Over the course of human history, the humble caveman evolved from simply throwing a raw piece of meat on a wood fire, to actually using the smoke and heat to flavor and create a tender and mouth-watering brisket.
Modern cooking take advantage of these primeval methods and now use advanced grillers and smokers with specific woods to achieve an even richer, juicier flavor.
Today, this is considered a precise art that requires time, patience, the right tools, and especially, the right wood.
So let’s take a look at how to choose the best wood for smoking brisket you’ll ever eat.
Best Wood for Smoking Brisket
You can get logs of mesquite wood, pecan wood, or cherry wood from just about anywhere, but you can’t just pick a log off the ground and throw it in the smoker. Here are three important factors you need to look out for when you’re looking for the best wood for smoking brisket:
- Minimal Wood Moisture
- Wood Size
- Bark or No Bark
Whether they are naturally dried or heat-processed, always make sure that the wood you’re buying is bone-dry. Moist smoking wood doesn’t make for good smoking as smoldering can cause impurities in the smoke and can affect your brisket’s flavor.
Some smoking woods sold in stores can also come pre-soaked in wine, beer, etc. Although they can improve your brisket’s flavor profile, these kinds of wood should be handled carefully when smoked as they contain moisture.
One way to see if your smoking wood has minimal moisture is by lighting it. If it burns easily, then it’s dry.
When you using coal or gas as the primary heat source, it’s great to use wood in chunks, around 2-3 inches in size. But if you plan to make the wood as your primary heat source, you should get them in splits that are 10-12 inches in length.
Bark or No Bark
Bark on smoking wood can enhance your brisket’s flavor, and can improve it. But if you are using store-bought wood, and you don’t know where it’s sourced from, it’s best to avoid the bark entirely.
Pro Tip: Most commercial “bark-on” woods may have traces of chemicals on them. Chemicals that are used as pesticide and to prohibit the growth of moss and lichen. So if you don’t know where your wood is from, stick to the center bark-free cuts.
Types of Wood for Brisket
Apple wood is a popular pick for smoking brisket. It is a fruitwood, and when smoked, it can impart a sweet and tart flavor to your brisket. Apple isn’t just a popular choice for brisket, it’s also a good wood for light meats like poultry and ham.
Hickory wood is also one many prefer to use when smoking brisket. The hardwood’s smoke, flavors the brisket with a hint of nuttiness. Like many smoking woods, hickory can take your brisket to the next level, or it can completely ruin it. So make sure to control how much you’re using when smoking.
Like the wood’s name suggests, Maple adds a sweet and smoky hint of flavor to the brisket. It is considered to be one of the mildest smoking woods so it’s perfect for when you have a smaller cut of brisket.
Mesquite is the go-to wood for traditionalist pit-masters as it is the only smoking wood used in a Texas brisket. The wood imparts a strong flavor unto your brisket, so handle with care when trying it out. If you haven’t mastered using this wood to smoke, it’s best to pair it with milder ones.
The perfect wood for rookie pit-masters. Oak wood lends a medium flavor to your brisket, and can very rarely be as overpowering as Mesquite and Pecan. The wood also burns longer than most so it makes it a bit more convenient to use than some of the others.
If you want to achieve the authentic Texas-style brisket without having to use the Mesquite’s strong flavor, Olive wood is a great alternative. It is considerably milder than Mesquite yet tastes similar. The wood can also flavor the brisket with a hint of fruitiness.
If you love a nice sweet brisket, Pecan wood is a perfect choice. The wood imparts a rich and sweet flavor onto the meat. Some people may even consider it too sweet, so it’s best to use it with other milder smoke woods when catering to a mix of people.
Rookie Smoking Mistakes
Now that you know what to do when it comes to looking for the best wood for smoking brisket, here are four things you should avoid.
1. Bad Wood
This can be wood that hasn’t dried completely or wood that had only been recently cut. The moisture and sap from these types of wood will cause the smoke and brisket to become bitter, even to the point where it cannot be eaten. This also applies to store-bought smoke woods that may have chemicals on the bark.
2. Not Enough Wood
At this point, you should know that the smoking process should take hours to finish, so starting without the right amount of wood is not an option. Make sure you’re fully stocked with charcoal and your smoke wood of choice to avoid a brisket fiasco.
3. Too Much or Too Little Wood
It can be hard to find the perfect balance to create a great brisket. Using too much smoke wood can cause the brisket to taste really strong and bitter, while using too little can cause it to taste bland. The trick is to make sure that the smoke is coming out in a slow and steady stream.
4. Flammable Agents
Using lighter fluids or gasoline on your smoking wood can greatly affect the brisket’s flavor. It’s always the best practice to use papers to light up the charcoal or smoking wood.
Choosing The Best Wood For Smoking Brisket: Final Thoughts
Other than needing to be dry and chemical-free, you have quite a lot of freedom in choosing the best wood for smoking brisket! If you think the perfect smoked brisket needs a unique touch, try mixing and matching different woods, don’t be afraid to experiment.
Smoking a brisket may be a precise art, but it’s still art. Use your creativity to play around with different smoke woods and different cut sizes of brisket.
You’ll soon find a smoking wood and method that’s perfect for you, and then BAM! You’ve got your very own signature smoking style.