The Best Meats to Smoke
If you’re new to barbecuing, the best meats to smoke might not be the ones you would initially think of. The whole process of creating barbecue revolves around taking a meat, or cut of meat, that is generally a little tough and is usually somewhat undesirable. Then through cooking it for a long time at lower temperatures using smoke it magically turns it into something incredible.
This means that the cuts of meat that you would normally grill or fry (usually) aren’t going to cut it if you’re looking to smoke them. Instead the cheaper and more difficult to cook cuts will be ideal for smoking.
Cuts of meat that are too chewy or tough for normal cooking take a lot more effort and are much harder to master. This makes smoking meat more of a challenge and even an art form if you ask some barbecue aficionados.
What Makes a Good Meat to Smoke
A lot of cuts of meat that are generally considered “bad” actually make ideal smoking meats.
If a cut of meat is full of fat and connective tissue, it’s likely you would probably normally not bother with it. But in a smoker, like in an electric roaster, the prolonged lower temperatures cause the breakdown of this connective tissue and tenderize the fat to the point that it is almost unrecognisable as fat. The best meats for smoking will be altered after a long cook as the fat melts and the connective tissues break down. They’ll come out tender, juicy and melt in your mouth soft.
Best Meats to Smoke
In this section we’ll look at different meats in general. Some meats are naturally more fatty and therefore will be better candidates for smoking. Others are much leaner and don’t work as well in the smoker.
The best meats to smoke are tougher and fattier. For example, beef is a perfect option and some of the best barbecue comes from smoking beef.
Another great option is pork. Pork is generally a little leaner than beef but there are a few cuts of pork that work amazingly well in a smoker. Likewise, there are some cuts of pork that don’t work as well being smoked.
Whole birds and specific parts of turkeys, chicken or other poultry are also a good. These require less time in the smoker as they tend to be fairly lean. This means that you won’t have to babysit the smoker for the whole day and therefore is highly recommended for new barbecuers.
Other good meats to smoke include some cuts of lamb, venison and some seafood. In addition to this sausages and even jerky work great in the smoker. Jerky is one of the best meats to smoke in an electric smoker because of the low temperatures required. Read our guide to learn more about how to make jerky in a smoker.
Some of the best things to smoke in a smoker aren’t even meat. Smoking veg and even desserts and cheese can produce incredible results.
Have a look at our smoking times and temperatures charts for inspiration as to what you can smoke.
Best Cuts of Meat to Smoke
Brisket – The ultimate cut of beef. To perfect the brisket is what every armature pitmaster strives to achieve. It’s also the perfect example of what makes BBQ so incredible. It turns a relatively mundane cut of meat that is notoriously tough and turns it into a mouth-watering, tender and downright delicious feast. When done right, with a nice smoke ring and a beautifully soft fatty layer it is probably the best smoked meat possible.
Beef Rib – Like with a lot of beef, a good rack of beef short ribs will have a lot of fat, connective tissue and can be quite tough. A perfect candidate for smoking! Beef ribs have a deep beefy taste and when cooked properly the fat can melt and helps to soften up the meat whilst carrying all the fantastic flavors right to the taste buds.
If you’re looking for more types of ribs, then check out our post: 8 Different Types of Ribs
Prime Rib – Another great cut of beef that makes it onto our list as one of the best meats for smoking. It’s laced with long, thin fat lines that melt during cooking, creating a deep beefy flavor. Whilst prime ribs are normally very expensive, they can make a fantastic treat when cooked just right. We’d recommend that you get a bit of experience under your belt before trying this one as it can be a bit tricky. Also tone down the smoke slightly to let the beef taste take over.
There are more cuts of beef that work very well in the smoker, these are just a few to get you started.
Pork shoulder – Also called pork butt, a pork shoulder is one of the easiest meats to smoke and we’d highly recommend trying a pork butt as your first smoke using our handy guide to smoking your first pork butt. Pork is incredibly forgiving so even if your first smoke doesn’t go exactly to plan you’ll likely be left with a great tasting meal anyway. The same definitely cannot be said for smoking your first brisket. The pork shoulder has a good amount of fat running through it and can become incredibly tender when cooked right. Grab yourself a pair of the pork pulling claws featured in our BBQ accessory guide to really have some fun.
Pork ribs – Another classic BBQ cut of meat. These are fantastic to smoke and make a great beginner cut. With very little effort and a sprinkle of one of our favourite rubs can turn a basic rack of ribs into a mouth watering BBQ delight.
Whole Chicken – A whole chicken is a great option for smoking due to the shorter cooking times because of how lean the meat is. A whole chicken is also generally very simple to get right and is a great practice meat. Grab yourself a fresh chicken from almost any supermarket, remove any unwanted parts such as the gizzards. Then do whatever you want with it, you can rub it, butter it, stick a beer can inside it, whatever recipe takes your fancy. Chicken is incredibly versatile and any smoked chicken tastes incredible. Not only chicken a great option as a whole bird but chicken wings, thighs and quarters all work great on the smoker. They’re readily available, generally quite cheap and some of the quickest cooking cuts of meat so are much more suited to more regular cooking.
Whole Turkey – Like with chicken, a whole turkey is a fantastic choice of meat for smoking and a smoked turkey makes for an incredible Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Smoking a whole turkey can be an impressive affair as doing it right can take a lot of effort. But you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to preparing the bird, we’d recommend brining and trying a out different woods to give your turkey an extra layer of flavor. Check out our ultimate guide to smoking with wood for more information on how wood combinations can enhance your smoking experience. If smoking a turkey isn’t your thing, then deep frying a whole turkey might be what you’re looking for.
Lamb shoulder – Lamb is usually quite a fatty meat and lamb shoulder is one of the fattiest cuts of the whole animal. It has the potential though, to break down in a soft, moist thing of barbecue perfection. We think smoked lamb shoulder is one of the most undervalued cuts of meat and think it’s one of the best things you can smoke. Finding a good shoulder can be quite difficult though so be patient and keep searching as you’ll be in for a treat.
Leg of lamb – Very much like the lamb shoulder, the leg it a fatty cut of meat that greatly benefits from a traditional low and slow smoke. This is a bit more tricky than the shoulder as it has a large bone that may make cooking uneven. But with a little practice and some planning ahead you’ll be treated to another brilliant but underrated cut of meat.
Venison roast – Any part of the deer can be smoked and we’d recommend experimenting with different cuts yourself. Normally deer meat can be quite dry and it has a gamey flavor to it. But with extra care and a simple overnight brine this cut can be turned into one of the best meats for smoking. The brine will add the extra moisture and the smoking will remove the strong gamey flavor.
Salmon – Of all the seafood available salmon is almost certainly the best one to smoke. It’s quite a fatty and oily fish and when smoked has incredible deep flavors and makes a wonderful meal. Salmon is also remarkably tasty when planked. This is when you grill it on a plank of (usually) cedar and let the woody flavor infuse into the fish. You could even top it off with a quick burst of smoke to really give it a unique flavor. Salmon can also be cold smoked.
Sausage – Any shop bought sausage can be transformed by cooking it in a smoker. This is one of the easiest meats to smoke and regularly can be one of the best smoked meats.
Using a little science and a lot of tasting we came to the conclusion that these are our favorite meats to smoke. Obviously, there are many more cuts that work well and we’d recommend trying them out for yourselves as one of the best part of barbecuing and outdoor cooking is experimenting for yourself.
If you’re looking for more information on the best meats to smoke and BBQ in general then we’ve reviewed some of the best BBQ books available today that go into much more detail than we have here.
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