12+ Best Things to Smoke for Beginners

Smoking meats with plenty of fat and collagen is beginner-friendly, offering unique flavors and moist results. Key meats for beginners include whole chicken, lamb shoulder, tri tip, pork butt, salmon, chicken breast, hamburgers, spare ribs, turkey legs, pork belly, chicken thighs, and sausage.

best things to smoke for beginners

Meat enthusiasts know the value of varying their preparation methods. Smoking foods give them unique flavors while keeping the protein tender and moist. The process can seem overwhelming; however, smoking is beginner-friendly if you know where to start.

Meats with plenty of fat and collagen are the best things to smoke for beginners. The foods on this list require little preparation and oversight, making them ideal for those smokers just cutting their teeth.

Learning to smoke these meats helps refine your skills while preparing delicious dishes to share with friends and family. 

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1. A Whole Chicken

whole raw chicken with rose pepper and thyme

Smoking a whole chicken is smoking with training wheels. Not only does the process result in lots of delicious food, but it’s also simple and a great way to dip your toe into the world of meat smoking.

Full chickens smoke quicker than most meats. A wet brine and a dry rub ensure the poultry stays moist and flavorful. The legs remain juicier than the breasts, no matter how careful you are. 

It takes three hours to smoke a chicken. After an hour and a half, cut off the wings as they finish smoking faster than the rest of the bird. Keep your smoker at 225 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit for breasts and 165 degrees for leg and thigh meat.

2. Lamb Shoulder

Whole fresh Raw lamb shoulder meat on a plate. Dark wooden background. Top view.

Smokers looking for a slightly classier option with no extra difficulty will be thrilled to hear lamb shoulder smokes up quickly and easily. 

Lamb shoulder has considerable fat, ensuring the meat doesn’t dry out during the slow cooking process. Preparation calls for a dry rub since the meat has plenty of juice and doesn’t need brine. 

Lamb shoulder must smoke at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for at least five hours. Take temperature readings from three locations. If the internal temperature of all three readings is 195 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat is finished. If the lamb hasn’t reached 195 degrees, take new temperature readings every half hour.

3. Tri Tip

how to warm up tri tip

Tri-tip gained a reputation for greatness on the west coast, then swiftly spread across the country. The flavorful sirloin cuts are less expensive than other beef and incredibly easy for beginner smokers to prepare.

Tri-tip comes trimmed; however, you’ll want to ensure every piece of fat and sinew is removed. You don’t need to brine the beef; a dry rub suffices. 

Once you’ve prepared your beef, place it on a 225-degree Fahrenheit smoker. The cooking time varies. Smoking tri-tip requires 30 minutes per pound of beef. Once the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the tri-tip from the heat. Allow the meat to rest, wrapped in foil, for 15 minutes before serving.

4. Pork Butt

Boston butt - a large raw piece of meat on a black slate with spices and a hammer for beating meat, top view.

Pork butt’s low price tag, high-fat content, and sharable quantity make it an excellent meat for beginner smokers. The fat provides plenty of moisture and juice for the long, slow-smoking process.

The preparation process is simple. Trim any excess fat from the pork butt, then apply a dry rub. Cook over 225 degrees Fahrenheit heat for between eight and ten hours. Your butt is finished once the internal temperature reaches 195 to 203 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Smokers may use a meat injector to infuse extra flavor into the meat. Allow the butt to rest for at least half an hour before serving.

5. Salmon

alaska salmon species

Salmon is easy enough to smoke, though it requires a bit more oversight than other meats. A white goo called albumin begins to seep out of salmon when it’s overheated.

You need to brine your fish prior to smoking it to add flavor and ensure it doesn’t dry out. Keep the skin on your filets to preserve the salmon’s meat. You can remove it after it’s smoked if you’d like. 

Salmon needs to smoke for three hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. The fish is done once it reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit internally.

6. Chicken Breast

differences between chicken breast and chicken tenderloin

Smoking chicken breast provides a flavorful twist on everyone’s favorite white meat. The poultry requires a little preparation, but the process is simple and straightforward.

Soak the breasts in brine for three to four hours before smoking to ensure it remains moist throughout the smoking process. 

It takes about an hour to smoke chicken breasts over 225 degrees Fahrenheit heat. The meat is finished when its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Hamburgers

Hamburger Patty

Hamburgers are the perfect food to learn to smoke with. Not only do the sandwiches cook up quickly and easily, but they also complete every picnic. You’ll have plenty of volunteers willing to sample your attempts while you perfect the process.

Prepare your burger patties as you would for normal grilling, leaving out the seasoning. The burgers shrink a bit during the smoking process, so patties should be about half an inch thick. Apply the seasoning to the outside of the burgers and place the patties on a 225-degree Fahrenheit smoker.

The burgers need between 45 and 60 minutes to finish, depending on how you want them prepared. The internal temperatures should be 140 degrees Fahrenheit for well-done burgers, 135 for medium-rare, and 130 for rare.

8. Spare Ribs

spare-ribs_1908036

Spare ribs are the golden standard of smoked meats. They fall in the middle of the difficulty scale, so some skill is required. However, practice makes perfect, and with a little time and care, you can master the art of smoking spare ribs.

Kansas City and St. Louis style cuts have the cartilage carefully trimmed, easing the smoking process. Experienced spare rib smokers follow the 3-2-1 method. This translates to 3 hours spent smoking the ribs on a grill, followed by wrapping the ribs in foil and cooking on the grill for two more hours, and finishing with cooking for one hour unwrapped and covered in barbecue sauce.

Spare ribs should smoke for six total hours over 225 degrees Fahrenheit heat.

9. Turkey Legs

Smoked turkey legs are favorites at Renaissance Fairs and Disney World. You can recreate the culinary experience at home for a fraction of the price.

Soak the leg in brine overnight to maximize moisture and flavor. Remove the leg from the brine and pat dry. Apply a dry rub and place the turkey on a 250-degree Fahrenheit smoker. Wrapping the legs in foil expedites the cooking process and helps the meat retain fluid, but it isn’t required.

Turkey legs require one and a half to two hours to finish smoking. Check the internal temperature; once your meat reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s finished and ready to eat.

10. Pork Belly

what does pork belly taste like

Pork belly is the raw material used to make bacon, which means it’s naturally delicious. Advanced smokers can turn their pork belly into bacon; however, those just starting down the smoking path have a much easier road ahead.

Apply a dry rub to your pork belly before smoking it. Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and cook the meat for between two and four hours or until the pork’s internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The cooked meat makes delicious sandwiches or a great main course at a picnic.

11. Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are one of the quickest and easiest meats to smoke. The poultry requires very little preparation and finishes in between one and a half and two hours. 

Dark poultry meat maintains moisture better than breast meat, making thighs ideal for slow smoking. Because the meat doesn’t lose its juice during cooking, you don’t need to marinate or brine it, trimming hours off your preparation time. A simple dry rub infuses all the flavor you need. 

Smoke the chicken thighs over 225 degrees Fahrenheit heat, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

12. Sausage

smoking sausage.jpg

Sausage is the perfect food to cut your meat-smoking teeth on. Not only do the links come in a wide variety of flavors and types, but sausages also smoke up quickly and with little preparation. 

Whether you choose to smoke bratwurst, kielbasa, or chorizo, you only need between two and three hours to smoke up some delicious links. You can even add them to the last phase of other meats with longer smoke times.

Crank the smoker’s heat up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook your sausages for two to three hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you have a few starter smoking ideas, you probably still have some questions about different smoking techniques and foods. These frequently asked questions provide further illumination on the unique grilling process. 

What is the quickest thing to smoke?

While altering the temperature of the smoker can change cook times, generally speaking, turkey breasts are the quickest meats to smoke. The poultry finishes smoking in 35 minutes. 

Is there anything that good to smoke?

Every meat smokes well. Some require more time and care than others, but any protein you prefer lends itself to the process. Generally, meats with higher fat and collagen content smoke better because they retain moisture through the process. 

What can I smoke in 6 hours?

You can smoke an entire chicken in between 4 and 6 hours. Any component parts-the wings, legs, and breasts also require less than 6 hours to complete. Salmon, sausage, and burgers also smoke in less than 6 hours.

What can I smoke low and slow?

Smoking low and slow refers to cooking for a long period of time over low heat. You can prepare most meats this way; however, the method particularly benefits ribs, briskets, prime ribs, and pork butt.

What are the best things to smoke in a smoker?

While you can smoke any meat, the best options are those with high-fat content. The collagen and fat ensure the meat stays tender through the smoking process, which can dehydrate protein. 

What is the easiest food to smoke?

Chicken thighs and burgers are two of the easiest foods to smoke. Neither requires much preparation, and both cook up quickly. 

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