The Best Meat to Smoke for Beginners (From Pork to Poultry)

September 6, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Without mincing a lot of words, pork shoulder was the meat I found most comfortable dealing with while I was still a BBQ rookie. Not only is it an affordable cut of meat, but it’s also forgiving when it comes to smoking as a newbie. It’s also got a high-fat content, which means it won’t dry out quickly even when you overcook it a bit. 

But that’s not all!

From juicy pork shoulders or pork butt to lean turkey breasts, there are some other great options beginners can try. However, the key to success is all in preparation and technique. Trust me; I’ve learned the hard way that smoking meat is an art form that requires patience, practice, and a whole lot of trial and error. So, are you ready to embark on a new culinary adventure and impress your taste buds? Then let’s get to it.

best meat to smoke for beginners

From Newbies to Pitmasters: The Path to Perfection for Beginners

I get it – the idea of smoking meat can be daunting for beginners. Where do you even start? 

Here are the best meats to smoke for those just starting:

Pork Shoulder

Trust me when I say smoked pork shoulder, like pork butt, is perfect to begin with as a starter.

It’s a budget-friendly, flavorful, juicy, and tender meat. This makes it easy to work with, even if you’re a beginner.

What is It? 

This is a cut of meat that comes from the upper part of the front leg of a pig

It is also sometimes called pork butt or Boston butt, which can be confusing. They are not the same and refer to different parts of the shoulder. 

The pig’s shoulder is renowned for its high-fat content and marbling, contributing to its succulent texture and taste. 

You can choose between bone-in or boneless cuts. But I suggest going for the bone-in as the bone marrow adds an extra depth of flavor.

Butterflied Pork Shoulder with Honey, Garlic and Rosemary

How to Smoke? 

To smoke meat from the pig’s shoulder, first, apply a generous amount of dry rub or marinade to it. 

A typical dry rub consists of salt, sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. Marinades usually include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and spices.

Next, heat your smoker or grill to a temperature of 225°F to 250°F, and smoke the shoulder for several hours. 

Related Reading

Keep adding wood chips or chunks for smoke, maintaining a consistent temperature throughout. Plan for around 1.5 to 2 hours per pound, depending on the size of your cut.

When the pork reaches an internal temperature of around 195°F to 205°F, it’s time to take it off the smoker or grill. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes before pulling or slicing. 

Serve the smoked meats with your favorite BBQ sauce and sides.

Turkey Breast

Smoking turkey breast was always a cakewalk for me when I was still a rookie cook. It’s an easy-to-smoke meat that doesn’t need basting, except if you want to score some extra cooking points. This is why it’s one of the easiest meats for smoking.

What is Turkey Breast?

Turkey breast (as its name suggests) comes from the breast of a turkey. It is a lean, low-fat protein source that is rich in flavor. It’s commonly used in dishes, such as roasted turkey, deli-style turkey sandwiches, and turkey burgers. 

You can purchase turkey breast with or without the bone and skin. Plus, it is available fresh or frozen. It is a popular choice for those looking for healthy, high-protein meat that has low values of saturated fat and calories.

When smoked, turkey breast is a lean, flavorful meat with a mild taste. It goes well with a variety of spices and rubs.

Smoked Turkey Breast

How to Smoke a Turkey Breast?

You’ll need a smoker and some wood chips. You can choose from a variety, such as hickory, mesquite, or applewood, to give your turkey breast a unique flavor.

If you’re planning to smoke a turkey breast, it’s essential to brine it first to ensure it stays moist and flavorful. 

To brine it, mix in a large bowl 1/4 cup kosher salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1 gallon of water. Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the turkey breast to the brine and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or up to 24 hours).

Pat the meat dry and apply a dry rub or marinade beforehand to enhance the taste. 

Smoke the turkey breast at a low temperature of approximately 225°F for several hours until the internal temperature reaches 170°F. Once done, let the turkey breast rest before slicing and serving.

Beef Brisket

When it comes to smoking meat, brisket is a great choice. However, beginners might need to be patient when smoking it. As a beginner, you shouldn’t cook it over high heat or it’ll toughen up because brisket is a tough muscle meat that needs time to break down. 

However, it’s a forgiving cut of meat. Even if you cook it a bit too long, it remains tender and flavorful. But it doesn’t forgive undercooking or fast, high-heat direct grilling like I mentioned. 

When cooked well, brisket produces delicious, tender, and juicy smoked meat.

What is It?

This is a large, tough cut of meat that comes from the lower chest area of the cow

It’s made up of two parts: the point and the flat. The flat is the leaner of the two and is best for slicing. Meanwhile, the point is fattier and better for shredding.

Slow Smoked Beef Brisket

How to Smoke? 

Smoking brisket requires a bit of patience and some basic knowledge of smoking meat. 

The first step is to choose the right cut of meat. Look for a well-marbled brisket with a thick layer of fat on one side.

Once you’ve chosen your brisket, it’s time to prepare it for smoking. Place the brisket fat side up on the smoker rack and close the lid.

Smoke the brisket for 6 to 8 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove the brisket from the smoker and place it in a large baking dish. Pour some beef broth over the brisket and cover the dish with foil.

Return the brisket to the smoker and continue smoking until the internal temperature reaches 200°F. This can take anywhere from 4-6 more hours, depending on the size of the brisket.

Take the brisket off the smoker and let it rest, covered with foil, for at least 30 minutes. Slice the brisket against the grain and serve with your favorite barbecue sauce.


  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure the smoked meat reaches the right temperature.
  • Don’t open the smoker too often, as this can cause the temperature to fluctuate and prolong the cooking time.
  • Letting the brisket rest after cooking allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it more tender and flavorful.

Chicken Thighs

If you’re new to smoked meats, chicken thighs are also great to start with. They’re affordable, packed with flavor, and give you room for trial and error. Plus, they’re easy to find at your local grocery store or butcher.

Characteristics of Chicken Thighs for Smoking 

Chicken thighs are easy to smoke because they are fattier than other cuts like breasts, for example. 

This means they stay juicy and tender, even after a long time in the smoker. Indeed, the longer the cooking time, the tenderer they get

Plus, dark meat has a richer flavor than chicken breasts.

Grilled Chicken Thigh with Lemon

How to Smoke?

To smoke chicken thighs, you’ll need a smoker or grill to maintain a temperature of around 225-250°F. 

Start by trimming any excess fat or skin from the thighs. Then, season them with your favorite dry rub or marinade. You can also inject the thighs with a mix of butter and spices for added flavor.

Preheat your smoker to 225-250°F. Add your preferred smoking wood for smoking meats to the firebox or smoker box.

Once the smoker is up to temperature, place them on the grates, skin-side up. Smoke for 2-3 hours or until the internal temperature of the thighs reaches 165°F. Baste the thighs with a mixture of butter and apple cider vinegar every 30 minutes to keep them moist.

Once the thighs reach 165°F, remove them from the smoker and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. 

Other Meats to Consider

There are still more options to consider if you like to explore different kinds of meats. Some of the reasons these cuts are good options for beginners is that they are relatively inexpensive and widely available at grocery stores. 

Whole Chicken 

A whole chicken is not as expensive as it sounds – the price varies from around 10 and 25 USD. Smoking whole birds is, for me, one of the best ways to introduce yourself to the wonderful world of smoked meats. 

To start, begin by brining the whole chicken, which will ensure that it remains succulent and moist throughout the smoking process. 

Then, season the whole chicken in and out with a simple yet flavorful rub. Finally, smoke it at a low temperature until it’s cooked to perfection and reaches an internal temperature of 165 to 170 degrees. The thickest part of the meat, away from the bone and preferably in the breast is where you want to insert the thermometer to get the most accurate reading. 

Whole Grilled Chicken

Chicken Wings

Smoked chicken wings are also great to start with for beginners. This is because they are relatively inexpensive, cook quickly, and are forgiving when it comes to temperature and cook time. 

You can quickly season them with your favorite rub or marinade, and they’ll come out delicious every time. Plus, they are perfect for backyard gatherings or game-day parties. 

Barbecued Chicken Wings

Pork Tenderloin

Smoked pork tenderloin is a lean cut of meat that’s cooked quickly. Still, it is forgiving if you end up cooking it a little bit longer.  

The mild flavor profile makes it a versatile meat that can be seasoned with a variety of rubs or marinades to suit your taste preferences.

Related Reading

Baked Pork Tenderloin

Pork Belly

Smoking pork belly may need a lot of time, but you can never get smoked pork belly wrong.

The high-fat content in pork belly helps keep the meat moist during the smoking process. The layers of fat and meat allow you to achieve different levels of doneness. 

Juicy Pork Belly


Smoked salmon is another great option because you can smoke it with either hot or cold smoke. There are a variety of recipes and techniques available to suit different tastes and preferences. 

With a little practice and attention to detail, you can make delicious smoked salmon perfect for serving as an appetizer or main course.

Baked Salmon on a Bed of Lemon Slices

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs are classic pork ribs to smoke and are a great choice for beginners. They are tender and meatier than beef ribs, for example. 

Plus, they have a relatively short cook time compared to spare ribs or St. Louis-style ribs.  This makes them easier to manage for those new to smoking. 

You can season them with a variety of rubs and sauces. 

Pork Ribs with Teriyaki Sauce

Spare Ribs 

The cousin of the baby back, spare ribs are also some of the best meats to smoke for beginners who want to fire up their smoker. However, these pork ribs require a longer cook time than baby back ribs. With a little patience and practice, you can produce delicious, fall-off-the-bone spare ribs you can share with friends and family.

Spare ribs are meatier than baby back ribs and have a higher fat content. This makes them more tolerant to a bit of overcooking during the smoking process. 

Roasted Spare Ribs with Pepper


1. What is the Tastiest Meat to Smoke?

The tastiest smoked meat is a matter of personal preference, but many people enjoy the rich, savory flavor of beef brisket. It requires a longer cooking time and some skill to prepare. However, when done correctly, it can be incredibly tender and flavorful with a delicious crust on the outside.

2. What Meats Are Best to Smoke Under 4 Hours?

Meats that are best to smoke under 4 hours include smaller cuts like chicken wings, drumettes, turkey, or chicken breast. Fish fillets, such as salmon or trout, are also great options for quick smoking sessions. These meats do not require as much time in the smoker and can be ready relatively quickly.

3. What Meats Are Best to Smoke for 6 Hours?

Briskets and pork ribs and shoulder are meats that need a longer cooking time of six hours or more. These cuts are thicker and require a longer cooking time to tenderize and develop flavor fully. 


There are plenty of options if you are new to meat smoking and want to start with the best meats to smoke with. I could go on and on. However, if you’re new to smoking, it’s essential to begin with, forgiving meats like the pig’s shoulder or turkey breast. These cuts are not notorious for burning. They are flavorful and easy to prepare, making them perfect for those just starting out.

Remember to take your time and use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature. Then, keep the smoker at a consistent temperature to ensure the best results. With some practice and patience, you’ll be smoking meat like a pro in no time.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API. Pitmaster Central is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for website owners to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon (.com,, .ca etc) and any other website that may be affiliated with Amazon Service LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Keep Reading
Copyright 2024 Pitmaster Central, all rights reserved.