Meat Smoking for Beginners – (Start Your Meat Smoking Journey Here)

There is nothing like the smell of ribs or brisket cooking low and slow!

The meat just falls apart! Plus it has a delicious flavor that no other cooking method can achieve!

Many people want to start smoking meat but don’t how where to start.

There is so MUCH of information out there! PLUS you don’t want to ruin that $80 brisket, do you?!

So we have put together a comprehensive guide on getting started!

Read on further to find out how to smoke meat at home, and uncover some of our best meat smoking tips for beginners.

man confused about meat smoking

This Guide is Split into Seven Sections

  1. Why You Should Smoke Meat

  2. Buying a Smoker Vs. DIY

  3. What Sort of Fuel is Best for You

  4. Learning About Smoke Flow

  5. Best Cuts of Meats to Use
    – Guides to Smoking Ribs
    Guides to Smoking
    Brisket
    Guides to Smoking
    Pork Butt

  6. How The Smoking Process Works

  7. How to Know When the Meat is Done + Temperature Guides

  8. Problems You Could Run Into + How to Fix Them
ribs going in my smoker
Putting my ribs in the smoker


Make sure you read section 1 to section 7.
We have provided additional resources at each section. Make sure if you don’t understand something, you look at the additional resources or ask in me in the comments. I am here to help.

Then you have a decision to make;

A. Will you buy or borrow a smoker?
B. Or will you follow the DIY smoker method?

Let’s get started pitmasters!

Section 1

Why Should You Smoke Meat?

There are several good reasons to smoke your meat. We asked our community what they loved most about meat smoking.

We managed to narrow it down to three basic factors.

1. The incredible flavor it produces.
2. The amazing bark that forms on the piece of meat.
3. Getting to provide incredible food for friends and family.

The Flavor

There’s a downside to buying commercially smoked meat. You’re almost certainly getting artificially smoked meat.

So instead of meat that has been cooked with natural smoke from a fire. You are purchasing meat that has been treated or injected with flavoring/chemicals.

These chemicals are used as an attempt to replicate the unique smoked flavor.

In the end, nothing beats the genuine ‘smokiness’ that comes from cooking a piece of meat with actual smoke.

The Bark

The crisp, black, (sometimes chewy) outside layer of smoked meat, is known as ‘the bark’. It’s normally only found on meat that’s been smoked correctly.

It is what pitmasters strive to do.

It can be tough to learn how to master though!

But don’t worry! It’s what you’re going to learn here at Simply Meat Smoking!

Section 2

Should You Splash and Buy a Smoker or Could You DIY?

So if you want to start smoking meat, does that mean that you have to go buy an expensive smoker right now?

Absolutely not!

You can most likely smoke meats using what you already own
. If you currently have a grill at home (doesn’t matter if it is a charcoal grill or a gas grill) you can use that. (You can even use an oven to smoke your food if you really need to).

making a charocal snake
Here is how I set up my Weber for smoking

Using Your Grill As Your Smoker!

In this section, we’ll only be teaching you how you can use a grill as a DIY smoker.

If you absolutely grow to love smoking your food, then by all means, go ahead and buy a designated meat smoker.

Or better yet, you can even purchase a smoker grill. These will complete both functions and give you the best of both worlds.

Using a Gas Grills

It’s perfectly fine to use a gas grill as a DIY smoker, and it is super simple.

  1. Place wood chips on a metal tray, container, or pan and place them to one side of the grill.
  2. Then turn on the burners. You’ll want to preheat your grill like that. So just leave it to heat up for about 15 to 20 minutes. If your grill has a light to indicate when your grill is done preheating, then just rely on that.
  3. After that, you can go ahead and lower the burners and put your piece of meat on the other side of the grill.

    From a more detailed guide on: learn how to smoke on a gas grill.

Using a Charcoal Grill

Out of the two grills, we’d definitely say that it’s easier to use a charcoal grill as a smoker. I find it also gives a better smoke flavor.

This is because you can place the wood chips in with the charcoal pieces.

You have two options when it comes to using a charcoal grill. You can try my charcoal snake method or try my other meothd below.

  1. Get your coals hot.
  2. Once, they are hot you’ll need to move the charcoal to one side of the grill, to help with the smoking process.
  3. Add some soaked wood chips to the coals.
  4. You’ll need to pour liquid onto the coals.
    You can use any liquid; water, apple juice or even beer to can add extra moisture, flavor, and aroma to your pieces of meat.
    (Psst! It’d help with the formation of the bark too!)
  5. Once you’ve got the charcoal burning and the smoke coming out, just place the meat on the grill grates and cover the grill. However, you shouldn’t cover the entire grill. You’ll still need to let some of the smoke escape out.
  6. Leave the grill lid slightly ajar so that there is some form of ventilation.

Section 3

Understanding Your Fuel

The type of fuel you use will depend on the unit you have. However, keep in that mind that not all fuel is created equal. For example, lump may heater up quicker than briquettes but it won’t last as long.

You need to think about what you’re cooking. If you are smoking brisket, you need fuel for a long burn.

1. Wood

The type of wood you use will affect the taste of the meat. (Not just the aroma!)

The different types of wood also complement different meat. We like using applewood and cherrywood for pork and something a little strong like mesquite for brisket.

Beef has a stronger flavor, so it can handle wood like mesquite and oak.

Whereas pork is quite mild, so you want to use fruitwood like cherrywood or applewood.




Here’s a list of different types of wood that we’d recommend trying first:

  • Pecan– works well with chicken and lamb
  • Applewood – works well with pork, poultry, and seafood
  • Maple – works well with pork, poultry, and seafood
  • Oak – works well beef and vegetables
  • Cherrywood – works well with pork, poultry, and seafood
  • Mesquite  – works well beef and vegetables

Using Wood Chunks, Chips or Logs?

The size of the wood you need also depends on the meat you smoking. There are three options: wood chunks, wood chips, and wood pellets. We like to use chucks when we are smoking a brisket. Brisket can take upwards of 16 hours. Wood chunks burn slowly and therefore don’t need to be replenished on these longer cooks.

Wood Chips

Wood chips are best for units that don’t have an open flame such as electric smokers. We also like using them when we use our gas grill as a smoker. I make smoke pouches and fill them with chips, poke holes in the pouch and place them over the heat source.

Logs

Wood pellets are made up of compressed sawdust and wood shavings. This is the type of fuel you use for pellet smokers. We like this fuel source as they burn really clean and produce next to no ash.

Wood Chunks

If you intend to cook low and slow, then these are the ones that you’ll want to use. They’ll also give you a lot more smoke during your cook.
But just like the wood chips, you should soak wood chunks to make them last longer too.

2. Charcoal

While you can use a gas grill to smoke your meats, it’s best to use a charcoal grill. If you want your meat to have that smoky flavor, then charcoal will provide you with a much deeper taste.

Now you might be wondering, what type of charcoal should I use for smoking? Well, there are two kinds you can use — Briquette charcoal and lump charcoal.

Briquettes

Briquettes are one of the most common types of charcoal used in grills and they are also extremely affordable. This type of charcoal also burns evenly and lasts longer than lump charcoal.

Lump Charcoal

On the other hand, lump charcoal heats faster than briquette charcoal and provides a lot more heat. This means that they aren’t great if you want to cook meats with low heat for a long period.

3. Pellets

Pellets are used in pellets smokers. Wood pellets are made up of compressed sawdust and wood shavings. Wood pellets burn really clean and produce next to no ash.

For a pellet smoker, you just need to fill the hopper with pellets and the automated auger will feed pellets to the fire as needed. This is a good option if you prefer the set and forget style of smoking.

The pellet in the hopper of my pellet smoker.

Section 4

What About Smoke Flow?

Airflow is important for smoking meat. You can also refer to it as ‘smoke flow’. Smoke flow allows the smoke to circulate and move around. It also affects the ambient temperature.

This is important when you’re smoking meat. If you have too much smoke inside the grill, you will get too much smoke penetration and end up with a bitter flavor.

Cooks use dampers to control the oxygen in the smoker. If you open the damper you increase the oxygen which in turn increases the temperature.

To master smoke flow, see more information here

how a offset smoker works - offset wood smokers
The airflow of a offset smoker.

Section 5 – Best Cuts of Meats to Use

Picking Up Quality Meat

You don’t have to break the bank to buy meat to smoke. Just follow our 2 steps below.

1. Make Sure it From a Quality Source

Try to buy from a butcher rather than a supermarket. That way you know where your meat came from and what sort of quality is it. If you can’t buy from a butcher, head to a supermarket with an in-house butcher.

That way you can still have a chat with someone about which is the right cut for you. Plus its more likely that the meat was butchered and packed there rather than trucked

2. Sometimes a Cheaper, Fattier and Tougher Cuts Can Be Best

You might be surprised that the tougher (cheaper) cuts are better for smoking than leaner ones.

Smoking is a long cooking process, and it involves exposing foods to low heat for an extended period.

This means that it’s one of the best ways to cook tougher cuts of meat. Cooking these cuts on high heat can toughens the meat.

Whereas smoking low and slow allows the connective tissue to break down into juicy gelatin. Leaving you with a piece of meat that fall apart (no knives or forks needed here)

Also, you’ll be happy to learn that fattier meat creates a better bark.

Popular Meats for Smoking

Some of the most popular types of meat for smoking are;

1. Ribs

Smoked ribs are simply delicious — no matter if it’s pork ribs or beef ribs. They’re also great for smoking because they have a lot of connective tissue.

With that being said, ribs can be a little tricky for beginner smokers.

See below for our detailed guides on cooking ribs
Smoked fall off the bone beef ribs
Smoked juicy pork ribs

2. Brisket

Beef brisket is what immediately comes to mind when I think of smoked meat. This cut is perfect for smoking because it has a lot of connective tissue.

Briskets need to be cooked low and slow This allows the heat to render the fat, and the connective tissue to dissolve into juicy gelatin

It usually takes around 10 to 12 hours to smoke a brisket. However, the general rule is that you should smoke the brisket for around 1.5 to 2 hours per pound.

So for example, if you’re smoking a brisket that weighs 10 pounds, then you’ll need to leave it to smoke for around 15 hours.

Brisket can be tricky to smoke.

Plus they are really expensive, so you don’t want to mess it up. The method for smoking brisket changes depending on what unit your using (electric, gas, pellet, or charcoal) so we have a detailed guide below for each one.

Electric Smoker – Brisket
Charcoal Smoker – Brisket
Gas Smoker – Brisket
Pellet Smoker – Brisket

brisket on cutting board being sliced by me

3. Pork Butt

Pork Butt, also known as boston butt, is another cut of meat that is popular for smoking.

It also has a lot of connective tissue — so cooking low and slow is the best way to do it.

If you’re looking for a relatively cheap cut that’s easy to smoke, then a boston butt is a good choice. However, you may need to use inject the meat. It can help boost the flavor and keep it juicy.

If you can’t find pork butt at the supermarket, look for pork shoulder. The pork shoulder is located very close to the Boston Butt, so the meat and fat content are very similar.

To see our guides on smoking pork see below;
Juicy smoked pork butt recipe
Succulent smoked pork loin recipe

Section 6

How The Smoking Process Works

There is are two types of smoking; hot smoking and cold smoking.

Hot Smoking

Hot smoking uses indirect heat to cook your food low and over several hours.

hen meat is cooked with hot smoke over a long period it allows the connective tissue and collagen in the meat to break down. The connective tissue and collagen dissolve into juicy gelatin.

Not only does the hot smoke slowly cook the food, but it also imparts its smoky flavor into it. You need to be careful not to over smoke your food as this can leave it bitter.

Cold Smoking

Cold smoking is drying the meat at a low temperature so that bacteria don’t have any moisture to grow.

Most meat is cured before cold smoking. This also helps to remove the moisture. During cold smoking, the temperature doesn’t go over 25°C.   While cold smoking meat and fish is for preserving it. Cold smoking vegetables, cheese, or dairy is for the flavor.

See some of our favorite cold smoking recipes below;

Direct and Indirect Heat

While grilling meat direct heat, is used, where smoking uses indirect heat.

That is why you want to place the meat on the opposite side of the heat source when you’re using a gas grill or charcoal grill for smoking purposes.

This is why a smoker is different from an ordinary grill. A smoker is specially designed to cook meat using indirect heat.

how to set up direct and indirect grilling

Section 6

Meat Temperature for Safety Standards and Doneness

The USDA has a minimum temperature for each type of meat. At this temperature, the food is considered safe to eat.

Beef and pork steaks, chops and roasts are cooked and safe to consume at least at 145°F

Chicken is cooked and safe to consume at least at 145°F.

Once your food has reached the temperature set out by the USDA, it will be safe to eat.

Internal Meat Temperature

The only way to accurately monitor the temperature of the meat is by using a thermometer.

We recommend using a leave-in thermometer with dual probes. That way you can also measure the ambient temperate of the grill or smoker as well as the meat.

Here is a piece of beef with a probe thermometer in it.

Section 6

6 Common Meat Smoking Problems ( Plus How to Fix Them)

1. Should You Wrap Your Meat?

Most cuts of meat will encounter the stall. You will find that your meat is cooking and everything is on track. Then right around 165°F, the internal temperature of the meat stops rising.

This is “the stall”.

At this point, your meat is “sweating”. Water is coming to the surface of the meat. Then it is evaporating, which is then cooling your meat, therefore, slowing the cook down.

When you wrap the meat is you are eliminating the air into which the moisture can evaporate. The juices then stay hot on the surface of the meat.

If you encounter the stall, we recommend the Texas Crutch. It is a method that was rumored to have been invented in the BBQ competition circuit. Meat must be delivered at a certain time to the judges.

To learn how to use the Texas Crutch see our guide here.

wrapped my brisket because it stalled during the smoke
Wrapped brisket


2. Using lighter fluid to start your charcoal briquettes.

DO NOT USE lighter fluid to get your briquettes started. It can taint your food with chemicals.

Instead, we recommend using a charcoal chimney. We have an extensive guide on how to use it here


3. Running out of Time

This is common amongst first-time meat smokers. You just purchased a new smoker and you have invited friends over for a cookout.

However, you haven’t allowed time for the stall or any other misshapes. The clock is ticking and your guests are hungry.

You try all sorts of methods in desperation. Opening vents, adding more coals.

In the end, you’ll either pull your meat off too early resulting in it being either;

  • Chewy and undercooked
  • Over smoke it and taste bitter and black.


Don’t underestimate your cooking time. Make you read our cooking times and temperature then work out what time you want to eat at.

Not allowing yourself enough time is a big issue that can cause you to start making lots of other mistakes.

See our cooking times and temperature here

4. Checking inside the smoker too often.

I know you want to peek inside, you are excited about the new toy.

But every time you open it you’re losing precious smoke and heat.

Your thermometer can alert you if you need to make any changes. If you using a pellet smoker it will most likely just adjust its pellet cycle, to keep you cooking at an optimal temperature.

Only open the lid if you need to add some mop sauce or spritz the meat.

5. Using the stock thermometer.

Many smokers will come with a built-in thermometer.

But, no matter what I always use my thermometer as well. If you spend $100 on the meat, it is worth also investing in a well-calibrated thermometer.

It will save you many headaches along your smoking journey.

probe thermometer in beef ribs on the grill

Wrapping it Up

That is the basics of meat smoking.

I didn’t want to include too much information. Because from my first-hand experience, when you give someone too much information up front, they lose interest really fast.

If you don’t understand something read the additional information under each section.

Remember I am always here if you have any questions.

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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