Best things in life are often those simplest ones – such as seeing your spouse smile, helping a stranger on the street, enjoying that first-morning coffee, indulging in a hot bath, and enjoying your favorite food. Now, today’s topic is related to the last one. To be precise, we’ll talk about what are the best meats to smoke.
As we all know there are many ways to make our favorite meals including cooking, baking, and grilling. But, when it comes to preparing cuts of meat, there is a cooking method that many avid home chefs and barbecue aficionados love – smoking.
Why do we smoke meats?
This process uses indirect cooking rather than open flame. Since meat is smoked for hours and at a low temperature, it gets the chance to lock in flavors and juice, as well as to soften, turning out succulent, tender and delicious. This type of cooking meat comes down to finding the balance between temperature, time and wood, which is why it is only recommended for curious, and patient gourmets. While smoking is an art for passionate grillers, any backyard enthusiast can enjoy this style of barbecuing.
It does take time to experiment and learn what are good meats to smoke, but this process shouldn’t be something tedious but rather enjoyable. Over time, you’ll get better and better at smoking all kinds of meats that you might as well get a cook “Grillmaster” nickname. But starting to smoke meats is impossible without learning the basics. One of the first things you’d like to learn as a novice is what best meats to smoke are so you know where to start. So, let’s get started.
There are many cuts of meat that are generally considered “bad” because they have a high percentage of fat, and are also full of connective tissues (collagen). These meats are complicated to handle and prepare for any other type of cooking, but they are ideal for smoking.
They can be smoked for hours yet they won’t become dry. In fact, the meat will come out tender, full of flavors and absolutely delicious. This happens because the collagen gradually and slowly breaks down during the smoking process and will keep the meat moist throughout the process. Fatty and thick cuts of meat, such as beef brisket are one of the best meats to smoke. However, these can be tricky if you’re a beginner. If that’s the case, we suggest you start with the easiest meat to smoke such as pork shoulder (also known as pork butt). It is much less expensive than beef, giving you space to learn by making mistakes. As you progress with your smoking technique, you can move on to more difficult cuts like a brisket.
What type of smoker do you need?
The common question that new barbecuers ask is whether they need to buy a separate smoker. Sure, there are different types of smokers – pellet smoker, wood smoker, electric smoker, etc. and it would be great if you can afford one. However, your current grill can work just as fine for smoking meats, so there is no need to worry about it.
What are some of the best meats to smoke?
- Whole Chicken
One of the reasons many people love smoking chicken is because it is readily available and is also affordable. Chicken is also the quickest meat to cook hence it’s suitable for more often cooking.
A whole chicken is perfect for smoking because the meat is lean and it takes much less to cook. In addition, there is not much preparation or a need for babysitting. This makes it a great choice for those who are afraid to smoke meats because they think it can be ruined. A whole chicken is very simple to smoke so if you’re a beginner, go with it. Chicken is versatile and any piece of smoked chicken tastes amazing.
- Chicken Wings
Chicken wings are just another option for a quick and easy way to smoke. The best part about smoking wings is that you have different flavor options at your disposal! You can use a sauce rub of your choice, stick to simple dry seasoning, or mix both! Wings are affordable and will take less to cook than thicker meats.
- Chicken Quarters
Chicken quarters are also good meats to smoke as they are well known for their juiciness and deliciousness. If you’d like to cook a flavorful and succulent meal, why not experiment with this one?
- Pork Ribs
Pork ribs are classic because ribs have a high percentage of fat, and also as a lot of collagen. While you can prepare ribs in the oven, the result cannot even be compared to smoking. The meat usually comes out dry and not so delicious. But, when you smoke pork ribs, what you get is complex flavor and delightful texture that invites you to try it.
The good thing about ribs is that they are cheap and available in most of the grocery stores. The bad thing is that you should carefully prepare ribs before smoking – if you want the tastiest results.
- Pork Shoulder (Pork Butt)
Pork shoulder is one of best meats to smoke if you’re a beginner. Even if you don’t feel confident about smoking meats and it doesn’t turn as good as you hoped; the meat will still taste good.
Smoking this cut of meat is left to pit masters. Finding the best way to smoke meat such as brisket is definitely not an easy task. In fact, it takes a lot of practice and errors. But those who know how to smoke beef brisket get to a mouth-watering and downright delicious meal. This is easily one of the best meats to smoke.
- Beef Rib
Beef rib is another perfect candidate for smoking as it has a lot of fat and collagen. When cooked right, beef ribs have a deep and flavorful taste while being soft and tender.
- Lamb shoulder
Lamb is another fatty meat ideal for smoking. When cooked right, lamb shoulder is mouth-watering, moist and soft meat that shows what the whole purpose of smoking is – reaching perfection.
- Leg of lamb
Smoking let of lamb is more complicated than lam shoulder due to a large bone. But, don’t let this stop you from experiencing a range of flavors and textures that this meat brings.
There are many types of fish and seafood that can be smoked. However, salmon is certainly one of the best meats to smoke as it is fatty and oily. When smoked, it tastes great; offering a range of deep flavors. Another option for smoking this fish is cold smoking.
In addition to all these types of meat, you can also smoke sausages and jerky. A great thing about smoking sausages is that you can use any shop-bought sausage. This is also one of the easiest meats to smoke. As for jerky, it is one of the best meats to smoke in an electric smoker.
What meats not to smoke
Just like there are best meats to smoke, there are also those that should not be smoked. Such examples are meats that we think of as “good” including pork tenderloin and a lean roast.
Is smoked meat healthy?
When it comes to this, the answer is both yes and no. Eating smoked meat occasionally and in normal quantities is relatively okay. However, if you eat this type of food every day, it may be dangerous because certain health problems (listed in this article) are connected to smoked meat.
BBQ Smoking Times and Temperatures Chart
Here you’ll find smoking time and temperatures chart for different kinds of meat. But before you take a look at the chart, let us mention the importance of using a digital probe meat thermometer when smoking food (and even barbecuing).
There are many types of meat, each one requiring different cooking temperature and time. Meat that isn’t well cooked may cause different conditions including salmonella, E. Coli and food poisoning.
Next thing you should know is that time doesn’t equal meat doneness. The time indicated in this chart is just a rough estimate to help you start cooking. What really matters is the temperature – a sure indicator that the meat is done. So, make sure to get a digital probe meat thermometer so you can tell for sure whether the meat is done.
|Type of Meat||Meat Cut||Smoking temperature||Cook Time||Target temperature|
|Poultry||Whole chicken||250 °F||30 – 45 mins per pound||165°F|
|Whole turkey||250 °F||30 – 45 mins per pound||165°F|
|Chicken Thighs||250°F||1.5 hrs||165°F|
|Chicken wings||225 °F||1.5 hrs||160°F|
|Pork||Butt (sliced)||225°F||90 – 120 mins per pound||180°F|
|Butt (pulled)||225 °F||90 – 120 mins per pound||205°F|
|Spare ribs||225 °F||5-7 hrs (in total)||190°F|
|Baby back ribs||225 °F||4-6 hrs (in total)||190°F|
|Beef||Ribs||225 °F||3-4 hrs (in total)||175°F|
|Brisket (sliced)||225°F||70-90 mins per pound||190°F|
|Brisket (pulled)||225°F||70-90 mins per pound||200°F|
|Lamb||Leg||225-250 °F||4-8 hrs||140–150°F|
|Shoulder||225-250 °F||5-5.5 hrs||170°F|
|Other||Sausage||230 °F||3 hrs||160°F|
Smoked meat recipes you have to try
If you’re anxious to start smoking meat and are looking for some smoked meat ideas, we have you covered. These recipes will wake up your senses and get you started!
- Whole Chicken
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 4 hrs
Final internal temperature: 165 F
- 1 whole chicken
- 3 Tbsp of rub (use it for each whole chicken)
- The smoker needs to be set at 250F. You can use wood of your choice (apple, oak, hickory or maple).
- Wash the chicken under running water. Then, trim excess skin and fat.
- Now, you should tie the legs together with a kitchen string for convenience. Then, thoroughly rub the chicken with the spice rub of your choice.
- Place the chicken on the racks and let it smoke until it reaches an internal temperature of 165F.
- When done, pull it out, and let it slightly cool for 15-20 minutes before carving. Serve with salad or sauce.
- Chicken Wings
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 1 h 8 m
- Dry Rub
- 2 ½ pounds chicken wings
- Set a smoker to 225 degrees F.
- In a bowl mix 1 tbsp. salt and pepper, and 1 tbsp. Cajun seasoning. Then, rub the seasonings into chicken wings.
- Smoke chicken wings until tender – approximately 1 to 1 1/4 hour.
- Now, mix butter, hot pepper sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and salt in a saucepan. Cook at low heat and stir often. When the butter is melted and sauce is consistent, remove the saucepan from heat.
- Preheat a grill at medium-high heat and lightly oil the grilling grate. In the meantime, add smoked wings in a large bowl and cover them in 1/2 of the sauce. Make sure each piece is well covered.
- Then, place coated wings on the grate and grill until browned and crispy
- Transfer to a bowl and add remaining sauce ensuring wings are well-coated.
- Smoked Sausages
Cook Time: 3 hrs
- 2 pounds of fresh sausage in casings
- Heat the smoker to 250F. Use the wood of your choice.
- Place the sausage on racks, leaving 1/2 inch between them.
- Smoke sausages for 3 hours or until their internal temperature reaches165F.
Well, future grill masters, what are you waiting for? Try these recipes and enjoy tenderness and complex flavor of meats. Obviously, there are many more cuts that can be smoked than those listed here, and you should try smoking as much of them as you can. When it comes to smoking meats, the whole fun lies in experimenting and finding the perfect way to smoke meats. Good luck and bon appétit!
A husband and father of two boys, an entrepreneur and business owner, a homeowner and a writer.