Cooking meat right will always be worth it. Meat that’s cooked to the pinnacle of its powers will be juicy, tender, succulent and will have a flavor that makes the care you take worthwhile.
Smoking’s a whole other box of tricks. Whether you hot smoke or cold smoke, what you do when you add smoke to meat changes not only the flavour and texture of the meat, but the whole profile of the meat.
If cooking the meat right changes its tone and the notes it brings to your palate, smoking it changes the key entirely, so you’re dealing with a whole other tune on your taste buds.
The Power Of Smoke
The best meats to smoke are ultimately the meat you have. Honestly, the right smoke can enhance the flavor of any meat you have to hand, but often the best meat for smoking will depend more on geography than cookery.
In America, the most readily smokable meats include pork, beef and chicken – and so various cuts of those three meats are the most familiar items on any barbecue or cook-out.
But around the world, other people have been smoking other meats for centuries – smoked lamb has been a tradition in countries with a large sheep population like Australia and some Middle Eastern areas, but is becoming more popular in the States.
Smoked duck is a staple in any Chinatown you care to visit around the world. Smoked salmon of course is the choice of the upper crust in society around the world, including the States.
You can even, if you’re just a little wild and crazy and have the skills of a smoking sorcerer, effectively add smoky notes to delicate flavors, like this scallops recipe.
Bringing An Elephant To A Dog Fight
If your meat has a delicate or particularly finely balanced flavor profile, it doesn’t mean it can’t be smoked. But it does make it enormously more difficult to do, for arguably fewer rewards in terms of additional flavor.
That stands to reason, really – the bigger and bolder the flavor, the more it can stand up to the potent power of smoke. If the meat has a delicate flavor to start with, and you add smoke, you’re bringing an elephant to a dog fight.
It can work, but only if you do a little magic so that the odds are evened up.
That’s why, for instance, the likes of beef and more especially smoked pork have taken the majority of the smoking glory in the US. They’re robust flavors that do interesting things when various smokes are applied to them.
Let’s get good and greasy, and explore which cuts of which meats have given smokers the best results.
More or less the king of smoked meats, brisket is a Cinderella story. Left on its own or cooked any other way, it tends to be tough and chewy.
It’s cut from the breast of the cow, and as such, it’s not the most attractive of cuts of meat. To make brisket into anything to look forward to, it’s usually given a special spice rub (and there are barbecuers who will tell you that their secret special spice rub is more than your life’s worth), and smoked before being cooked long, low and slow.
Do that, and what you get is a little short of a ‘You shall go to the ball’ moment.
The smoke will penetrate the flesh and start to get in among the fibers. When you cook it, the sinew and fat will begin to melt and gelatinize, carrying the smoky aroma throughout the meat as it basically turns from tough, chewy, impenetrable waste-flesh into the kind of succulent, smoky meat feast the cleverer kings would kill for.
It’s the combination of the robustness of the meat that lets it take the smoke in without damaging the meat’s flavor, and the long, slow cooking process that turns that smoke into a wisp of wonder that changes every fiber that makes brisket such a barbecue must-have, and one of the best meats to smoke.
It’s also worth remembering that with a brisket usually comes smoked burnt ends – those pieces of the brisket which get more or less deliberately charred during cooking. You can also easily reheat your brisket for another mouth-watering meal!
The smoke gets into those ends just as it does to the main body of the meat, and gives you a second smoky treat from the single cut.
Smoked Beef Prime Rib
The difference between prime rib and ribeye is primarily in price. Prime Rib comes from the forequarter of an animal, which contains one of the most expensive cuts (costing around $2 per ounce). The term “rib” generally refers to any cut of meat from the forequarter of an animal, but there are actually several different kinds in this area- including ones that come from animals’ sixth through twelfth ribs!
A typical steak cooked on a grill or pan will have some excellent flavor because smoking adds more than just smoke itself; it also causes fats within the meat to melt so they’re easier for your senses when biting into these tasty morsels after having been marinated first.
Smoked Pork Butt
Let’s talk pig-flesh for a second. Heck, we could talk pig-flesh for days on end when it comes to smoking cuts.
While smoked beef brisket may take the technical crown as one of the best meats to smoke, the pig has a much wider range of smoking weapons in its arsenal.
Smoky bacon? Yes please – adding a little savory kick to the flesh’s natural sweetness for more balance in your BLT.
Try an SBLT and tell us you want to go back, go ahead.
Smoked ham – all day, any day, again adding that savory note to the sweetness of the meat and bringing a serious, delicious quality to what can otherwise be slightly indigestible meat.
And then there’s Pork Boston Butt.
Pork butt of course isn’t pork butt, because that would be too simple. It’s actually pork shoulder that you want here, and of course, pork shoulder is one of the toughest, most hardworking muscles in the beast.
As with beef brisket, the discovery of what happens when you smoke pork Boston butt seems to have sprung from the otherwise-toughness of the meat, and also probably from a preserving process (smoke is a good deterrent for flying critters).
What happens when you rub the pork and then smoke it reasonably hard with aromatic wood smoke, and then cook it long and slow just like brisket, is that the pig opens up its ultimate flavor secrets to you.
You get more of an essence of pork once you’ve smoked a pork butt than you do from straightforward cuts of meat.
The smoke enhances that flavor, while the slow cooking method turns the hard-working shoulder muscle into succulent, juicy, almost cut-with-a-spoon meat.
Smoked Pork Belly (Burnt Ends)
Pork belly, a popular cut of meat in many cultures and traditions due to its tenderness.
The lower abdominal area of an animal contains lots of fat which make it ideal for smoking when cooked correctly among other things like being very rich with flavorings that make them delicious by themselves or can also be used as an ingredient during cooking.
I recommend you try using some on your next barbecue! One technique often employed at restaurants is slicing up the pork into small cubes (known as burnt ends) before they’re smoked over hot coals for around 3 hours – this process will create one amazing dish filled not only a smokey taste but also succulent collagen creating proteins found primarily within muscle tissue.
Ribs – whether pork ribs or beef ribs – are another great favorite for smoking, and the same pattern emerges. In themselves, they’re not that appealing.
They’re tough meat, attached to bones. Smoking them, then cooking them long and slow, turns them from throwaway cuts into the best things you could ever wish to taste. The smoke penetrates the meat, becoming a fundamental element of its flavor profile.
Then the cooking process loosens the fibres, melts the connective tissue into gelatine, which makes for a softer mouthfeel, renders any pockets or ribbons of fat in the flesh, and uses that liquified fat to spread the smoky flavor throughout the beef and pork ribs.
Perfectly cooked baby back ribs should be good eats for Grandpa, even on days when he’s forgotten to bring his teeth to the table.
Smoked Lamb Shoulder
Lamb shoulder is a must-try for those looking to step out of their comfort zone. With its rich flavor and smoky overtones, it’s hard to go wrong with this meaty treat! Unlike beef ribs or pork ribs which can dry up during long cooking times due to the tough connective tissues in these muscles (although they may be delicious).
Lamb’s shoulder has all your needs met as far tenderness goes – you’ll love getting that melt-in your mouth feeling after slow smoking one too many racks on skewers at backyard BBQs later today!
Smoked Whole Chicken
You can make the most of your smoker with a smoked whole chicken recipe. This tasty bird will give you wonderful results when cooked with a smoker, or undercooked by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and then tried to pass off their mistakes as “cooking.”
The bird is first butchered so that its legs will stay attached during cooking – which means a shorter cook time (1 – 1.5 hours) than if done conventionally! Just be sure not to overcook them at high heat because any internal temperature above 300°F risks turning rubbery skin into leather-like feelers.
Keep hot smoking closer towards 200 F for best tenderness while still infusing all those nice smokey flavors throughout.
Smoked Chicken Breast
Smoked chicken breasts are a bit delicate when cooking, but with some extra care. Smoking can make them taste delicious. Brining is an easy way to keep your meat moist and tender; just be sure not to let temperatures deviate too far from what you want or else it might dry out again!
You could also use one of many different smoked chicken rubs for even more flavor – just remember that there’s no need to overcook these babies so always watch carefully as they smoke over time. A lot goes into making great food: from sourcing good ingredients (like fresh locally sourced meats)to having patience while the oven does its magic. Also try “Smoked Chicken Thighs” for and easy and delicious dish!
If you’re looking for a quick and simple way to add some smoky flavor into your regular meals, smoking store-bought sausages is the answer. You can use different types depending on what recipe or personal preference suits you best: bratwurst, Italian sausage, chorizo etcetera.
With just one small tweak in cooking technique – giving them plenty of cooling off time after being cooked so they don’t overcook before serving--you will have created something truly delectable!
All The Rest Of The Meats
There are of course hundreds of other smoking options – we touched on some of them at the start. Smoked chicken and turkey are popular all year round in the US, but particularly in winter, when the smoked flavor keys into festive memories of fires and warmth in a cold world.
Smoked salmon graces every boardroom in the land when big deals are struck. You can smoke venison too, for storage through a lean season as much as to improve the flavor. Venison, like many gamey types of cuts of meat, has the strength of flavor to stand up to and embrace the smoking process.
Overall though, the two kings of meat for smoking are pork ribs and beef ribs. Pork ribs offer a whole myriad of ways to take on new flavors and textures with smoke.
Beef leads with its tougher cuts, the more tender meat being usually better when exposed to simpler cooking and preparation methods.
Best Meat to Smoke Takeaways
So what have we learned about the best meats for smoking?
- You can smoke any meat you have to hand, but the more delicate its native flavor, the cleverer you have to be in the smoking process to enhance, rather than to overpower, that flavor.
- The best meat for smoking is frequently meat that otherwise would be more difficult or less palatable to eat. Smoking – and then the slower cooking process – turns these harder cuts into tender flavor bombs
- Stronger flavored meats withstand the rigors of the smoking process better than delicate ones.
Ultimately, as the saying is, smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em – with a little skill and the right wood chips, there’s not a meat that can’t be enhanced with a smoky flavor.
But if you’re looking for the kings of the smoked meat world, then beef brisket, pork butt, and ribs have got you covered with lip-smacking, nose-twitching pleasure.