Getting outside in great weather to smoke meat and eat with friends and family is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon. As host, you’ll want to impress them with your cooking skills, and that starts primarily with a great grill, and the right cut of meat. If you’re a beginner, you may be surprised to learn that the cut of meat you should choose to smoke isn’t necessarily the one you’d order off a restaurant menu.
A Quick Note on Your Equipment
Before we dive into the right cuts of meat to choose, we need to touch on another important point: your equipment matters. If you’re serious about getting delicious results that wow all your guests (not to mention your taste buds), you need to use a pellet grill, not your standard barbeque.
A pellet grill offers better temperature control – you can achieve the low temperatures that are ideal for smoking, as well as high temperatures to sear when necessary. Pellets will offer you the best smoky flavor, as alternatives like charcoal sometimes taste a little too much like burning coal or, worse, lighter fluid. (That’s not something you want to discover after smoking for 3+ hours!) You can explore our range of pellet grills here.
Smoking is a skill you learn and perfect over time, so you’ll want to start with beginner-friendly cuts of meat.
- Part 1. 4 Beginner-Friendly Cuts of Meat to Smoke
- Part 2. 3 Best Cuts of Meats for Pros to Smoke
- Part 3. 4 Top Griller Favorite Cuts of Meat to Smoke
- Part 4. 6 Tips to Perfectly Smoke Your Meat
Part 1. 4 Beginner-Friendly Cuts of Meat to Smoke
- Pulled Pork: Pulled pork is a great beginner-friendly choice because if you over smoke it just a little, you likely won’t notice, since you’re going to pull the meat apart anyway. Choose pork shoulder or pork butt (that’s the cut right below) and prep it about 12 hours before you want to cook it. Some people like to let it sit in cider, while others will slather it with something like mustard, so don’t be afraid to try prepping it in a few different ways!
Try our Z Grills Pulled Pork Recipe.
- Chicken Quarters: Smaller cuts of chicken are easier to smoke than beef, but once you get as small as a breast, you’ve got to be careful or you’ll end up with jerky. Chicken quarters are a great halfway point between a whole chicken and a breast, so keep the skin on so you get the benefits of additional flavor and moisture.
Try our Z Grills Chicken Leg Quarters Recipe.
- Salmon: Everyone has heard (and likely tried!) smoked salmon, and now you can get even better results with your smoker at home - there’s nothing like fresh, home-smoked salmon! Try to choose a fish with a little more fat on it for the best results.
Try our Z Grills Smoked Salmon Recipe.
- Tri-Tip: Tri-tip is a triangular cut from the lower rear of the animal, and is fast becoming popular, in part because it makes such a great cut to smoke. They’re typically fairly lean, so cook relatively quickly, which means you could get it on after work and eat it for dinner. If you can, select a cut with plenty of marbling, as that will give you the best results.
Part 2. 3 Best Cuts of Meats for Pros to Smoke
- Beef Ribs: Beef ribs aren’t always easy to find, but if you have a chance to get your hands on them, do. It’s essentially like eating brisket off the bone - tender and so flavorful. To get the best from your beef ribs, give them 5 to 6 hours to cook.
- Brisket: Brisket is a large cut of meat (taken from the lower part of the chest) that is ideal for smoking, but is actually pretty difficult for beginners to get right. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to leave this cut until you’ve had some successes under your belt. Brisket won’t lose its shape, so you can cut it for cold cuts or serve stake-like slabs. If you’re a pro looking for a challenge, this is definitely a cut to give a go.
Try our Z Grills Smoked Brisket Recipe.
- Turkey: Turkey is a great meat to smoke if you’re looking for something fast and lean. In just a couple of hours, you can feed the family. It’s also a great option if you’re looking to meal prep for the week ahead so you can have delicious smoked turkey all week long!
Try our Z Grills Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe.
Part 3. 4 Top Griller Favorite Cuts of Meat to Smoke
- Pork Ribs: Pork ribs are absolutely delicious smoked! Smoke them meaty-side up on your grill for around 3 hours for the best results.
Try our Z Grills Smoked BBQ Pork Ribs Recipe.
- Whole Chicken: You know you’re serving a serious meal when you’re putting an entire bird on the grill, but like turkey, it’s a great choice if you want to serve it after just an hour or so.
Try our Z Grills Smoked Whole Chicken Recipe.
- Pork Butt: This is the ideal choice when you’ve got all your friends and family coming over because you can put it on the grill in the morning and serve it once everyone’s arrived in the afternoon. Pork butt takes about 1.5 hours per pound, so make sure you start early enough in the day!
- Lamb Shoulder: When you think of a cut of meat described as “shoulder”, you probably think of pork, but you’re missing out if you never give lamb a try.
Part 4. 6 Tips to Perfectly Smoke Your Meat
If you’re new to smoking meat, know that you may not time things perfectly every time, but there are a lot of things you can do to ensure you get great results. First and foremost is to control the temperature carefully, but here are 6 tips that will help you get delicious results:
- Avoid lean cuts: When you’re looking for meat to cook for a long time, you want it to have some depth to it, or you’ll end up with something that just wants to fall apart.
- Season in advance: If you can, season your meat well in advance so you give it time to seep into the meat. It’s also a great way to change up the flavor of your favorite cuts!
- Use a water tray: A water tray will help you keep plenty of moisture in the smoker to prevent your cuts from drying out. You can add other things like onion and herbs to infuse additional flavor.
- Look for blue smoke: When you have blue-ish smoke coming from your smoker, that’s a good sign. It means you have a “clean” fire going, which will ensure you get the best smokey taste and avoid a bitter taste.
- Shut the lid: Once you hone your skills, you’ll learn to resist the temptation to check on your food! If you can, shut the lid and leave it shut, using the temperature gauge as your guide rather than what the meat looks like. That will ensure you keep in all the goodness and don’t suddenly lose the heat and smokiness.
- Let it rest: It’s tempting to serve the food immediately, especially when you’ve got hungry people coming to look over your shoulder. But you’ve got to resist the temptation! Instead, let it sit for a while. This is less important for white meat, but essential for large cuts like brisket. Let your brisket rest for about an hour at room temperature, and then serve it. (Make sure you have some snacks on hand so you aren’t tempted to eat it early!)
Smoking meat is a great way to use typically cheaper or tougher cuts of meat and turn them into something that wows all the family - even those who typically don’t enjoy large cuts of red meat. If you’ve got the equipment ready to go, take advantage of it and purchase those cheaper cuts most people don’t know what to do with. The results of the cuts we’ve talked about here are mouthwatering and versatile - just stick in the refrigerator and eat cold in a sub or sandwich for lunch or dinner for the week! Looking for more tips on how to get the best out of your Z Grill? Make sure you head to our learning center next.