Beef is perhaps the iconic barbecue meat, and because it comes from such a large animal it offers a lot of variety in flavor and texture between each of its different cuts. But which one is best?

For me the best cuts of beef to smoke are brisket, chick roast, rib, top sirloin, flank steak, rump, and round.

In this post I'm going to outline why each cut is so great, and help you decide which beef cut you should go for at your next barbecue.

best cuts of meat to smoke infographic

1. Beef brisket

Heading this list is perhaps the most famous and certainly the best cut of beef for smoking: Beef brisket.

This cut of meat is the king of the BBQ. The process of smoking down a large piece of beef town to a tender, succulent plate of meat with a coat of beautiful bark is what outdoor cooking is all about.

Beef brisket has everything that you want from a smoked cut of meat: It’s tender, it’s tough, and it’s packed full of flavor. It has tough meaty fibers that are infused with flavor and tenderized by its top layer of fat.

Unlike a lot of other types of meat, brisket doesn’t require brining or a lot of added flavors to get the most out of it. The secret instead is to choose the perfect piece of meat.

Try to pick a cut that has strong presence of graining, a good layer of fat, and a tender texture.

Pro tip: When looking for the best cut of brisket, hold the piece of meat up a little. If it bends then this is a good sign that it will be tender when cooked. The more it bends, the more tender it will be.

smoking brisket: key facts

  • Cook Time: 10-14 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 205°F

2. Chuck roast

While beef brisket might get most of the headlines, I’m a huge fan of chuck roast on a smoker.

It has a lot in common with brisket. Chuck roast’s tough meaty fibers and connective tissue mirror brisket’s firm construction.

The advantage of chuck roast is that it’s a smaller cut of meat so it takes far less time to smoke. Instead of the 10+ hours that you normally need to dedicate to brisket, chuck roast can be done in just 5 hours. 

smoking chuck roast: key facts

  • Cook Time: 5-6 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 205°F
beef ribs in bbq sauce

Photo credit: Steven Depolo

3. Beef ribs

When we talk about ribs, we often mean pork ribs, but beef ribs are just as good fresh out the smoker… maybe even better.

Beef ribs can be hard to find, but are well worth the effort. What can make things confusing is that a few different cuts of beef are sometimes sold under the label of ‘beef ribs’. What you really want is ribs from the chuck plate.

Like baby back ribs, beef ribs are relatively quick to smoke. They need about 5 hours in the smoker.

smoking beef ribs: key facts

  • Cook Time: 5-6 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 135°F

4. Tri tip

Not everyone is sold on the idea of smoking steaks, but I think they’re well deserving of a place on this list.

Tri top is sometimes confused with sirloin, but it’s actually a small portion of the larger sirloin. It can sometimes be hard to find.

Unlike a lot of other smoking meats that rely on fat content to render and tenderize them, the tri top is actually a very lean cut of meat. Because of this, it only needs about an hour to smoke before then being seared on a grill for a few minutes. 

smoking tri tip: key facts

  • Cook Time: 90 minutes
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan
  • Target Internal Temperature: 135°F

5. Top round

Smoked beef top round is perfect for smoking, and is great either just by itself as a steak, or sliced up and used in fajitas or tacos.

This often needs to be cut specifically by your butcher, instead of bought prepackaged in a store or supermarket. I find that store bought cuts tend to be a bit small, so I’d go to a butcher to try and get a 5lb piece.

It will also require a dry bring, but this is really simple to do. Rather than soak it in salted water, you instead lightly coat it in kosher/table salt and keep it in the refrigerator overnight. The salt will slowly draw some of the juices out of the meat before being reabsorbed back into the meat. This will help the top round retain much of its natural moisture when smoking so it doesn’t dry out.

smoking top round: key facts

  • Cook Time: 4-5 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Oak
  • Smoking Temperature: 225-250°F
  • Target Internal Temperature: 135°F
beef steak on bbq grill

6. Flank steak

It might sound unusual to smoke steaks low and slow when instead the norm is often to sear them on a grill, particularly if you like your steaks rare or medium-rare. However smoked steaks are fantastic and offer a really different take on the meat.

Flank steak is sometimes cheaper than other types of steak because they carry less fat content, but if you can get them right then they are super delicious.

Flank is rich in muscle fibers, so can carry a very intense and meaty flavor. This means that you can match strong woods like hickory or mesquite with it because the flavor of the steak won't be overpowered by them.

In comparison to other cuts of beef, flank doesn't require much time in the smoker. This is because it's a lean and thin slice of meat.

smoking flank steak: key facts

  • Cook Time: 3 hours
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Hickory, mesquite
  • Smoking Temperature: 225°F
  • Target Internal Temperature: 145°F

7. Top sirloin steak

This strip of meat is tougher and leaner than most other cuts of beef, and comes from the hip of the cow. You can get either top or sirloin, but top sirloin is much more tender than bottom, making it much better for smoking.

Just like with flank, sirloin is a lean meat so it doesn’t need as much time in the smoker as some other cuts of beef.

I recommend marinating the sirloin for at least a few hours prior to cooking. This will help the meat stay juicy and prevent it from drying out in the smoker.

smoking sirloin: key facts

  • Cook Time: 1 hour per lb
  • Preferred Smoke Wood: Mesquite, hickory
  • Smoking Temperature: 225°F
  • Target Internal Temperature: 145°F

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