How To Arrange Meat In a Smoker

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Wondering how to correctly arrange the meat in your smoker?

This needs to be done correctly for safety reasons but you can also enhance the flavor of your food by doing this correctly .

For example, some people like to smoke pork butt without a tray over chili. You get the delicious drippings into your chili. But, you don’t want to cook chicken without a try above over meat, that could turn into a big problem.

Below I’ll break down exactly how you should arrange your meat in the 3 main types of smokers. 

Why Is It Important To Arrange Meat Correctly?

Below are the three main reasons why you need to think about how you arrange your meat.

It Helps With Calculating Cooking Time

By properly arranging meat you can calculate and sync cooking times correctly! This is the key to a successful cook!

Even the basic knowledge and common sense will make all the difference. Like arranging larger cuts of meat closer to the heat source.

For example, a whole turkey will take longer to cook than some pork chops or chicken wings. Saving you from underdone or overdone meat and getting the target temperature.

It Helps With Even Heat Distribution

Arranging meat correctly ensures all parts are exposed to even heat and smoke. Making sure you get a consistent flavor and texture on the meat.

Hot smoking large amounts of meat can cause moisture evaporation. This is when the amount of moisture in the air dry forces the smoking temp down.

This causes a stall that commonly happens when smoking beef brisket or multiple cuts. Consider leaving space for a water pan and give even spacing.

It Reduces The Risk Of Food Poisoning

Arranging meat correctly will reduce the risk of food poisoning by contamination. Do not place meat or poultry that takes longer to cook above smaller cuts of meat.

This is why it is always best to place the larger cuts at the bottom and in a separate tray.

Arranging Meat In The 3 Main Types Of Smokers 

Before we start organizing our meat, let’s quickly check the 3 types of smokers available! The size of the cooking chamber and heat dispersion will impact the arrangement of your meat. This being said, take my advice as a guideline and apply it to the type of smoker you have!

Vertical Smokers

Vertical smokers are designed with having heat source at the bottom. The hot smoke rises to fill the long (but thin) verticle cooking chamber. These smokers are great for larger and long cuts of meat that can be hung.

Think of a tasty pork shoulder or some baby-back pork ribs! Place cuts of meat closer to the bottom with lots of fat and connective tissue.

The direct heat will help render and cook those big popular meats quickly! The indirect heat will rise and slowly cook lean meat, basting it in its juices!

Summarizing Arranging Meat In Verticle Smokers

– Verticle smokers have a thin cooking chamber, so it can be hard to fit in wider pieces of meat.

– Verticle smokers are great for hanging raw meat vertically! (who would have guessed)

– Place the larger cuts with lots of fat (like a pork butt) at the bottom which is closer to the hot coals.

Electric Pellet Smokers

An electric smoker uses traditional smoking methods with new technology. Special wood pellets are fed via an auger and electrically ignited to produce smoke.

This smoke is then blown up to a large and wide cooking chamber with multiple layers. Arranging meat when smoking gives you control over the cooking process.

This is made even easier on an electric smoker, as they are designed to make life easier! Arrange similar-sized cuts of meat on the same level in the cooking chamber.

Smaller cuts of meat can be put on the higher levels which is away from the ignition source.

Summarizing Arranging Meat In Electric Smokers

– A electric smoker has a large cooking chamber, making it easy to fit all kinds of meat!

– Ensure you have enough space between cuts, especially if you have to rotate halfway through.

– Place the larger-sized meat towards the bottom to smoke faster.

– Cook different types of meat in separate trays to avoid contamination.

Offset Smokers/Charcoal Smokers

A Charcoal grill or smoker is similar to a vertical smoker as they are fuelled with coal and wood chunks. However, the cooking chamber is much wider like an electric smoker or gas grill.

An offset smoker’s cooking chamber will typically be 1 level. So you may have to rotate the cuts based on how long they have left to cook.

Put the larger cuts on the side closer to the firebox and the smaller cuts closer to the chimney side. Pay close attention to the cooking temperature and when you need to rearrange the meat.

Summarizing Arranging Meat In Charcoal/Offset Smokers

– Place larger cuts closer to the heat source and smaller cuts away.

– Keep an eye on internal temperatures with a meat thermometer. 

Helping you know when to rearrange the meat based on the level of doneness.

– Give the cuts of meat plenty of space for easy rotation access.

What To Think About Before Arranging Multiple Types Of Meat

Does The Size Of The Meat Fit In Your Type Of Smoker?

It seems simple but obviously, you need to check if the meat fits in your smoker!

Separating Pieces Of Meat

Don’t cook pork or chicken over the top of other meat. Then make sure you give yourself enough space to evenly separate cuts of meat. We have covered why this is detrimental to a successful smoke. Ensuring even radiant heat and enough space to rotate during the cooking process.

The Cook Time & Internal Temperatures

Work out which cuts of meat will take longer based on size and smoking temperature. Placing larger cuts towards the heat source or at staggered times.

Know the safe temperature to consume the meat before you start smoking. Oh, and use a meat thermometer to accurately measure the internal temps while cooking!

Do Not Smoke Frozen Meat

Smoking frozen meat will increase the period it takes to cook. It will also cause uneven cooking and a risk of food poisoning from underdone meat. Lastly, the chances of a stall will be greater due to the higher water content within the proteins.

Smoke On!


Hi, I’m Charlie, I have been meat-smoking and grilling for the past 15 years. I have an array of different smokers, thermometers, and have a love for finding the right wood and charcoal combo My favourite recipes are my EXTRA CRISPY smoked pork belly, juicy pulled pork, smoked brisket, duck poppers, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill).

I loves sharing his tips with beginners, helping them navigate the world of smoking. I find it’s not just about cooking; it’s a quest for that perfect smoky flavor.

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 recipes with you!

You can read more about me on our About Us page.

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