The 7 Best Meats for Smoking

Best meats to smoke

Smoking meat is done by cooking meat over low heat for hours, typically but not always in an enclosed space with ample space for smoke to circulate. Smoking of meat is primarily used to tenderise and flavor meat and to preserve it for long-term storage without refrigeration.

How to Choose the Best Meats to Smoke

Best Meats for BBQ

  • Flavor–smoking is a method that blends the flavor of the wood with that of the meat
  • Texture–Meat that is normally too tough or chewy when cooked quickly are best
  • Fat Content–look for meat with a good balance of fat content which is what helps to break down collagen and makes it tender

Pretty much any meat can be smoked but some cuts and some meats just fare better during the smoking process.

What You’ll Need:

  • Good thermometer for testing the internal temperature
  • Piece of meat
  • Some Type of Smoker (store bought or DIY)
  • Brine, Rub, or Marinade (to prevent drying and to add flavor)

Best Meats to Smoke

#1 BEEF:

Beef Brisket

Beef Brisket

  • The king of meats when it comes to smoking
  • Most desirable cut
  • Generous marbling
  • Good balance of fat
  • Stays moist
  • Can be expensive
  • Can be harder to find
  • Cuts can be small at local markets
  • Ask the butcher for “the flat” rather than the deckle or point which are more uneven and smaller
  • Look for a cut that flexes when you lift it to gauge tenderness
  • Prepare with a rub or for best results brine it
  • Cross between steak and roast beef when smoked
  • Stringy texture but melts in your mouth

Prime Rib

  • Definitely going to cost you
  • Doesn’t get any better than this though
  • Not a good cut for beginning smokers

#2 Chicken

Chicken Meat

Chicken is readily available fresh at just about any grocery, it’s frequently on sale and therefore inexpensive.

Whole Chicken

  • Stay moist during the smoking process
  • Kinda hard to screw up
  • Can be smoked in one afternoon
  • Can get an entire bird for less than $10
  • Remove gizzards and neck before seasoning and smoking

Chicken Quarters

  • Dark meat great for smoking
  • Not as much work as whole chicken when putting away leftovers
  • Chicken quarters are very inexpensive

Rock Hens (Cornish Hens)

  • Daintier flavor than turkey or chicken
  • Similar to a partridge in taste
  • Requires a brine
  • Responds well to rubs
  • Best wood is mesquite


  • Firm texture but moist when smoked
  • Sweet creamy taste that absorbs the flavor of wood
  • Smells divine when smoking
  • The wild turkey has more flavor but domestic turkeys work also
  • Brine it for one hour per pound to prevent it from drying out during smoking process
  • Can use a rub if desired
  • Let rest a half hour before serving


Pork Shoulder

  • Use hickory, pecan, cherry, or apple wood to smoke domestic pork
  • Very forgiving meat
  • Comes out moist

Pork Shoulder

  • Big cuts like a Boston Butt don’t cost an arm and a leg
  • Large shoulders _Boston butt) go on sale in early summer
  • Picnic (lower legs) has a good balance of fat plus skin over the joint makes it self-basting

Pork Ribs

  • Ribs are easy to smoke–remove the outer membrane
  • Good for beginners to start out with
  • Prepare with a rub or marinade
  • Can feed a lot of people inexpensively
  • Available at most local grocery chains
  • Will be tender enough to fall off the bone
  • Brine or marinade to help with moistness

Wild Hog (Feral Hogs, Razorbacks, Russian Boars)

  • Use mesquite wood for smoking
  • Moist and juicy when smoked properly
  • Darker and leaner than traditional pork
  • Similar to young beef calves or deer
  • Sweet nutty taste
  • Somewhat stringy but not greasy
  • Completely different taste from domestic pork
  • Requires a brine to stay moist
  • Use rub or marinades with bourbon, Cayenne, garlic, etc.

#4 Venison (Deer):


  • Use apply, cherry, or hickory woods
  • All parts can be smoked
  • Tenderloins and shoulder are best for smoking
  • Brine meat overnight for required extra moisture
  • Fruit woods like cherry and apple wood are great for deer
  • Oakwood works well for deer meat
  • Semi stringy texture, similar to quality roast beef

#5 LAMB:

LAMB Meat smoking


  • Has a great balance of fat
  • Gamey meat breaks down during the smoking process
  • Good cuts can be difficult to find
  • Be on alert for sales to get a good price


  • Do well during the long smoking process
  • Maybe more difficult to position in your smoker for even heating
  • Cut boneless legs in half for more even cooking


Salmon Fish Smoking

Fatty fish including trout, haddock, mackerel, carp, and salmon are best for smoking but may require curing or drying prior to being smoked


  • Available in thick cuts
  • Readily available at local markets
  • Local fishmongers may have sustainable options
  • If buying go for wild caught not farm raised
  • Wonderful flavor when smoked
  • Experienced smokers can try cold smoking
  • Other fatty fish include trout, haddock, mackerel

Choose Your Wood Smoke Flavor:

  • The Smoky sweetness comes from fruitwoods. Cherry is good for beef and pork, apple, maple or pecan work well for pork, poultry, and seafood.
  • For a strong smoky flavor that works for pork and red meats try hickory or oak wood
  • The strongest wood smoke flavor is mesquite, it’s ideal for dark meat and provides a very intense taste.
  • For a mild sweet smoke, consider maple this flavor is great for vegetables and poultry meat such as chicken and turkey

Tips for Smoking Meat:

  • Lean cuts of meat can be harder to smoke
  • Tough meats that wouldn’t be edible if cooked normally can be great smoked
  • Cuts that are fattier are better for the long slow, low heat of smoking
  • Part of what produces the tenderness of the smoked meat is melting fat and connective tissues which happens during the long smoking process.
  • Meat from the game such as deer will be lean, it will be tough, and will dry out quickly so these require bringing and special attention when smoking.
  • Wet smoking is good for leaner meats which are prone to drying out. Dry smoking is the traditional method and works best for thicker cuts and meats with good fat content.

Meats that Don’t Smoke Well:

  • Steak
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Lean roasts


Heat Sources for Smoking Meat:

#1 Wood

Wood is one of the most popular types of heat for smoking meat and is said to infuse the meat with the best flavor.

#2 Charcoal

Charcoal is a good method for smoking meat if you are new to the smoking process. Smoking meat using charcoal doesn’t infuse as much flavor but it requires less attention than wood smoking. You can use outdoor smoker like Traeger Renegade Elite Grill to make the process easier and quicker.

#3 Gas

Gas is one of the “high tech” methods for smoking meat. It’s quick and easy to use because it requires less monitoring of temperature. If you need to smoke your meat quickly to preserve it and are less concerned with flavor, this method is best.

#4 Electric

Electric is one of the quickest and easiest methods for smoking meat. This method costs more and doesn’t produce as deep a flavor as charcoal or wood smoking. Regardless of how you choose to smoke your meat, the internal temperature and presence of smoke rings will indicate that you’ve smoked your meat to perfection.