Smoked meat is widely appreciated for its remarkable flavor. With the proper equipment, you can easily make it at home. The best meats to smoke include a variety of affordable cuts. Once you get the hang of it, I promise you won’t go back to store-bought!
If you have a smoker or a grill, you’ll find these are highly versatile regarding the foods you can put in them.
Some cuts of pork, beef, and lamb, but also fish, can be smoked with exceptional results.
Even as a beginner, a good deal of meats require very little prep and they’re super easy to smoke, so take your pick! You’re biggest job is picking which wood you want to use! We’ve got the best smoked meats to get you inspired to pull out your smoker this weekend.
Best Pork For Smoking
Boston butt, also known as pork butt, is a cut of meat that comes from the upper area of the pig’s front shoulder. It’s very popular, especially to make pulled pork.
Let’s be honest, can you have a better pulled pork than the smoked kind?
This budget-friendly cut has a high percentage of fat, marbling, and connective tissue. The best way to smoke it is over medium heat, which will allow the connective tissue to break down, and a lot of the fat to melt.
Pork shoulder comes from the hog’s lower shoulder region. It’s leaner and meatier than pork butt, although also higher in connective tissue.
Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are an excellent pork cut if you want to enjoy smoky meat in a relatively short amount of time.
You can place them in the smoker right after seasoning them, and they are ready in under 5 hours.
If you start them in the morning, you can enjoy your delicious smoked baby back ribs for lunch!
St. Louis Style Ribs
St. Louis Style Ribs are larger than baby back ribs, less meaty and richer in cartilage. The flavor is amazing, though!
Not much prep work is needed for smoked St. Louis style ribs. If you’re having guests over, you can enjoy the company while the smoker does most of the work!
If you can only find spare ribs, you can shorten them and remove the cartilage, which will turn them into St. Louis style ribs.
They’re easier to work with and finish smoking in about two hours.
Pork belly has layers of fat and meat, so it’s not a diet-friendly cut but oh so delicious when smoked!
Pork belly benefits from low and slow cooking as it will make it incredibly tender and this also applies to smoking.
It can be smoked whole, as well as cut in cubes, the second option being easier for beginners.
Pork tenderloin is very lean but incredibly tender at the same time. Fattier cuts of meat are favored for smoking although you can have amazing results even with a lean one like pork tenderloin.
It only needs a quick smoke until the internal temperature reaches 140°F (60°C) which is why I recommend you always use a thermometer when smoking tenderloin.
To make sure the meat remains moist, you can marinade the tenderloin and keep it in the fridge overnight.
Or try our bacon wrapped smoked tenderloin that requires very little prep and can be smoked right away!
Making smoked ham at home, is incredibly easy and I guarantee it will turn out much better than anything you can buy in a store.
Even more, it’s incredible how yummy a twice smoked ham can be! Buy one that’s pre-cooked and pre-smoked, and smoke it one more time.
It can be the star of your Christmas dinner, or any other event you’re hosting.
Best Beef For Smoking
Brisket is one of the most popular beef cuts used for smoking. It can feed a crowd and is most suitable for low and slow cooking.
Brisket maintains its shape after smoking, which makes it easy to slice and use in sandwiches or appetizers.
Some tricks must be used to get it right, which is why this type of meat may feel intimidating for beginners.
I’d say it can be done by anyone, so if you’re willing to try it, check out our smoked brisket recipe. It always turns out fabulous!
Beef ribs need more smoking time compared to pork ribs, although it’s worth it!
They are larger, denser, and have a more intense flavor than pork ribs.
I recommend you choose chuck or plate ribs if you want to smoke them. These come from the lower end of the animal and they are very meaty, which is what we want.
They will be ready in 5-6 hours and this long smoke will make your beef ribs extra tender.
Poor Man’s Burnt Ends
If you enjoy a strong smoked flavor, poor man’s burnt ends are just the thing you need to try.
The waiting time is longer since you need to first smoke a whole chuck roast, then cut it into one-inch cubes and, after minimal preparations, smoke it again.
It’s the melt-in-your-mouth kind of meat that will disappear quickly. Don’t count on leftovers for this one!
Beef check is lean muscle meat and despite the low fat content, you can smoke it with outstanding results.
For such a lean cut, a longer smoking time of about 5 hours will give it a splendid flavor and tender texture.
Serve it next to a salad, or shred it for some out-of-this-world pulled beef tacos, sandwiches, or casseroles!
Tri tip is gaining popularity among BBQ lovers because it’s easy to work with, needs a relatively short smoking time, and it’s a culinary delight!
Cut from the bottom of the cow’s sirloin, tri tip has the shape of a long triangle. Some sections are thinner so they will cook faster, but that’s not a bad thing.
You’ll have pieces in varying degrees of doneness to please everyone!
We use a mixed method of smoking and searing at the end. This way, all those delicious juices are locked in, resulting in a tender versatile meat perfect for serving as is, or in sandwiches, salads, and even nachos.
To prevent smoked tri tip from becoming chewy, allow it to rest in a foil tent for 10-15 minutes, cut against the grain, and slice thinly.
Cut from the lower area of the cow’s chest, flank steak is very lean and can become tough and chewy if not cooked properly.
The truth is, with just a little work, your smoked flank steak will impress everyone!
In fact, it’s a beginner-friendly cut since you don’t need to marinate it and the smoking process takes between 60 and 120 minutes.
For best results, use an internal meat thermometer, and slice against the grain once it’s cooled.
Chuck roast is a cut from the cow’s shoulder area and has a balanced meat to fat ratio and plenty of collagen tissue. This means it’s highly suitable for smoking.
Our easy smoked chuck roast recipe requires only 15 minutes of prep time, after which your smoker will finish the job.
Getting that perfectly cooked chuck roast takes two hours at most, and you can season it using either a homemade rub or a store-bought one if you’re in a rush.
Tip: Slice it only before serving so the meat doesn’t dry out.
Beef tenderloin can stir a lot of debate whether such a delicate and lean cut of meat is suitable for smoking or not. We say yes!
The most important piece of equipment for making smoked beef tenderloin is a wireless meat thermometer. Getting it to the right doneness is so much easier if you have one!
For the best results, we did a reverse sear at the end, which gives the outside a delightful caramelized texture and prevents the juices from escaping.
There’s no denying grilled hamburgers are highly enjoyable. Smoked burgers? Glorious!
They’re budget friendly too. My favorite meat to use for burgers is ground chuck because it has an excellent flavor and meat to fat ratio that will give you extra juicy patties.
You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make smoked hamburgers. And let’s not forget all the options we have for jazzing up a burger with various ingredients and toppings.
Check out our hamburger cooking cheat sheet and also use an internal meat thermometer to make sure your burgers turn out just how you like them!
Best Lamb For Smoking
Lamb shank is a cut from the shin of the lamb and as flavorful as it might be, it’s also a pretty tough type of meat.
Rich in connective tissue, lamb shank is best smoked at lower temps so it will need about 4-5 hours in the smoker for the meat to become tender.
Compared to most cuts of lamb, the shank is reasonably priced and if you cook them properly, you’ll be left with fall-of-the-bone divine-tasting meat!
Lamb leg is often confused with lamb shank because they both come from the leg of the lamb.
The shank is the area just above the knee, rich in connective tissues, while the lamb leg is a cut that sits right next to the sirloin and flank cuts.
The leg is more tender, and larger, so it’s easier to get good results when smoking it.
I recommend you smoke it with the fatty side up and always purchase the bone-in version. Despite the longer smoking time, off-the-bone meat is always more flavorful.
Best Poultry For Smoking
The smoker can turn any plain meat into a chef-quality meal and this stands true even for a whole chicken.
We used a dry brine for our smoked whole chicken and allowed to cure in the fridge, uncovered for 2-3 days. That ensures you get moist meat and a nice crispy skin!
This really is one of the most beginner-friendly recipes that turns out BBQ restaurant quality!
Spatchcocking is a technique that involves splitting the bird open, removing the backbone, and flattening it. Smoking a spatchcock chicken reduces the total smoking time by 50% and ensures even cooking.
If you need that chicken to smoke as fast as possible, this is the way to go!
Other than the extra prep work needed for cutting the bird, there’s no additional effort needed to make a smoked spatchcock chicken.
Having more surface area to absorb smoke, it will have an even stronger flavor and the shorter cook time prevents the meat from drying out.
Smoking chicken parts is definitely a nice way to start your smoking adventures.
They’re easier to deal with and pair well with an impressive variety of sides. Here are some of our favorite smoking recipes using chicken parts:
Turkey is significantly larger compared to a chicken, but it’s just as suitable for smoking.
Brining is optional but highly recommended! To get the most flavorsome, moist bird, brine your turkey for 1-3 days (depending on its size) before smoking.
Once it’s brined, pat it dry and generously massage a dry rub on the entire surface of the turkey for the skin to get a beautiful crisp.
Time-wise, smoking a whole turkey can take around 7-8 hours. The internal temperature of the bird needs to reach 165°F (74°C) so that’s the key factor you need to look at.
Turkey legs, thighs, breast, and wings will smoke way faster than the whole bird and taste just as yummy.
You can experiment with various seasoning mixes and brines and enjoy a different outcome every time!
If you need a little inspiration, try some of our smoked turkey parts recipes:
- Smoked Turkey Legs
- Smoked Beer Brined Turkey Thighs
- Smoked Apple Cider Brined Turkey Breast
- Smoked Turkey Wings
Best Fish For Smoking
In theory, wild salmon is the best kind to buy. For smoking purposes, farm raised yields better results because the meat is fattier so it doesn’t dry out during the process.
I found that dry brining the salmon for 6-8 hours in the fridge (depending on how thick your fillets are) gives the best results.
To make sure your salmon doesn’t come out too salty, make sure to rinse the brine thoroughly.
If you enjoy a sweeter taste, baste your smoked salmon several times during cooking with honey or maple syrup.
Trout is a fish with a delicate texture and subtle flavors that turns into a decadent treat when smoked.
Wet brining will pull out a lot of moisture from the fish, which is why I definitely recommend not skipping this step.
Some planning is required to enjoy the amazing flavors of smoked trout, but you won’t regret it.
Tip: Generously oil the grill grates and the bottom of the fish before smoking as the skin can easily stick to the grates.
Tuna steaks are easy to scale up and you just need to brine them for about 3 hours before smoking. Start them in the morning and they’ll be ready for lunch just in time!
For your tuna steaks to turn out juicy keep them in the smoker only until they reach 135-140°F (57-60°C) internal temperature.
If you’re having guests over, serve your smoked tuna steaks with some fruit salsa, herbed butter, or compound butter. This will take them to a whole new level!
As a beginner, you can try smoking cod fillets before any other fish since it’s the easiest thing ever!
We wrapped our smoked cod in prosciutto, which will protect the fish from drying out.
Other than this, there’s nothing else you need to do than put it in the smoker. Even that, is a super quick process as a tender fish like cod smokes in under one hour.
Tip: You can replace cod with any other fish with a firm texture such as mahi mahi, haddock, or grouper.
Best Wood For Smoking Meat
Pairing smoking wood with meat can be daunting but don’t let that stop you in your tracks.
Each type of wood has its unique flavor and a different intensity so they might not work well for any kind of meat.
We really wanted to simplify choosing the right wood for smoking so we created a free printable Wood Smoking Cheat sheet anyone can download!
As a beginner, some of the easiest meats to smoke include whole chicken, chicken and turkey parts (wings, thighs, legs, breast), baby back ribs, St. Louis Style Ribs, chuck roast, flank steak, and salmon.
These types of meat require little prep work and smoke within a decent amount of time.
Definitely NOT! During the smoking process, the meat cooks indirectly, so there’s no need to flip it.
In fact, it’s best to refrain from lifting the lid just to take a peek. To find out when your meat is ready, rely on an internal meat thermometer.
The smoke ring that sometimes forms within the meat during smoking is not a reliable indicator of its doneness level.
Technically, the ring was already there as myoglobin (an oxygen-binding protein), which gives raw meat its reddish pink color.
During cooking, myoglobin becomes brown. Wood smoke contains nitric oxide, and some of it condenses onto the meat and binds with myoglobin while it’s still red.
As a result, the smoke ring is proof how fast the meat was cooked and how much nitric oxide came in contact with the meat before myoglobin had the chance to turn brown. We write in detail in Can Pork Be Pink?