Today we are considering the best meats to smoke from a number of different angles – the best meats to smoke on a budget, meats to smoke for beginners, best meats to smoke for a large crowd, good meats to smoke for special occasions and a whole lot more.
After all, the best way to approaching meat smoking depends on your context. Right?
- Best Meats to Smoke Go-To Guide
- The Best Cheap Cuts of Meat to Smoke
- Best Meats to Smoke for Beginners
- Best Smoked Meats for a Large Crowd
- Best Smoked Meats for Special Occasions
- Unique Meats to Smoke
- Best Meats to Smoke in 4 Hours
- Meats You Can Smoke in 6 Hours
- What Are the Healthiest Meats to Smoke?
- Top 11 Best Meats to Smoke Recipes – Good Meats to Smoke Anytime
- 1 Smoked Beef Brisket
- 2 Baby Back Ribs Smoked Using the 3-2-1 method
- 3 Venison Loin – A Lean and Healthy Smoked Meat
- 4 Smoked Bratwurst Sausage Recipe
- 5 Beer Can Chicken (Drunk Chicken)
- 6 Smoked Tri Tip Treated Like a Brisket (AKA Trisket)
- 7 Smoked Turkey Recipe
- 8 Smoked Tomahawk Steak
- 9 Smoked Lamb Leg
- 10 Smoked Pork Butt for Pulled Pork
- 11 Smoked Pork Belly Recipe
- FAQ’s About The Best Meats To Smoke
- What Meats are Good to Smoke?
- Best Meats to Smoke for Beginners
- FAQ’s About Best Meat Cuts For Smoking
- Best Meat Cuts for Smoking
- Does Smoking Meat Cook it?
- Traeger Guide to Best Smoking Meats
- Pit Boss Best Meats to Smoke
- What are some Easy and Quick Meats to Smoke?
- Best BBQ Near Me
Best Meats to Smoke Go-To Guide
The Best Cheap Cuts of Meat to Smoke
If you are smoking meat with a budget in mind (let’s face it that’s most of us!) we have some great tips for you.
These cuts of meat are often forgotten about because they are tough and sinewy and take longer to cook. Yet that’s exactly what makes them perfect for cooking low and slow in your smoker!
Since a lot of people don’t like to have to deal with bones and cartilage, it’s considerably cheaper to buy bone-in chicken cuts such as these ones below.
- Chicken Leg Quarters
- Chicken thighs – bone-in is cheaper than boneless
- Chicken wings
- Chicken drumsticks
Brisket has become more expensive due to increasing demand and individual steaks (e.g. ribeye or sirloin) have always been expensive. Try these cheaper meat cuts for smoking.
- Chuck Steak
- Beef Cheeks
- Oxtail (as in the tail of the cow)
- Round steak or silverside/topside (from the hindquarters of the cow)
- Beef Shin
- Chuck roast (works well for pulled beef)
- Feather blade or top blade steak (which comes from the cow’s shoulder)
TOP TIP – For a cheaper alternative to brisket try the tri trip cut which can be treated like a brisket, but takes much less time and can be served medium rare. It’s called trisket or tri tip brisket, and smoking trisket is becoming very popular.
Pork has always been less expensive than beef, but these cuts are cheaper again.
- Pork Loin Roast – bone-in is cheaper than boneless
- Pork Chops
- Pork Neck
- Pork Cheeks
- Pork Shoulder (perfect for pulled pork)
- Spare ribs (less expensive than leaner babyback ribs)
- Pork Loin Roast – bone-in is cheaper than boneless
Best Meats to Smoke for Beginners
If you are new to smoking you might be tempted to go for brisket because it’s probably the best known cut for smoking along with pork butt.
This may not be the best idea for you because it can be hard to get right, with quite a high margin for error.
That being said, if you do want to go straight for the big one, you’d be hard pressed to find a better video tutorial than this one by Pitmaster Malcolm Reed.
You may wish to consider the following meats to smoke for beginners. They are either easy and quick to smoke or forgiving and difficult to get wrong e.g. pork butt for pulled pork.
- Pork Butt (Pork Shoulder)
- Chicken Wings (easy & quick to smoke)
- Lamb chops
- Pork chops
- Chicken breast
- Chicken thighs
- Salmon fillets
- Rainbow trout
- Shellfish (super quick to smoke)
- Steaks (ribeye/fillet etc) using the reverse sear method
- Sausage (plenty of varieties to choose from!)
Best Smoked Meats for a Large Crowd
If you are cooking for a large crowd it’s a good idea to have at least 3 different types of meat, for example brisket, pork butt, and whole chicken or turkey.
This gives you plenty of variety between your big 3 main smoked meat dishes. Although there are plenty of options we would suggest building everything else around these 3 BBQ staples.
Depending on the size of the crowd, you might need to smoke 2+ briskets and pork butts or a number of chickens so you’ll need a smoker that has enough space for this.
In terms of appetisers the best smoked meats for this context are probably going to be chicken wings or pork ribs. In many ways these are the best smoker recipes to serve as starters.
To give you more options and make things easier you should definitely consider burgers, sausages
You might find our ‘How Much BBQ Per Person,’ article useful here.
Best Smoked Meats for Special Occasions
Whether it be Sunday Roast, Sporting Events, Christmas or Thanksgiving it’s hard to argue that Prime Rib or turkey aren’t the best smoking choices .
Again you can build around and add other meats and sides in there, but both of these smoked meats work really well as a centrepiece.
If you want to go with smoking turkey you might find this article helpful.
Sometimes you just want something a little bit different and special to smoke.
Best Meats to Smoke in 4 Hours
Sometimes we are all short on time, in which case these meats could be good options for you because they can be smoked in 4 hours or under.
You can also shave some time off the smoke by increasing the heat slightly to 275F or 135C.
- Any type of sausage (Bratwurst, Andouille, Italian Style etc) – done in around 1 hour at 225F or 107C. Smoke different varieties at once!
- Whole chicken – done in 3-4 hours (depending on the size of the bird) at 225F or 107C
- Pork Loin – at 275F you can smoke pork loin in around 2 hours. If you are willing to wait another hour you can pull the pork rather than slice it
- Individual cuts of steak can be smoked for around 1 hour at 225F or 107C and then reverse seared at the end at high heat. This includes Tomahawk steak, Ribeye, Sirloin, Fillet, chuck steak, flank steak etc.
- Pretty much any kind of fish or shellfish (minus shark or very large fish!) can be done in less than 4 hours – from whole salmon to swordfish steaks (3-4 hours) to trout or salmon fillets (around 35 minutes)
- Country Style Pork Ribs can be smoked in around 2 hours. Unlike babyback or spare ribs which take much longer, country style ribs come from around the shoulder blade, are usually boneless and quickly smoked
Meats You Can Smoke in 6 Hours
If you have 6 hours available smoking time then you will be able to smoke most meats, with the exception of pork shoulder (pork butt) and brisket which can take 10+ hours.
Good examples for larger cuts of meat would be turkey, chuck roast (for pulled beef), whole chickens, whole fish, a whole ham (although a particularly large ham will take longer).
Babyback ribs and spare ribs can also be smoked within 6 hours, as can the usual smaller cuts of meat you would expect such as chicken wings, thighs, breats, steaks, venison roast, and sausages.
What Are the Healthiest Meats to Smoke?
If you are watching your weight, the healthiest meats to smoke for you are obviously going to be the ones that are lowest in fat and calories.
Chicken and turkey are much less fatty than red meat and if you don’t eat the skin of these birds you’ll cut down on more calories again.
It’s also worth considering oily fish such as mackerel, trout and salmon because not only are they lower in calories than red meat and poultry, they also bring the added health benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial for a number of reasons such as they may help protect against heart disease, with joint care and improve brain function.
If you want to go for pork, think about smoking a pork tenderloin. It has considerably less fat than other pork cuts and it’s lower in calories.
Leaner cuts of beef such as flank steak or fillet (filet mignon) are also worth considering.
Top 11 Best Meats to Smoke Recipes – Good Meats to Smoke Anytime
Here are some great meat smoking recipes that you might like to try out sometime soon.
1 Smoked Beef Brisket
Let’s start off with the big one. Smoking a brisket is one of those things a barbecuer has just got to do. It’s like a rite of passage, and it’s one of the most popular meats for smoking.
Once you have figured out how many guests you have, and what side dishes you will serve with your brisket, you will be ready to choose the weight of your brisket.
Be warned though – smoking brisket takes a long time in the BBQ smoker (it can take 10+ hours – some even say 18) and you will also have to factor in preparation and resting time.
It’s definitely worth it in the end but definitely best done at the weekend or holidays when you have more time.
The article teaches you how to save time and avoid the dreaded ‘stall,’ where the temperature in the brisket ‘stalls,’ sometimes for hours.
The classic Texas Crutch method of wrapping your brisket in tinfoil or butcher’s paper for part of the cook is explained in detail here.
Baby Back Ribs are one of the tastiest meats for smoking.
They come from high on the pig’s back where they meet the backbone. They are more tender and shorter than the Spare Ribs which are cut from along the pig’s breastbone.
You can of course use this same method with Spare Ribs (which are cheaper and less popular than Baby Back) or with beef ribs.
The 3-2-1 method involves:
- 3 hours in the smoker cooking directly on the grills at 110°C or 225°F
- Cooking for 2 hours wrapped in tinfoil or butcher’s paper with a splash of cider or apple juice
- Cooking at a higher heat for an hour unwrapped being basted with BBQ sauce
3 Venison Loin – A Lean and Healthy Smoked Meat
Venison loin (also called backstrap) is one of leanest meats for smoking. The meat is very low in fat because the animal is so active in its lifetime.
Enjoy it thinly sliced and served with a buttery mash and vegetables.
It will take around 2 hours in the smoker at 110°C or 225°F, and should be enjoyed medium rare.
This fantastic recipe for Smoked Venison has a delicious citrus marinade.
4 Smoked Bratwurst Sausage Recipe
Smoked sausage might at first sound a little obvious.
Not when you realise, we are thinking German sausage served Berlin-style in a crusty roll with mustard and ketchup.
You can also serve it with ketchup mixed with curry powder, called a Currywurst.
Also this recipe involves making your own sausage from scratch at home using natural hog casings.
It isn’t your average smoked sausage recipe.
Of course, you don’t have to make it from scratch you can buy your own sausages. But hey, it just isn’t as much fun.
Serve it in a crusty roll with mustard and ketchup and smoky onions. Delicious.
Sauerkraut and fries are optional.
5 Beer Can Chicken (Drunk Chicken)
While this might sound like a bit of a gimmick, you owe it to yourself to try this meats to smoke recipe at least once in your life.
Essentially you drink half a tin of beer and then place a whole chicken (covered with a dry rub) on top of the can, and place it in the smoker.
The steam from the beer keeps the chicken moist and imparts flavour.
Also it’s just a whole heap of fun.
It will take a whole chicken around 3 hours to smoke at 121°C or 250°F.
6 Smoked Tri Tip Treated Like a Brisket (AKA Trisket)
Tri Tip Steak has become an increasingly popular cut in recent times, and it is definitely one of the more fun and satisfying meats to smoke.
The cut actually comes from the rear of the cow at the lower part of the sirloin, and it is triangle-shaped.
It’s cheaper and leaner than brisket, and doesn’t take as long to smoke.
In fact it only takes around 2 hours to smoke and you can serve it medium rare, unlike brisket.
7 Smoked Turkey Recipe
Turkey isn’t just a meat for Christmas (or Thanksgiving in the US) it’s a fantastic lean meat to cook all year round.
It is also up there with the best meats to smoke, taking on that robust smoky flavour really well. You can smoke the turkey legs or crown if you want to get there faster.
This big bird will take between 6-7 to cook in the smoker, and you can stuff it with delicious flavours and cover it in a BBQ rub to enhance the flavours.
Try this recipe for Smoked Turkey, and you won’t be disappointed
8 Smoked Tomahawk Steak
The mighty Tomahawk steak (named after the Tomahawk axe because of its shape) is 100% one of our favourite meats to smoke.
It is essentially a number of Ribeye Steaks in one and unlike most steak cuts, it’s still is attached to the bone. It just looks super impressive and tastes even better.
9 Smoked Lamb Leg
Smoked lamb leg is a perfect dish for a winter’s night, as it will warm you up from the inside out! It’s also a little bit different from the more commonly smoked meats, providing a nice change.
- You’ll need to slash your meat diagonally before smoking it to let the flavours in, cover it a little honey or mustard and a dry rub and then smoke it for an hour at 110°C or 225°F. This will get you a great crust.
- Now you can add BBQ sauce (bought or our homemade recipe) and smoke it for another 3 hours.
10 Smoked Pork Butt for Pulled Pork
For our pulled pork we are going to use pork shoulder and smoke it for 12 hours altogether – 6 hours unwrapped and 6 hours wrapped in tinfoil/butcher’s paper.
It’s a long smoke but worth it in the end.
Here are the ingredients for the sweet dry rub:
3 Tablespoons of Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons of Sweet Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder (or more if you like heat)
1 Teaspoon of Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon of Granulated Garlic (not the same as garlic powder)
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 Teaspoons of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon of Fine Sea Salt
Rub this all over your pork shoulder and then place it over indirect heat straight onto the grills of your smoker at 110°C or 225°F.
As mentioned in the brisket section we are going to hit a temperature stall a few hours in, and we need to wrap our pork at this point.
The stall usually occurs around 145°F-165°F or 63°C-74°C which is obviously well below the internal temperature we need to bring our pork to.
At this point tightly wrap the pork in paper/tinfoil and throw in a splash of cider or apple juice.
Return your pork to the smoker and cook to an internal temperature of 88-91°C or 190-195°F.
Pulled pork is traditionally served in a bap or bun with coleslaw.
Further information is available on the internal temperature for pork guide.
Pork belly is a really good meat to smoke although it’s often underrated.
As a result of the high fat content it takes some good low and slow cooking to break it down, but that also means that the meat stays nice and moist.
If you really want to go all out try making pork belly burnt ends by cutting your pork belly into cubes and adding BBQ sauce and brown sugar after you have smoked the pork belly.
FAQ’s About The Best Meats To Smoke
What Meats are Good to Smoke?
Large and inexpensive cuts of meat such as brisket, pork shoulder or even whole chicken or turkey are good to smoke. Individual and expensive meat or steak cuts are better grilled than smoked.
If you are new to smoking the best meats to smoke will be the smaller cuts that take the least time – chicken wings, pork chops, lamb chops, chicken drumsticks, chicken thighs, turkey legs, or small pieces of lamb, beef, pork on the skewers for kabobs/kebabs.
Individual steaks such as ribeye or sirloin, as well as sausages (such as Bratwurst) have a short smoke time for beginners as well.
It’s also worth considering white fish such as sea bass or cod, as well as Rainbow Trout and shellfish such as oysters or crab because they won’t take very long to smoke either.
Despite the longer smoke time, pork butt is one of the best meats to smoke for beginners because it is very forgiving and difficult to get wrong.
Leave the more difficult beef brisket until you have done your research and got used to your BBQ Smoker.
Best Meat Cuts for Smoking
Many people think the best meat cuts for smoking are large, cheap cuts which can be cooked for long periods of time to break down the tough fatty connective tissue – for example brisket, pork butt or ribs.
However, the best meat cuts for smoking for you may be the ones that cook more quickly and still take on a good amount of smoke flavour, such as chicken wings/thighs/breasts, kebab meat, lamb chops, pork chops or sausages such as Bratwursts.
Does Smoking Meat Cook it?
Smoking meat means cooking it over an indirect heat away from open flames. The heat and smoke cook the meat slowly over time resulting in the meat being tenderised, breaking the connective tissues down for a melt in the mouth tasty result.
This great article from Traeger themselves is well worth reading for more information on the topic.
If you’re more of a Pit Boss kind of person you’ll love this article on best meats to smoke on the Pit Boss pellet grills.
Easy and quick smoker recipes would include smaller pieces of meat such as chicken drumsticks, thighs or wings, pork chops, lamb chops, individual ribeye steaks. Shish kebabs done on skewers with lamb, chicken or pork pieces are also a good quick and easy option.
Meats such as pork shoulder (pork butt) for pulled pork and beef brisket take a long time to smoke and tenderise – brisket can take 18-20 hours, and it isn’t easy to get right.
That’s it for this Meat Smoking guide. Now it’s over to you – is there anything you think we should have covered in this guide? Got a question about meat smoking or a great smoking tip or 2?
Leave us a comment below.
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Happy BBQ, Smoking and Grilling folks!