14 Best Meats to Smoke (Great for Beginners)

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You’ve purchased a smoker and can’t wait to enjoy all kinds of smoked meats!

But where should you start?

And are there any meats you shouldn’t put in your smoker?

Generally, the best meats for smoking are those which are fatty, less expensive, and easier to find. The smoke flavor will embed itself in the fat, giving you delicious flavor, while also tenderizing the meat–so there’s no need to empty your wallet on a pricey cut.

Here at TheGrillingDad we’ve smoked every meat under the sun.

We know what tastes delicious and the proper temperatures for the best results when you smoke different kinds of meat. We’ve compiled this information into the list below to help you dive right into the world of smoking meat. 

The list is in no order, as how could we possibly pick just one favorite meat to smoke? So don’t be afraid to dive right in and start with any meat that you think you and your family will enjoy.

Table of Contents

Whole Chicken

  • Seasoning Required
  • 225F
  • 3.5-4 Hours

Don’t feel like just making wings? Don’t worry, you can toss the whole chicken in your smoker too! It’ll take a few hours though, and you’ll want to make a brine (as plain chicken is a bit boring), so this is a dinner you need to prepare for in advance. 

Set the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit then leave the chicken in for 3.5 to 4 hours until the internal temperature of the chicken (check the breast portion) reaches 165 degrees. 

Like any big cut of meat, the chicken is best left to rest for a few minutes before serving. This will lock in some of the juices and keep them from running out as you carve your bird. 

Beef Brisket

  • Light Seasoning Suggested
  • 250F
  • 1 Hour and 15 Minutes Per Pound

Beef Brisket is a smoker favorite, but beginners beware as this is not the easiest meat to smoke. It can be difficult to keep the beef juicy while also getting it to cook thoroughly, but if you’ve got a crowd to feed, brisket is a nice large cut that is sure to do the trick.

Be careful not to over season your brisket as you prepare it for the smoker, however, as what you really want to shine through is the taste of the meat. As a rule of thumb, make a seasoning and only apply it lightly to your cut of meat.

Start by positioning your brisket properly on the smoker and turning the heat up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Most seasoned smokers mention that you want the fatty side closest to the heat sources as this will keep the muscle part of the meat the most tender. 

You will then cook the brisket for at least 1 hour and 30 minutes for every pound of weight. For example, a 4-pound brisket would take approximately 5 hours to cook. But you will need to check your brisket frequently and remove it as soon as it becomes tender. 

Pork Shoulder

  • Seasoning Suggested
  • 225F-250F
  • 1 Hour and 15 Minutes Per Pound

Pork shoulder comes from the lower shoulder of the pig, while still a large cut of meat, the pork shoulder is on the smaller end of smoked meats which can make it an easier dinner to fit into a weeknight. 

The most common use for pork shoulder is to shred it and mix it with BBQ sauce, to make pulled pork. Then you can eat it on toasted buns, or even in a rice bowl with veggies. 

To cook the shoulder, you’ll need to allow 1.5 hours for each pound of meat at a temperature of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that fruit wood chips tend to go the best with pork meat when smoking. 

Pork Butt

  • Seasoning Suggested
  • 225F-250F
  • 1 Hour 30 Minutes Per Pound

Although it is called pork “butt” this tender cut of meat is actually taken from the pig’s shoulder. It’s a great cut of meat for beginner smokers as it already comes filled with flavor and doesn’t need a lot of extra seasoning or care. 

The smoker is the perfect place for a pork butt as its muscles break down in the smoking process so the final result will practically melt in your mouth. Set your smoker to 225-250 degrees, then toss this cut in to have a delicious dinner ready in 1.5 hours for each pound of meat.

Lamb Shoulder

  • Seasoning Optional
  • 250F+
  • 4 Hours

Lamb shoulder is a cut of meat you probably won’t encounter cooked in any other way except for smoking as the shoulder meat is packed with connective tissues that are difficult to chew with fast methods of cooking. When smoked, the long cook times break down this connective tissue to make a tender and tasty treat.

Because lamb meat comes with a naturally rich flavor, this is another cut of meat you don’t have to worry too much about seasoning. It is on the small side, however, so it is probably best saved for date night!

Lamb is best smoked over a more neutral wood and at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 hours, increasing the temperature for the last hour. If the lamb starts to get a little dark for your tastes, don’t be afraid to implement the texas crunch method in which you wrap your lamb in foil. 

Lamb Leg

  • Seasoning Optional
  • 250F
  • 3-4 Hours

Speaking of lamb, the leg is one of the best meats to smoke. Unlike the shoulder, the leg is filled with fat that will make your meat extra tender. When you head to the butcher, be sure to ask for the fattier sirloin end of the leg. 

Like the lamb shoulder, you can stick to a simple seasoning for the lamb leg, or opt to leave it season free and serve it with mint jelly. Lamb leg takes 3-4 hours to cook at a temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Chicken Breast

  • Seasoning and Brine Required
  • 275F
  • Cooking Times Vary

It is possible to smoke chicken breast, but it can quickly become dry when not prepared or cooked properly. Therefore we suggest that only experienced smokers tackle the challenge of smoked chicken breast. 

For best results, brine your chicken breast in a simple salt brine before cooking to help it retain moisture as it smokes. You may also want to add a dry rub to increase the flavor. 

You’ll want to brine the chicken breast overnight, then set your smoker to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the chicken breast is so finicky, it’s best to monitor it closely while it smokes, watching the temperature rather than the time. Your chicken breast will be ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Spare Ribs

  • Seasoning/Glaze Recommended
  • 225F
  • 7 Hours

Spare ribs are pork ribs, and while less meaty than beef ribs, they tend to be a little more flavorful. Newer smokers should cut the ribs apart prior to smoking as this will help them to cook more evenly. 

Ribs can either be seasoned before the smoking process, glazed during, or served with sauce after. For best results, you should use a rub or a glaze paired with a sauce. 

Heat the smoker up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit and smoke the ribs for about 10 hours. You will want to check back frequently and spritz the ribs with a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar if they begin to look dry. You can add your glaze at both the 3 and 6-hour marks in the smoking process. 

Beef Ribs

  • Rub/Seasoning Recommended
  • 250-275F
  • 6-10 Hours

The meatier of the two types of ribs, beef ribs are an absolute treat when smoked properly. Chances are, if you want a rack of them you’ll have to head to a butcher and you may even need to order in advance. 

If you can, order the larger ribs as these will give you more meat to work with. Beef ribs don’t need as much glazing as pork ribs, but you will likely want to make at least a dry rub to coat them with before smoking.

Smoke beef ribs over a neutral wood at 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 10 hours. Similar to pork ribs, you can spritz the beef ribs with a water and apple cider vinegar mixture at the 3-hour mark in the smoking process to keep them moist.

Whole Turkey

  • Seasoning/Brining Required
  • 350F
  • 3-5 Hours

Ever wonder how some people can have the most amazing juicy turkey at Thanksgiving? The secret is smoking your turkey

Turkey is naturally lean, making it an excellent candidate for smoking. You will need to season and brine it, however, to complement the smoky flavor. 

Start by removing the backbone of the turkey as well as the wishbone before you brine. Some professionals recommend letting your turkey brine for 48 hours. 

You’ll need to get your smoker nice and hot for this one, heating it to a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place two temperature probes in the turkey, and place it in the smoker. It will take between 3 and 5 hours to smoke your turkey, remove it once the internal temperature of the breast reaches 165 degrees and the thigh reaches 180 degrees.

Chuck Roast

  • Seasoning Suggested
  • 250F
  • 12-20 Hours

Chuck roast is a cut of meat that typically isn’t very tender that most people overlook at the grocery store, but for smoking, it’s ideal. Chuck roast is a cut of meat from the shoulder of the cow and it comes packed with flavor.

You’ll likely want to start with a rub, but like many of the other beef cuts on this list, you can start with a simple salt and pepper rub if you don’t want to do anything fancy. You will want to tie your chuck roast with twine to ensure it maintains its shape in the smoker.

Chuck roast cooks best on a mixture of wood chips, specifically those from apple, pecan, or oak trees. Turn your smoker up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and allow your chuck roast to sit in it for 12-20 hours until it is tender and cooked to the temperature you prefer.

You can also use chuck roast to make poor man’s burnt ends, which are incredible!

Salmon

  • Brine Required
  • 225F
  • 3-4 Hours

Smoking salmon is ridiculously easy, so if you are new to smoking, grab a large slab next time you are at the store. Salmon is a fish that is loaded with juicy fats that melts into the meat as it smokes, leaving you with a dinner that will melt in your mouth.

You’ll want to cure and brine salmon before putting it in your smoker, however, as it will help to keep the salmon moist inside while giving the outside a crispy texture. 

Once the salmon has been brined (preferably overnight) it can be smoked at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-4 hours until it reaches the level of doneness you desire, making this one of the few cuts of meat besides chicken that can be put in the smoker after work and served for a late dinner.

Prime Rib

  • Light Seasoning Recommended
  • 250F
  • 6 Hours

Prime rib is a bit of an expensive cut for an everyday smoking session, but when you have a special occasion coming up, it can be a real show stopper. The prime rib is the part of the cow tucked between the 6th-12th ribs. 

Smoking a prime rib is only for those who have a large smoker, however, because this piece of meat will require plenty of room and you need to leave at least 2 inches between each side of the smoker and the meat. 

You’ll also want to mention to your butcher that you are smoking the prime rib you are purchasing, as he or she will need to clean the meat of the outside layer of fat that is usually required for oven cooking. This simply isn’t required for smoking a prime rib and will prevent it from cooking evenly. 

Seasoning your prime rib is suggested, but you won’t need much because the meat itself should be the star of this show. Before you put it in the smoker, it will need to rest on your kitchen counter for a few hours to allow it to arrive at room temperature.

Set your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and place the roast in the middle, placing the bone ends away from the heat if possible. Smoke your prime rib for 6 hours, rotating halfway through. You may want to add a drip pan beneath to catch any moisture falling from your prime rib. 

As soon as the prime rib is almost done you’ll want to wrap it in foil for the last few minutes, then keep it in the foil as you remove it from the smoker, allowing it a few minutes to finish cooking and rise to your desired internal temperature.

Read More >> How to Reheat Prime Rib

Pork Belly

  • Seasoning Required
  • 275F
  • 3 Hours

You’ve probably eaten smoked pork belly before without realizing it. That’s because the most common way to smoke pork belly is by cutting it into small pieces, smoking it until crispy, and calling it burnt ends. 

Regardless of if you’ve tried it before or not, burnt ends are a must! Pork belly comes from the belly area of the pig and it is exceptionally tender and flavorful. You’ll also want to add your favorite rub to these to make them really pop.

Preheat your smoker to 275 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 hours. Just like other pork meats, you will want to have a spray bottle on hand with a mix of water and apple cider vinegar to spritz the burnt ends if they start to get too crispy. For best results don’t pull your pork belly out of the smoker until it reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.

Final Thoughts on the Best Meats to Smoke

By now you should have a great idea of the perfect meat to smoke for your next family get-together. Whether you decide to tackle a small cut of pork, or perhaps a prime rib, you can’t go wrong when you smoke your meats!

Don’t have a smoker yet? Check out our reviews of off-set smokers, electric smokers, or a wide range of beginner smokers, and pick out the smoker that suits your lifestyle. Then you can enjoy any of the delicious smoked meats on this list whenever you please.

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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