How to Smoke Meat? (6 Steps to Become a Masterful Smoker)

Devon Ferguson
Published by Devon Ferguson
Last Updated On: March 28, 2024

Smoking meat has been an art form for centuries, practiced by experts all over the world. It is a process that requires patience, skill, and dedication to get it right.

With years of experience in the field, I have developed techniques that guarantee outstanding results every time.

From tips on choosing the right cut of meat to instructions on prepping and smoking it, this guide will give you everything you need to become a masterful smoker.

Quick Summary

  • Smoking meat requires preparation, consistent temperature control, and the use of wood chips for flavor.
  • The choice of smoker, fuel source, and meat cut significantly impacts the outcome.
  • A 2016 study published in the National Library of Medicine revealed that both smoking and marination significantly enhance the sensory characteristics of chicken, with a combination of the two processes synergistically increasing the perceived moistness [1].
  • Monitoring internal temperature ensures safety, while wrapping and resting the meat enhances tenderness.

Equipment and Ingredients for Smoking Meat

Here’s what you need in terms of smoking equipment and ingredients.

1. Smoker

A man opening the lid of a smoker

A smoker is the quintessential piece of equipment for smoking meat. There are many different types of smokers, including vertical smokers, horizontal offset smokers, pellet smokers, and electric smokers, each with pros and cons.

Choose a smoker that best suits your skill level and preferences.

In a pinch, you can use a regular charcoal grill or even a gas grill instead of a dedicated smoker. Just keep the meat on one side of the grill while putting the direct heat of the fire on the other.

2. Wood chips

Wood chips are used in the smoker box to add smoke flavor to smoked meats and are available in various types, including hickory, mesquite, apple, and cherry, to name a few.

Although you find it difficult to choose a bad hardwood for smoking, it is important to find the right type of wood based on the kind of meat you're smoking and your desired flavor profile.

Wet wood produces more smoke than dry wood, so you will want to soak your wood for smoking prior to adding it to the heat source.

3. Fuel Source

Charcoal in flames inside a smoker

Charcoal is the traditional fuel used for smoking meat. When using a charcoal grill, it's essential to use high-quality, natural lump charcoal and avoid briquettes, which contain additives that affect the smoky flavor of the cooked meat.

Another popular way to smoke food is with a wood pellet smoker. These smokers use wood pellets as their fuel and have an automated system that keeps the temperature consistent throughout the cooking process.

These grills have the added benefit that the fuel source is also the source of the flavored smoke. Thus, you don't have to continually add wood chips for smoking to impart delicious flavor.

4. Choosing the Right Cut of Meat

The meat you choose to smoke is the most important factor in the final product.

For example, brisket is a common choice for smoking because of its high-fat content, which keeps the smoked meat moist and with as much flavor as possible.

Pork shoulder is another popular option that can be smoked.

Some other suitable choices include turkey and salmon.

It is always good to choose red meat with a good amount of fat, as this will help keep it from getting dry and tough during the smoking process.

Also Read: The Fattiest Cut of Steak

5. Seasonings and Rubs

Different rubs and seasonings on a wooden bowl

Seasonings and rubs add flavor to smoked meat and can be as simple or complex as you like. Some popular seasonings include kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.

A commercial dry rub may contain a combination of these ingredients as well as other spices and herbs.

One of my favorite things about smoking meats is that you can always experiment with different seasonings and rubs to find the best combination.

You can try dry or wet rubs to see which works best for your pork butt or other food.

Read More: Best BBQ Rub

6. Marinades

Marinades can add flavor and moisture to the meat before smoking, although many purists eschew their use.

Pick a marinade based on the type of meat you're smoking and your goals for the taste. Popular marinades include olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and spices.

Also Read: How to Marinate Meat?

Meat Preparation

A chef trimming a piece of meat on a cutting board

Before you start smoking meat, you need to make the following preparations.

1. Trimming the Meat

Trimming the meat before smoking is crucial to ensure that the meat cooks evenly and has a good texture.

Remove any excess fat, especially if it's thick, as it will not render during the smoking process. Trimming the meat also makes it easier to apply seasonings and rubs evenly.

Note: Be sure never to use frozen meat in charcoal grills or wood smokers, as cold meat may not cook evenly.

2. Applying the Rub or Seasonings

Seasonings and rubs are a great way to add flavor to the meat. Rub the seasoning into the meat using your hands, and cover all surfaces.

The seasoning will create a crust on the surface of the meat, which will help to retain moisture and flavor.

3. Allowing the Meat to Rest

After applying the seasonings, let the meat rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This allows the seasoning to penetrate the tissue and distribute evenly.

It also gives the meat time to absorb the smoke and develop a deeper flavor.

Smoking the Meat

Finally, you can start smoking by following the next steps.

1. Setting up the Smoker

A smoker loaded with smoking meats

Setting up the smoker correctly ensures that the meat smokes evenly and cooks to the desired temperature.

  • Fill the water pan in a vertical water smoker or kettle grill, and then start the fire. You can even fill the water pan with apple juice or beer to add more flavor to the food.
  • In a horizontal offset smoker, place the charcoal in the firebox. And, of course, follow the manufacturer's instructions if using an electric smoker.
  • Ensure the temperature gauge is functioning correctly and adjust the air vents to maintain a consistent temperature.
  • Place the drip pan or other metal pan in the cooking chamber under the meat rack.

2. Lighting the Fire

Light the fire based on the gas or charcoal grill or smoker you are using.

  • If using charcoal, allow it to burn until the hot coals are covered in ash, which takes approximately 30 minutes.
  • If using propane or pellet grills, simply click the igniter and adjust the flame or pellet flow to maintain the desired temperature.

3. Maintaining Temperature

A close up shot of burger being grilled in a smoker

Maintaining the temperature is one of the most important aspects of smoking meat. According to USDA, the ideal temperature for smoking meat ranges from 225 to 300°F [2].

  • Check the temperature regularly, especially when using a charcoal or gas grill or an offset smoker.
  • Adjust the air vents or fuel as needed to maintain a consistent cooking temperature.
  • Do not raise the lid too frequently, as this will let the heat and smoke escape and lead to a slow cooking process.

Higher-end smoker models come with digital temperature probes that allow you to monitor the internal temperature of the meat without opening the lid.

Some even are WiFi enabled so that you can view and control the temperature from your phone.

Also Read: Best WiFi Pellet Grills & Smokers

4. Adding Wood Chips

Wood chunks are used to flavor the meat and can be added to a charcoal smoker as soon as the fire is established.

  • Soak the wood chips or chunks in water for 30 minutes, then place the wood chips in the smoker. This will prevent them from burning too quickly.
  • Add wood chunks as needed to maintain a consistent smoke output.

5. Monitoring the Meat's Internal Temperature

A person monitoring the internal temperature of a meat using a meat thermometer

The internal temperature of the meat is the critical factor in determining when it's done.

  • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the tissue, making sure to insert it into the thickest part of the meat without touching any bone.
  • For food safety, the ideal temperature for beef brisket is 195°F, while the best internal temperature for pulled pork is 204°F [3]. This will kill any dangerous bacteria that are in the raw meat.
  • Cooking times vary depending on the meat. Chicken wings and chicken thighs will cook more quickly in a gas smoker than brisket.

"Smoking meat is an ode to patience. The transformation over a long smoking session is magical."
- Richard Hess, Pitmaster

6. Wrapping the Meat

Wrapping the meat can help to keep it moist and tender.

  • Wrap the meat in butcher paper or aluminum foil after it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F and place it back in the smoker until the internal temperature reaches its final value.
  • After removing the meat from the smoker, let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing or serving. This allows the juices to distribute evenly, making the meat more tender.

Related Articles: 


How Long Does It Take To Properly Smoke Meat?

It takes 6 to 8 hours to properly smoke lean cuts of meat such as poultry and pork tenderloin. Larger cuts, such as brisket, can take up to 24 hours.

What Is the Easiest Meat to Smoke for Beginners?

Chicken is the easiest meat to smoke for beginners as it doesn't require an extended smoking time, and the mild flavor absorbs the smoke readily.

What Meat Is the Hardest Meat to Smoke?

Brisket is the hardest meat to smoke since it requires a long cooking time and low temperatures. Because brisket has so much fat and connective tissue, it needs to be cooked properly so that the collagen can break down and become tender.

Do You Need to Flip Meat When Smoking?

No, you do not need to flip meat when smoking. Because smoking is done with indirect heat, the heat should penetrate the food evenly. However, since some smokers heat unevenly, you may find that periodically turning your meat results in more even cooking.

Smoking Meat the Right Way

As you can see, smoking meat is an art form that takes time and practice to master. Every aspect of the equipment, preparation, and smoking will affect the final result.

However, the perfect smoking session starts with having high-quality meat. Kam Talebi, CEO of The Butcher’s Tale, shares that the most important considerations for smoking anything include the size, cut, and texture of meat, as well as the smoking time and temperature.

To get the best possible results, I use ButcherBox to deliver hand-cut, grass-fed beef, free-range organic chicken, heritage breed pork, and more right to my doorstep.

This way, I can enjoy the best flavors every time. Visit ButcherBox by going to our homepage to learn more about this meat delivery service.


Was this article helpful?

About the author

Devon Ferguson
Senior Editor
Devon enjoys barbecuing during his weekends. He also loves to edit and review content and talk about his passion for cooking and traveling. Devon loves to travel around the globe and taste new meat dishes wherever he goes.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *