woods for a unique finished product.
What Should You NOT Do When Smoking Brisket?
1. Don’t use fire-starting aids.
Definitely don’t use any sort of fluids to get your wood burning. While tossing on some lighter fluid is surely one of the fastest ways to start a fire, you’ve got to realize what that does to your meat.
You’re cooking WITH SMOKE. Lighter fluid, when it burns, GIVES OFF SMOKE.
Be smart. Don’t eat lighter fluid (smoke).
2. Don’t just use any old wood.
Sure, maybe you’ve got an old pallet laying around, or some old 2x4s, or maybe you’re fancy enough to have some cedar planks form smoking your salmon fillet the other night.
Do NOT use any lumber that not specifically sold or labeled as being for food/cooking use.
Pallets, lumber, etc all have processing oils on them (see note on lighter fluid above), and pressure-treated especially should never be burned (even in a campfire) due to the chemicals used. These chemicals can be toxic if inhaled in high amounts, so imagine how bad they are for you if you ingest a form of them!
As for the cedar, well…cedar and pine are two common kinds of wood used in cooking but they just aren’t a good pairing with brisket.
3. Do NOT use green wood.
Just cut down a fresh apple tree last week? It’s not ready for smoking with yet.
The ideal piece of wood used in smoking brisket or any meat is wood that is well-seasoned, meaning it’s had a chance to sit and thoroughly dry out before being burned. This helps you maintain a more even smoke and temperature as well.
Electric Smoker vs. Classic Smoker vs. Vertical Smoker
Using an electric smoker is a very different story than using a traditional smoker. First off, they are easy to use but they don’t provide the smoke in the same way. They can release the smoke in more like puffs, making it slightly less consistent.
The best wood for smoking brisket in an electric smoker is dry hardwood, your choice on flavor, and chips for most models.
If you’re wondering if you should put the fat side up or down in an electric smoker, the answer is a resounding UP. This way the fat liquefies as it cooks and oozes into the meat for an absolutely killer flavor!
Classic Smoker (Horizontal)
When smoking in a classic horizontal wood meat smoker, typically with an offset firebox, you’ll have a more consistent temperature control because you’ll be able to feed the fire without opening the main cooking chamber.
These style smokers vary in whether they use wood pellets or wood chips, and some may be large enough to take logs.
Follow your specific model’s manufacturing guidelines to choose the right woods and sizes.
When smoking brisket in a vertical smoker, you’re again going to follow about the same process as the other methods.
The main difference here is access to the smoke source. Can you fuel the fire without removing cooking grates? If you’re using something like a kamado grill, you may find it too tricky to smoke the brisket properly.
Generally speaking, the main difference between a vertical smoker and others is the size limitations — these tend to be tall and skinny as compared to a classic, horizontal smoker.
You may need to get creative in rigging up some sort of rotisserie-like racking to fit the entire cut in if it’s quite large.
Final Thoughts On The Best Wood For Smoking Brisket
As we mentioned above, it’s hard for us to tell you which is the best wood for smoking brisket since SO much of that decision hinges on your flavor preference!
But if you’re new, the best wood for smoking brisket for beginners is post oak, like in chips form paired with an offset firebox style smoker.
If you’re an ambitious pro smoker, the best wood for smoking brisket may be a combination of mesquite and sweet wood. Just remember to have plenty of mesquite wood logs on hand since they burn fast!
Don’t forget to cut yourself some slack if your first couple of tries smoking brisket don’t turn out quite as you hoped. It’s a tough piece of meat, both in texture and in cookability! We have a great article “How To Reheat Brisket: 5 Ways to Keep it Juicy” so you know what to do with your leftover brisket too.