top 8 best meats to smoke

Posted on

Meats to Smoke



Prep time

Cooking time

Total time


Top 8 Best Meats to Smoke: Expert Recommendations for Delicious Results

Are you looking to take your smoking game to the next level? Smoking meats is an art form that requires patience, skill, and the right tools. One of the most important factors in smoking meat is choosing the right cut. There are many different meats to smoke, but some cuts are more forgiving and flavorful than others. In this article, we will discuss the top eight best meats to smoke.

A variety of meats arranged on a smoking rack, including brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, and sausages, with wisps of smoke rising from the grill

Smoking meat is a process that has been around for centuries. It is a method of cooking that involves low heat and slow cooking times, resulting in tender, juicy meat with a smoky flavor. The process of smoking meat can be done with a variety of meats, but not all cuts are created equal. Some cuts of meat are better suited for smoking than others, and it’s important to choose the right cut to get the best results. In this article, we’ll explore the top eight best meats to smoke and provide tips on how to smoke them to perfection.

Key Takeaways

  • Beef brisket, pork shoulder, and spare ribs are some of the best meats to smoke.
  • Whole chicken, turkey, lamb shoulder, salmon, and venison are also great options for smoking.
  • Choosing the right smoker, wood, and temperature control are key factors in achieving the perfect smoked meat.

Beef Brisket

When it comes to smoking meats, beef brisket is one of the most popular and rewarding cuts to smoke. It is a flavorful and tender cut of meat that takes well to the low and slow smoking process. Here are some tips to help you smoke the perfect beef brisket.

Choosing the Right Cut

The most important factor in choosing a beef brisket for smoking is the quality of the meat. Look for a brisket with good marbling, which will help keep the meat moist during the long smoking process. The best cuts come from the point end of the brisket, which has more fat and connective tissue than the flat end. This makes it more flavorful and tender after smoking.

Preparation Techniques

Before smoking the beef brisket, it is important to properly prepare it. Trim any excess fat from the brisket, leaving a thin layer to help keep the meat moist. You can also inject the brisket with a marinade or rub for added flavor. Rubs typically include a blend of spices like salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, and onion powder.

Smoking Time and Temperature

Smoking a beef brisket can take anywhere from 10 to 14 hours, depending on the size of the cut and the temperature of your smoker. The ideal temperature for smoking beef brisket is between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the brisket, which should reach 205 degrees Fahrenheit when it is fully cooked.

Overall, smoking beef brisket requires patience and attention to detail, but the end result is well worth the effort. With the right preparation and smoking techniques, you can create a delicious and tender brisket that will impress your friends and family.

Pork Shoulder

A pork shoulder sits on a wooden cutting board surrounded by various smoking woods, spices, and a smoker in the background

Pork shoulder is a versatile meat that can be smoked in various ways to create delicious meals. It is a less expensive cut of meat that is perfect for smoking because it has a lot of fat and connective tissue, which makes it juicy and flavorful when cooked low and slow. Here are some tips to help you smoke the perfect pork shoulder.

Marinating for Flavor

Marinating your pork shoulder before smoking can add extra flavor to your meat. You can use a dry rub or a wet marinade to infuse flavor into the meat. A dry rub is a mixture of spices and herbs that are rubbed onto the meat. A wet marinade is a mixture of liquids and spices that the meat is soaked in for several hours before smoking.

Some popular dry rubs for pork shoulder include paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. For a wet marinade, you can use apple juice, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Marinating your pork shoulder for at least 12 hours before smoking will give it time to absorb the flavors.

Managing Fat Content

Pork shoulder is a fatty cut of meat, which can make it delicious but also unhealthy if consumed in large amounts. To manage the fat content of your pork shoulder, you can trim off some of the excess fat before smoking. However, make sure to leave some fat on the meat to keep it moist and flavorful.

Another way to manage the fat content is by using a drip pan. Place a drip pan under the pork shoulder while smoking to catch the excess fat. This will not only make your meal healthier but also prevent flare-ups and keep your smoker clean.

Wrap or Not to Wrap

To wrap or not to wrap your pork shoulder while smoking is a matter of personal preference. Wrapping your pork shoulder in foil or butcher paper halfway through the smoking process can help it cook faster and retain moisture. However, it can also soften the bark and make it less crispy.

If you prefer a crispy bark, you can skip the wrapping and let the pork shoulder cook uncovered for the entire smoking process. This will result in a thicker bark and a longer cooking time. Ultimately, the decision to wrap or not to wrap comes down to your personal preference.

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are one of the most popular cuts of meat to smoke. They are flavorful and have just the right amount of fat to make them tender and juicy. Here are a few things you need to know before you smoke your spare ribs.

Dry Rubs vs. Marinades

When it comes to seasoning your spare ribs, you have two options: dry rubs or marinades. Dry rubs are a blend of spices and herbs that you rub onto the meat before smoking. Marinades, on the other hand, are a mixture of liquid and spices that you soak the meat in before smoking.

Dry rubs are great because they form a crust on the meat that helps to seal in the juices. Marinades are also great because they infuse the meat with flavor and help to tenderize it. Ultimately, the choice between dry rubs and marinades comes down to personal preference.

The 3-2-1 Smoking Method

The 3-2-1 smoking method is a popular way to smoke spare ribs. This method involves smoking the ribs for 3 hours, wrapping them in foil and smoking for 2 hours, and then unwrapping them and smoking for another hour.

During the first 3 hours, the ribs absorb the smoke and develop a nice crust. Wrapping the ribs in foil for the next 2 hours helps to tenderize the meat and keep it moist. Unwrapping the ribs for the final hour allows the crust to form again and gives the ribs a nice texture.

Overall, spare ribs are a great cut of meat to smoke. Whether you prefer dry rubs or marinades, and whether you use the 3-2-1 smoking method or not, you are sure to end up with delicious and flavorful spare ribs.

Whole Chicken

A whole chicken surrounded by smoking wood chips on a grill

Smoking a whole chicken is a great way to feed a crowd, and it’s also one of the most forgiving meats to smoke. The meat is juicy and flavorful, and the skin can be crispy if done right. Here are some tips for smoking a whole chicken:

Brining for Juiciness

Brining is a process of soaking the meat in a solution of salt and water, which helps to keep the meat juicy and tender. You can also add other seasonings to the brine, such as sugar, herbs, and spices, to infuse more flavor into the meat.

To brine a whole chicken, you’ll need a large container that can hold the chicken and the brine solution. Mix together 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of kosher salt in the container, along with any other seasonings you like. Place the chicken in the brine, making sure it’s fully submerged. Refrigerate the container for at least 4 hours, but no more than 24 hours.

Skin Crispiness Tips

If you want crispy skin on your smoked chicken, there are a few things you can do. First, make sure the chicken is completely dry before smoking it. Pat it dry with paper towels, and let it air-dry in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Next, you can apply a dry rub or a marinade to the chicken to help create a flavorful crust on the skin. Be careful not to use too much sugar in the rub or marinade, as this can cause the skin to burn.

Finally, you can smoke the chicken at a higher temperature for the last 30 minutes of cooking to help crisp up the skin. Increase the temperature of your smoker to 375-400°F, and cook the chicken until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

By following these tips, you can smoke a whole chicken that’s juicy and flavorful, with crispy skin that’s sure to impress your guests.


A table with a variety of smoked meats, including turkey, arranged in an appealing display

Turkey is a classic meat to smoke, especially around the holiday season. It’s a lean meat, which means it can dry out quickly if not cooked properly. However, when done right, it can be incredibly flavorful and juicy. Here are some things to consider when smoking a turkey.

Size Considerations

When selecting a turkey to smoke, it’s important to consider the size. A smaller turkey, around 10-12 pounds, is ideal for smoking. This size allows for even cooking and a shorter smoking time, which helps prevent the meat from drying out.

If you need to smoke a larger turkey, consider spatchcocking it. This involves removing the backbone and flattening the turkey before smoking. This method allows for even cooking and reduces the cooking time.

Herb and Spice Combinations

Turkey is a versatile meat that pairs well with a variety of herbs and spices. Some popular combinations include:

  • Sage and thyme
  • Rosemary and garlic
  • Lemon and parsley
  • Paprika and cumin

Before smoking, rub the turkey with a mixture of your chosen herbs and spices. You can also inject the turkey with a marinade for added flavor. Just be sure to use a marinade that won’t overpower the natural flavor of the turkey.

In conclusion, smoking a turkey can be a delicious and enjoyable experience. Just remember to select the right size turkey and use a flavorful herb and spice combination. With these tips, you’ll be able to smoke a juicy and flavorful turkey every time.

Lamb Shoulder

Lamb shoulder is a popular cut of meat to smoke, and for good reason. It is flavorful, tender, and easy to prepare. Here are some things to consider when smoking lamb shoulder.

Bone-In vs. Boneless Options

When choosing a lamb shoulder to smoke, you have the option of bone-in or boneless. Bone-in lamb shoulder is more flavorful and tends to be juicier than boneless lamb shoulder. However, boneless lamb shoulder is easier to carve and may be a better option if you are serving a large group of people.

Mediterranean Influences

Lamb shoulder is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, and there are many ways to incorporate these flavors into your smoked lamb shoulder. One popular option is to use a rub made with garlic, lemon, and oregano. Another option is to serve the smoked lamb shoulder with a side of tzatziki sauce, which is made with yogurt, cucumber, and dill.

Overall, lamb shoulder is a delicious and versatile cut of meat to smoke. Whether you choose bone-in or boneless, and whether you incorporate Mediterranean flavors or not, your smoked lamb shoulder is sure to be a hit.


Salmon is a popular fish to smoke due to its rich flavor and firm texture. Here are some tips to help you smoke the perfect salmon.

Curing Before Smoking

Curing salmon before smoking helps to enhance its flavor and texture. You can use a dry or wet cure, depending on your preference. A dry cure involves rubbing the salmon with a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices, while a wet cure involves soaking the salmon in a brine solution.

To dry cure salmon, mix together 1 cup of kosher salt, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon of black pepper. Rub the mixture all over the salmon, making sure to coat it evenly. Place the salmon in a container and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

For a wet cure, mix together 1 quart of water, 1 cup of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar, and any additional spices or herbs you like. Place the salmon in the brine and refrigerate for 8-12 hours.

Wood Type Selection

Choosing the right wood for smoking salmon is important to achieve the desired flavor. Alder is a popular choice for smoking salmon, as it imparts a mild, sweet flavor that complements the fish. Other woods that work well with salmon include apple, cherry, and hickory.

When smoking salmon, it’s important to use a mild smoke and avoid over-smoking the fish, which can result in a bitter taste. Start with a small amount of wood and gradually add more as needed.

By following these tips, you can smoke delicious salmon that is full of flavor and has a perfect texture.


A smoking rack filled with various cuts of venison, surrounded by wood chips and a smoky haze

If you’re looking for a meat that’s lean and packed with flavor, venison is a great choice to smoke. It’s a game meat, which means it has a distinct, rich taste that’s different from beef or pork. However, if you’re not a fan of the gamey flavor, there are some things you can do to reduce it.

Gamey Flavor Reduction

To reduce the gamey flavor of venison, you can marinate it in an acidic liquid like vinegar or citrus juice. This will help to break down the proteins in the meat and make it more tender. You can also add herbs and spices to the marinade to give it more flavor. Another option is to soak the meat in milk or buttermilk overnight. This will help to draw out some of the blood and reduce the gamey taste.

Low and Slow Smoking

When it comes to smoking venison, low and slow is the way to go. Venison is a lean meat, which means it can dry out quickly if it’s cooked at a high temperature. To keep it moist and tender, you’ll want to smoke it at a low temperature (around 225°F) for several hours. You can use wood chips or chunks to add flavor to the meat. Hickory, mesquite, and oak are all good choices for smoking venison.

Here are some tips for smoking venison:

  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature of the meat reaches at least 145°F.
  • Let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing it.
  • Pair your smoked venison with the right beverage. A full-bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah pairs well with the rich, gamey flavor of venison.

Smoker Types and Maintenance

Various meats arranged on a smoker rack, surrounded by wood chips and seasonings. A thermometer gauge and smoke vent are visible on the smoker

When it comes to smoking meats, there are various types of smokers available in the market. The four main types of smokers are electric, gas, charcoal, and wood. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, and you should choose the one that suits your needs and budget.

Electric smokers are the easiest to use and maintain. They are perfect for beginners who want to try smoking meats without much hassle. They are also great for people who live in apartments or condos where gas and charcoal smokers are not allowed. Electric smokers are easy to clean and require very little maintenance.

Gas smokers are also easy to use and maintain. They are perfect for people who want to smoke meats quickly and efficiently. Gas smokers are also great for people who want to smoke meats in large quantities. They are easy to clean and require very little maintenance.

Charcoal smokers are the most traditional type of smokers. They are perfect for people who want to have that authentic smoky flavor in their meats. Charcoal smokers require a bit more effort to use and maintain. They need to be cleaned after every use, and the charcoal needs to be replenished regularly.

Wood smokers are the most versatile type of smokers. They can be used with different types of wood to give different flavors to the meats. Wood smokers require a bit more effort to use and maintain. They need to be cleaned after every use, and the wood needs to be replenished regularly.

No matter what type of smoker you choose, it is important to maintain it properly. Regular cleaning and maintenance will ensure that your smoker lasts longer and performs better. Here are some tips for maintaining your smoker:

  • Clean your smoker after every use
  • Replace any damaged parts
  • Keep your smoker covered when not in use
  • Store your smoker in a dry and cool place

By following these tips, you can ensure that your smoker performs at its best and gives you delicious smoked meats every time.

Wood Choices and Flavor Pairing

A variety of wood chips and chunks surround a selection of meats, including brisket and ribs, with flavor pairings listed nearby

When it comes to smoking meats, the type of wood you use can make a huge impact on the final flavor of your dish. Different woods have different flavor profiles and pair better with specific meats.

Here are some popular smoking woods and their respective flavor profiles:

Smoking Wood Flavor Profile Pairing
Alder Mild, slightly sweet, with a hint of nuttiness Fish, poultry, pork, and vegetables
Apple Mild, fruity, slightly sweet Pork, poultry, and game birds
Cherry Mild, fruity, slightly sweet Beef, pork, poultry, and game birds
Hickory Strong, smoky, bacon-like flavor Pork, beef, and game meats
Maple Mild, slightly sweet, with a hint of smokiness Pork, poultry, and vegetables
Mesquite Strong, earthy, slightly sweet Beef, pork, and game meats
Oak Strong, smoky, with a hint of sweetness Beef, pork, and game meats
Pecan Mild, slightly sweet, with a nutty flavor Pork, poultry, and game birds

Understanding the four stages of wood burning is crucial for achieving optimal smoke flavor. The first stage is when the wood is first lit and produces white smoke. This smoke is not desirable as it can give the meat a bitter taste. The second stage is when the wood starts to burn and produces thick white smoke. This smoke is still not desirable as it can overpower the meat with a smoky flavor. The third stage is when the wood produces thin blue smoke. This is the ideal smoke for smoking meats as it imparts a subtle smoky flavor without overpowering the meat. The fourth stage is when the wood has burned down to ash and no longer produces smoke.

Clean blue smoke is desirable, while thick white smoke is not. To achieve clean blue smoke, make sure your wood is dry and well-seasoned. Wet or green wood will produce thick white smoke and can ruin the flavor of your meat.

It’s important to note that the type of wood you choose should complement the flavor of the meat, not overpower it. For example, if you’re smoking a mild-flavored meat like chicken or fish, you’ll want to use a mild wood like alder or apple. If you’re smoking a stronger-flavored meat like beef or game, you’ll want to use a stronger wood like hickory or mesquite. Experiment with different wood types and flavor pairings to find the perfect combination for your taste buds.

Temperature Control and Monitoring

A thermometer measures the temperature of a smoker, while a list of the top 8 best meats to smoke is displayed on a digital screen

When it comes to smoking meat, temperature control and monitoring are critical for achieving the perfect flavor and texture. You need to ensure that your meat is cooked at the right temperature for the right amount of time. Here are some tools that can help you achieve temperature control and monitoring:

Meat Thermometers

A meat thermometer is an essential tool for smoking meat. It allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the meat, ensuring that it is cooked to perfection. There are many types of meat thermometers available in the market, including digital, analog, and wireless thermometers. Some of the best meat thermometers include the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm Cooking Alarm Thermometer and Timer and the Thermoworks Smoke BBQ Alarm Thermometer.

Smoker Thermometers

Smoker thermometers are designed specifically for monitoring the temperature inside your smoker. They can be analog or digital and can be mounted on the smoker or inserted through a hole. Some of the best smoker thermometers include the ThermoWorks Smoke X4 and the NutriChef Smart Bluetooth BBQ Grill Thermometer.

Automatic Temperature Controllers

Automatic temperature controllers are devices that can be attached to your smoker to maintain a consistent temperature. They are particularly useful for long smoking sessions, where you need to maintain a constant temperature for several hours. Some of the best automatic temperature controllers include the FireBoard 2 Drive with Blower and the Flame Boss 500.

By using these tools, you can achieve the perfect temperature control and monitoring for your smoked meat, ensuring that it is cooked to perfection every time.


A table with top 8 meats: brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey, sausage, salmon, and lamb

When it comes to smoking meat, there are a lot of resources available to help you get started or improve your skills. Here are a few of the best resources we’ve found:


  • – This website is a treasure trove of information on all things barbecue, including smoking. They have detailed guides on smoking different types of meat, as well as reviews of smokers and other equipment.
  • BBQ Pit Boys – This website features a variety of recipes and tips for smoking meat, as well as videos that show you how to smoke different cuts of meat.
  • Smoking Meat Forums – This online community is a great place to ask questions and get advice from experienced smokers. They also have a lot of recipes and guides on smoking meat.


  • Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto by Aaron Franklin – This book is written by one of the most famous pitmasters in the world and covers everything from choosing the right wood to building your own smoker.
  • Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen – This book covers a wide variety of smoking techniques and includes recipes for smoking everything from brisket to cocktails.

YouTube Channels

  • HowToBBQRight – This channel features videos from Malcom Reed, a competition pitmaster who shares his tips and techniques for smoking meat.
  • T-ROY COOKS – This channel features videos from Troy Black, who shares his recipes and techniques for smoking meat, as well as other barbecue dishes.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced smoker, these resources can help you take your skills to the next level.


Congratulations! You are now familiar with the top 8 meats to smoke. By now, you should have a good idea of which meats to choose for your next smoking session.

Remember, smoking is an art that requires patience, practice, and attention to detail. The key to successful smoking is to choose the right meat, prepare it properly, and smoke it at the right temperature for the right amount of time.

To recap, the top 8 meats to smoke are:

Meat Description
Brisket A tough, flavorful cut of beef that requires low and slow cooking.
Pork Shoulder Also known as pork butt, this cut is full of flavor and perfect for smoking.
Ribs A classic BBQ favorite, ribs are perfect for smoking with a dry rub or sauce.
Chicken Smoking chicken adds a unique smoky flavor to the tender meat.
Turkey Smoking a whole turkey is a great way to feed a crowd.
Salmon Smoking salmon gives it a delicious, smoky flavor that pairs well with a variety of dishes.
Sausages Smoked sausages are a great addition to any BBQ spread.
Pulled Pork Tender and flavorful, pulled pork is a crowd-pleaser that is perfect for sandwiches or tacos.

By choosing the right meat and following the proper smoking techniques, you can create delicious, smoky dishes that will impress your guests. So fire up your smoker and get cooking!

Frequently Asked Questions

A table with 8 different types of meat laid out, surrounded by a variety of smoking equipment and tools. The meats are labeled with their names and arranged neatly for display

What cuts of meat are best for smoking?

The best cuts of meat for smoking are those with a lot of connective tissue and fat, such as brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs. These cuts break down and become tender during the long, slow cooking process, resulting in juicy, flavorful meat.

What is the hardest meat to smoke?

Beef brisket is often considered the hardest meat to smoke due to its size and the difficulty in keeping it moist while cooking. However, with the right technique and a lot of patience, anyone can smoke a delicious brisket.

What meat absorbs smoke the best?

Pork shoulder is known for absorbing smoke the best due to its high fat content. This cut of meat can be smoked for hours without becoming dry, resulting in a rich, smoky flavor.

What meat is easiest to smoke?

Chicken is one of the easiest meats to smoke due to its smaller size and shorter cooking time. It’s also forgiving if you make a mistake, making it a great option for beginners.

Why does meat turn pink when smoked?

Meat turns pink when smoked due to the presence of nitrites, which are used in many curing and smoking processes. Nitrites react with the meat’s myoglobin to produce a pink color, which is completely safe to eat.

Does bacteria grow on smoked meat?

Smoking meat can kill some bacteria, but it’s still important to handle and store smoked meat properly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Always cook smoked meat to the proper temperature and refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly.

People also ask

A variety of meats arranged on a smoking rack, surrounded by wood chips and a smoky haze

If you’re new to smoking meat, you may have some questions about the process. Here are some of the most common questions people ask about smoking meat:

Is a smoke ring bad for you?

No, a smoke ring is not bad for you. In fact, it’s a sign that your meat has been properly smoked. The smoke ring is a pink discoloration that appears on the surface of smoked meats, such as brisket, ribs, and pork shoulder. It’s caused by a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat, and it’s perfectly safe to eat.

Why does my smoked meat turn black?

If your smoked meat turns black, it’s likely that you’ve over-smoked it. Over-smoking can cause the meat to become bitter and dry, and it can also cause it to turn black. To avoid this, make sure you’re using the right amount of wood and that your smoker is at the correct temperature.

Why avoid smoked meat?

While smoked meat can be delicious, it’s important to remember that it can also be high in sodium and nitrates. These additives can be harmful to your health if consumed in large quantities. Additionally, smoked meat can also be high in fat, which can contribute to heart disease and other health problems.

What happens if you smoke meat too long?

If you smoke meat for too long, it can become dry and tough. This is because the heat from the smoker causes the moisture in the meat to evaporate, leaving it dry and chewy. To avoid this, make sure you’re monitoring the temperature of your smoker and removing the meat when it’s done.

Can meat go bad while smoking?

Yes, meat can go bad while smoking if it’s not stored properly. To prevent this, make sure you’re storing your meat in a cool, dry place and that you’re using a meat thermometer to ensure that it’s cooked to the correct temperature. Additionally, make sure you’re using fresh meat and that it hasn’t been sitting out at room temperature for too long.


You might also like these recipes

Leave a Comment