Brisket is one of the longest smokes you’ll ever take on, so if you’re thinking of giving it a go, you’d better be ready with some choice woods to get the flavor just right, otherwise, you’ll have wasted a hell of a lot of time and a hell of a lot of meat.
When I say it takes a long time, I’m talking between 30 and 60 minutes per pound, so yeah… that’s basically a full day for a 16lbs cut of meat.
Add injecting, seasoning, and trimming to that, and, potentially, you could be preparing this meat for 20+ hours. What I'm trying to say is that you have to be fully invested in this process, so choosing quality smoking media is key!
But, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s no need to spend another 20 hours trawling through the internet looking for answers, as I’ve amassed the 5 best woods for smoking brisket in this one space.
You’ve got a long stint at the smoker ahead of you, and time’s a-wastin’ so let’s not dilly-dally. Here are your top 5 options.
OUR TOP PICK
These lovely post oak chunks are heat-treated, which means they’ll burn for a long time and produce some good, clean smoke, which is precisely what we’re after for smoking a big old brisket!
In terms of potency, oak falls right in the Goldilocks zone where pitmasters and kids alike will enjoy the outcome — not too weak, not too strong… just right.
The flavor of the meat is the star of the show, but the smoke is definitely winning the Oscar for best supporting actor.
It’s also a relatively simple flavor that pairs well with apple or cherry wood accents, so there’s plenty of room to experiment, which is one of my favorite aspects of smoking.
- Moderate potency — All at the dinner table will enjoy.
- Heat-treated — Longer, cleaner burn.
- Simple flavor — Plays nicely with accent flavors such as applewood.
- All-natural — No nasty additives here, folks!
- Chunk size — Consistently large chunks.
- May be too big — Some larger chunks may need splitting.
If you’re smoking a small brisket, but you’re going for BIG flavor, then you need look no further than these Jack Daniel's oak smoke chips.
As we’ve already discussed, oak provides a mild, yet distinctly present flavor that works well with accenting, and what better accent than a tipple of Jack?
Every chip in these bags is derived from a genuine Jack Daniel's whiskey cask, and their tenure in the spirit aging industry has infused them with that light, caramelized sweetness of the heavenly liquid that is JD whiskey.
There are other notable whiskey manufacturers taking an axe to their casks and selling the remains as smoking chips, but none seem quite as saturated in the good stuff as these, so if you really love the taste of the sauce, then these chips are absolutely for you!
- Genuine whiskey cask wood — This wood has a storied past that you can taste.
- Rich flavor — Oak won’t overpower your brisket, but the richness of the Jack will certainly kick things up a few notches!
- Very “whiskey-ee” — More potent than chips from other whiskey brands.
- Chips only — As chips, they’re only really suitable for smoking smaller briskets.
BEST FOR A FRUITY KICK
While I don’t recommend using these applewood chunks exclusively to smoke your brisket, they do make the perfect pairing with a primary wood such as oak or mesquite to give the meat some complex fruity notes.
The slightly tangy smoke of applewood blends particularly well with the robust flavor of slow-cooked brisket, and, honestly, if you get it just right, there’s nothing in this world quite like it.
These chunks are kiln-dried, which means most bacteria have been eliminated, and the wood will give off good, clean smoke.
Applewood can be quite tricky to ignite, but once it’s going, it burns slowly, which means a little goes a long way, and you won’t have to be quite as vigilant at your post, a huge bonus for brisket smokes that go on well into the night.
- Great flavor — Sweet, fruity flavor works well with brisket.
- Kiln-dried — Burns clean.
- Long burn — Applewood burns slowly… perfect for smoking a hefty hunk of brisket.
- Chunk size — The chunks rarely veer into chip territory.
- Should be mixed with other wood — These chunks work best as a secondary smoke source.
BEST FOR BIG SMOKERS
Hickory is so tough, it’s used to make the handles of large log-splitting axes, and what that means for us smokers is that it burns slowly with intense heat, making it a fantastic heat and smoke source for preparing a hulking brisket.
As it arrives as chunky logs, this hickory is also perfect for filling the truly monstrous smokers out there, the ones that gobble up chips and chunks like they’re nothing.
Every log is kiln-dried to perfection, ensuring the wood burns clean, and it won't pop and spit all over your lovely cut of meat.
Some customers have reported that they wouldn’t consider all the pieces in their bag to be “log-sized”, but, I mean… there are no official log measurements, and as long as they’re bigger than chunks and chips, I think it’s all good.
- Logs — Large enough to fuel the bigger smokers out there.
- Kiln-dried — Good clean smoke.
- Slow burn — Perfect for a long brisket smoke session.
- Heat source — Hickory burns hot, so it can cook as well as smoke.
- Strong flavor — Too much hickory can taste a little bitter.
Okay, so let me just preface this review by mentioning that mesquite is an incredibly potent smoker, so if you plan on sharing this brisket with your kids, expect to see a few faces pulled and maybe even a few bites spat back onto the plate.
Only true smoke heads will get a kick out of it.
It has a bold, earthy flavor profile that won’t exactly overwhelm your brisket, but you certainly won’t be able to ignore it either.
These chips are kiln-dried, leading to a cleaner smoke, and less popping, which is safer for both you and your brisket.
This lack of moisture also lends itself to quick ignition, which is what you’re looking for when you’re kicking off a marathon brisket smoking session.
- Powerful flavor — The hardened smokers will love it!
- Kiln-dried — Safer, cleaner, and easier to ignite.
- All-natural — No nasty additives to worry about.
- Not for everyone — The flavor will be too much for most diners.
Top 5 Best Woods for Smoking Brisket — A Smoker’s Guide
Here are some key brisket smoking considerations.
Each wood species imbues your meat with a distinct flavor, so never assume one will taste like the other.
I know we’re early in the guide here, but, cards on the table, oak is my absolute favorite wood for smoking brisket.
It has a long, hot burn, which is ideal for larger cuts that take their sweet, sweet time to smoke.
Oak smoke has a moderate potency. It complements the flavor of the meat without overwhelming it, ensuring that everyone at the dinner table enjoys it as much as Smokey MacSmokerson (you).
Bacon lovers, rejoice! Brisket may come from a cow, but if you want to make it taste a little more like it came from a pig that’s been fed on nuts for the past 5 years, hickory is the way to go.
Pecan is delicious but incredibly sweet, so I'd recommend mixing it with a stronger, more full-bodied wood to even things out a bit.
If you want your brisket to hit your taste buds with a smoky blast, mesquite is the wood for you. It’s earthy, intense, and oh so powerful.
Only flavorful dark meats such as brisket can hold their own against this smoky demon.
Maple is sweet, but a lot milder than pecan. It has a very light flavor profile, so it’s a good choice for those who aren’t sure if they’ll enjoy a more robust smoky tinge.
Apple and Cherry Wood
I wouldn’t use apple or cherry wood as my primary smoke source, but the fruit accent they can give a brisket when paired with oak or hickory will send your taste buds to the moon and back, trust me!
Once you’ve decided on a type of wood, it’s time to settle on size.
Wood chips are shavings and scraps, the smallest of the options. They don’t burn for very long, so they’re not always a good choice for larger cuts of meat.
I’d only use chips for a 10–12 pounder.
Wood chunks are bulkier than chips, and they’re often paired with charcoal to provide an extra-long burn, which is what you need for smoking a medium-to-large brisket.
If you’re using a particularly large smoker, and your brisket looks bigger than most whole cows, then you’ll need logs, no question about it! As they burn so long and hard, they can be both a heat and smoke source.
Frequently Asked Questions
I know you’ve got a long smoking session ahead of you, but if you can spare a couple more minutes, you might pick up something essential from this FAQ segment.
How do you keep a brisket moist when smoking?
To keep your brisket extra juicy during a smoke, keep a water pan handy in the smoker.
After around 3 hours have passed, baste the brisket every 30 minutes to an hour with the water and any other liquids you may want to flavor it with, such as apple cider vinegar or hot sauce.
Is it better to smoke brisket at 225° or 250°?
You can smoke a brisket at either 225° or 250°; it’s entirely up to you, but I’d lean more towards 250°, as it will get the meat cooked a little faster.
Do you smoke brisket fat side up or down?
The fat side of the brisket should always be down during a smoke. This will keep the fat from rendering into the meat and prevent seasonings from falling off.
Are there any woods that can ruin the flavor of a brisket?
While hickory and mesquite go down a treat with brisket, using too much can leave a mildly bitter taste, which is, of course, not what you’re looking for.
Consider combining them with a few chunks of applewood or maple to sweeten things up a bit and create a more complex flavor profile.
There you have it, fellow pitmasters — those are your 5 best options for smoking brisket.
Both the size and species of the wood pieces you use to smoke your brisket will have a seismic effect on the final result, but you should also take the quality of the wood and reputability of the brand into consideration before making your final decision.
Enjoy your smoke, stay vigilant if it runs into the night, and, of course, bon appétit!