The Best Meat for Smoking (20 Cuts With Step-by-Step Instructions)

Its almost as if some cuts of meat were just meant to be smoked. Brisket, ribs and turkey are usually the first cuts that come to mind when people think of smoking meats. However, there are dozens of meat cuts that go well with a dose of smoke. I went as deep as I could go to find out what the best smoking meats are, and put together a comprehensive meat guide with step-by-step instructions.

What are the best cuts of meat for smoking? The best smoking meats are the tougher cuts with a lot of connective tissue. When cooked low-and-slow, the collagen melts into gelatin and gives the meat an amazing flavor. Here is a list of 10 cuts of meat perfect for smoking:

  • Brisket
  • Pork Ribs
  • Beef Ribs
  • Pork Shoulder
  • Chuck
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Sausages
  • Pork Belly
  • Burgers

1. Brisket

Brisket is king of the smoking meats and the prized cut of pitmasters. Brisket needs to be cooked low-and-slow so the fat and collagen renders and tenderizes. The goal with brisket is to have a nice, crisp bark on the outside but moist and juicy on the inside.

How To Select a Brisket

When selecting a brisket, buy a packer brisket because it’s better value for money. Packer brisket has a fat cap and a thin bark on the outside. Learning how to choose a good brisket is key. Brisket is difficult to cook evenly because it’s thick at one end and narrow at the other. One part of the brisket is called the point and the other end is the flat. For a more even cook, try to buy a brisket with a larger flat. You also want to look for marbling on the meat because this will render and taste better.

How to Smoke a Brisket

  1. Apply a good amount of salt to the front and back of the brisket. 
  2. Add a rub but make sure it’s low in salt content, otherwise skip step one. Add a binder (oil, mustard) to the brisket so the rub sticks. 
  3. Fire up your smoker to 300 °F and then slowly bring it down until the temperature stabilizes at 275°F. 
  4. Throw some wood on the fire. Hickory or oak works well with brisket. Wait for a nice clear, blue-tinged smoke to appear.
  5. Lay the thicker, muscly part of the brisket pointed towards the fire and lay the fatty side on the grill. 
  6. Smoke for 4-hours without opening the lid and keep the temp at 275°F.
  7. At the 4-hour mark, remove the brisket and wrap in foil or butcher paper. 
  8. You also want to spritz or mop the brisket to keep it moist and prevent the bark from burning. A spritz can be a spray bottle with apple cider vinegar and water. You should do this every 45-minutes from this point onwards. 
  9. Continue this process until the internal temperature reaches 198°F–205°F in the thickest part of the brisket. 
  10. Remove and wrap the brisket in a towel and rest the brisket in a cooler for at least 1-2 hours. This will allow the brisket to redistribute the moisture. 
  11. OPTIONAL: For “next-level” brisket, soak the brisket in a marinade or inject with an injector the day prior to cooking. 

2. Pork Shoulder (Pork Butt)

Pork butt goes by several names. We also know it as Boston Butt, Shoulder Butt, Shoulder Roast and many other names. Pork Butt is the upper pork shoulder and contains a lot of connective tissue and fat, which renders nicely low-and-slow. This cut of pork is where we get pulled pork. 

Smoking pork butts will differ depending on the size. Most will weigh between 4 to 9 pounds. A five-pound pork butt will take 6 hours at 225°F. Select a pork butt with a big muscle on the front side of the shoulder and a large muscle under the Y bone.


Brining is optional when smoking pork butts. It’s the best way to add flavor into the inner flesh. Use a meat injector and a brine mix made up of water, apple juice, sugar and salt. The other option is to dry brine with salt the day before. 

How To Smoke Pork Butt for Pulled Pork

  1. Trim excess fat and remove the rind if it’s still attached. You can also tie some string around the pork butt so it holds together better. 
  2. To allow the rub to stick, add a binder to the pork using mustard or oil. 
  3. Apply a rub.
  4. Set up your smoker for two-zone cooking. 
  5. Fire up your smoker to 250-275°F.
  6. Add two or three chunks of cherry, apple or hickory.
  7. Wait for a nice, clean smoke to roll out. 
  8. Lay the pork butt on the cook grate, fat side up. 
  9. Cook indirectly with the meat on one side and the fire on the other.
  10. Cook for 1-hour. 
  11. Spritz the pork butt with apple cider vinegar or another mop sauce. Do this every 45-minutes. 
  12. Add a more wood after 2 -hours.
  13. Wrap it in foil once a crust has developed. 
  14. Cook wrapped for 3 – 4 hours. 
  15. Probe with an instant-read thermometer for an internal temperature of 200°F.  
  16. Rest, then shred with meat claws. 

3. Turkey 

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be the only time you smoke turkey, we should enjoy them year-round. Turkey flesh is thin, so they only need a little smoke. Make sure you use a mild fruit wood like apple or cherry. 

It’s always better to brine your turkey the day before, but it isn’t necessary. Brining adds flavor but will also prevent the bird from drying out. Don’t buy one of those huge 12 pound turkeys because they’re too difficult to cook evenly. Spatchcocking is a popular method if you want to save time.

How to Smoke A Turkey

  1. Apply your rub. 
  2. Fire your smoker up to 300 °F (135-148°C). 
  3. Add two chunks of apple wood or cherry if you want some color. 
  4. Place the bird on the cook grate with the breast facing upwards.
  5. Smoke for an hour before basting with butter.  
  6. Spritz occasionally with apple cider vinegar or apple juice. You can also apply more rub. 
  7. Cook for about 3-hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. 
  8. Remove and rest for 30-minutes. 

4. Beef Ribs

Beef ribs are prepared as either long ribs or short ribs. The great thing about long ribs is the meat between the bones is ribeye steak. Wood is a personal choice, but the best wood for beef is hickory or pecan. When applying rubs to beef ribs, be sure not to use rubs high in sugar. Sweet rubs work well with pork ribs, but not beef. 

The Best Wood for Beef Ribs:

  • Oak
  • Pecan
  • Hickory

How to Smoke Beef Ribs

1. Trim excess fat from the ribs but don’t remove the membrane, otherwise the ribs won’t stay intact. We remove the membrane with pork but nor beef. 

2. It’s a good idea to coat the meat with a binder before applying the rub. Mustard is a good binder, but you can also use oil. 

3. Apply salt and pepper and whatever your favorite herbs for beef. Apply a beef rub, but be sure it’s low in sugar and salt. 

4. Bring your smoker up to 250°F. 

5. Throw some pecan or hickory onto the fire and wait for some good smoke to roll. 

6. Add the beef ribs to the grill with the bone side facing down. 

7. Smoke the beef ribs for 3-hours uncovered to absorb the smoke. 

8. Remove the ribs from the grill. 

9. Mop the ribs with a mopping sauce. You can use apple juice, melted butter, or whatever sauce you prefer. 

10. Wrap the beef ribs in foil and place back onto the grill. 

11. Cook for another 2-hours or until the ribs are soft like butter. 

12. Remove from the grill and rest for 30-minutes.

5. Chuck Roast

Chuck Roast is one of those cheap meats that most people ignore at the butcher. Commonly used in casseroles, chuck is a tough cut, full of collagen and fat. However, when cooked low-and-slow, the chuck fat and gristle renders wonderfully and tastes amazing. The cooking time will depend on the size of the roast, but plan for 6-8-hours. 

How To Smoke A Chuck Roast

  1. Apply salt and a beef rub to the total surface area of the chuck roast. 
  2. Bring the temperature of your smoker up to 250-275°F. 
  3. Throw some wood on the fire. Use a wood that blends well with beef. Wait for some good smoke to appear. 
  4. Place the chuck roast onto the grill and close the lid. 
  5. Smoke for under 2-hours and then turn the meat over. 
  6. Smoke for another 3-hours. 
  7. Remove the meat and apply a mop sauce. Broth or red wine works well for beef, but you can use whatever you like as long as the meat remains moist. 
  8. Wrap the chuck in foil, and return to the smoker for another 2-3-hours. 
  9. Probe the meat and remove once the internal temperature nears 200°F. 
  10. Let the meat rest for at least 30-minutes to an hour. 
  11. Use meat claws and pull the beef apart the same way you would shred pulled pork. 

Pork Ribs

There are many styles and cuts of pork ribs. Some pork ribs contain more fat or more cartilage, which influences the flavor, texture and cooking methods.

8 Styles of Pork Ribs

  1. Riblets
  2. Baby Back Ribs
  3. Spare Ribs
  4. St. Louis Ribs
  5. Kansas City Style Ribs
  6. Button Ribs
  7. Rib Roast
  8. Rib Tips

The 3-2-1 Method of Smoking Ribs

The best way to smoke ribs is to follow the 3-2-1 method at 225°F for about 6-hours. The 3-2-1 method is as follows:


Bring the temperature of your smoker up to 225- 250°F. Smoke the ribs for 3-hours uncovered. This allows the meat to absorb smoke from the wood. You can apply a mop sauce during this phase if you wish. 


Remove the ribs from the grill and apply a rib sauce to the ribs. Wrap the ribs in foil and return to the smoker for another 2-hours. The foil and the sauce will keep the ribs nice and moist. 


Remove the ribs from the smoker and unwrap the foil. Place the ribs back onto the grill for 1-hour uncovered to harden the crust and cause the sauce to caramelize. If the sauce you are using contains a lot of sugar, monitor it carefully or it will burn easily.

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done

We can probe most cuts of meat with an instant-read thermometer, but ribs are difficult to get a read. If you can probe the ribs, they should have an internal temperature around 200°F. Most pitmasters test their ribs by feel. Ribs should feel like poking into butter and the meat should almost fall off the bone, but not quite. The aim is to for the meat to still be attached to the bone so you can chew it off!

6. Baby Back Ribs

Baby backs contain eight to thirteen ribs and are taken from the upper section of the ribcage, just underneath the pork loin. Pork ribs are best smoked with mild woods such as apple, cherry or pecan.

2-2-1 Method for Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs are commonly smoked using the 2-2-1 method. This is almost the same as the 3-2-1 method, with the difference being the first place of the cook is only for 2-hours. 

Smoked Baby Back Ribs –  Step-By-Step

  1. Remove the membrane with a sharp knife. 
  2. Apply a binder such as mustard or oil so the rub sticks. 
  3. Apply a meat rub suitable for pork. 
  4. Give the rub a few hours to absorb. 
  5. Get the temperature of your smoker up to about the 230°F. 
  6. Throw two or three chunks of mild wood such as cherry, apple or pecan. 
  7. Wait for the bad smoke to clear and when a clean smoke is rolling, add the baby backs to the grill. 
  8. Smoke the ribs for 2-3 hours uncovered. Make sure to spritz every hour with a mop sauce. 
  9. Remove from the grill and wrap in foil. Mop the ribs and apply more rub. 
  10. Return the baby backs to the grill for another 2-hours. 
  11. After about 5-hours, check to see if the baby backs are tender. Poke the ribs with something sharp and it should be soft like butter.
  12. Remove the ribs from the foil and rest for 20–30 minutes. 

7. Pork Spare Ribs

Pork spare ribs don’t have as much meat as baby backs but have a lot of fat and bone cartilage, which gives them a nice texture and a different flavor. Spare ribs are often sliced into riblets. 

How to Smoke Pork Spare Ribs – Step-By-Step

  1. Cut the membrane from the ribs. 
  2. Fire up your smoker and raise the temperature in the 250 to 275 °F range. 
  3. Add a mild wood to the fire and wait for some thin, clear smoke. 
  4. Place the ribs (uncovered) onto the grill with the meat facing downwards. 
  5. Cook for 2-hours.
  6. Remove the ribs and spritz with apple juice, apple cider vinegar or water. 
  7. Apply a pork rib sauce then wrap in foil. 
  8. Place the ribs back into the pit for 2-hours. 
  9. Check for tenderness using the bend test. If the meat breaks through at the tip of the ribs, then they are done. Poke the ribs with a sharp object until it feels like butter. 
  10. Remove and rest for 30-minutes.

8. St. Louis Ribs

St. Louis Style Ribs are pork belly with the rib tips cut off. Traditionally, St. Louis Ribs are covered is a thick barbecue sauce. 

How to Smoke St. Louis Ribs

  1. Cut the tips off the ribs so it resembles St. Louis cut ribs. 
  2. Before adding rub, cover the ribs in a binder. Use either mustard or oil. 
  3. Apply salt and rub.
  4. Fire your smoker up to 250°F and add some apple, cherry or pecan wood. 
  5. Once some clean smoke is blowing, lay the ribs on the grill. 
  6. After 1-hour, mop the ribs with apple cider vinegar or apple juice.
  7. Cook for 2-hours. 
  8. Remove from the grill, baste and wrap in foil.
  9. Cook for 1-hour and then check for tenderness or probe for an internal temperature of 202°F.
  10. Remove, unwrap, and apply the glaze.  
  11. Rest for 20-minutes. 

9. Kansas City Style Ribs 

They prepare this style of ribs using spare ribs and serve with a tomato sauce. 

How to Smoke Kansas City Spare Ribs

  1. Cut the membrane from the ribs. 
  2. Coat the ribs with an oil binder. 
  3. Add a rub and let it sit for a few hours. 
  4. Bring the smoke up to 250°F.
  5. Add some wood that blend well with pork. 
  6. Lay ribs on the grill once the smoker hits 250°F.
  7. Spritz every hour.
  8. Cook for 4-hours.
  9. Remove and apply the sweet tomato sauce. 
  10. Lay ribs back onto the grill for 20 minutes.
  11. Remove, add more sauce, and rest for 20-minutes.

10. Rib Tips

They make rib tips from pork belly and cut from the lower section of the spareribs. Cut the rib tips into 2-inch chunks. 

How to Smoke Rib Tips

  1. Apply a rub. 
  2. Bring smoker up to 275°F.
  3. Add wood and wait for some good smoke to flow. 
  4. Add the meat and cook for 3-hours. 
  5. Remove and add a sauce. 
  6. Place back in the smoker for 1-hour.  

11. Riblets

Riblets are a small ribs cut sliced into appetizer-style finger food. Riblets are made by slicing a rib rack down the middle, then sliced into single ribs. 

The Best Wood for Smoking Pork Ribs

  • Cherry
  • Apple
  • Pecan

12. Turkey Breast

Turkey breasts are simple to smoke and only take a few hours. If you can keep the breasts from drying out, then smoke turkey breast one of the most delicious quick-and-easy meats to smoke. 

How to Smoke Turkey Breast

  1. Trim and remove the skin. 
  2. Season with salt and pepper. You can use an all purpose rub.  
  3. Bring your smoker up to 280°F (137 °C).
  4. Throw your favorite wood on the fire. Cherry works well for turkey and will give it a nice mahogany color. 
  5. Add the turkey breast to the grill.
  6. Cook for 2-hours. 
  7. Remove breasts from the grill and wrap in foil. Spritz with apple cider vinegar, or melted butter. 
  8. Return the breast to the smoker.  
  9. Continue cooking and probe for an internal temperature of 165 °F (71-73 °C). 
  10. Allow the breasts to rest for 30-minutes. 

13. Sausages

Sausages are a quick and easy meat smoke and can turn even the most boring sausage into delicious smoked meat. Smoked sausage works as a good appetizer and can be sliced and served with cheese. Smoked sausage only takes about an hour to cook. Rather than close my smoker down after a long cook, I like to throw some sausages on at the end so the hot coals don’t go to waste. 

You can smoke any sausage but the best are Bratwurst, Chorizo, Weisswurst, Boudin Blanc Italian or Breakfast sausages. 

How To Smoke Sausages

  1. Set your smoker up for an indirect style of cooking with coals to one side of the pit. 
  2. Fire up your smoker and bring the temperature up to 220-230 °F (104-110 °C)
  3. Add your favorite wood and get some nice smoke rolling. 
  4. Lay the sausages on the cook grate in the opposite zone to the fire.
  5. Smoke the sausages for 1-hour and then probe for an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C). 

14. Pork Belly Burnt Ends

I guarantee if you nail this recipe, your pork belly burn ends will be a crowd pleaser. This is one of my all-time favorites. Burnt ends are  pork belly strips sliced into small cubes and cooked low-and-slow for about 4-hours. 

How to Smoke Pork Belly Burnt Ends

  1. Cut the pork belly strips into thick cubes. 
  2. Apply a rub that works well with pork.
  3. Setup your smoker for indirect two-zone cooking with the fire in one zone and the meat in the other zone. 
  4. Setup your smoker for an indirect style of cooking with two zones. 
  5. Light your smoker and bring it up to 225-250 °F  (121°C). 
  6. Add some cherry, apple, or pecan wood and wait for some nice, clean smoke. 
  7. Lay the pork belly cubes on the grill. This is time consuming because there are so many pieces. To make it easier, you can lay the pork on a separate rack to make transferring easier. 
  8. Cook for 2- hours at 225-250 °F  (121°C). 
  9. Remove from the smoker.
  10. Place the pork belly cubes into an aluminium pan.
  11. Add a sauce into the aluminium pan and mix it well with the pork belly. Make a mixture of butter, honey or brown sugar. Alternatively, use barbecue sauce.  
  12. Cover the pan with foil 
  13. Place the pan back into the smoker and cook for another 2-hours.
  14. Aim for an internal temperature of 200°F (93°C). 
  15. Remove the meat from the pan and drain the sauce. 
  16. OPTIONAL** Add a pork glaze. 

15. Smoked Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs have great flavor, which is further enhanced with smoke. Thighs taste better with crisp skin, so they are best cooked at a higher temperature. If the smoker isn’t hot enough, you’ll end up with rubbery skin. This method only takes a few hours. 

How to Smoke Chicken Thighs

  1. Prepare the chicken with a seasoning or chicken rub. You can also pre-brine or marinade the thighs overnight in a zip-lock bag. 
  2. Setup your smoker for indirect cooking with the coals to one side.
  3. Fire up your smoker to 300°F (148°C)
  4. Throw a few chunks of wood on the fire and wait for some good smoke. 
  5. Place the thighs directly onto the grill or in an aluminium pan. 
  6. Smoke the thighs for 30-minutes. 
  7. Mop the thighs with melted butter. 
  8. Cook for another 90-minutes. 
  9. Cook until you reach an internal temperature of 175°F (79°C). 

16. Smoked Chicken Breast

Chicken breasts are quick, cheap and easy meat to smoke, and can be done in 2-hours. Chicken breasts can dry out easily, so spritzing and temperature control are important. 

How to Smoke Chicken Breasts

  1. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs or a chicken rub.
  2. Light your smoker and bring it up to 280°F (137 °C).
  3. Add some cherry, apple, or pecan wood to the fire. 
  4. Lay the chicken breasts on the cook grate. 
  5. Cook the breasts for 1.5 to 2-hours.
  6. Remove and mop with butter or sprits with apple juice or apple cider vinegar. 
  7. Wrap the chicken in foil and place back on the grill. 
  8. Continue cooking to an internal temperature of 160 -165 °F (71-73 °C). 
  9. Remove and allow to rest for 20-minutes. 
  10. Drizzle with more butter and serve. 

17. Smoked Chicken Wings

There are dozens of ways to smoke chicken wings. This way is simple to follow and only take an hour and a half. Wings always taste better if you marinade them prior to smoking, but this is optional. 

How to Smoke Chicken Wings

  1. Add a binder to the wings (oil or butter) then season with salt, pepper and chicken rub. 
  2. Set your smoker up for 2-zone cooking. 
  3. Bring your smoker up to 275°F (135°C). 
  4. Throw two chunks of fruit wood onto the fire. 
  5. Place the wings onto the rack or directly on the cook grate.
  6. Cook the wings for 1-hour.
  7. Flip the wings and add more rub. 
  8. Smoke wings for another 30-minutes.  
  9. Cook until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F (73°C). 

18. Smoked Chicken Drumsticks

Chicken drumsticks are easy to smoke and only take 1.5 hours. 

  1. Apply a binder, then add salt, pepper, and a chicken rub. 
  2. Fire up your smoker up to 275-300 °F (135-148°C). 
  3. Add two chunks of wood. 
  4. Place the drums on the cook grate and smoke for 1-hour. 
  5. Turn the drumsticks over, apply more rub. 
  6. Place the drums back on the grill and smoke for another 30-minutes until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (73°C). 
  7. Remove and rest for 20-minutes.

19. Smoked Burgers

Smoke house burgers are simple and delicious and will take just over an hour. You can make your own burgers out of ground beef or buy ready-made burgers from your butcher. 

How to Smoke Burgers

  1. Semi-freeze the burgers on wax paper so the burgers don’t fall apart. 
  2. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and your favorite rub. 
  3. Setup your smoker for two-zone cooking.  
  4. Fire up your smoker to 275°F (135°C). 
  5. Throw two chunks of hickory onto the fire for a strong, smokey flavor.
  6. Lay the burgers on the cook grate and cook for 30-minutes.
  7. Turn the burgers, then smoke for another 30-minutes. 
  8. Baste with a barbecue, then smoke for the final 10-minutes. 
  9. Serve with caramelized onion, fried bacon, mushrooms, and melted cheese. 

20. Smoked Whole Chicken

Chickens are cheap and readily available and smoke well. You can pre-brine or marinade the chicken if you want extra flavor and moisture. Another option with chicken is to spatchcock the bird so it cooks faster and more evenly. It should take about 3-hours, and it’s better to smoke at a higher temperature for a crispy skin. 

How to Smoke Whole Chicken

  1. Apply oil or butter as a binder, before adding salt, pepper and chicken rub. 
  2. Bring your smoker up to 275-300 °F (135-148°C). 
  3. Add two chunks of cherry or apple wood
  4. Place the bird on the cook grate with the breast facing upwards and smoke for 3-hours. 
  5. Spritz occasionally with apple cider vinegar or apple juice. You can also apply more rub. 
  6. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 175°F (73°C). 
  7. Remove and rest for 30-minutes. 


The Best Meat For Beginner’s To Smoke

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

Meat Thermometers – Your Most Important Tool

The Beginner’s Guide To Meat Thermometers

The Best Meat Thermometers Under $50 (We List the Top 8 Choices)

The Best Thermometers for Smoking Meat

Best Wi-Fi Meat Thermometers (We Review the 5 Top Models)

Best Instant-Read Thermometers for Smoking (Top 6 Picks)

What Are Automatic Barbeque Temperature Controllers? The Complete Buyers Guide

MEATER Wireless Thermometer – Is It Any Good?


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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