Due to the high-fat content of brisket, smoking is the best option. From Apple to Red Oak and everything in between, some woods are just good while others can take your BBQ brisket to a whole new level.
What is the best smoking wood for Brisket? While the list of every good wood would be pretty extensive, some of the best that can really highlight the uniqueness of BBQ beef brisket are:
- Any of a wide variety of Maple
Beef brisket can be an expensive cut of meat, not just because of the size, but also because of the grade. It is for this reason that you want to make sure that you get the best out of your brisket that you can and smoking it can give you the extra flavor you want while giving it the slow cook it needs.
Sweet Vs. Savory: The Big Debate
Whether you like your meat a little more on the sweet side, or you prefer a more savory flavor, your personal preference can make a big difference in the type of wood that you would want to use. The following should give you a good idea of the variety of the best smoking woods that is available and can add to the flavor of a barbecue brisket.
When You Want Sweet
Sweeter woods like the following can really bring a hint of sweetness to your barbecue brisket:
Using fruit hardwoods can leave a slight fruity taste to the meat. So if there is a fruit you just don’t like, avoid using that kind of hardwood when smoking.
Apple and cherry woods are quite popular flavors to use. Peach wood is not as popular, but it cannot be overlooked as a possibility for smoking barbecue brisket as it can give it a unique and pleasant flavor.
One thing I do want to mention when it comes to maple is that there are great types of maple woods that can be used. A small list of the possible varieties are:
Just about any variety of maple can add a sweet touch to your barbecue brisket, and I would consider them to be some of the best smoking woods.
Just as the cut of meat can make a big difference in the final product, so can the variety of Maple you use. You may want to experiment with a few different types to find your personal taste.
If you enjoy sweet meat and really want a stronger sweet flavor, Sugar Maple cannot be ignored. It has a 2% higher sugar content than most other varieties, which can really help to produce a nice sweet flavor. The added sugary sap can mean extra smoke too, which means a more smokey flavor to your brisket as a bonus.
When You Want Savory
If you prefer more savory flavors, then the following may be more suitable to your taste:
- Any variety of Oak
In Texas, Mesquite tends to be the wood of choice for its distinct robust taste, but in other places, Hickory reigns supreme. Both of these give BBQ brisket a tasty smokey flavor but can be overpowering if not used in moderation.
Oak can come in a variety of species that would work well for barbecue, but White Oak seems to be the one that is popular for brisket. White tends to be a bit harder (in relation to other hardwoods) and burns longer, which is suitable for long cooking times.
Size Matters When Smoking Brisket
From the size of your brisket to the size of the wood you plan to use, size equals time, at least when it comes to hot smoking or barbecuing a brisket.
The Size of Your Meat
The size and cut of the brisket you plan to use makes a huge difference when it comes to making barbecue brisket. When you consider that a 5-pound piece of brisket will cook in half the time of a 10 lb piece, this can make a dramatic difference in time cooking.
If you take into consideration that is can take approximately 75 to 90 minutes (an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half) per pound of meat, that difference can be huge. Where a 5 lb piece can take approximately 6 hours and 15 minutes, this means that a 10 lb piece can take more than 12 hours just to cook.
When taking on the task of smoking a whole brisket, one of the larger pieces can be 15 lbs or more, which can take more than 18 hours to smoke. And don’t forget that 18 hours is just the cook time, not including the prep, which can add another hour or more to the total time. It may be a task that is difficult to do if you don’t have patience.
Selecting a Grade of Meat
The USDA grade of your brisket can make just as big of a difference as the wood and size of the cut. While there are three options usually available to the average consumer, they can vary quite a bit in quality:
For the best brisket, I would recommend going Prime if you can, but Choice is a decent option as well. Select grade would be fine as well, but I only recommend it if you don’t plan to enjoy the meat by itself but instead plan to mix it into something like chili.
The Size of the Wood
Many people who are not familiar with smoking may not realize that wood for smoking or barbecue can come in different sizes. From wood chips to small logs, the size of the wood you plan to use can make a big difference as well.
The three most common sizes used for cooking are:
Chips are the smallest size available. They resemble the wood chips you may use in your garden, but they are significantly different.
Wood that is used for cooking has not been treated with chemicals and is safe to use. Often it is labeled and packaged for cooking or smoking purposes. These can produce moderate smoke but burns fast, which is not suitable for the slow cooking of brisket without continually adding more. Wood chips are the go-to for smoking on a kettle or gas grill.
Chunks are the next size up from chips, and as the name suggests, they look like chunks of wood. Usually anywhere from 2 to 4 inches, these will cook longer than chips and produce more smoke for the size, but will still burn quick, but not nearly as fast as chips.
Logs are the largest pieces of wood you could use to smoke your brisket. A log, in this case, actually refers to a section of wood approximately 12 inches long and split.
A single tree log, depending on the initial size of the tree, could be split into anywhere from four to ten pieces. It is those pieces that are referred to as logs, when looking for most types of firewood, including for cooking. Just be sure you are using seasoned logs (cut over a year ago) rather than freshly cut wood.
Due to the size of brisket, hardwood logs are preferable so you don’t have to continually add wood to keep your fire going and maintain your temperature.
For more information on the best wood to you for your next cook, check out my complete guide on bbq smoking woods.
Points to Keep in Mind
A few things I do want you to keep in mind when looking for the wood you plan to use:
- Barbecue brisket can be cooked low and slow or hot and fast, but really only absorb smoke for about the first 2 – 4 hours.
- Just like many things in life, mixing and matching is an option. So if you like the sweet from Sugar Maple, but also the savory from Mesquite, using a combination of the woods might be a good option for you.
- Experimentation is the secret to life, so it may take a few tries to find the best flavor for what you want. Don’t be afraid to continually tweak your recipe, including the choice of wood(s) you use.
- Barbecue brisket can absorb the flavor of anything you use to cook with. Keep this in mind when starting the fire, not just what you use for wood flavors. Avoid using lighter/starter fluid as your brisket will absorb that flavor too. You will need to find a more natural way to start the fire.