Successfully smoking a delicious brisket is one of the more challenging BBQ dishes you could prepare. The longer cook times, using indirect heat, and the higher price tag of quality brisket means you need to know what you’re doing and execute each step correctly.
The good news is that despite brisket being a bit trickier than some of the other BBQ options, utilizing the best wood for brisket and understanding the basics of smoking meat can go a long way in increasing your chances of success.
To help you get on the right track when figuring out the best wood for smoking brisket and how to have the perfect BBQ day without a hitch, let’s go over the most important things you should consider below.
The Basics of Smoking Meat
Having the best wood to smoke brisket is an important step to achieve the top results. But since smoking a brisket is not easy, you need to have a solid grasp of the smoking fundamentals, which will ensure you don’t make any costly mistakes that could hurt your end result.
The first question you probably have is why you should be smoking the meat in the first place. Well, so many people swear by smoking meat because it simply makes the meat taste that much better, greatly enriching the flavor and making it more savory and complex.
On top of that, the meat’s appearance is also greatly improved, further raising the experience. Finally, the phenols that form during the smoking process have strong antibacterial properties, making the meat safe to consume, at least if you do it correctly.
Safety is important when learning the basics of smoking meat, so you must be aware of the steps to ensure you don’t create unnecessary risks.
For one thing, because the meat is cooked at relatively low temperatures, you must ensure that it is fully thawed and defrosted. You can simply leave the meat in the refrigerator and allow it to thaw overnight. When marinating the meat, make sure you also keep it in the fridge to prevent bacteria from growing and contaminating the food.
During smoking, you should also utilize a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the meats you’re smoking. For beef, lamb there is a lot of flexibility, but for the safest option, cook the meat to an internal temperature of 145F. For pork, the internal temperature must reach around 145F, and poultry needs to get as high as 165F. Side note, the USDA recommendations also include options for a lower temperature, over time. Read up on the USDA recommendations beforehand for safety, but as an example, you can keep the internal temperature for chicken at 155F for 50 seconds and it meets USDA requirements Remember after you take meat off the grill the temperature can remain the same or even go up for a short while. Also remember, your grill’s temperature does not necessarily reflect how hot the meat is inside, so it’s paramount to have an internal thermometer you can use to accurately determine that the meat has cooked all the way through.
Finally, when smoking your meat, make sure you use smokers made by professionals out of materials approved for contact with meat and poultry. Avoid using makeshift containers and other forms of DIY smokers that might cause residue transfer and contamination. Use a Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, Primo, Master Built gravity smoker, Cotton Gin Smoker, and the list goes on.
These are more general guidelines that should help you better understand what to prioritize when smoking meat. If you want more specific information on how to smoke a brisket, we have a helpful article you can check out.
7 Best Types of Wood for Smoking Brisket
With so many wood options, figuring out what wood to smoke brisket with can be challenging. But the good news is that even though there are many wood options, a few seem to stand out and can provide you with the richest brisket flavor. Knowing these options will help you attain a complex taste profile you and your friends will love.
Let’s look at the seven options of the best wood for brisket below.
Oak Smoking Wood
If you’re looking for a complex and subtle flavor in your brisket, you can’t go wrong with oak (or oak mixed with other cooking woods), which will provide you with superior flavor and a long-lasting heat you can sustain for the entire cooking time.
While it’s not the strongest smoking flavor, it has more than enough potency to provide distinct profiles that you’ll want to try out. As mentioned before, oak works great with other woods if you want a more diverse taste range. Different woods have different flavor, but Oak really is just the base flavor.
Hickory Smoking Wood
Hickory is one of the best wood chips for brisket options, offering an amazing profile that’s unmistakable with any other smoking wood option. While it’s not as strong as some of the alternatives you could use, the savory profile of hickory and a hint of nutty flavor will take your smoking to the next level, especially in a dish like a brisket, where it can really shine through.
There’s a reason why hickory is probably the most popular wood to use for brisket; many people will swear it's simply the best wood for brisket you can get.
Pecan Smoking Wood
Even though pecan may not be the first type of wood you think of when you want to smoke a brisket, the fact that it’s a less obvious choice can end up being the reason why it works so well.
The unique blend of sweet and nutty flavors will be fully displayed when your brisket is ready. If you want to go easier on the sweet side, you can always balance it with a more mild wood like oak.
Apple Smoking Wood
Apple is one of the milder wood to smoke brisket options on this list, but that’s by no means a drawback when you want to avoid overpowering flavors and allow the meat to be the star.
The main advantage of using wood for brisket like apple is its ability to provide a nice combination of sweetness and fruitiness, a unique combination you’d have a hard time producing otherwise.
Maple Smoking Wood
The great thing about using maple wood chips for brisket is that it’s a safer taste profile, which is harder to make mistakes with when smoking your meat. It’s another milder wood that will give a subtle sweetness and smokiness, allowing for more flexibility when you’re still working out the kinks and want to avoid an overpowering sweet or bitter taste.
In the beginning, you may want to focus on accentuating the natural flavors of a good brisket cut, which is when a more subdued smoking profile might be an ideal choice.
Cherry Smoking Wood
Cherry is a popular option to pair with a wood like hickory, but it can also stand well on its own as a mild smoking wood that produces light sweet and smokey. You can pair it with oak if you want a stronger taste profile and feel more daring, as cherry wood can complement and enrich almost any smoking wood.
Another great quality of using cherry wood to produce the best smoke for brisket is that it will not just enhance the profile but will also provide a beautiful red color to your brisket, which is a big part of the experience.
Mesquite Smoking Wood
Mesquite is a strong-flavored wood with a pleasant earthy quality to enrich your brisket. This is the wood to use if you’re looking for the distinct Texas brisket, as it packs quite a punch when you use it as the primary smoking wood in your BBQ.
However, like other strong smoking woods, there’s always the risk of over-smoking the brisket, potentially ruining it. Because of that, many decide to pair it with milder woods to balance out the flavors and intensity.
Choosing the Size of Wood for Smoking Brisket
Even though finding the best wood for brisket is essential, you should also consider the shape of the wood if you want to achieve the best results. Here are the four options you should be aware of:
- Chips. Smoking with chips is one of the most practical options for smoking meat, especially if you’re using an electric smoker without an open flame. However, since they are smaller, they will burn much faster and will not be able to impart the complete flavor profile that is possible with chunks, splits and logs.
- Chunks. For most people with the capacity in their grills, chunks will be the superior option. When using a charcoal grill, these pieces of wood will provide plenty of smoke and last a long time, ensuring your brisket gets perfectly smoked every time.
- Logs/ sticks/ splits. Smoking with logs is probably the most traditional method you can use, but they are only practical with large smokers..
- Pellets. If you have a grill that only fits pellets, you’ll have to go with them. But because they burn super quickly, the amount needed for the lengthy smoking process involved with a brisket makes them a very impractical option. It also isn’t an option to get really high quality pellets.
Finding the best wood for brisket is an integral part of getting the most distinct flavor profile and creating a truly exceptional dish that will be worth the effort.
At Cutting Edge Firewood, we have a selection of top-quality wood chunks for smoking (also add that we have cooking logs and splits) and grilling, allowing you to mix and match options to create the perfect smokey flavors and aromas you desire. Check out our selection of cooking wood today!