Selecting the right cut of meat for smoking can make the difference between flavorful and bland meat. While a combination of skills and tools matter, you need the right meat to get the desired aroma, flavor, and crunchy exterior.
Generally, the best meats for smoking should have a high level of collagen and fats. Such meats include beef ribs, beef briskets, pork shoulders, and beef cheeks. When smoking these meats, the fats and collagen break down, making for moist, tender meat. Additionally, these meats absorb flavors to ensure the final dish tastes great.
Below we look into the best meats to smoke in your next cookout and why they’re ideal. Let’s get started.
What Meats Are the Best in a Smoker?
The best meats for smoking are:
- Beef brisket
- Pork shoulder
- Pork butt (Boston butt)
- Beef ribs
- Lamb shoulder
- Beef cheek
- Whole chicken
- Whole turkey
- Pork belly
Beef brisket, best known as the king of Texas BBQ, is a popular choice for smoking. It’s cut from the cow’s lower chest and contains a healthy layer of fat to keep it moist as it cooks. When looking for an excellent beef brisket cut, choose one that’s tender and bends when lifted.
To achieve a delicious final dish, smoke your meat slowly for 10-20 hours and ensure the smoker temperature remains at 225°F. These conditions allow the internal parts to break down and absorb the desired flavors.
When ready, beef brisket retains its shape and is easy to slice. It’s therefore ideal for cutting thin slices for sandwiches or heavy-stake slabs.
Pork shoulder is among the best meats for smoking. As the name implies, this meat comes from the lower part of the pig’s shoulder, just above the pig’s front legs. Pork shoulder is a perfect choice for most people due to the higher content of fats and flesh.
When smoked slowly, the flesh and fats melt to give juicy pork that’s easy to cut. You’ll also want to flavor pork shoulder to achieve a tasty final dish. For the best results, smoke your pork shoulder at around 225°F to make it ultra-tender.
You can enjoy this meat by making pulled pork sandwiches or other recipes such as pulled pork tacos and casseroles.
Pork Butt (Boston Butt)
Most people confuse pork shoulder for pork butt. Unlike pork shoulder, pork butt comes from the pig’s upper shoulder.
This meat contains tight connective tissues, fats, and muscles. Smoking pork butt slowly allows heat into the muscles and tissues, making it tender. The high-fat content makes the meat moist and juicy.
Pork butts are available in huge chunks, so you can smoke larger pieces for serving at a party. What’s more, it’s ideal for beginners and pros.
When selecting the best beef ribs, pick the ones cut from the lower end. This should be plate or chuck ribs containing bigger chunks of meat. The meat is relatively lean, with most of the meat sitting between the ribs.
When smoking beef ribs, aim for long, slow cooking that takes around 5-6 hours. You’ll also want to keep your smoker at 225°F. These conditions allow the beef to attain an extra-tenderness and absorb flavors.
Lamb shoulder can be an excellent choice if you’re looking for different options. It comes from the shoulder area and contains hard-working muscles and fats.
The good thing about this meat is that it’s rich in flavors. You can smoke it the same way you do a pork butt. You can complement its flavors with smoky overtones to create an exceptional taste.
It’s advisable to slowly smoke lamb shoulder due to the thick muscles and fats. Slow smoking allows the meat to break down and remain tender and moist. Keep the smoker at around 250°F and let the meat cook for five hours.
Beef cheek is among the best meats for smoking. The meat comes from the cow’s cheeks and is prized for its muscle richness. It’s a well-built and lean meat, thanks to the time a cow spends using the muscles on the grazing field. It can be tough, requiring slow cooking.
Beef cheeks can be ideal for beginners because they don’t require much work. Allow your meat to smoke for five hours and keep your smoker at around 275°F.
When done right, your beef cheeks can become tender and well-flavored. You can use smoked beef cheek to make pulled beef tacos and sandwiches.
A whole chicken is suitable if you’re hurrying to smoke meat and serve it. For the best results, go for a spatchcocked whole chicken. It’s an excellent option for beginners because it requires less preparation and less smoking time.
To get the best taste, ensure to season and flavor your chicken. You’ll also want to keep your smoker over 300°F to soften the skin. With that temperature, your chicken will become ultra-tender and soak up the smoke aroma. The cooking time for a whole chicken ranges from 1-1.5 hours.
A whole turkey is another option for individuals looking for lean meat that cooks fast and absorbs flavors. Like whole chicken, ensure to smoke a spatchcocked whole turkey.
The neutral taste of a whole turkey can be bland, especially when oven-roasted. If you’re looking for better tastes and flavors, apply turkey rub evenly and keep the smoker at 250-275°F. When spatchcocked, your whole turkey should be ready within 3-4 hours.
Pork belly is another popular choice for individuals looking for flavored, smoked meat. This meat comes from the pig’s lower abdominal section and contains plenty of fats and connective tissues. Smoking this meat results in a tender, moist and flavorful final dish.
For the best results, slice your pork belly into smaller cubes and dry rub them for smoking. This process involves curing the pork with salt and other ingredients and smoking it at 225°F.
The pork should take around four hours to be ready. A smoked pork belly is perfect for sandwiches or mac and cheese.
Tri-tip recently gained popularity as one of the best meats for smoking. This triangular meat comes from an animal’s sirloin (the back part) and is delicious when smoked over red oak.
When trimmed, this meat weighs between 2-3 pounds. Most people prefer tri-tip because it’s lean, boneless, and takes less time to smoke.
BBQ enthusiasts prepare smoked tri-tips for serving at parties and at home. When smoking tri-tip, keep your smoker between 175-225°F and allow the meat to cook for two hours. Smoking for this duration makes the meat tender and easy to cut. Serve it with salad, beans, and salsa.
What are the easiest meats to smoke?
The easiest meats to smoke are whole chicken, turkey, and tri-tip. These meats require less preparation and can be ready in a few hours.
You can never go wrong with these meats if you’re a beginner looking to smoke meat for your family or friends. Ensure to smoke your whole chicken or turkey when spatchcocked.
What is the hardest cut of meat to smoke?
Beef brisket is the hardest meat to smoke. It’s a tough cut and sometimes called “the holy grail of smoking.” It contains more fats and tough connective tissues that can be hard to chew.
Beef brisket requires up to 20 hours of smoking. It isn’t beginner-friendly because preparation, smoking, and serving can be tricky.
What meats don’t take long to smoke?
Whole chicken, pork belly, and tri-tip are some meats that don’t take long to smoke. They’re also the best meats for smoking in a hurry. Chicken parts such as thighs, breasts, and wings take less than 2 hours to smoke.
You can also go for other meats such as sausages and salmon. Below are the hours each meat takes to smoke: