Best Wood for Smoking Ribeye: Your Ultimate Guide to a Delicious Steak

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 14, 2022

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So you just made your ribeye steak on a nice holiday picnic. It looks delicious, has a perfect crunch, and is smoked just right…until the second you take your first bite! 

It feels like biting into a bunch of bitter tasting, toxic marinated shite, which is made worse by the feeling of resentment that comes with ruining quality family time. All due to choosing the wrong wood! 

You don’t deserve that. And that’s why I am going to share with you the best wood for smoking ribeye. Maybe you’ve used greenwood (did you?) and that’s not good, I’ll get into all of that in this post.

Best wood for smoking ribeye

Generally, red oak is the best wood for smoking ribeye. It gives just the right amount of smokiness to the meat without overpowering its natural taste. Additionally, as It falls between apple and hickory on the flavor intensity scale, it goes excellent with every beef or lamb meat. 

That being clear, let’s jump into our guide straight away! 

What is the best wood for smoking ribeye?

We have already established that nothing reaches the level of red oak in perfect flavoring. But of course, that’s based on the general choice of steak lovers. 

But is it the only best choice at hand? Probably not. There are a lot of wood varieties, each with its unique flavors. So just in case you’re curious, let’s go through the details about all of them! 

Red Oak- Best overall wood

  • Intensity: Strong
  • Flavors: mild smoky, earthy
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How to buy a bbq smoker video

Although oaks, in general, are one of the most flavorful categories in hardwoods, red oak is the one that takes the crown when it comes to making delicious steaks. That’s because it has a moderate smoky flavor that’s just a little more intense than apple and cherry, while a bit lighter than hickory. 

The best thing about it? It just goes about well with any sort of meat, be it beef or lamb. Although its flavor is fantastic in itself, you can blend it with apple, cherry, or even hickory to scale up its intensity. In a nutshell, nothing works great with ribeye compared to red oak. 

Hickory- Best smoky flavored wood

  • Intensity: medium to strong
  • Flavors: Sweet, bacon-like, smoky

Use it wisely, and you will have the best tasting ribeye ever, use too much of it, and you’ll have instant regret with every bite. The flavor of hickory is a strong, sweet, bacon-flavored wood, a staple among Southern and Midwestern states. 

Since hickory goes great with fatty cuts, it’s an excellent choice for ribeye, pork, and even hamburgers. However, just be careful with keeping the smoke at optimum. Hickory is quite notorious for its aggressiveness, which can give a pungent taste to your steak if smoked for long. 

Cherry- Best versatile wood

  • Intensity: Mild
  • Flavors: Fruity

One word that could perfectly describe cherry wood? That would be a team player! Like red oak, cherry is also a versatile wood that you can use to smoke anything, including beef, pork, fish, or even chicken. 

It gives a nice mahogany texture to the meat, mildly sweet and smoky flavor. Like red oak, you can mix it up with other woods like hickory or apple to intensify the flavor. Besides, it’s completely safe! 

Pecan- Best sweet wood

  • Intensity: Mild
  • Flavors: Nutty, sweet

Compared to other woods in the hickory family, Pecan is an unapologetically sweet-flavored wood with a touch of nuttiness. Generally, people prefer it for slow barbecues, but you can also smoke ribeyes with it. 

Just be careful to use in moderate quantities as too much of it can give a pungent taste to the meat. Moreover, to balance its flavor and give it a slight smokiness, you can also mix it with hardwood like oak. 

Mesquite- Best wood for smoking steaks

  • Intensity: Strong
  • Flavors: Bold, earthy, smoky

Need that extra punch of smoke for a quick steak? Perhaps you are looking for something like mesquite. Although not ideal for lazy barbeque parties like pecan, mesquite is a lignin-filled, quick-combusting wood highly favored by steak enthusiasts. 

The fast burn down and high smoke produced by mesquite gives the meat a bold yet perfect and distinctly earthy flavor. This, when mingled with the fatty texture of ribeye, makes a flavor that makes you savor every bite of your steak!  

Which wood gives the strongest smoke flavor?

Hickory gives the strongest smoky flavor among all when compared. This makes it the best smoking wood for ribeye, which requires to be handled low and slow to give off a heavenly taste. 

Although mesquite is also mentioned among the top smoky woods, it burns off pretty quickly compared to hickory. If both of these aren’t available for any reason, you can also go with red oak. 

Which wood to not smoke ribeye with?

While there might be times that the aforementioned options are not available, the following are some of the woods you must avoid even when available.  

Guess what? No steak is better than a wasted steak, especially when the matter is not just limited to taste but health! 

Evergreens

Yup, this is a family of woods, including pine, cedar, spruce, fir, etc. These woods contain a lot of resin that can give the meat a hideous color due to burn-off. Moreover, the taste is too nasty for an edible piece of meat. Combine that with all the toxicity, and well, you have cooked a full-fledged biohazard. 

Softwood

The good news is, softwoods aren’t that bad-tasting. However, one of the primary reasons you cannot use softwood for steak is its poor longevity. Softwoods come from fast-growing trees, so the wood isn’t dense enough and thus, doesn’t burn for as long as hardwood. 

Greenwood

Well, here’s the thing, even if you pick up the correct wood, if it isn’t seasoned perfectly, it won’t reach the cooking temp as easily. Consequently, the meat will be overloaded with white smoke with a horrible aftertaste. Besides, it’s quite a chore to get a fresh cut burning anyway. Even an oak won’t work in such a scenario. 

Treated wood

Treated woods shouldn’t be used for two reasons. First, they taste horrible with all the chemicals contained within. Second, if they are treated with arsenic, your next stop will be a district hospital after the party. Remember, treated woods produce toxic gasses upon combustion, which can be fatal when inhaled. 

Unidentified wood

You must have heard the saying, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Well, that is too relevant here. You can’t just pick a random wood and throw it into the smoker unless you want to turn your meat into a horribly tasting waste that is bad for both your taste buds and health.  

How long do you need to smoke a ribeye?

For a perfectly juicy and flavourful steak, it’s important to smoke it for about 20 minutes on each side at 180°F. Leaving it at temps less than 180°F can result in a dry and tough steak. Moreover, it can also take a pungent flavor if you use a hardwood like oak or Hickory. 

How much wood should you put into your smoker for a ribeye?

It’s something contingent upon a lot of factors, including:

On a typical day, about two to three medium-size wood splits are enough to perfectly smoke your ribeye or any other meat for about an hour. If you are using chips, the amount should be at least two to three handfuls, each after 60 minutes to maintain the ideal flavor of the meat. 

Final thoughts

A badly smoked meat is meat wasted. That too, when it’s one of the most delicious cuts of the lot like a ribeye. And that’s why choosing suitable wood is necessary. 

Since every wood has a different aroma and flavor, you don’t want to use something that does not complement the overall texture and taste of the specific meat. 

Some woods like apple and cherry impart a sweet flavor; others like oak and hickory have a smoky touch. Ideally, the latter is the best for smoking fatty cuts. But again, it all comes down to your tastes. 

Which do you think is the best wood for smoking ribeye? Feel free to express thoughts in the comment section. I would love to hear from you. Happy meal, and see you in the next one! 

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.