10 Best Meats to Smoke

How Is the Meat Chosen?

Even as a novice smoker, you can pretty much smoke anything. However, some meats have unique characteristics that make them the best meats to smoke.

Simply put, smoking favors meats that you will not really want to cook any other way. This includes mature beef and poultry, as well as notoriously tough cuts like brisket and ribs.

To be more specific, here are the best meats to smoke during your next cookout.

It's in the Cut and the Meat!

1. Pork Ribs

As a smoker, you can’t possibly ask for more once you have worked with a nice rack of pork ribs. They’re easy to find, cheap, and contain mouthwatering amounts of fat.

Their fat and collagen (connective tissues that make ribs tough to start with) content make them perfect for the low and slow cooking that smoking requires.

If done properly, smoked pork ribs become irresistibly tender pieces of meat that ooze a complex combination of flavors--the perfect reward after a long and painstaking cooking time!

grilled pork ribs

​Tips:

  • Buy a pinkish rack of ribs that has never been frozen. Get this a day (at most) before you smoke it.
  • Make a mop sauce using your dry rub and some apple cider vinegar and use it to moisten your meat while smoking. Do not use barbecue sauce.
  • Remove the paper-like membrane on the back of the ribs the night before you smoke them. This lets the flavors from the smoke and the spices penetrate your ribs better the next day.
  • Do not target what others call a falling of the bone kind of tenderness. Instead, just ensure that you can easily bite off a piece.

2. Beef Brisket

Smoking transforms the naturally bland-tasting beef brisket into a juicy and tender slab of meat that is packed with everything rich and savory.

You will also find smoked beef brisket an easy recipe to do even as a beginner. All you need are the ability to follow basic preparation and smoking instructions and the patience to smoke low and slow.

Tips:

  • For easy smoking and a nice flavor, choose flat-cut brisket (the lean, even end) and stay away from the deckle (the uneven fats and muscles between the rib cage and the flat).
  • Go for organic beef whenever you can. The grass-based diet of farm-raised cattle gives their beef a richer and more subtle taste that smoking successfully brings out.
  • Ensure nice heat flow during smoking by placing your briskets at least a couple of inches from one another.
  • The perfect smoked beef brisket does not just happen on its own. Cook it between 215 to 225 degrees for at least an hour and a half per pound for a winning flavor.
  • When it comes to seasoning brisket, less does mean more. A basic salt-and-pepper combination should be enough to preserve moisture well and improve flavor.

3. Lamb Shoulder

You may not think of lamb as a top choice of meat for smoking. However, we believe you need to give it a second chance.

The fat in lamb breaks down nicely in a smoker, turning it into a unique piece of backyard barbecue masterpiece.

lamb shoulder

Tips:

  • Use dry rubs, rosemary or marjoram marinades, and beer basting to enhance the taste of smoked lamb.
  • Use fruit woods as a subtle complement to the lamb’s flavor.
  • Wrap your meat in foil mid-cook once the lamb has formed a crusty bark on the surface. Use two sheets of foil to lock in as much juice as you can.
  • Slice off some of the hard fat on top of the lamb shoulder because it will make smoking harder.
  • Soak around four cups of wood chips in water at least an hour before you begin smoking.

4. Turkey

If you think roast turkey tastes great, wait until you have a bite of smoked turkey. If prepared and smoked well, your turkey should be moist and flavorful, with the texture being somewhere between extremely tender and soft.

Make sure to brine turkey more thoroughly and smoke it more slowly than you would other kinds of meat. It has relatively less fat, which can cause it to turn out dry if not cooked and brined well.

grilled turkey

Tips:

  • Choose wild turkey over domestic ones for a more intense flavor. If you prefer the milder taste of a grass-and-grain diet, go for farm-raised turkeys.
  • The perfect areas to test for internal temperature are the breast and the thighs. If you can only measure one, measure the temperature at the breast.
  • If you’re on a charcoal smoker, use layers of lit charcoal to kick up the heat. Avoid using match light coal variants, lighter fluids, and similar materials unless you want a gas-flavored dish.
  • A small turkey has to be brined for at least 12 hours. A big one, on the other hand, can be brined up to two days.
  • If you have time, put the turkey in the fridge overnight to allow the salt to further penetrate the meat.

5. Chicken

Hens are one of the cheapest meats for smoking. They are also incredibly easy to find, being available in nearly every store.

They are also easy to prepare. Just remove the neck and gizzards, then season and smoke away!

Their smaller size also calls for a short cooking time, making them a good meat for novice smokers or for breaking in a new smoker.

If you have a little bit more time and are in the mood for dark meat, you can cook chicken quarters instead. Hot off your smoker, chicken quarters pack a lot of flavors you never imagined it had.

grilled chicken

Tips:

  • Try to find chicken that has been processed as little as possible for full flavors.
  • It is not necessary to mop chickens while smoking because they do not really dry out.
  • Unless you can tell meat’s internal temperature by looking at it, use a remote thermometer to monitor the temperature in the breast. Pull the chicken out when the temperature reading reaches 165F.
  • If you prefer crispy chicken skin, put your meat on high heat for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Watch how much of what kind of wood you’re using. Poultry absorbs smoke easily.

6. Salmon

You might find the texture and taste of smoked salmon a little strange at first because of their similarity to those of raw salmon. However, this is actually the best seafood to smoke.

It is fatty, flavorful, relatively inexpensive and readily available. It is also a versatile meat, producing a wide variety of flavors depending on the smoking technique you use.

salmon

Tips:

  • Use kosher salt instead of regular table salt for seasoning. Kosher salt makes your meat taste better while table salt just makes your salmon taste like you put table salt on it.
  • If you prefer to have smoked salmon with a hint of sweetness, add genuine birch syrup and maple syrup. They complement salmon’s flavors well.
  • Smoke chum (Keta) salmon if you want to do it like the chefs and fishermen do.
  • Choose your wood carefully. Some variants produce resins that can affect the taste of the meat.
  • If you are using a smoker, cook your salmon for three hours at 120F. You can crank it up to 220F if you only have two hours at most to smoke.

7. Sausages

You can follow your own sausage recipe or smoke pre-made ones from your butcher. Smoking gives sausages a complex layer of rich flavors.

Choose low-sodium and low-fat variants when you can if you are conscious about your intake.

grilled sausages

Tips:

  • Always dry your sausages before smoking them. You can air dry or use a sausage smoker.
  • Cool smoked sausages properly to serve juicy, good-looking links.
  • The diameter of the sausage determines the length of hot smoking time. For instance, those in 36mm hog casings will need to be smoked for anywhere between one or two hours.
  • If you have to gauge your smoked sausages’ doneness by the color, remember this simple guide: light yellow is light, light brown is moderate, and dark brown is heavy.
  • Meat preparation and smoking style can vary depending on the kind of sausage you are cooking. Look for a variety you can work with and find out how you can best enhance its flavor.

8. Goat

Prepare smoked goat for supper if you want to serve your family something that is as tasty as it is healthy. The fat, calories, and cholesterol in goat are at significantly lower amounts than those of many other types of red meat.

Smoking brings out goat meat’s hidden sweetness and complements its stringy texture nicely. Brine and cook goat the same way you would handle lamb and deer meat.

goat meat

Tips:

  • Choose young goat meat as much as possible for a deliciously tender smoked goat dish. The ideal age range is six to twelve months old.
  • Never rush the smoking process if you are working with goat meat. It can end up tough, dry, and bland-tasting.
  • Use salt sparingly. Goat meat is lean, and putting lots of salt can suck the juice out of the meat.
  • You can add fat--lard and bacon fat will be fine--for added flavor.
  • For best results, cook using hickory wood and refrigerate your smoked goat overnight before serving.

9. Boston Butt

This is what Americans call a cut of pork that comes from a hog’s shoulder (the front of the leg). If you can’t find “Boston Butt” in your local grocery, try using the term “pork shoulders” instead.

Smoked Boston Butt makes for a generously succulent dinner on a humble budget. Pork shoulders are amazingly abundant in fat, making them wonderful for smoking.

boston butt

Tips:

  • Try combining different wood chips to enhance your dish’s flavor. You can use hickory and cherry wood for that classic, mild, and sweet taste.
  • Save the juice that drips out of the foil when unwrapping your smoked pork butt. You can mix it back in when you pull your meat apart.
  • Take the butt off your smoker once it reaches an internal temperature of 195F and let it sit for about 30 minutes.
  • Observe the smoke. If it is white and thick, it means you need to improve circulation in the pit.
  • Skip the trimming unless you want your smoked butt to look particularly good, which is the only benefit of trimming.

10. Deer

The greatest thing about deer is that you can smoke any part of it. However, unlike most other recommended meats for smoking, deer meat is lean.

There is a simple solution to this, though--meat preparation and brining. Even the simplest brine recipe can significantly add to the deer’s flavor and lock a lot of moisture in.

grilled deer

Tips:

  • For the best flavors, choose the shoulders and tenderloins. Use apple, oak, and cherry smoke wood to kick it up a notch even further!
  • Stay away from softwood because they can sour the taste of venison.
  • Have enough water in the pan. Take every precaution to avoid drying out your deer.
  • Brine deer for at least 12 hours and 24 hours at most. If you prefer a rub, you can let it sit overnight.
  • Smoke hindquarters more easily by breaking them down into workable pieces first. Put them in a freezer for around 30 minutes before slicing away at the silver skin.

A Final Word Before You Start up Your Smoker

Smoking has become a time-honored cooking method for two good reasons: It brings out meat’s tenderness and treats you to an exciting array and blend of flavors.

To serve an excellently smoked dish, though, you have to choose the best meats to smoke and cook them the right way.

​You can easily find helpful guides on cooking and yummy smoked recipes online. With patience and with the right kind and cut of meat, you should become an authority on smoking soon.