The best meats to smoke are meats with a high amount of collagen and fats such as pork shoulder, beef briskets, beef cheeks and rib. The connective tissues and fats breakdown during the cooking process which will keep the meat moist and tender.
The best meats to smoke as a beginner
Boston Butt (Pulled Pork)
If you’re new to meat smoking, this is what we recommend starting with first. As it is often very well-marbled, it’s by far the most forgiving cut of meat to smoke and is often a lot cheaper than experimenting on a brisket.
Look for one with the bone still in it. This will often result in a much better flavour and texture.
A Boston Butt is not actually a butt despite the name. The name dates back to the American Revolutionary War when pork butts were a New England speciality.
The most common types of rubs used for this cut of meat is a sweet-red rub. The paprika and brown sugar adds a great flavour to the butt and goes to eventually form the highly sought after bark. If you enjoy a bit of spice, you can add some chilli powder to the mix to turn up the heat.
If this your first time giving this a go, we recommend using a more neutral-tasting wood pellet or wood chip. This way, you get an idea of what you like and tweak the recipe in the future.
We recommend smoking it for 4-5 hours at 121oC (250oF) to develop a nice outer bark before wrapping it and putting it back into the smoker for another 4-5 hours. For the best texture and flavour, you want to smoke it until the internal temperature is 93oC (199oF).
Adding to the list of best meats to smoke, a whole bird is another great way to get started. It’s cheap and hard to mess up. In terms of seasoning, you can either keep it simple with salt and pepper or use your favourite rub.
Ideally, you want to smoke it at 162oC (324oF) for 2-3 hours until the internal temperature is at least 73oC (164oF).
Due to the breast being very lean, it can dry out during the cooking process. You can try brining the entire bird prior to cooking to help it retain more moisture.
Briskets and ribs are probably the hallmarks of smoked meat. While it may be tempting to give it ago as soon as you get your new smoker, there are a couple of things to remember.
- Always put in on earlier than you initially planned.
- Be aware of the stall.
- Use a water pan.
Briskets are usually smoked on 107oC (225oF) for 10-20 hours until the internal temperature.
This usually tends to trip up many beginners. What happens is that the internal temperature will stay constant at 65-75oC (149 – 167oF) for many hours.
There is a bit of science which causes this but the easiest thing to do is to use the Texas Crutch method. This involves wrapping the brisket with either butcher’s paper or foil to help it overcome the internal temperature plateau.
We’ll elaborate later on a couple of helpful tips to help you get better results.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good rack ribs?
There are many ways to cook a smoke a delicious rack of ribs. Similar to the Boston Butt, it’s not uncommon to use a sweet rub along with pork ribs.
We believe that the easiest and most beginner-friendly foolproof way to cook it is with the 3-2-1 method which can be broken down into:
3 – Smoke
You first want to smoke it meat-side up for 3-4 hours at 107oC (225oF). Aside from spritzing every hour or so, you want to avoid opening the smoker lid unnecessarily to avoid temperature spikes.
2 – Wrap
You want to wrap the rack of ribs either with butcher’s paper or foil and place it back into the smoker meat-side down for another 1-2 hours at the same temperature.
This is a great time to add some butter, brown sugar or any sort of braising liquids of choice which will go to form the base of your sauce.
If you do prefer a drier bark, you want to wrap it with butcher’s paper and skip the last step.
1 – Smoke
Very carefully unwrap the foil pouches and glaze the ribs with the dripping or your sauce of choice. You then want to return it to the smoker for another hour to let it firm up before serving.
Shanks are a classic Aussie favourite and super easy to cook in your smoker. The easiest way to cook it is to braise it in a pot with any braising liquid of your choice and cook it at 190oC (374oF) for 3-4 hours. It will develop a subtle hint of smoke flavour as it cooks down in your smoker.
For a prominent smoky taste, you can smoke your shanks on the lowest setting your smoker will go or on the smoke setting if you’re using a Z Grill.
If you love the melt-in-your-mouth sensation, you’re going to want to try beef cheeks. Beef cheeks are often very well-marbled which makes them perfect for low and slow smoking.
You’ll want to start by smoking the beef cheeks on a low setting or smoke setting if you’re using a Z Grill for at least 30 minutes. This will help it develop a nice smoke ring and infuse tonnes of flavour into the meat.
You then want to crank the temperature of the smoker up to 148oC (300oF) and smoke it for another 2-3 hours. After that, braise the cheeks in a baking tray or pot filled with your liquid of choice for another 2-3 hours at the same temperature or until the internal temperature is 96oC (205oF).
You can sauté some celery, carrots, garlic, and onions in a separate pan to add to the braising liquid for extra flavour.
The iconic tomahawk steak is essentially a Frenched ribeye steak. In terms of flavour, it’s not any better than your usual ribeye but it certainly makes an impressive sight on the dinner table.
The best way to cook it would be to do a reverse sear where you smoke it for a few hours on 135oC (275oF) until the internal temperature of the steak reaches your desired doneness before searing it on high heat.
You’ll want to get yourself a cast iron BBQ plate which holds a tonne of heat to get the best sear on your steak.
5 things we wished we knew when we first started smoking meat
We’re all about low and slow
The name of the game is low and slow. You want to give enough time for the connective tissues and collagen to breakdown properly which will result in juicy and tender meat.
There is no point rushing a cook only to get sub-optimal results. This leads to our next tip which is to start early.
Start earlier than you initially planned
We previously spoke about the brisket stall and how to overcome it. The truth is,
It is going to save you from a lot of anxiety if you start earlier than you’ve initially planned for. You can keep a brisket warm for hours in a well-insulated ice-box but you can’t exactly make it cook faster if you’re behind schedule.
More smoke isn’t always better
Hardcore smoking traditionalists have long been very critical about pellet smokers do not produce enough smoke. What they don’t realise is that quality is better than quantity.
It might be tempting to think that more smoke automatically means more flavour. However, this is not the case. Thick clouds of smoke are often the result of incomplete combustion which can leave a bitter-tasting flavour in your food.
The goal should be getting our smokers to produce thin-blue smoke which should infuse a pleasant smokey flavour in your food.
Use a water tray
It’s no secret that humidity plays a role in the cooking time while smoking meat. As the meat rises in temperature, it will start to lose moisture through its surface.
Placing a tray of water in your smoker will keep the smoking chamber humid which will help to counteract the effects of evaporative cooling which will result in juicier meat and shorter cooking times.
Porous rocks can be added to the water tray which will act like a sponge to further enhance the effects of placing a water tray in your smoker
Keep the lid closed
Frequently opening your smoker lid will result in temperature fluctuations which will mean longer cooking times.
When you’re looking, you ain’t cooking
Let it rest
If you haven’t already realised it by now, smoking is all about patience. It’s important to remember that you need to let the meat have a chance to rest.
If you’re smoking a brisket, we like to recommend wrapping it up with some foil and kitchen towels before letting it do its thing in an ice-box.
Summing It Up
We hope you found this guide on the best meats to smoke for beginners helpful. If you’ve got any questions of feedback, feel free to reach out to the team here at Z Grills Australia.