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Best Meats to Smoke: Methods, Tips And Tricks

Are you getting ready for your next cookout? There are many tasty meals you can create on your smoker to bring happiness to your family and friends. In this article, we reveal the best meats to smoke, including choices for pork, beef, chicken, poultry, and lamb. We also provide a quick rundown on how to smoke meat properly.

Top Pork Meats to Smoke 

Pork cuts are a perfect option for sweeter meals. Because pork contains a high-fat ratio, it can smoke slower and longer easily. Below is a list of top pork meats to smoke.

Pork Ribs

Pork ribs are an excellent option for smoking because they contain high collagen and fat content. As pork ribs smoke, they become moist and tender. This cut requires a little bit of preparation and at least 45 minutes of brining per pound.

Pork Ribs

You should allow at least 6-8 hours of cooking time for solid pork ribs. The ideal smoking time is between 220- and 230-degrees Fahrenheit. When you monitor the meat for its doneness, you should target an internal temperature around 165-degrees Fahrenheit. When you utilize mesquite or hickory wood chips with pork ribs, a tasty treat awaits.

Pork Butt

Pork butt contains a robust connective tissue, which makes it the perfect smoking choice. Low and slow cooking is the best strategy to break the meat down. If you do not cook the meat this way, it would be difficult to break down the tissues and fibers. You can enjoy delicious pulled pork sandwiches, tacos, casseroles, and mac and cheese. Check out this Pork Butt on the Pit Barrel Cooker.

When you calculate cooking time, you should factor in close to two hours per pound of meat. The ideal smoking temperature is 225-degrees Fahrenheit, and the optimal internal meat temperature should be 145-degrees Fahrenheit. Apple or hickory wood chips are sure to bring the best flavor out of the pork butt.

Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder is an excellent cut of meat for smoking beginners. You can cook a pork shoulder on any smoker, and the process is simple. Much like the pork Boston butt, which is higher on the pig’s foreleg, this meat cut contains high connective and fat tissue. When you smoke on high heat, the fat melts to cover the whole pork shoulder.

Pork Shoulder

Ham

Smoking ham is a classic choice that can be done one of two ways: from scratch or a pre-cooked ham. If you elect to smoke it from scratch, you will need to brine the ham before you glaze and smoke it for seven hours. If you buy the ham at the store, you can apply a delicious glaze and then place it on the smoker.

Ham

You should smoke a ham cut between 220- and 225-degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches a 145-degree Fahrenheit internal temperature. It would be best to cook ham with cherry, hickory, or apple wood chips for a perfect flavor.

Top Beef Meats to Smoke 

There are a variety of beef cuts that pair well with a smoker. Beef will keep its shape throughout the process and usually produces a robust, smoky flavor. See below for our top beef cuts for smoking.

Beef Brisket

Beef brisket might be one of the most popular smoking options on the list. Because it is stringy and tender, the exquisite flavor lies somewhere between steak and roast beef. It requires little preparation and will need to smoke low and slow, which breaks down the connective tissue.

Beef Brisket

The cooking time usually ranges around 90 minutes per pound. You should target a smoking temperature of 225-degrees Fahrenheit and wait for an internet meat temperature of 195-degrees Fahrenheit. If you want the best ribs on the block, you should smoke your brisket with either hickory, mesquite, or oak wood chips.

Beef Ribs

Beef ribs are another backyard favorite. Beef ribs might be more difficult to find than brisket, but the cooking process is much more straightforward. This meat cut does well at fast and high cooking, which takes around six hours at 205-degrees Fahrenheit. Although the cooking process is easy, beef ribs do require constant oversight.

Beef Ribs

Raw beef ribs contain tougher connective tissue and a high ratio of fat. When you smoke them right, you will get a tender and juicy dish. There is also nothing wrong with adding a little bit of salt and pepper.

Beef Tri Tips

Beef tri-tips come from the sirloin, which makes it tender from the beginning. As you smoke tri-tips, you will receive a beef steak with an intense flavor. Beef tri-tips also offer a quicker smoking timeline of two hours. You can enhance the taste of beef tri-tips by placing them on a pan.

The best temperature to smoke tri-tips would be 225-degrees Fahrenheit. As you monitor this meat cut closely, you should target an internal temperature of 130-degrees Fahrenheit. To bring out the best in your beef tri-tips, try mixing it with hickory, mesquite, or oak wood.

Chuck Roast

Much like the beef brisket, the chuck roast will provide a chewy and tough texture. Because of the connective tissue structure, you will need to smoke this meat low and slow. Ideal for tacos and rolls, you can smoke this meat at 225-degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches an internal temperature of 180-degrees Fahrenheit.  Hickory, oak, or mesquite wood pair very well with the chuck roast.

Top Poultry Meats to Smoke 

Poultry’s skin makes it the ideal meat to smoke at a higher temperature between 300- and 350-degrees Fahrenheit. The best results require you to crisp up the skin with higher heat. Below are the top choices of poultry meats to smoke.

Whole Chicken

A whole chicken is one of the best smoking options for various reasons. Compared to beef and pork, chicken takes very little time to reach its correct internal temperature of 165-degrees Fahrenheit. And besides pepper and salt additions, there is little preparation work required.

A whole chicken enables you to create breasts, which would not work with smoking. Cooking time usually ranges 45-50 minutes per pound at a temperature of 225-degrees Fahrenheit. Hickory and mesquite wood are the best combinations for a whole chicken.

Chicken Quarters

Chicken pieces make the perfect choice for your backyard barbecue. Compared to the other parts of the bird, chicken legs and quarters contain a higher fat content, perfect for smoking with apple wood. Chicken quarters are also a quick smoke time of two hours at 220-degrees Fahrenheit. The internal temperature will read 165-degrees Fahrenheit when it is good to go.

Whole Turkey

When you smoke a turkey, it will make it firm and moist. You will bring out its sweet and creamy flavors, which makes this the perfect dinner meal. The smells of smoked turkey are unbeatable too. When it comes to proper preparation, you should plan to brine for one hour per pound. As you smoke the turkey it usually takes around a half-hour per pound of turkey.

The ideal smoking temperature for the whole turkey is 230-degrees Fahrenheit. You will know the turkey is ready to go when its internal temperature reaches 165-degrees Fahrenheit. For optimal results, it would be best for you to try it with mesquite or hickory wood.

Top Fish Meats to Smoke 

Fish can be a viable smoking option because it takes much less time in the smoker. It also does not require any more preparation than other types of meat. Below are the best fish meats to smoke.

Salmon

Smoked salmon is more of a delicacy, and it will be the perfect late-night dinner with some wine. Salmon requires curing, brining, and proper air-drying for an ideal smoke. Although the process might take some work, it is well worth it.

Smoked Salmon

You need to set aside three hours for proper smoking with a temperature of 180-degrees. When you monitor for the right internal salmon temperature, try targeting 140- to 145-degrees Fahrenheit. Both apple and oak wood are excellent combinations with salmon.

Carp

Carp is a quality fatty white meat, making it an ideal smoking option at all parts of the year. It requires little preparation to put in the smoker. To improve smoked carp’s taste, you should soak it in buttermilk for a couple of hours beforehand.

The ideal smoking length is one hour per pound at a temperature of 250-degrees Fahrenheit. The optimal internal temperature is slightly higher than salmon at 180-degrees Fahrenheit. To bring the tastiest flavor out of carp, you can use hickory, apple, or cherry wood.

Top Lamb Meats to Smoke 

Lamb cuts will smoke quickly, so we like to suggest cooking it low and slow. This technique enables the smoky flavors to enhance your final product. Below are the best lamb cuts to smoke.

Lamb Shoulder

Lamb shoulder contains a high amount of fat, which makes it ideal for the smoker. This cut might have a gamey texture to it when smoking. When you prepare a lamb shoulder, you will need to remove the excess fat and wash it beforehand. Combined with apple cider vinegar and various seasonings, this cut of meat could be a backyard favorite.

It would be best if you planned on a cooking time of about 1 hour per pound at a 250-degrees Fahrenheit temperature. When the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees Fahrenheit, you should wrap your lamb shoulder in foil (similar to a pork shoulder). Place your lamb shoulder back in your smoker. Once the internal temperature gets to about 205-degrees Fahrenheit and the meat probe glides smoothly into the shoulder, then your lamb is ready. When you combine lamb shoulder with cherry or apple wood, it will bring out its best flavor. Special thanks to Eat More Vegans , Chef Al and Leah!

Lamb Leg

Lamb leg might not always be easy to find, but it is worth smoking it. You will typically find it in the form of the lower end (shank end) or the upper sirloin. The upper sirloin option will usually provide you more fat content and better smoke.

As you smoke the lamb leg, you should use a 225-degrees Fahrenheit temperature and anticipate it taking around 30 minutes per pound to complete. When the meat reaches an internal target temperature of 145-degrees Fahrenheit, you can take it off the smoker. Lamb leg usually tastes the best when you combine it with maple wood.

How to Smoke Meat

The smoking process helps you extract the bold, rich flavor of beef, chicken, and other meat types. Smoking was originally a method of preserving meat. Although there are more effective ways to keep meats fresh, the smoking process has not gone away. Below is an easy process you can follow to get the most out of your smoked meats.

ribs on smoker

Choose Your Type of Wood

After you purchase your smoker and get it ready, you must decide on the ideal type of wood. There are different hardwoods to smoke meat. Each option adds a unique flavor to the finished product. Depending on the kind of smoker and amount of boldness you desire, you can pick from the following alternatives:

  • Cherry – pairs well with pork or beef
  • Hickory – contains more robust flavor, suitable for red meat
  • Mesquite – delicious, bold flavor for all types of meat
  • Apple – sweeter taste to pair well with poultry, pork, or fish
  • Oak – ideal for larger red meat cuts that require a daylong smoke
  • Maple – sweet wood that goes well with poultry or pork

Decide on the Dry or Wet Smoking Method

Using water helps you regulate the internal smoking temperature while the meat cooks. There are various “water smokers” designed for this, but you can also utilize water in a wood or charcoal smoker. To use the wet smoking method, you should place a pan of water within the smoker. Then, you must ensure that it remains full throughout the day.

Water smoking helps control the temperature when you deal with a bigger meat cut, which requires longer smoking hours. For smaller meats that have shorter cooking times, you can defer to the dry smoking method. If you decide to use water while smoking, double-check the directions to do it safely.

Another method is to use smoker pellets in your pellet smoker. Pellet smokers are built to take out some of the guessing out of smoking. Pellet smokers use pellets as fuel and flavor. The pellets burn at an even rate allowing your meat to get to the perfect temperature and perfect finishing flavor, juicy, and delicious.

stack of smoker pellets
Smoker Pellets

Soak the Wood Chips

When you soak the wood chips, it would be best for you to keep the bigger pieces dry. Because wood chips will burn quickly, you need to soak them in water to preserve their life. Bigger wood pieces, like logs and chunks, can remain dry. Once you prepare and soak the wood chips in water, bundle them in aluminum foil. Make sure to puncture holes on top to allow the smoke to escape.

Prepare the Smoker and Your Meat

Each smoker contains different preparation instructions to get started. If you use charcoal or wood as the fuel, light the grill materials until they no longer create flames. The meat should never be directly above high heat. Instead, it would help if you pushed the coals to the side so that the meat cooks low and slow over the indirect heat source.

As you smoke the meat, it would be best to add more wood and coals gradually. Doing this step will ensure the smoker consistently remains heated between 200- and 220-degrees Fahrenheit. If you purchase a thermometer, you can monitor this temperature much more conveniently.

If you own a gas or electric smoker, you only need to adhere to the manufacturer’s directions. Put your wood pieces or chips in their correct spot on the smoker.

Decide on Cooking Time

After you select the best meats to smoke and bring it to room temperature, you should determine the appropriate time length to cook it for. This time range will depend on the current grill heat, meat cut size, and meat type. You should always budget at least 6-8 hours of cooking time. Double-check the recipe and information to decide on the cooking time.

Beef and pork ribs usually take 7-8 hours, while a large brisket cut might take 20-22 hours. Make sure to check the recipe ahead of time to plan your smoking schedule properly.

Set the Meat Inside the Smoker

When you place the smoker’s meat, you can set it within a shallow aluminum tray or put it straight on the grill. Try to avoid wrapping the meat cut in foil because this will block the smoke from touching it. To achieve optimal smoked meat, you want it to surround the meat throughout the process.

Remove the Meat at Its Optimal Temperature

Keeping a constant eye on the meat temperature is essential to determine whether it is done or not. Most poultry should attain a temperature of 165 degrees. Most pork and ground meats should reach 160 degrees. The inside temperature of chops, roasts, and steaks should be close to 145 degrees.

As the meat continues to cook, you can always decide if you want to baste or cover the meat, if necessary. Basting is appropriate for meats like ribs and brisket. This process involves painting a solution of water, spices, and vinegar onto the cut.

Look for the Smoke Ring

While the meat smokes, a small pink ring will appear right underneath the meat’s outer crust. Because of a chemical reaction from the smoke-infused meat, nitric acid will create a pink color. When you cut into the meat and see this ring, you smoked it correctly.

Smoke Ring

Wrap Up

As you can see, there are many different cuts of meat that will deliver so much joy to your next meal. You can have a lot of fun mixing the additional seasonings, wood, and sauces to build your perfect creations. Your family and friends can enjoy savory beef ribs, delicious barbecue chicken, and other smoky meats. By taking your time and perfecting your process, the smoking options are endless.

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