The Best Cuts of Meat for Smoking

Written in 2024
by Adam

    Smoking is a low-temperature, slow-cooking method that uses smoke to flavour and tenderizes meats. The cooking period for a pound of meat is normally more than 30 minutes, but it can be much longer—the meat can stay in the smoker for up to 20 hours.

    Barbecue aficionados consider it an art form and a favourite technique, but that doesn't mean it's beyond of reach for the average backyard cook.

    Meat cuts that we consider "poor" or "low-quality" can withstand the prolonged heat. In fact, smoked meat with a lot of fat and connective tissues (collagen) is the best. The meat will actually improve, becoming more soft, tasty, and delectable. This is because as collagen breaks down, sugars form, sweetening the meat and keeping it wet during the cooking process.

    Why Smoke Your Meat?

    Smoking meat can be done to enhance both its flavour and appearance. After all, every chef wants their dishes (including side dishes) to look as beautiful as they taste—and nothing adds character as smoke does!

    If you're looking for an easy way to make your favourite cut of meats more tender, tasty, and moist, then smoking is definitely worth trying. Prepare a good marinade or rub before cooking starts if possible. And remember that different cuts require different temperatures during the process, so pay attention at this point too.

    What Are the Best Temperatures for Smoking Meat?

    Most meats should be smoked between 93 °C  -107 °C (200-225 °F), with red meat reaching 63 °C (145 °F) (depending on the cut) and poultry reaching 74 °C (165 °F). Though ribs and brisket are technically done at 145 °F, experts advocate raising the temperature to 82 °C (180 °F) or higher near the end to fully tenderize the meat. While it may seem counterintuitive to cook meat past well-done, those higher temperatures are where the magic happens when it comes to barbecue.

    Which Wood Should You Use To Smoke Meat?

    Hickory is a versatile wood, it has a strong smoky flavour. It pairs well with bolder cuts like pig butt and ribs.

    Milder sweet flavoured wood chips like apple, maple, and cherry wood go well with pork, turkey, and chicken, respectively and add a smoky sweetness to them

    Mesquite wood is more durable and produces the strongest smoking flavour, making it ideal for outdoor cooking or smoking darker meats.

    Oak is excellent for brisket, but it is not recommended for poultry since it might overpower the meat.

    Cedar has an intense flavour and is best used for fatty fish.

    The Best Cuts of Meat to Smoke

    Best Beef Cuts To Smoke

    1. Beef Brisket

    The king of BBQ is brisket. What outdoor cooking is all about is smoking a huge piece of beef down to a soft, delicious plate of meat with a covering of gorgeous bark.

    A brisket is a cut of beef from the animal's lower chest. It's an excellent choice for your smoker because it's a huge cut that requires slow cooking.

    To test if the beef brisket is a good cut, hold the piece of meat up. If it bends, it means it will tender when cooked.

    This legendary primal cut of beef is tender, rough, and flavourful all at the same time. It has tough meaty fibres that are flavour-infused and tenderized by the fat on top. Just be careful not to remove any of the fat. The fat functions as an insulator, allowing your brisket to be properly smoked.

    You don't need to brine or add any flavours to the beef brisket since it's already so full of flavour anything else will overpower the beefy flavour.

    Cook Time: 10-14 hours

    Wood: Oak, Cherry, Hickory, Pecan

    Target Internal Temperature: 93 °C (205 °F)

    2. Chuck Roast

    It has similar characteristics to beef brisket and is a cheaper alternative.

    Chuck roast is an excellent cut of meat that's affordable and easy to come by at your local grocery store. This beef primal cut comes from the upper shoulder or neck area of a cow, which means it has lots of connective tissues made up mostly of collagen so it will turn tender when cooked for hours on end in low heat.

    This kind of meat can be quite fatty with big chunks and veins running throughout it but don't worry about all that fat since we're going to cook this piece slowly over time which helps melt away the tough bits into tender bites.

    There are two ways of smoking a chuck roast:

    1. For the chuck roast to be perfectly smoked, start cooking at 107 °C (225 °F) and stop when you reach an internal temperature of 82 °C (180 °F). Give it around 30 minutes to rest, then cut it into even slices

    2. Pull the meat like pulled pork. Start cooking at 115 °C (240 °F) and stop when you reach an internal temperature of 82 °C (180 °F).

    The chuck roasts are smaller cuts and take less time to cook.

    Cook Time: 5-6 hours

    Wood: Hickory, Pecan

    Target Internal Temperature: 96 °C- 205°F to 98 °C (210°F).

    3. Flank Steak

    Flank steak is cut from the belly area of a cow. It has an intense beef flavour and can be paired with other bold flavours like garlic, herbs, or tomatoes for increased complexity

    The type of steak is cheaper than other steak cuts and much leaner, that's why it is a great candidate for smoking instead of the usual recommended steal grilling.

    This lean cut of meat should be marinated overnight to break down tough fibres before cooking it low-and-slow so your flank steak's nice texture won't disappear in smoke.

    Cook Time: 30 minutes -45 minutes

    Wood: Wood: Hickory, Mesquite.

    Target Internal Temperature: 62 °C (145°F) (medium rare) 76 °C (170°F (medium) 82 °C (180 °F) (well done)

    4.Beef Ribs

    Beef ribs are pretty much the best thing to smoke since they have a lot of flavours and aren't too expensive.

    The ribs can be taken from the loin, chuck plate, or brisket. Depending on your preferences, you should specify to your meat supplier which type of ribs you want. However, the best type of ribs are the chuck plate ribs as they have a lot of fat and the meat is more tender and flavorful.

    To get started on your smoked beef short ribs, season them generously with your preferred spices or just some salt and pepper.

    Cook Time: 3-6 hours depending on the size

    Wood: Oak, Hickory, Pecan, Cherry.

    Target Internal Temperature: 82 °C (180 °F to 205° F) (medium well) 98 °C (210°F (well done).  

    5. Top Sirloin

    This strip of beef comes from the cow's hip and is harder and leaner than most other cuts. You can obtain top or bottom sirloin, but top sirloin is significantly more sensitive than bottom sirloin, making it ideal for smoking.

    To get started on your smoked top sirloin, season them generously with your preferred spices or marinate them overnight or 24 hours. Marinating helps the meat to absorb the added flavours.

    Sirloin is a lean meat so it doesn’t need as much time in the smoker as some other cuts of beef.

    Cook Time: 30-45 minutes to reach medium-rare, then an additional 15 - 20 minutes for each well-done degree (medium).

    Wood:  Hickory, Mesquite.

    Target Internal Temperature: 62 °C (145°F) (medium rare) 76 °C (170°F) (medium) 82°C (180 °F) (well done).

    6. Tri-Tip

    Tri-tip is one of the most popular budget-friendly cuts for smoking thanks to its high beefy flavour and tenderness.

    This cut comes from the bottom sirloin area and is triangular. It's also quite lean, so if you want some fat on your tri-tip, ask for marbling or intramuscular fat (fat cap). The only downside with this type of beef is that there isn't much connective tissue, but don’t worry because we'll fix that by cooking low and slow!

    To get the best tasting version of this cut, you need to season it, smoke and then sear over a grill.

    Cook time can vary depending on preference: rare - medium rare takes around an hour; medium take 45 minutes; well-done takes an hour and a half.

    Wood:  Oak, Hickory, Pecan, Cherry.

    Target Internal Temperature: 57 °C (135°F) (medium rare) 65 °C (150°F) (medium) 76 °C (170 °F) (well done).

    7. Top Round

    The top round is cut from the cow's hip and this part of the animal has little fat. The meat itself is lean and tough.

    To tenderize this cut you need either dry brine it or marinate it overnight in the fridge.

    Cook Time: 5-6 hours

    Wood: Oak or Hickory

    Target Internal Temperature: 57 °C (135°F) (medium rare) 76 °C (170 °F) (medium) 82 °C (180 °F) (well done).

    Best Cuts of Pork Meat To Smoke

    1. Pork Shoulder

    There are two types of pork shoulder available. Picnic shoulder or picnic roast is the lower section of the foreleg that has significantly less fat and marbling and is sold with the skin on (great for pork roast and cracklings). The pork butt, sometimes known as the Boston butt, is the upper part of the foreleg (not the pig's butt, which is ham). It's a rectangle cut with a lot of marbling that offers us our favourite pulled pork.

    Pork butt is the best cut for smoking.

    Cooking Time: 2 hours per pound.

    Smoking Temperature:225 degrees

    Target Internal Temperature: 62 °C (145 °F)

    Wood: Apple, Hickory 

    2. Pork Ribs: Spareribs, Baby Back Ribs

    On the smoker, there are two types of ribs to choose from. The first are spare ribs, commonly known as St. Louis-style ribs because they are meatier and have more fat and bone.

    The second is the smaller and more sensitive baby back ribs from the loin, which are always a hit. Due to their small size, baby backs cook faster than spare ribs but feed fewer people.

    Ribs are the most cost-effective meat in general. To allow the rub and sauces to permeate, remember to remove the bottom membrane.(Link article on how to remove membrane)

    Ribs go by the famous "3-2-1" rule, which suggests three hours of smoking, then two hours wrapped in foil with liquid, then another hour back on the racks covered in your chosen BBQ sauce

    Cooking Time: 45 minutes per pound

    Smoking Temperature 110 °C (230 °F)

    Target Internal Temperature: 85 °C (185 °F)

    Wood: Oak, hickory, and mesquite

    3. Pork Chops

    Pork loin chops are the most popular, but you can also purchase rib chops cut from the ribs.

    Pork Chops are great with dry rubs and glazes, they don't take nearly as long to cook like ribs or briskets, so be sure not to overcook them!

    Cook Time: 45 minutes per inch of thickness, plus an additional 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit

    Wood: Hickory, Mesquite. 

    Target Internal Temperature : 62 °C (145 °F) (medium rare) 76 °C  (170 °F) (medium) 82 °C (180°F) (well done).

     Best Poultry for Smoking

    1. Chicken

    All parts of the chicken are great for smoking: Whole chicken, legs, drumsticks, quarters, wings, and skin-on breast.

    Chicken is also the quickest smoked meat, but watch out for overcooking because it's easy to dry out unless you brine or marinate it.

    The meat is lean, and it's best to over smoke as the smokey flavour will overpower the meat

    Cook Time: 45 minutes per pound plus an additional 20 minutes

    Smoking Temperature: 176 °C (350 degrees Fahrenheit)

    Target Internal Temperature : 73 °C (165 F) (medium) 82 °C (180F) (well done). 

    Wood: Apple, cherry or hickory are great options.

    Note: Chicken breast – skin on or skinless – should not go over 73 °C (165 °C) internal temperature, else it will dry out and not be pleasant.

    2. Turkey

    The whole turkey is the best meat to smoke, but it's also expensive.

    You can use any part of the turkey in smoking; wings, breasts (skin-on or skinless), thighs, drumsticks and whole legs. The breast will be leaner than thigh because white meat has less fat.

    It is recommended not to cook any turkey weighing over 14 pounds as the cooking time will be longer than expected and the turkey might not cook thoroughly.

    Cook Time: 2-3 hours per pound

    Smoking Temperature: 176 °C (350 degrees Fahrenheit)

    Target Internal Temperature : 71 °C (160 °F) (medium) 73 °C (165 °F) (well done). 

    Wood: Pecan

    Best Fish To Smoke

    You can smoke any type of fish, but the fattier the fish, the better the results and flavour. One of the most popular fish that is smoked is salmon.


    Salmon is a great tasting fish that goes well with just about any flavour you can imagine.

    The principle of cooking salmon in smoking is to increase the temperature gradually until it reaches 54 °C (130 °F) internal temperature, then quickly finish off by drying out the surface of the fish and sealing in its juices.

    Cook Time: 30 minutes per pound plus an additional 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit

    Smoking Temperature: 107 °C-115 °C (225-240 degrees Fahrenheit)

    Target Internal Temperature : 62 °C(145 °F) (medium rare) 71 °C (160°F) (well done). 

    Woods: Alder or hickory are good options for this type of meat.

    Note - Salmon should not be smoked over 115 °C (240 °F) otherwise it will become dry and lose all moisture. This would make the meat taste like cardboard.

    Which method of smoking meat is the healthiest?

    A few helpful hints for a healthy BBQ smoking or grilling experience are included below. Take a look at a few of them:

    Begin with wholesome ingredients. Fresher ingredients are usually a better choice, but if you're thawing from frozen, make sure to let everything get to room temperature first.

    Leaner cuts of beef are some of the best meats to smoke in an electric smoker.

    When you're smoking, be sure you're using the right kind of wood. The type of wood you use will have a significant impact on the flavour of the steak you choose. Some woods have a harsh flavour to them.

    Make sure the BBQ smoker is at the proper temperature before adding the ingredients. The temperature should be between 107-121 °C (225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit). Smoke until the internal temperature of the meat reaches the desired level. To make this, get a meat thermometer like the DOQAUS Instant Read Cooking Thermometer

    In Conclusion

    Most of these cuts are affordable, and you can try experimenting with different woods chips to find out which flavour suits you best.

    To have a great Barbecue, you can't just toss any cut of meat on the smoker and expect to get competition-worthy results every time. Learning what type of meat to search for, what cuts to acquire, the science behind outdoor cooking and winning strategies will help you continuously push your smoking game to new heights.

    Do you have a favourite smoked beef cut? Tell us about it in the comment section below. I'd like to hear from you!


    What are the best meats to smoke as a beginner?

    The best meat to smoke as a beginner would be beef brisket. It has an abundance of fat, which helps the meat stay moist during long smoking sessions. Beef ribs are also another option for beginners because they're easy to prepare and will turn out great if you follow these steps correctly!

    What is the best cut of steak to smoke?

    We recommend you use a steak that's as lean as possible. This means going with either sirloin or flank steak for the best results, and avoiding cuts like rib eyes that have too much marbling (fat) to them.

    What is the cheapest meat to smoke?

    Chicken is one of the cheapest meats you can smoke. Since it isn't as popular as beef or pork, chicken prices tend to stay low, and you'll be able to save a lot of money by smoking some up!

    Written by Adam

    Adam is the creator of the SmokeGuys website, running it since 2016. Hater of coriander, lover of all things meat... Adam currently works in marketing with a dream of being able to make food his full-time 'job' in the longer term.

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