The Best Cuts of Meats to Smoke

Smoking, one of the most primal cooking methods that still endures, has created a permanent place for itself even in modern kitchens. Though similar to barbecuing, smoking means cooking meats and vegetables on an indirect heat instead of an open fire, with a greater emphasis on utilizing the smoke to infuse a unique ‘smoky’ flavor into the food.

While meats are best for smoking as they yield the most satisfying results, you can’t just throw any cut of meat into your smoker. The wrong choice risks rendering your perfectly good ingredients dry and unpalatably tough.

What Makes Meats Suitable for Smoking

Before explaining this, it’s important to note that cuts of meat that might become excessively chewy and unappetizing through other cooking methods are often regarded as ideal candidates for smoking. These would be the cuts with the highest levels of fat. The fats melt during the slow cooking process, turning the meat tender and juicy.

One of the best things about smoking is that it doesn’t demand the use of the priciest cuts, as the fattier cuts are often on the cheaper side.

List of the Best Cuts of Meat to Smoke

It is challenging to categorize meats solely based on how easy or difficult they are to smoke, as ultimately, it’s only about seasoning the meat and cooking it in the smoker.

The time it takes for a type of meat to be fully done varies greatly depending on the type and cut, which can be a consideration for beginners, as meats that cook in a couple of hours are usually easier to handle. The price of the raw materials can be another factor, as you would not want to burn a prime rib on your first try.

These are the primary considerations for dividing the following meats into the two lists.

Best Meats to Smoke

1. Easy-to-smoke Types of Meats for Beginners

NameSmoking Temp.TimeTarget Internal Temp.Recommended Wood ChipsRecipe to Try
Pork Belly225°F3-4 hours165-200°F Apple, Maple, CherrySmoked Pork Belly
Pork Chops225°F1.5-2 hours145°FCherry, Hickory, AppleSmoked Pork Chops
Tri-tip (Beef)225°F2-3 hours130-140°FOak, Mesquite, HickorySmoked Tri-tip
Pork Tenderloin225°F1-1.5 hours145°FApple, Cherry, PecanSmoked Pork Tenderloin
Baby Back Ribs (Pork)225°F5-6 hours180-190°F Apple, Cherry, MesquiteSmoked Baby Back Ribs
Whole Chicken250°F3-4 hours165°FApple, Hickory, PecanSmoked Whole Chicken
Chicken Breast225°F1-1.5 hours165°FApple, Hickory, MapleSmoked Chicken Breast
Chicken Thigh225°F2-2.5 hours165°FApple, Hickory, MapleSmoked Chicken Thighs
Turkey Breast225°F3-4 hours165°FMaple, Cherry, PecanSmoked Turkey Breast
Whole Turkey250°F30 minutes/lb165°FApple, Cherry, PecanSmoked Whole Turkey
Salmon Fillets225°F1-1.5 hours145°FAlder, Cedar, MapleSmoked Salmon
Sausages (bratwursts, boudin, chorizo, etc.)225°F1.5-2 hours160-165°FApple, Hickory, PecanSmoked Sausages

2. Meats for Smokers with a Bit of Know-How

NameSmoking Temp.TimeTarget Internal Temp.Wood Chips to Add (opt.)Recipe to Try
Beef Brisket225-250°F 1.5 hours/lb195-205°F Oak, HickorySmoked Brisket
Pork Butt (Shoulder)225°F 1.5 hours/lb195-205°F Apple, Hickory, CherrySmoked Pork Shoulder
Spare Ribs (Pork)225°F 5-6 hours190-203°F Pecan, Hickory, AppleSmoked Spare Ribs
Lamb Shoulder225-250°F 4-6 hours145-160°F Oak, Cherry, PecanSmoked & Pulled Lamb Shoulder 
Lamb Leg225-250°F 4-5 hours145-160°F Mesquite, CherrySmoked Leg of Lamb
Beef Cheek225-250°F 5-7 hours200-210°FOak, JuniperSmoked BBQ Beef Cheeks
Beef Prime Rib225-250°F 1.25 hours/lb130-135°F (rare), 140-145°F (medium rare)Oak, HickoryTraeger Smoked Prime Rib
Chuck Roast (Beef)225-250°F1.5 hours/lb205-210°FMesquite, PecanSmoked Chuck Roast 

Does the Type of Smoker Matter When Choosing the Meat

The basic method of smoking meat remains the same regardless of the smoker you have. Your meat will be safe as long as it has enough fat to keep it from going dry. Still, there are a few finer points to be aware of, especially if you are new to using a smoker or considering buying one. Though various types of smokers are available in the market, there are three main types:

  1. Charcoal Smoker: It is the traditional type that uses charcoal, leaving the meat with an authentic, rich flavor quite unlike anything else. A pellet smoker grill works similarly, using wood pellets instead of charcoal.
  2. Electric Smoker: As obvious from the name, it uses electricity to produce heat, making it super-easy to operate. Adding wood chips separately is a must if you want your meat to have that ‘smoky’ flavor since electricity alone does not produce smoke.
  3. Gas Smoker: This type uses propane and can reach higher temperatures than the others. Though it gives the food a more authentic flavor than an electric smoker, even without wood chips, it is still better to add them to make the most of the meat.


Should you keep the fat side up or down when smoking meat?

There’s no set rule about placing the meat in the smoker, with both putting the fat side (fat cap) up and down having its pros and cons. Still, most people prefer smoking their meat with the fat cap down as it allows you to keep the seasoning and spices rubbed on the meat. Keeping the fat cap up, on the other hand, makes for a juicier and tenderer piece of meat, with the fats melting into the meat throughout the cooking process.

Can you smoke frozen meat?

It is okay to smoke frozen meat, given that you thaw it completely before putting it in the smoker. In addition to promoting even cooking, according to the FDA, it also enhances the safety of the meat. As smoking involves cooking at low temperatures, frozen meat would take too long to thaw in the smoker. It allows the meat to linger between 40° and 140°F — the temperature range that allows harmful bacteria to multiply — for too long.