You’ve bought your new smoker. You’ve got it all set up. You’re ready to become a meat smoking master. But where should you start? Today we have nine of the very best cuts of meat to smoke to get you started.
When it comes to smoking meat, it’s mostly a case of the fattier the cut of meat, the better. The reason for this is that as it cooks, its fat content melts and the connective tissue in the meat starts to break down, giving us a much more tender and succulent taste. Cuts of meat that are perfect for smoking include pork shoulder, ribs, beef brisket, poultry, and many more!
These meats are just the tip of the meaty iceberg though, and in my guide today I’m going to walk you through the very best cuts of meat to smoke, how to prepare them, and how long to cook them for.
Smoking is a form of cooking that matches very low cooking temperatures with very long cooking times to prepare food. Because it is so focused on meat, it makes the perfect accompanying cooking method to grilling. In fact, in some instances, some meats are even smoked first before being finished off on the grill.
If you don't have a smoker then be sure to check out my guide to the best offset smokers here.
Smoking times are significantly longer than with other forms of cooking. This is because the process mainly involves softening and melting the fat in the meat, which then in turn bastes and infuses it with smoky flavors. This makes the meat incredibly tender, moist and rich in taste.
Cooking times with smoking often depend on the quantity and size of your meat cut, so you’ll see me mention smoking times with reference to their weight. For example, most meats take at least 30 minutes per pound or half kilogram.
When selecting your cut of meat for smoking, it can actually feel a little bit counter-intuitive. For example, more classic and expensive cuts of meat are much better on the grill without being smoked.
In contrast, cheaper meats with higher fat content are fantastic for smoking. Not only does the fat content enhance the flavor significantly, but the low relatively low cost of the cut means you can buy them in bulk and smoke in great quantity. The sheer presence of the meat itself helps it become infused with its own flavors.
Cheap meat also offers you something that not a lot of other cuts do: The freedom of experimentation. And that is something that excites smoking superfans.
With all of that in mind, here are 9 of the best meats for smoking.
#1. Beef Brisket
Let’s start our list with a classic and old favorite. Beef brisket is the official choice for Texas-Style barbecue, and for good reason.
While in standard cooking environments it can be tough and chewy, cooking it through a smoker can elevate it to another level. Its fat melts and spreads through the meat, making it tender and stringy. Its taste lies beautifully somewhere between roast beef and steak.
What’s particularly great about beef brisket is that it’s relatively easy to smoke. It requires little to no preparation, requiring little more than just a rub or brine on it before putting it in your smoker. It then only needs to be smoked ‘low and slow’ to help break down all the tough connective tissue in the meat.
For every pound or half a kilogram of meat, it needs approximately 60-90 minutes to smoke thoroughly. Once it’s done, you then cut it into thin slices, and you’re good to go!
Alternatively, for a more authentic Texan style, once you’ve sliced it up, you can soak it in a tray of barbecue sauce for 5-10 minutes before serving.
#2. Whole Turkey
The Thanksgiving special is ever popular, but preparing it in a smoker really does take it to a new level.
Smoking turkey makes it beautifully moist and firm, while its flavors are creamy and sweet. Not only this, but its aroma really does make it stand apart from its oven-cooked counterpart.
An important thing to keep in mind is that the meat will need brining to prevent it from going dry. It’ll take a bit of time and preparation, but I promise you that it’s worth the extra effort. Simply brine it for one hour per pound of bird. Once ready, it’ll require smoking for 30 minutes per pound, at 230ºF/110ºC.
#3. Pork Ribs
Perhaps second to beef brisket, smoked pork ribs are one of the most popular meats to prepare in a smoker with barbecue enthusiasts.
And no wonder: Ribs contain a lot of fat and collagen, making them prime for smoking. Sure enough, when they’re smoked, they become beautifully tender and moist. What’s even better for us is that, compared to other cuts of meat, ribs tend to be fairly cheap and widely available.
Pork ribs require a fair bit of preparation, but don’t be put off: Doing so will give you results worth waiting for. You will have to remove the tough membrane from the rack by pulling it off and then you’ll have to brine them for 45 minutes per pound.
Just like with beef brisket, you will have to smoke them slowly, at a low heat around 230ºF/110ºC and 60-90 minutes per pound
Fish is often overlooked when it comes to barbecue, but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be. And with no fish does this ring truer than carp.
Carp is a fatty white meat, so absolutely perfect for smoking, and also available for much of the year.
You can put it straight in the smoker with very little preparation. However, if you’re uneasy with strong fish tastes, then I recommend soaking them in buttermilk for 1-2 hours before smoking them. Doing this helps remove some of the meat’s oil, while also allowing the fish to soak up some of the more subtle, creamy flavors from the buttermilk.
You should be able to get four healthy-sized fish fillet from one carp. Cut out the fillets before smoking or soaking. Smoke for 3 hours at 250ºF/120ºC before enjoying immediately.
What wood to use: Mesquite
Not for everyone, goat is one of the healthiest forms of red meat out there when it comes to calorie and fat content.
Smoked goat is firm, sweet and… well… smokey. It goes brilliantly in asun, cabrito and even tacos.
Goat does need brining before smoking. However, it only needs quite a short time in comparison to other meats on this list. Brine it for 60 minutes per pound of goat.
It also needs a lower smoking temperature than some other meats. Smoke for one hour per pound at 200ºF/90ºC.
What wood to use: Mesquite
A very gamey meat normally, deer is almost unrecognizable when smoked. It takes on a lovely roast beef flavor while pulling apart in a stringy form beautifully.
While all parts of deer can be used, tenderloin and shoulder work best for smoking.
To get the most out of the deer, brine it overnight. This process will moisten the meat nicely.
What wood to use: Apple-smoked woodOakCheery
#7. Wild Boar
Boar meat is often mistakenly assumed to be interchangeable with pork, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a different meat entirely. It’s beautiful and unique, while succulent, sweet and tender to eat.
While much of it can be smoked, I’d recommend going for the ribs, should or loins. Although - and this will sound brave - if you have a large smoker then I’d say go for the quite literal whole hog.
Again, just like with so many of the meats on this list, I strongly suggest smoking ‘low and slow’. And when I say slow, I mean slow. To get the very most out of them, you’ll need to smoke the boar for no less than 12-14 hours at 200ºF/90ºC. While this does seem like a very long time, the fat from the meat will help it self-baste in that time. It tastes as incredible as it sounds.
What wood to use: Mesquite
#8. Whole Hens
Prepare them by removing the gizzards and neck, and brine for one hour per pound. Then season with a rub before putting in the smoker.
Thanks for their small size, whole hens tend to take far less time to smoke than other meats on this list, so try to cook at 225ºF/110ºC for 45 minutes per pound.
What wood to use: Mesquite
#9. Lamb Shoulder
High in fat content and perfect for a smoker, lamb shoulder has a gamey feel to it once smoked. A little pricier than the other meats on this list, I wanted to finish off this list with something a bit punchy.
Lamb shoulder will need to be prepped by having the excess fat trimmed off it and then washed. Following this, you can inject it with apple cider vinegar and then season.
Smoke at 225ºF/110ºC for 45 minutes per pound.
Over to you...
Are we missing anything off my list? What do you think is the best meat for smoking? Let me know in the comments below!