The best smoked brisket only has a few simple ingredients, and one of them is often overlooked. Since "smoked" is the first word of "smoked brisket", it's a pretty important part of it. The type of wood you choose will greatly impact the flavor of the finished brisket. Smoked low and slow, the right wood adds just the right amount of smokey flavor.
Let's explore some varieties and consider flavor preferences and your smoker type when choosing the best wood variety.
Did you know that smoke is actually an ingredient, too? The wood used for smoking is a crucial ingredient that defines the smoke flavor, making it almost as important as the beef itself, the spice rub, and tools and accessories you use to cook it. Learn more in the Brisket 101 Guide.
The Best Wood to Smoke Brisket
Regional availability traditionally influenced the choice of smoking wood and style of barbecue, based on local tree types. However, with online and local BBQ store options, you have the freedom to choose almost any type of wood. It's a matter of personal preference and experimentation to discover the flavors you enjoy most for different proteins. Here are my recommended options to begin with.
1. Post Oak (The Best Choice)
The most popular and traditional wood for Central Texas Style Smoked Brisket is post oak (white oak). If you can get it, use local oak. Oak has a mild slightly sweet flavor that complements the natural flavor of beef so well. It also burns for a long time.
Being from California, oak has become my go-to for smoking just about everything.
A mild flavor that is sweet and subtly nutty undertones. It adds a wonderful richness that doesn't overpower the beef. It's a great choice for brisket and can be combined with a little mesquite or hickory.
Strong and bold, full-flavored smoke comes from Mesquite is found in West Texas, so it is traditional in their BBQ. It has a strong flavor and burns quicker and should be used in moderation, but can give great flavors.
Typically used for smoking pork, chicken, or turkey, combining apple wood (or other fruit woods) with oak and cherry creates wonderful flavors when smoking a brisket. This wood combination produces a mild, subtly sweet, and forgiving smoke profile.
5. Make a Combination
While oak is the top choice, mixing and matching woods to get the flavors you want is a lot of fun. I like to combine oak with cherry or apple. If you have apple, try mixing with some mesquite.
Learn more about wood varieties in our types of wood for smoking guide.
Choosing the Right Wood Size for Your Smoker
The size and shape of the wood you use needs to match up your specific smoker for optimal smoke.
- Wood Chunks: Use fist-size wood chunks in charcoal smokers like Ceramic Kamado Smokers, Barrel Smokers and Offset Smokers.
For wood chunks, you will generally just have to add 4 to 6 chunks at the beginning of the cook and they will burn for a long time. There isn't a need to add more.
- Wood Chips: Use for Gas Grills, Gas Smokers and Electric Smokers. Since they burn quickly, you will likely have to add more wood chips during the long cook to get the desired smoke flavor.
- Wood Pellets: Use for Pellet Grills and Pellet Smoker Tubes.
How much wood will you need to smoke a whole brisket?
The amount of wood you'll need depends on a variety of factors, including the size of your brisket, type of smoker you are using, type of wood (some burn faster than others), and how much smoke flavor you are looking to add.
In a Big Green Egg kamado-style smoker, I will place 4 to 6 fist-sized oak wood chunks in the charcoal, which has been the perfect amount of smoke for a full packer brisket in my experience.
How many pounds of pellets will you need to smoke a brisket?
Figure about 1 pound of pellets per hour of smoking. But it depends on your specific pellet smoker and the temperature you are smoking at. You can definitely go through a full 20-pound bag of pellets to smoke a full packer brisket. Keep an eye on your hopper and add more as needed.
A note about pellet grills: Pellet grills will never produce the same amount of smoke flavor that you can get from a charcoal smoker or offset smoker that burns hardwood for smoke. The lower the temperature you set your pellet grill to, the more smoke flavor you will get.
To help get more smoke flavor in pellet grills, they often have a "super smoke" or a "smoke boost" setting that will produce much more smoke, at a lower temperature. You can also add a pellet smoke tube to your pellet grill, which will burn additional pellets, producing more smoke flavor.
A Few Quick Tips
- Don't soak your wood before using - Soaking wood before smoking will create steam, instead of smoke until all the water evaporates.
- Don't use green or unseasoned wood - It needs time to cure, or will produce undesirable flavors.
- Store the wood in a dry place - You don't want the wood to come into contact with water, or it can mold.
- Don't over-smoke your brisket - Too much smoke flavor is usually worse than not enough.
- Take notes from your cook - What type of wood did you use and how much of it? Keep track so you can reference for next time.
Try it, taste it and take notes so you remember what worked and what didn't. Your tastes will be different than mine. It's fun to experiment and see just how different woods can taste when smoking meat.
While the wood and smoke are such an important component to your brisket cook, where you buy it, how you trim it, season it with a rub and how you cook it all add up to the amazing results we are striving for.
Happy smoking and best of luck with your next brisket!