The popularity of smoking and barbecuing has risen, which has raised consumer interest in various types and cuts of meat.
Low-cost cuts, which are readily available and great, economical alternatives to the more costly cuts, typically smoke best.
Read on for a detailed guide on the meats to pick for smoking, as well as the ones to avoid, if you’re wondering what the best meats to smoke are.
Many of these cuts are now also available to purchase from reputable butchers and meat suppliers online.
The best meats to smoke
Beef brisket is among the most popular cuts when it comes to low and slow cooking and smoking.
It is from the lower chest part of the animal and is quite a large cut.
Unlike other beef cuts, the brisket will hold its shape during the low and slow cooking and can be sliced and served in beautiful and delicious slabs or thin slices for cold meat sandwiches.
Who better to teach you how to smoke a brisket than Aaron Franklin?
Leftover brisket can (and must) be used in some delicious flavorful recipes
Flavorful pork butt is a perfect dense meat cut for cooking in a smoker. It comes from the upper shoulder area of the pig, which contains tight connective tissue and hard-working muscles.
It is best cooked low and slow and can take about 1.5 hours per pound of meat.
Here are some excellent recipes for smoked pork butt for beginners:
This cut comes from the lower shoulder area of the animal, right under the pork butt.
They come from the same part of the animal, but pork shoulder and pork butt are different cuts.
The pork should be a lot smaller than the butt, which means that it takes less time to cook.
The shoulder has the same amount of muscle and connective tissue as the pork butt and is another great meat for smoking and for making mouthwatering pulled pork.
Here are some easy to follow smoked pork shoulder recipes:
Smoking a Pork Shoulder the Right Way
Baby Back Ribs
The baby’s back ribs are the most popular rib cuts and come from the backbone area of the pig. They are meatier and smaller than the spare ribs but are an excellent choice for smoking, although they will cook faster than the spare ribs.
You can learn how to prepare smoked baby back ribs here:
This is another popular pork rib cut used for smoking and grilling. The spare ribs come from the belly area of the pig and are more flavorsome and larger than the baby’s back ribs. At the same time, they are not as meaty as them and, when cooked in slabs, will require long and slow cooking due to the large cartilage.
You can remove the cartilage, and you will get St. Louis-style pork ribs which are easy to cook if you are a newbie.
These recipes will help you prepare smoked spare ribs:
Beef Ribs (brisket on a stick)
Beef ribs are harder to find than pork rib cuts, but if you can get your hands on them, you won’t be sorry when preparing them in your smoker.
The better cuts come from, the lower end of the ribs as they have a lot of tasty mean in between the large ribs.
The beef ribs, too, require patience and time and can take 5-6 hours or more to smoke for the most satisfactory results.
Here are some ideas for making smoked beef ribs:
Lamb’s shoulder is another uncommon choice that is gradually increasing in popularity among pitmasters.
The lamb shoulder has a smoky and rich flavor which is enhanced when the meat is smoked.
Since the cut includes a dense, hard-working muscle from the shoulder of the animal and has a lot of connective tissue, it is another excellent choice for new and professional smokers.
These are the top-rated recipes for smoked lamb shoulder:
Smoked Lamb Barbacoa Tacos Recipe
This is another lamb cut that is delicious when smoked with the right wood and at the right temperature. The lamb leg is available in two cut types – a fattier sirloin upper cut and a narrow shank cut. The fatty sirloin is more suitable for smoking, as its fat renders and tenderizes the meat when it is cooked low and slow.
Here are several lamb leg recipes for smokers:
Boneless Smoked Lamb Leg with a Greek Rub
Turkish-Marinated and Smoked Lamb Leg
Spatchcock Whole Turkey
If you love the lean meat of the turkey, you will appreciate the spatchcock turkey cooking method in a smoker. Spatchcocking involves removing the backbone of the bird and laying it flat so that it can be seasoned inside and out and can be cooked evenly in the smoker faster than cooking a whole turkey.
Read on to find out more about smoking spatchcock whole turkey here:
Juicy Smoked Spatchcocked Turkey
Spatchcocked Smoked Turkey with a sage rub
Spatchcocking or butterflying the whole chicken is similar to the variant with the turkey. It allows for a more even application of the rub or marinade and for faster cooking in the smoker.
It requires a cooking temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit or over and about 1-1.5 hours to cook.
Here is how to make delicious smoked spatchcock chicken:
Smoked Spatchcock Chicken with a Smokey BBQ Sauce
Easy Recipe for Smoked Spatchcock Chicken
This is a cut from the cheek area of the animal, which has a hard-working cheek muscle from all the grass grazing.
It is a cheap and tough cut which makes it an ideal option for smoking and slow cooking. You can make delicious pulled beef if you prepare it in the smoker.
Here is how to smoke beef cheek:
Chuck roast is a beef cut from the shoulder area of the animal. It is flavorful but again is very tough as it is made out of muscle and a lot of connective tissue.
With low and slow cooking in a smoker, the inexpensive beef cut will become tender and delicious.
Here are two recipes for making smoked chuck roast:
Step-by-Step Recipe for Smoked Chuck Roast
Smoked Pulled Beef from Chuck Roast
While chicken breasts can easily be overcooked or can dry up when cooking them in a conventional manner, they can become juicy and tender when slow-cooked in the smoker and when the appropriate chicken rub is applied.
Read about the smoking method used for chicken breasts here:
Simple Recipe for Smoked Chicken Breast
While the chicken thighs are fattier and more flavor-filled than the breasts, they can become even tastier when prepared in a smoker with the skin left on.
Here are several easy recipes for smoking chicken thighs at home:
Smoked and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Thighs
Easy Smoked Chicken Thigh Recipe
If you think that turkey breast is dry and bland, then you should try smoked turkey breast. When prepped via brining or with a meat injection and cooked in a smoker as recommended, the turkey breast will become tender, flavorsome, and juicy. Read further if you want to know exactly how much turkey breast per person you’ll need.
Here are recipes for making smoked turkey breasts:
Smoked Turkey Breasts with Apple Cider
Beef Prime Rib
The prime rib is among the pricier beef cuts. It comes from the forequarter of the cow and includes the meat from the sixth to the twelfth ribs.
Usually, the prime beef rib is prepared roasted or pan-seared, but you can add a special flavor to this wonderful cut by smoking it using one of these recipes:
Garlic Buttered Smoked Prime Rib Roast
There are some store-bought sausages that you can turn into something truly special by smoking. You can choose among the wide variety of sausages and experiment with smoking them.
You can read a detailed guide for smoking sausages here:
Smoking Sausages Recipe and Guide
Pork Belly (Burnt Ends)
Pork belly, known as burnt ends, is the cut that comes from the lower abdominal area of the pig.
It is amazingly tender when it is prepared correctly, and thanks to the marbling and fat it contains, the pork belly is another excellent cut for smoking.
It can be sliced into cubes, known as burnt ends, and cooked in a smoker for 3 hours for the best results.
Here is how to make burnt ends and to smoke pork belly:
Pork Belly Burnt Ends Full Recipe
Smoked Pork Belly with Cleveland BBQ Sauce
Last but not least, tri-tip is another popular meat for smoking.
It is from the lower sirloin of the animal and has a distinctive triangular shape. The weight of the tri-tip is usually about 2-3 lbs. when it is trimmed and much more without the fat trimmed off.
Tri-tip with enough marbling is a perfect choice when choosing the best meats to smoke.
Here are the top recipes for smoking tri-tip:
Here are the meat cuts not suitable for smoking
The cuts suitable for smoking are the more inexpensive ones.
You shouldn’t waste expensive lean meat cuts like lean roasts, pork tenderloin, or thinly cut steaks for smoking because they are very likely to be overcooked and become dry during the process, which is a waste of money, time, and a huge disappointment.
Here is some useful information about how long does smoked meat last
Smoking meat low and slow is an excellent way to make even the toughest cuts tender and juicy delicacies.
Hopefully, we have helped you decide which types of cuts you will be choosing to prepare for your smoker.
Thankfully, there is an abundance of inexpensive and readily available meat cuts which you can experiment with, so don’t be afraid to try out one or more of these delicious recipes at home.