Tips to Choose the Best Meat to Smoke For a Beginner

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By Maria Turner • Last Updated: February 16, 2023 is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Choose the Best Meat to Smoke For a Beginner

Smoking has now become the favorite technique of cooking for meat enthusiasts all around the world. In the past decade’s generations and generations of excellent meat, smokers have come and gone only to pass this great art of cooking to the future generations. And from the first of them until the present days smoking has continued to water the mouth of almost every household where a meat smoker exists.

Smoking meat is all about stepping up from the usual way of cooking your meat by bringing new flavors and concepts in the meat cooking process. As always it is about balancing all of the factors involved.

In this article, you will learn about some of the best meats for smoking and how it’s done.

What is Meat Smoking?

Meat smoking is the process of using smoke to tenderize the fibers of the meat using a controlled temperature. Sometimes its called cold smoking.

Consider meat smoking as a method of cooking meat instead of anything else. You should know that at the end of the day the primary goal is for the meat to be eatable just like any other cooking process.

Every cooking process has a source of heating and a method of heat transfer. In the case of smoking, the smoke itself serves as a source of heat transferred through radiation. Every one of these things has its great importance, determining how fast the temperature rises, the nature of cooking, and the timing. That’s why smoking takes a lot of time and energy.

The Best Meats to Smoke for a Beginner

Even if you’re just about to smoke your very first pound of meat the same factors that apply in the conventional way of cooking meat apply here. Smoking is a very slow cooking process that takes hours to accomplish.

The main reason behind this is the method of heat transfer in use which is radiation. Radiation is the slowest method of heat transfer among others because heat is not directly in contact with the body.

Different types of meat have different characteristics in their toughness, size, and what is contained inside of them. All these are factors which make every type of meat different from the other and how it should be smoked.

The size of the meat and the toughness implicate the time it will take to smoke the meat. Lean cuts of meat with low-fat content are said to have the least amount of time when smoking. In the case of thick cuts of meat a good amount of fat is needed for the meat to last through hours of smoking without drying up.

Tough cuts of meat with high connective tissues and the right amount of fat are the ones most likely to succeed in meat smoking. The fat content allows the meat to stay moist for a long period during smoking.

Meanwhile meats with tough tissues have a high content of collagen and so when the meat is slowly cooked the collagen is broken down into sugars adding more flavor to the meat.

Coming back to the mastermind behind all of this which is the smoky flavor. The smoky flavor has little to do with the nature of the meat. The smoky flavor has to do with the type of wood used in generating the smoke; which makes far much better sense.

Let’s now have a look of some of the best meats for smoking

1. Beef

Beef smoke

Chuck Roast

A chuck roast is a smaller type of meat than a brisket is. This means that it can be smoked in a little amount of time and still get to enjoy the same rewarding flavor. It has a right amount of collagen and internal fat tying everything together. Chuck roast takes about 10-12 hours to smoke at 205F using a Hickory wood.

Beef Brisket

Beef brisket is one of the most loved meats for smoking. The muscles are well exercised making it a tough piece of meat with highly connective fibers. Although you should not expect it to have a high amount of marbling, the external fat can do the work. Hands down beef brisket smoking are very hard to masterfully. Beef brisket takes about 10-14 hours at 205F using oak wood.

Beef Ribs

The beef ribs are among the favorite beef cuts for smoking. The ribs are not as tough as other kinds of beef and have a good amount of fat. Beef ribs are among the most sought after smoked meats. Beef ribs take about 5-6 hours at 205F using cherry or pecan wood.

Tri Tip

The tri tip is a beauty when smoked in the right way. There are a lot of things to explore during the smoking process. The meat is gotten from an unexercised muscle. This makes to become very lean and easy to cook. It has a significant amount of fat and somewhat hard to find. Tri tip takes less than 2 hours at 135F using an oak or a cherry wood.

2. Poultry

Turkey smoke


A bird has a different type of meat, and a turkey might be the best option to smoke. One thing with the bird option is that a bird does not have a high fat as the beef would. However, you are free to add some butter, and it will take just about 2 hours at 160F using an apple or a maple wood to smoke.


A chicken always tastes good when cooked at the best level. A great fall back with the chicken option is that the skin dries out after smoking because of the little amount of fat on the skin. A great choice is to marinate the chicken and smoke at 180F using a maple wood for one and a half hours.


A duck works very well in smoking and has the right amount of fat. A special marinade to it will make a significant difference and enhance the final taste of the duck. Duck takes about 2 hours to smoke at 175F using an apple or a maple wood.

3. Lamb

Lamb Smoke


Lamb is a delicate choice of meat and has its separate price tag than the other types of meat. Lamb has a great amount of fat that adds to its flavor. It is much tender that the actual beef. It takes about 7 hours at 190F using oak wood.


Lamb’s leg is a delicious form of meat when smoked excellently. It is much tougher than the shoulder but also has enough fat content to help the muscles become tender and super moist. Lamb’s leg takes about 8 hours at 190F using oak wood.

4. Sea Food

Salmon smoke


Fish is one of the first meats to have ever been smoked and up till today fish is a favorite smoked food delicacy. Surprisingly salmon is rich in omega 3 fatty oils meaning it’s an oily type of fish, the best for smoking. Salmon takes about 2 hours to smoke at 160F using cherry wood.

Tips for Smoking Meat for Beginners

1. Go Low and Slow

It is not always a great sign when you choose to follow a great smoking recipe. Sometimes you only need a little bit of smoke for a bit of period to get a fantastic result. In this case, a high temperature should be used for the smoke to cook the meat in less amount of time. A significant difference can be made by smoking your meat with a high temperature and a less amount of smoke.

2. Try Not To Peek

In the first place, smoking is not for those who are not patient in cooking. Remember smoking takes a lot of time and so does that mean you have to be patient. Here you have two of your most necessary attributes hanging in the balance. When you open the lead of the smoker, the temperature dramatically drops and so does the smoke. Only lift the lead when you’re trying to fix one or two things.

3. Don’t Overdo It

You can always be tempted to overdo things especially when you’re trying to be perfect. A big mistake here is adding too much wood for a long period. Adding too much will not fasten the process or add any flavor but will potentially crash the whole recipe. Try using the smoke for half of the total time and leave the heat to take care of the rest.

4. White Smoke is good rather Than Black Smoke

What goes about while making the smoke matters? You should learn to proportion the amount of smoke together with the amount of fresh air. Black smoke doesn’t add the needed flavor but can quickly destroy the whole flavor. If you are having a black smoke, then try to open the lid to let oxygen in and move around the wood. Also, make use of the vents at the top of the lid to increase ventilation.

5. Keep the Air Moving

Remember that fire is made in the presence of oxygen. Oxygen is very crucial under the smoke pit where the smoke is coming from to support combustion. To produce great smoke you need enough ventilation. The vents at the bottom of the grill should be left open and free of ash. Make sure that the smoke goes over the meat and escapes through the vents of the lid.

The Verdict

Choosing the right type of meat is the simplest part of the smoking process. Higher levels of cooking practices such as smoking meat have to do with balancing the major factors.

To get successful at every attempt of smoking meat, you should learn to sustain the smoke, control the temperature, and maintain the moisture.

Don’t ever try and disrespect the timing because it can make or break your day. Smoking is a broad niche in cooking meat and not applicable to every type of meat. Some types of meat are better off when grilled for example steaks.

If you know that the type of meat you are using is better when grilled it is better not to waste your time and smoke it. Keep an eye on three things, and you’ll excel at smoking; time, temperature, and nature of the meat.