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The Best Meat to Smoke: 15 Best Cuts to Throw into the Smoker

If you want to preserve, add more flavor, and enhance the nutrients in the meat, smoking can be one of the best options. It’s an ancient method that can be used for many types of meat, but not all of them. The best meat to smoke is the one with high levels of fat and more connective tissue. But there is more to consider.

The Best Meat to Smoke: 15 Best Cuts to Throw into the Smoker
Highlights
  • Smoking meat is an old and effective way to preserve and add flavor to meats.
  • The quality of smoked meat depends on the size, muscle structure, and fat content of the meat you choose.
  • Beef short ribs, pork ribs, and pork shoulder are the best meats to throw into the smoker.
  • Lean poultry breasts, tenderloin, and certain fishes like flounder that have a delicate texture are not suitable for smoking.

What Is Smoked Meat?

Smoking is the process of flavoring, browning, cooking, or preserving meat by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material like wood. Smoking is one of the oldest ways of cooking meat.

There are two main reasons to smoke meat: to preserve it and add flavor. In the past, smoke was used for preservation, but now it's mostly used to enhance the taste of meat.

When wood burns, it creates flavors like caramel and vanilla. Smoking also gives the meat a dark crust called "bark, " making tough cuts tender by simmering them.

In order to smoke meat, you need to:

  1. Select your preferred meat, such as brisket, pork, chicken, or fish.
  2. Brine or marinate the meat for extra flavor and moisture.
  3. To marinate, you can use teriyaki marinade (soy sauce, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, and sesame oil) or citrus herb marinade (orange or lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, thyme, and rosemary).
  4. Preheat the smoker to a low temperature, around 225-250°F (107-121°C).
  5. Add wood chips or chunks to the smoker to create smoke. Common choices include hickory, mesquite, apple, or cherry wood.
  6. Put the prepared meat on the smoker's rack. Consider leaving enough space for smoke circulation.
  7. Let the meat rest for at least 30 minutes after cooking for juicy results.
  8. Slice the smoked meat according to your preference.
  9. Enjoy!

More important than the smoking process is the procedure of selecting meat to throw into the smoker.

Learn More: What Is an Animal-Based Diet? Everything You Must Know

How to Select the Best Meat for Smoking?

You can choose from many available cuts to make smoked meat. But, the final texture and flavor of the smoked meat are influenced by many factors, including the following.

  • Smoking is a slow and low-heat cooking method. Cuts of meat with high-fat content can benefit from it because the fat melts and flavors the meat through the smoking process and also keeps it moist and tender while it cooks [1].
  • Tougher cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue, like chuck roast or pork butt, are perfect for smoking. The slow-cooking process breaks down the tough collagen and renders it into delicious gelatin that can be melted in the mouth [2].
  • The size and thickness of the meat can directly affect the smoking time. Bigger and thicker cuts generally need more time to cook [3].
  • It is a matter of personal taste, but generally, bones can add flavor and moisture. Also, boneless cuts of meat can cook more quickly [4].
  • The best meat to smoke is the one that aligns with your preferences, health conditions, and diet goals. For example, if you’re on a low-carb and high-fat diet like the Carnivore Diet, it’s better to choose cuts of meat with high levels of fat, like beef short ribs.
  • Always choose high-quality and fresh meat. Remember that meat should have a vibrant color without any strange smell.

There are many kinds of meat that you can use for smoking. We can’t say one of them is good and the other is bad because they have their pros and cons and you should choose the ones that meet your needs.

Learn More: The Best Meat for Beef Jerky and How to Select Them

The Best Kind of Meat for Smoking

There are many kinds of meat available for smoking, including chicken, pork, beef, and fish, each with its positive and negative features.

Chicken

  • Pros: Affordable, readily available, mild flavor, takes well to rubs and marinades, cooks quickly, and is a rich source of vitamin D, selenium, and potassium.
  • Cons: Can dry out easily, lacks fat, iron, zinc, and vitamin B compared to other options, especially red meat and organs.
  • Good Cuts to Smoke: Whole chicken, thighs, wings, drumsticks

Pork

  • Pros: Rich flavor, affordable, rich in fat, vitamin B, zinc, iron, and protein
  • Cons: Some cuts, like pork belly, require a very long smoking time, are high in unhealthy fats, and lack calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Good Cuts to Smoke: Pork shoulder, ribs

Beef

  • Pros: Rich in essential nutrients like fat, protein, iron, and vitamin B, it has a deep flavor and melts in your mouth when cooked properly.
  • Cons: Can be expensive, requires more attention to avoid drying out, has longer smoking times for larger cuts, lacks calcium, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Good Cuts to Smoke: Brisket, ribs, chuck roast

Fish

  • Pros: A healthier option compared to other animal meats, it can be marinated easily with a variety of smoky flavors and sauces and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B, and D, selenium, zinc, and iron.
  • Cons: Can be overcooked very fast, lacks vitamin C and calcium
  • Good Cuts to Smoke: Salmon, tuna steaks, mackerel, swordfish

So, let’s handpick the 15 best cuts of meat to throw into the smoker.

Learn More: White Meat vs. Dark Meat: Which One Is Better for You?

'Meat saved our lives': These people lost 200 lbs and healed 5 common chronic diseases with Carnivore.

15 Best Cuts of Meat to Smoke

The following cuts of meat are the best choices to smoke based on their characteristic and nutrients. You can also check Carnivore diet recipes to learn how to use these cuts in yummy dishes.

  • Brisket (Beef)
  • Short Ribs (Beef)
  • Tri-Tip (Beef)
  • Pork Shoulder
  • Pork Ribs
  • Chicken Thighs
  • Chicken Wings
  • Turkey Breast
  • Turkey Drumstick
  • Leg of Lamb
  • Lamb Breast
  • Salmon Fillet
  • Bratwurst or Italian Sausages
  • Venison Backstrap
  • Duck Breast

Learn More: Is Steak Good for Weight Loss? The Best and Worst Cuts of Meat

Brisket (Beef)

Brisket comes from the breast of the cow. Smoking brisket slowly allows the fat to render and provide tender and flavorful meat. The long cooking time breaks down collagen and gives it a soft and juicy texture.

Short Ribs (Beef)

Beef short ribs are well-marbled and contain a good amount of connective tissue. Smoking them allows the collagen to break down, resulting in tender and succulent meat.

Tri-Tip (Beef)

The Tri-tip is a triangular muscle from the cow’s bottom sirloin. Its balanced mix of lean meat and fat makes it ideal for smoking. Also, it’s boneless and lean, and its unique shape allows for many cooking methods. The result is a flavorful cut that can be easily sliced for serving.

Pork Shoulder

The pork shoulder comes from the area above the front legs of a pig and is cut with a good amount of marbling and connective tissue. Slow smoking transforms this cut into pulled pork and provides a delightful taste.

Pork Ribs

The common types of pork ribs are baby back ribs and spare ribs, which are both excellent choices for smoking. Baby backs are cut from the area near a pig's spine, and spare ribs are cut from lower on the animal near the belly. Baby back ribs have more meat and are leaner and more tender than spare ribs, but they are more expensive.

Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are dark meat with a higher fat content, which makes them ideal for smoking. Smoking thighs results in juicy and flavorful meat that can be easily shredded or enjoyed on its own.

Chicken Wings

Chicken wings can soak up smoky flavors, stay juicy, and cook quickly. They're easy to season, have crispy skin, and are affordable and versatile.

Turkey Breast

Turkey breast is perfect for smoking because it gets a tasty and smoky flavor with added moisture. The slow smoking process also gives it a crispy outside and makes it a delicious and versatile choice for any meal.

Turkey Drumstick

Turkey drumsticks are great for smoking because the slow smoking process makes them flavorful and juicy and adds a rich taste and tenderness, making smoked turkey drumsticks an appealing option.

Leg of Lamb

The lamb's rich and flavorful taste is enhanced by the slow smoking process. Lamb's leg is available in two different cuts: an upper sirloin end and a narrow shank end. The fatty upper sirloin cut is better for smoking because of the higher levels of fats, and it might take 3 to 4 hours to cook completely.

Lamb Breast

The breast of a lamb contains several parts of the animal that are all great for smoking: brisket, belly, and ribs. It has high levels of fat and connective tissue that keeps it moist even if you leave it on the smoker for longer.

Salmon Fillet

Salmon can be smoked in 2 ways: cold-smoked or hot-smoked. Cold-smoked salmon is gently smoked at a low temperature, usually under 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot-smoked salmon is smoked at temperatures higher than 90 degrees. The slow smoking process adds a delicious smokiness to the salmon and keeps it moist and flavorful.

Bratwurst or Italian Sausages

These seasoned sausages are ideal for quick smoking due to their compact size and high fat content. Also, they absorb smoky flavors that enhance their taste.

Venison Backstrap

Venison backstrap is great for smoking because its taste of lean and tender meat can be enhanced by smoking. When smoking it, you must be very cautious of timing because if you leave it a little longer, it will dry completely.

Duck Breast

If you’re looking for greasy smoked meat, duck breast is one of the best options for you. Duck breast has a strong flavor with high levels of fat, which is essential for delicious smoking meat.

The following table shows the nutritional values in 100 grams of the above cuts of meat [5]:

MeatProtein (g)Fat (g)Calories (kcal)
Brisket (Beef) 20.7 7.37 157
Short Ribs (Beef) 29.4 31.8 400
Tri-Tip (Beef) 20.6 8.55 165
Pork Shoulder 25.1 17.7 267
Pork Ribs Baby Back 11.4 14.3 229
Pork Ribs Spare Rips 15.5 23.4 277
Chicken Thighs 22.6 8.3 190.5
Chicken Wings 20.3 17.8 251.4
Turkey Breast 15.9 1.89 94
Turkey Drumstick 18.6 6.2 133
Leg of Lamb 17.9 17.1 230
Lamb Breast 19 15 211
Salmon Fillet 18.3 4.32 117
Bratwurst or Italian Sausages 17.6 7.06 153
Venison Backstrap 23 2.42 120
Duck Breast 19.8 4.25 123

There are some other cuts of meat that are not suitable for smoking due to their features and fat content.

The Cuts of Meat That Shouldn’t Be Smoked

While many kinds of meat can be a good option for smoking, some may not deliver good results due to their characteristics or nutritional facts.

  • Lean Cuts: Cuts like beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin, and chicken breasts lack the necessary fat content to stay moist and flavorful during the long smoking process. They will dry out and become tough [6] [7].
  • Ground Meat: Large and whole cuts of meat are optimal for smoking. Ground meats cook too quickly and do not have the required consistency to cook well in the smoker. So it’s better to avoid smoking ground meat or any kind of meat that is not consistent enough.
  • Processed Meats: Pre-smoked or cured meats, like ham, don't need additional smoking and may become overcooked or lose their original flavor [8].
  • Fish with Delicate Texture: Delicate fish, such as flounder fish, may not hold up well for the smoking process and can easily become spoiled [9].

Summary

Choosing the best meat to smoke depends on your preferences, health conditions, and diet goals. But generally, meats with high fat and tough and thick muscle structures are the best options for smoking.

Also, remember that smoked meat can’t be your all-day meal, and you should consume smoked meat in moderation. Always track the amount of your fat, calories, and protein intake.

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