Barbecue smoking is the world’s best cooking method. Whether you’re making pork shoulder, brisket, or fish, there’s no food that can’t be improved with the classic technique. So heat up your BBQ smoker or charcoal grill: Here are 13 of the best meats to smoke.
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. It stands to reason that most of the best smoker recipes are meat-based, as low and slow approach helps the fat and marbling content to slowly render, infusing it with flavor.
Because smoking 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.
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 bastes and infuses it with smoky flavors. This makes the meat incredibly tender, moist, and rich in taste.
The general rule of thumb is to cook meat low and slow at 225°F, but there are special circumstance where you can smoke at lower temperatures.
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 charcoal 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 13 of the best meats for smoking.
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.
There are quite a few great woods for smoking brisket, but I recommend going for oak, hickory, or mesquite.
Smoke for 90 minutes per pound of meat at 225°F/107°C. Smoke until the brisket’s internal temperature reaches 195°F/90°C.
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.
What wood to use: Wood, oak, or mesquite.
Check out my guide to the best cuts of beef to smoke
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.
Just like chicken, turkey really comes into its own when it’s cooked low and slow on a good pellet smoker.
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.
See our guide on how to smoke a whole chicken
Simply brine it for one hour per pound of bird. Once ready, it’ll require smoking for 30 minutes per pound, at 230ºF/110ºC. Smoke until its internal temperature reaches 165°F/73°C.
Best wood to use: Hickory or mesquite.
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 for 6 hours. Aim for an internal temperature of 185ºF/85ºC.
What wood to use: Red oak, hickory, or mesquite.
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 1 hour per pound at 250ºF/120ºC, or until you reach an internal temperature or 180ºF/82ºC.
What wood to use: Apple, hickory, or cherry
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.
There are some big differences between goat and lamb, and its lean fat content is what really sets it apart as a beautiful, tough cut of meat.
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, and until you reach an internal temperature of 170ºF/76ºC.
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.
Smoke for 90 minutes per pound of meat, at 250ºF/120ºC, or until the internal temperature reaches 165ºF/73ºC.
What wood to use: Apple, Oak, Cherry
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.
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.
Cook until you reach an internal temperature of 165ºF/73ºC.
What wood to use: Mesquite, maple or apple.
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. Aim for an internal temperature of 165ºF/75ºC.
What wood to use: Mesquite or hickory.
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.
Cook at 225°F/110°C for 45 minutes for every pound of meat. Aim for an internal temperature of 165ºF/75ºC.
What wood to use: Apple or cherry
I don’t think any BBQ list would be complete without some good old fashioned chicken pieces on it. It’d be tempting to go for the wings, but I’m going to reserve this sport for the leg quarters instead.
What makes them so good for smoking though? Well, compared to the rest of the bird, chicken quarters and legs are relatively high in fat content, and if you’ve learned anything from this list it’s that meats with greater amounts of fat on them lead to juicier cuts prime for smoking.
Check out my smoked chicken quarters recipe
To smoke them, simply remove any excess fat and apply your chosen rub. Cook at 220°F/105°C for 2 hours. Cook until internal temperature reaches 165°F/75°C.
What wood to use: Apple
This is a real crowd pleaser, and one of the real iconic smoking recipes for you to get going with.
There can be quite a bit of confusion around Boston butt, as it’s sometimes referred to as pork shoulder or pork butt. In essence they all refer to the same cut of meat, which is the pork shoulder. Rest assured, none of them come from the butt of the pig.
The tough connective tissue that makes up the pork shoulder makes it perfect for smoking, as only with low and slow cooking can we start to break these down. If we didn’t cook it in this way, then these fibers and tissues would be much harder to break down.
Want to know more? Check out my guide on how to smoke pork butt.
Cook at 225°F/107°C for 2 hours for every pound of pork. Cook until internal temperature reaches 203°F/95°C.
What wood to use: Apple or Hickory
Lamb isn’t the easiest of meats to find in some butchers, but if you can get a hold of some then this is definitely worth a try. It can be sold in the choice of one of two ends: The lower ‘shank’ end, and the upper sirloin end. Of the two, I recommend going for the upper sirloin as it tends to be much fattier, which lends itself well to smoking.
If you’re given the choice of bone in, or bone out, then definitely go for bone out. This makes things much easier, and can help cook the lamb much more evenly.
To help prevent the lamb from drying out, it’s important to baste it with vinegar and oil every hour.
Cook at 225°F/107°C for 30 minutes for every pound of meat. Typically this is about 4-5 hours, but will depend on the size of your meat. Like with a lot of the meats on this list, we want to aim for an internal temperature of 145°F/62°C.
What wood to use: Maple
We all know smoked salmon, so its place on this list should be no surprise.
Fish tends to take much less time in a smoker than other cuts of meat, however it requires other preparation steps that are a bit more time consuming.
It will require brining, curing and air drying, all before you finally get round to smoking it. It can be a bit of a laborious process but, oh boy, is it worth it.
Smoke at 180°F/82°C for at least 3 hours, or until the salmon’s internal temperature reaches 140°F/60°C.
What wood to use: Alder or Oak