The Best Meats to Smoke: From Beginner to Expert

If you are reading this article then you surely have a smoker at home that you want to use. With the booming success of BBQ food, smoking the meat has become an essential part of the meal prep process. But getting the meat to be smoked up popularly, you need to follow a three step process- you need a good smoker, you need to know how to smoke meat and thirdly, you need to know which meats are considered the best for smoking. 

While there is no denying that a good smoker can smoke any kind of meat. But at the same time, we can not deny the possibility that some kinds of meats are more suited for smoking than the other kinds. Here in this article, we will talk about which kinds of meats are considered the best to smoke for both entry level chefs and pro chefs. So without wasting more time, let’s dive in straight to find out more

10 Best Meats to Smoke For Beginners to Expert Chefs

best meats to smoke

Tip: To decide on the best kinds of meats, you first need to follow a golden rule. According to this rule, the best cuts of meat to smoke are the tougher pieces which are less than perfect pieces. Chicken, turkey, pork or beef - you need to find the tougher cuts of meat for better smoking. If you are able to do that, you will end with a perfectly delicious smoky flavor sitting on your dining table. 

Here is the list:

Whole Chicken

If you are starting out and are a beginner then we recommend that you start with a whole chicken. The first reason that works in the flavor is that it takes less time to smoke as compared to pork or beef. Secondly, it requires little prep or Marination, barring the salt, pepper and regular herbs and seasonings.

In addition to this, if you smoke a whole chicken, then you can also obtain smoked chicken breasts which are otherwise comparatively difficult to smoke.

Furthermore, if you are working with an electric smoker then you just need to set it up and forget about it till the timer tells you it’s done. But no matter the level of expertise, it is best to start smoking with a whole chicken. 

Chicken Leg Quarters

As opposed from the chicken breasts, chicken leg quarters are considered ideal for smoking. These are closer to the bone so they are more capable of giving a smoky flavor while keeping the natural chicken flavors intact. However, on the downside the chicken leg quarters are more prone to get dry. Whole chicken has more moisture but leg quarters don’t have enough.

To negate this downside, you can add more water in the pan or add apple or maple wood chips to improve the flavors and the taste. Also, you should go for a low cooking process so that it prevents the chicken from getting too dry. It helps the meat stay moist while retaining the original flavors. 

Whole Turkey

Whole Turkey gets the last place in our smoking poultry options. Turkey is the go to option for meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners so it’s mandatory to include this in our list. Smoking turkey should be taken up by more expert chefs since it is not easy. But nevertheless, it gives a redeeming taste at the end so all the effort is worth it.

Compared to chicken, a turkey is larger and the skin is leaner. So you should go for this option if you have to feed a larger number of guests and you should remember to use the correct kind of wood for smoking. It is recommended to let the turkey smoke on low and slow for better results. You should also keep measuring the internal  temperature inside the cookpot while it’s smoking for best results.

Pork Shoulder

Pork Shoulder is another kind of meat that is considered best for smoking for the beginners and amateur chefs. The process is easier, can be done in any kind of smoker and there is little that can go wrong. One feature that makes the pork shoulders easy to smoke is its fat content and connective tissues. When you smoke pork shoulder on high heat, the fat melts to infuse with the rest of the meat.

This ensures that the moisture content is maintained during smoking. And you end up with juicy smoked pork meat. With smoked pork shoulders, you can also opt to make long smoked sausages which taste delicious.

Pork Boston Butt

Pork Boston Butt is the lower part of the pig’s shoulder which is considered one of the most ideal meats to smoke. Aside from that fact, Pork butt is also one of the cheapest pieces of meat that you can find in the market hence, it is also one of the most suited.

Just like the pork shoulder, a pork Butt also has a lot of connective tissues and fats that enable it to smoke better and deliver better and juicier flavors. It is also the part which can deliver pulled pork and pork chops, and makes for some of the juiciest and more flavorful meals on the table. In addition to that, a smoked pork Butt is also very tender.

Pork Ribs

Pork ribs have been known as one of the best meats to smoke since times immemorial. Besides being one of the easiest meats to smoke, the ribs can also be reheated later for consumption. These are also one of the most preferred BBQ options and are known for being the most traditional dish for festivals like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Pork ribs are the aesthetic and best cuts of meat that are known to be the juiciest and are also considered one of the most appetizing foods when served on a plate. But for smoked pork, you will need to be a little more careful as smoking these is a little tricky and will need some expertise before you master it. 

Recipe: Smoked Pork Ribs

Beef Brisket

Moving on to beef recommendations, our topmost option is a beef brisket. But like whole turkey and pork ribs, beef brisket is slightly tricky to smoke. The beef cut meat is hard, tough and undesirable and that is why it is most suited to smoke this beef type through the high heat process.

It is the best meat for smoking. Once the smoked brisket is taken out of the smoker, it is unnaturally tender and soft, and a delicacy to be relished. The average smoking time for beef briskets is anywhere between 12 to 13 hours.

The internal temperature should also be maintained between 205 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the smoker and fuel. There are specific types of woods for smoking briskets to get the best Smokey flavor.

Beef Ribs

Beef Ribs are another meat type that are considered ideal for smoking. However, these are a little more harder to find as compared to beef briskets. But, at the same time, these are comparatively easier to cook. This is because beef ribs can endure high heat and can cook fastly in under 6 hours or so and with a consistent internal  temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

But even while smoking beef ribs, it is imperative to note that it requires constant monitoring. Another reason why beef ribs are considered ideal for smoking is because they have a lot of tough connective tissues and a lot of fat.

Once smoked properly, you are sure to end up with a plate of the juiciest and most tender smoked meats you’ve ever had. To enhance the taste, you will only need to sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper, and nothing else.

Recipe: Smoked Texas Style Beef Ribs

Beef Tri Tips

The last beef item on our list of smoke meats is beef tri tips. The beef tri tips come as part of the coveted sirloin and is tender right from the start so the smoking intensifies the flavors further. As a result, the smoked beef obtained tastes like a super delicious flavored beef steak.

In addition to that, beef tri-tips are fairly easy to cook. It can be cooked under 2 hours and you will be required to use a high and fast heating source. If you need a smoked meat prepared for a dinner quickly, then this is the most ideal option to go with. Searing the tri-tips on a pan further intensifies the flavours that can be relished by one and all. 

Lamb Leg

Aside from poultry, beef and pork, we have also included a lamb leg on this list for those who prefer lamb over other meat types. The only problem with a lamb leg is that it is very difficult to find. You can find a lamb shoulder but this one is more tricky. But if you do get one, then we promise, you will taste the juiciest and a fat-full delicious meal on your plate.

However, a lamb leg requires more time to cook as the smoking needs to be done low and slow. You will also be required to constantly change sides as the cuts of the meat are uneven. Other than that, there is no questioning the taste and it is a dish that should be prepared and served more often. 

Why Smoke Your Meats?

If you are someone who has never smoked meat before or never had smoked meat before then you would be wondering what difference it would make to smoke regular meat. You can find the answer to this by tasting smoked meat and compare it with the taste of regular meat. If not, we would be more than happy to confirm it for you that smoked meat tastes a whole lot better than regular meat.

It has enhanced flavors and a distinct smoky texture that improves the overall experience. In addition to that, smoked meats are also a lot more tender than regular meat. But smoking a particular kind of meat is also subjective to the extent to which you are smoking it and the kind of woods used to smoke. Different woods react differently to different kinds of meat.

For the same reason, it is difficult to ace the art of smoking a particular kind of meat. But once you have learnt the right balance between the woods, type of meat and the heat level, there is no looking back. We guarantee that you are going to love it. 

Using a DIY Grill as a Smoker

In case you do not have a smoker at home to smoke your meat, you can also use your grill to smoke meats. In case you are opting to use your grill as a smoker then you don’t want to put your meat directly above the heat source and secondly, be prepared to invest hours to smoke your meat. Depending on what kind of grill you are using, there are different methods that you can use:

1. Charcoal Grills

If you are using a charcoal grill then the method is pretty simple. You will only need to pile up the charcoal on the half side and use a drip pan on the other side. Then you will need to place the woods on the charcoal side and your meat on the drip pan side. If you need more flavours then you can use apple juice for some infused sweetness or else water is also okay. Once the setup is ready, you can close the lid for the process to start. But you will need to leave some space as the outlet for the smoke. Ventilation of the smoke is important.

2. Gas Grill

If you are using a gas grill then you will need to preheat all burners beforehand by keeping the burner on high for at least about 20 minutes or so. Then you will need to place the woods in a metal pan and place the pan on one side of the gas grill. After the preheating is completed, then you can turn down the burner on the wood side. Place the meat on the other side on low flame. Close the lid and again, leave some space for the ventilation of smoke.

Tip: Ventilating out the smoke from inside the grill is imperative because if the smoke accumulates inside the grill, it can most definitely leave a bad taste on the meat. Also too much smoke intensifies the heating process which can make the meat charred. You will learn the proper outflow of smoke in a few iterations.

What Wood to Use for What Meat?

Image Credit: Thespruceeats.com

The kind of wood that you are using to smoke your meat plays an important part in the process. The better the wood, the more luxurious will be the quality of meat obtained after smoking. For someone who is just starting out, you can refer to the wood and meat chart given below, but gradually as you start practicing, you will know what wood to use when and likewise you can also experiment.

Wood type

Chicken

Pork

Beef

Seafood

Alder

Yes

Yes

No 

Yes

Apple

Yes

No

No

Yes

Cherry

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Hickory

No

Yes

Yes

No

Maple

Yes

No

No

No

Mesquite

No

Yes

Yes

No

Mulberry

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Oak

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Peach

Yes

Yes

No

No

Pear

Yes

Yes

No

No

Pecan

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Walnut

No

Yes

Yes

No

Here you will notice that lighter woods compliment lighter meats like chicken and seafood, while heavier woods like mesquite and hickory pair best with beef and pork. You can experiment further and decide your best pair according to your palette flavors. 

So, here’s all the information you need to know about smoked meats and the best meats to smoke. Feel free to experiment with different meat types, woods and heat, and enjoy delicious smoked meat dishes at home. 

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