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If you recently bought a new smoker or are wanting to get into meat smoking for the first time, there are a few must-knows. Some meats are much easier to smoke than others. Starting with the easiest meats and then working your way up will ensure that you gain confidence and essential skills.
We’ve created a list of the best meats to smoke, but “best” doesn’t necessarily mean easy, although there is definitely some overlap between the two lists.
Some cuts of meat can also be much more expensive than others and you wouldn’t want to ruin a good cut. So, always follow the best meat smoking tips and choose the right methods to ensure that you are smoking the meat in the best way possible.
A whole chicken is one of the easiest meats to smoke. It is also cheap, so you won’t feel too bad if you happen to make a mistake and it doesn’t turn out the way that you wanted. Salt and pepper are enough to season it unless you are feeling creative.
You can also purchase a chicken rub or create your own. Most people find the best success smoking whole chicken for 2-3 hours or until the internal temperature is about 164 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you don’t want to get into a whole chicken, smoking chicken thighs is pretty easy to do as well.
Pulled pork is the best meat to smoke if you are completely new. Even if you aren’t a beginner, it’s a bona fide classic that’s worth going back to for BBQ night. It is well-marbled which means it is very forgiving when it comes to smoking. It is also much cheaper than other kinds of meat which makes it great for experimenting and trying for the first time.
Pulled pork or Boston butt with the bone still in it will usually give a better texture and can naturally infuse flavor much better. You can use any kind of wood for smoking pulled pork because it tastes good with all kinds of flavors. Most people still stick with a neutral one though to make the process easier.
Smoke it for about 4-5 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Then wrap it and put it back in the smoker for 4-5 hours. To get the best texture that isn’t too stringy, smoke it until the temperature is about 199 degrees Fahrenheit.
Almost any kind of rub works for pulled pork so you can use something that’s already in your cabinet for the most cost-effective method. Some people choose sweet rubs for a more delicate taste. If you like spice, you can also use paprika or chili powder.
There are many types of ribs out there, but pork ribs are the easiest option for smoking. Pork ribs can also use a sweet rub like pulled pork, so you don’t need to buy additional seasonings. Most people find the best method for smoking pork ribs is to smoke it, wrap it, and then smoke it again.
Smoke it first for 3-4 hours and try not to open the lid to avoid temperature spiking. It should be smoked at a temperature of about 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Afterward, wrap it in foil and put it back in the smoker for 1-2 hours.
Then, unwrap it and put sauce on the ribs. Put it back in the smoker for another hour or so to finish it up.
When you think of legendary BBQ, briskets and ribs might be the first things to pop into your mind. Briskets are not the easiest meat to smoke, but beginners can still give it a try if they remember a few things.
The hardest part of brisket is the amount of time it takes – and other than a few general “good-to-knows”, there isn’t some magic bullet for making a good backyard brisket.
Beef brisket will often take longer to cook than you may have planned, so always start earlier than you think you need to. This is especially important if you have guests or need to have everything done by a certain time.
Always use a water pan and a proper brisket rub. The brisket will need to be smoked for 10-16 hours at about 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beef checks are great for low and slow-smoking. Always start on the low setting and let it cook for about 30 minutes. This will infuse that smoky flavor that beef cheeks benefit the most from. After 30 minutes, turn the temperature up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Smoke it at a high temperature for 2-3 hours. Then, braise them in a baking tray for another 2-3 hours in broth or liquid. The internal temperature should be about 205 degrees Fahrenheit when you take it off the grill.
Chicken breasts are fairly easy to smoke, but they can dry very easily. A brining method is recommended because it will keep the meat very moist. Any kind of rub will work for seasoning, so make sure to use one to add extra flavor.
Carefully watch the temperature to make sure it doesn’t get dried out quickly.
Any kind of sausage is great for beginners to try smoking meat. This includes bratwurst. They are also cheaper than other kinds of meat and sold just about everywhere. It can also add a smoky flavor to many dishes.
Remember that any kind of sausage will need time to cool off. Don’t serve them right after they are done cooking to avoid burning your mouth.
Lamb is also great meat for beginners to smoke, but a less common one. Lamb is an excellent choice and is great if you are tired of other meat varieties. The main reason it is so great for smoking is that it is a dense meat that allows the connective tissue to break down easily.
This makes the meat extra tender and keeps the moisture locked in.
If you are feeling like having even more lamb, try to smoke the leg of the lamb as well. If your local market has the shank end and the upper sirloin end, choose the fatty sirloin for smoking. The fat will melt away slowly while being smoked and will make the meat extra tender.
Most lamb legs will need to be smoked for at least 3-4 hours.
Much like whole chicken, the whole turkey is also great for smoking. It has very lean meat and cooks much quicker than other meats you might have smoked in the past. Turkey also absorbs flavors very easily, so it makes a great smoky flavored meal.
Tips for Smoking Meat
Now that you know the best kinds of meat to smoke for beginners, let’s review some basic tips to make sure the smoking process is easy. Following these tips can make sure there is less mess and less wasted time.
Use a Water Tray for Meats That Cook for a Long Time
As the temperature of meat rises, it will begin to lose moisture. Most moisture is lost through the surface, so trying to keep it wet will ensure that your meat stays juicy. Place a tray of water in the smoker.
It will keep the smoker more humid and lessen the effects of evaporative cooling. The added humidity will keep the meat more tender and will also decrease your cooking times.
Always Keep the Lid Closed
I know, I know. It’s tempting to open the lid and admire your work.
The problem with that is opening the lid can cause the temperature in the smoker to change very quickly, even if the lid is only open for a few seconds. This could add time to your cooking and make your meat take much longer to be done.
Try and only open the lid when you absolutely have to and when you are actively cooking.
Start Low and Slow
The whole point of smoking is to gradually cook the meat. No meat can be smoked quickly and still achieve the same quality of results. Slow cooking time will also allow the tissues and collagen to break down properly in the meat. The slower it breaks down, the moister and tender the meat will be.
Pushing the meat to be done faster will waste the quality of the meat, so make sure to only smoke it at the advised temperature.
Always Start Earlier Than You Think
You can’t rush outstanding smoked meat. Giving yourself extra time to smoke the meat will make sure it stays cooked low and slow. Make sure to invest in a warming tray or insulated box in case your meat gets done before the company arrives.
Cooking faster if you’re not on schedule could ruin the meat for everyone. So, always give yourself ample time when smoking meat.
Pay Attention to Your Smoke
Some people think that more smoke will make the meat more flavorful, but sometimes it is actually the exact opposite. More smoke can make the meat taste bitter which is less than ideal.
Pellets may cause less smoke and that’s okay. Don’t let the amount of smoke affect your cooking too much and never try to add more smoke. Most professional meat smokers say that the best smoke is a thin-blue stream. This will make the meat smoky and not bitter.
Smoking meat is a great way to feed people for a family get-together or event. It can also make a great meal and let you showcase your grilling skills. It also makes the meat much more tender and juicier than traditional grilling.
Always start with one of the meats on this list and follow the tips to ensure you have the best quality smoked meat possible. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try all the choices.