Best wood for smoking brisket burnt ends | Go for strong and smokey

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  December 4, 2021

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Brisket burnt ends are one of those delicacies you just can’t get enough of!

You won’t believe you’ve been skipping out on smoking this underrated BBQ meat. It’s full of sweet smokey sauce which makes it more interesting to eat than traditional sliced brisket.

Best wood for smoking brisket burnt ends | Go for strong and smokey

The best woods to use for smoking burnt ends are strong, deep flavored smoke woods like oak, mesquite, hickory, and pecan. These woods have a strong flavor that is smokey and earthy which pairs well with the sweet caramelized BBQ sauce.

Burnt ends is one of those types of meat cuts that is prepared in such a flavorful way, with rubs and sauces, that the smoke wood flavor doesn’t really matter that much as long as it’s strong so you can taste the smokiness.

But, I’m going to give you some tips on which woods work best for smoking the pieces of packer brisket

What type of wood is best for smoking burnt ends?

The thing about burnt ends is that there isn’t just one perfect wood flavor. Rather, it depends on your personal preference.

For example, people who enjoy fruity, sweetish flavors will prefer using apple or cherry wood.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

These classic fruit woods are great for smoking classic beef brisket when you don’t want an intense smokey aroma and want the BBQ sauce or marinade to steal the show.

However, most people will prefer to use strong hardwood like oak, mesquite, hickory, or something a bit milder and nuttier like pecan for smoking brisket burnt ends.

These strong woods are perfect for burnt ends because they infuse the meat with a powerful smokey aroma. These woods are ideal for dark meats and give a flavor that I can only describe as smokey, rich, earthy, balcony, and slightly pungent.

Let’s take a look at my list of the best woods for burnt ends.

Oak

Oak is a great wood because it’s not too overpowering, yet burns a clean smoke. It’s considered by many as a universal smoke wood because it can be used with almost any meat.

It’s still the top choice for cuts like game birds, poultry, pork, and beef though, so it’s perfect for burnt ends.

In terms of flavor, it is medium strength. This means that it gives a nice, rich, smoky flavor that is a bit earthy, but also slightly sweet. The smoke is lighter than woods like hickory but still rich enough so you can sense a pleasant aftertaste.

Flavorwise, oak will not overwhelm your burnt ends so you can really taste that sweetness of the BBQ sauce.

Oak is a great blending wood and for brisket burnt ends, you want to combine it with a fruity wood like apple or cherry.

The reason why it works well with burnt ends is that oak burns hot for a long time which is ideal when you have long smokes, so it’s a great consistent burner.

Hickory

This wood is for real barbecue fans who want to really taste that smokey aroma.

Hickory is stronger than oak and it infuses the meat with a nutty and bacon-flavored taste. I would say it even gives the meat a bit of a spicy kick which tastes delicious.

Most people describe hickory smoking wood as strong – it has a hint of sweetness to it but the strong bacon-like flavor, nutty and earthy notes make this wood one of the best for beef.

It also adds a dark color which is great for brisket burnt ends because the beef pieces are supposed to be dark and look charred anyway.

Just be careful not to use too much hickory or else the smoke can become a bit pungent and it distracts from the taste of the sweet burnt ends. You can also combine it with some fruit woods like cherry to give the meat a bit of color and extra sweetness.

Because hickory is a strong-flavored wood, it surely won’t disappoint Southern-style barbecue fans.

Pecan

Pecan is a great smoking wood because it’s stronger than the other fruit woods yet it doesn’t overpower the burnt ends.

This wood is typically used when smoking brisket, so of course, it’s suitable for smoking the burnt ends as well.

The flavor is medium to strong with a pleasantly sweet and slightly fruity aroma. Pecan burns hot for a long time and creates a strong smoke. Compared to the classic fruit woods like apple or apricot, it is a lot smokier.

Because it’s pecan, the wood is also nutty and a bit earthy. But, if you want to make it less smoky and intense for the brisket burnt ends, you can mix pecan with apple.

Mesquite

The mesquite wood is the top choice of pitmasters who love very intense smoky flavors.

It’s probably the most popular hardwood for those looking to maximize smokiness. This wood burns quite slowly but creates a lot of heat and that’s why it’s so perfect for smoking burnt ends.

The mesquite smoke is strong and even when paired with your favorite rub and the sweet sauce, you’ll still be able to taste it on the burnt ends.

Be prepared for a rich, bold, earthy flavor. It’s what you call real Texas flavor! But, you have to be careful with mesquite and use it sparingly or mix it with a fruitwood or else it can overpower the beef and leave an unpleasant bitter taste.

Apple, cherry & pear wood

Some people who don’t like the strong hardwoods prefer to use fruit woods like apple, pear, or cherry because they give the meat a pleasantly sweet and fruity smoke flavor.

The fruit woods are great for pairing and combining with stronger woods like hickory and oak when you want to tone down the smokiness.

These fruit woods are light and mild so they add just the right amount of sweetness to the burnt ends.

Apple is usually a top smoking wood for ribs and other beef or pork cuts so it’s a good fit for the brisket burnt end pieces too.

Cherry is even better for dark meat like the burnt ends because it also gives the meat a nice dark color. It also has a mild smoke profile with a fruity and sweet taste.

Pear is another good fruitwood you can use because it gives a nice sweet flavor although it’s milder than apple or cherry, in my opinion. I would recommend it for people who don’t really want too much smokiness.

Combining woods

Pair a strong wood like oak or mesquite with fruit woods like apple and cherry wood for a sweeter, fruity taste.

It’s totally fine to mix woods when smoking burnt ends. In fact, if you check the most popular burnt end recipes, you’ll see that the pitmasters recommend mixing the woods because you get a rich, unique flavor profile.

Just be sure to mix hardwoods with a strong smokey flavor with lighter, milder fruit woods in the smoker for the best results

You can always check our guide about the best woods for smoking any type of meat.

Pit Boss pellets

If you use a pellet smoker to cook your burnt ends, you can use special hickory pit boss pellets to smoke.

Some smoker recipes will tell you to use their competition blend pellets which contain a mix of woods and these are very flavorful but not as strong as the hickory.

The bottom line is that you can use whatever flavored pellets you want but the same rule applies with flavored woods for the pellet smoker as with charcoal, gas, or an electric smoker.

Thinking about a Pit Boss grill? Check out my review of their top 5 wood pellet grill models

Jack Daniels – Whiskey Barrel Chips

Some pitmasters like the smokey flavor of the Jack Daniels Whiskey barrel chips to grill or smoke brisket. You can, of course, use these wood chips when making burnt ends in the smoker.

These wood chips have a very unique flavor profile because they are a mix between aged whisky barrels and oak.

They are pricey but since their flavor is very intense a little goes a long way. The burnt ends will taste like that whiskey barbecue sauce you find at gourmet shops.

When using these chips, it’s best to soak them beforehand in an aluminum pan so they give off a more diffused smoke and burn a bit slower.

Why do these woods work well with burnt ends?

Ok, here’s the deal: the reason why you need to use stronger woods like oak and hickory is that the burnt ends are made with a special sweet sauce and this sweetness, mixed with the fat from the meat, requires that bacon-like and earthy smoke aroma.

Sure, the meat is full of fat, so deep smoky flavors work well.

When you trim the excess fat though, from the two muscles of the brisket, you are left with a flavorful meat cut.

But, since it drips the fat layer while smoking, you’ll need to wrap it in butcher paper to avoid all the liquid from evaporating.

That’s why woods like hickory chunks, mesquite, or, oak are good because they penetrate the brisket burnt ends and add that additional smokey aroma.

Every great recipe requires a barbecue sauce, and for most burnt ends, it is made with brown sugar for sweetness, apple cider vinegar for a bit of tartness, garlic powder, and of course the BBQ sauce.

Now, the brown sugar caramelizes and creates a sticky black charred-like crust. But, to get that true Texas-style flavors, you need strong woods to penetrate the smoked brisket.

Which woods to avoid when smoking burnt ends

As per usual, it’s best to avoid any type of coniferous trees like:

  • pine
  • redwood
  • sycamore
  • sweetgums
  • fir
  • spruce
  • cypress
  • cedar

This is because these softwoods have toxic sap and resin.

The flavor is awfully bitter if you use them for smoking but also the most important thing to note here is that these woods can may you extremely sick, so don’t use them!

What are burnt ends?

Small pieces of beef brisket, known as poor man’s burnt ends originated at Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City and has revolutionized the way people smoke and eat brisket cuts.

At the end of each week, restaurants collected the ends of brisket slices and added a sweet BBQ sauce which would caramelize and give the meat an amazing flavor. The meat pieces were burnt and crispy, hence the name “burnt” ends.

Brisket is a huge cut of meat so for burnt ends, it’s sliced into small bite-sized pieces. First, they’re coated with a dry rub. Then, it’s covered in a sweet barbecue sauce.

The meat is smoked for many hours until black and smoky.

The resulting meat or “ends” are crispy and black on the outside but full of the smoke wood aroma and juicy and tender inside.

How long do you need to smoke?

The best burnt ends are cooked using the low and slow smoking method. So, it’s going to take several hours, just like smoking a brisket.

That way, the brisket burnt ends have a chance to take in all that delicious dry rub, sauce, and wood smoke flavors.

You start off smoking at about 165 F for the first 6 to 8 hours with the meat covered in dry rub seasoning and spices. The internal temp of the meat can’t be lower than 165 in the smoker.

Then, you wrap the brisket burnt ends in butcher’s paper or aluminum foil (for juiciness) and smoke until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of roughly 195-200 F. Smoke for another 3 hours or so.

Then you coat the meat with the BBQ sauce and smoke at 225 F for 1 or 2 hours just until the burnt ends are caramelized and dark.

Overall, the total smoke time for smoked burnt ends is approximately 12 to 14 hours, depending on your smoker. But, you’ll have to keep adding wood chips at least once to ensure the smoked burnt ends taste amazing.

Sure, it’s a long cooking process but when you serve smoked brisket with a slice of sourdough bread, potatoes, or a salad, you won’t be able to stop at just a few!

Takeaway

When you’re tired of making the same old smoked brisket recipe, you can now finally feel confident to smoke some brisket burnt ends for the family.

With a sweet brown sugar-based bbq sauce that caramelizes on the brisket cubes and a good hardwood with a strong smoky aroma, you will have a delicious dish in about 12 hours.

The best woods for smoking this meat include oak, mesquite, hickory, and pecan, which will add a rich, earthy taste.

If you want to stay on the safe side, a bit of hickory wood is a good bet because it’s not the strongest of the woods but if you absolutely can’t get enough smokiness, mesquite is the best option.

The bottom line is that you can get delicious burnt ends by smoking at home and you don’t even have to go to Kansas City for the best BBQ.

Read next: these are the 8 best woods for smoking cheese (plus a quick mild smoked cheddar recipe)

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.