Guide to Smoking Meat

essential skills food storage maintaining your food supply Nov 09, 2020
home food preservation
Smoking meat has been a means of food preservation for thousands of years. It is especially useful if you live off the grid. However, it is also a means to prepare some excellent food and step out way beyond the basics of grilling. Yet many people are intimated by the thought of smoking meat and never even attempt to learn this art.

This guide to smoking meat is designed to not only teach you the basics but also give you some fantastic pointers on how to purchase your first smoker. But in the event you are limited on funds, this post will also give you what you need to turn your grill into a smoker.  

In other related posts, you will also learn the basics of Cold Smoking meat as well as a guide to purchasing your first smoker.  But for now,  let’s start out with the basics.




When most people think of smoking foods they immediately relate that to grilling and barbecuing. Consequently they have the misconception that smoking, grilling, and barbecuing are pretty much the same thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are all methods of cooking food outside of course. However, the process involved in each of these methods is as different as the outcome.

The terms “barbecuing” and “grilling” are often used interchangeably, at least more so than the term “smoking”. So, what exactly is the big difference and what is smoking foods?

Differences between barbecuing, grilling, and smoking

What is barbecuing?

Barbecuing involves cooking meat slowly over low indirect heat. The cooking process often takes several hours. This method is often used to cook large cuts of meat such as pork shoulder, pork butt, beef brisket, and even whole pigs. Due to the slow cooking method the meat is very tender and falls off the bone. Barbecuing can be done on a grill or in a smoker. 

What is grilling?

Whenever you have a gathering of people at your home to cook things on the grill, such as hamburgers, brats, hot dogs, and chicken, you are actually grilling not barbecuing. The terms are commonly used loosely and most people think they mean the same thing. However, grilling involves cooking food over high direct heat and cooking it quickly.  Consequently, the outside of the food is often seared, which holds in the internal juices. Grilling is most often performed on a gas, charcoal or wood fired grill. If you are more of a sear-and-serve type person then grilling may suit your fancy more than smoking. 

What is smoking? 

Smoking involves cooking meat in a low heat, smokey environment for several hours to several days. This allows the smoke to fully penetrate the meat and impart an unmistakably smokey flavor.  Consequently, you can produce numerous different flavors depending on the type of wood used to smoke the meat. 

Smoking meat is a centuries old technique that has long been used as a means of preserving meat prior to the invention of refrigeration and chemical preservatives. Smoking foods is also considered a complimentary process to curing meats. Combining both methods improves both flavor and appearance.

Three Benefits of Smoking Meat

Since smoking meat takes so much time and effort, you may be wondering why even bother. However, there are several benefits to smoking meat. Once you perfect the art of smoking, you may never go back to grilling. 

1) Flavor

The long slow process of smoking meat creates a very unique, natural flavor unlike any other method of cooking. You can control the amount of smoke by controlling the moisture and oxygen levels.  Consequently, it is possible to vary the flavor even when using the same type of wood.

2) The Bark

This is the dark, chewy, spicy, crust that forms on the outside of the meat during the smoking process. Typically it is one of the most flavorful parts of the meat. It forms on the outside of the meat because of the interaction of the smoke with the meat, moisture, and spice rub. 

3) Tender meat

Due to the slow cooking process of smoking meat, the end product is soft, tender, and juicy. This is the result of the slow break down of the collagen fibers. This slow cooking process also helps to retain the natural juices in the meat.  On the other hand, grilling is fast cooking with higher temperatures which tends to dry meat and keep the collagen fibers intact.  Consequently, the end product of grilling is a much tougher, dryer meat.

Basic Equipment needed for smoking

Fortunately the equipment needed to smoke meats is very basic and inexpensive.  More than likely you already have most of this equipment on hand especially if you already own a grill. Here is a short list of the necessary equipment. 

  • Smoker or grill
  • Heat from a fuel source (propane, electricity, or wood)
  • Wood, either wood chunks or chips
  • Brine, usually a salt base. Or no brine at all. 
  • Thermometer
  • Utensils: forks or tongs
  • Gloves, preferable heat resistant
  • Fire extinguisher, in case things go wrong

An Overview of the Basic Process of Smoking Meats

Just for a quick overview, I wanted to present a basic outline of all the steps involved in smoking meat. Each of these steps will be explained in much more detail below. However, here is a quick breakdown of everything involved.  

1) Know your meat

2) Preparing the meat for smoking

3) It’s all in the rub: using dry rubs

4) Brining meat 

5) When to get saucy 

6) Dry versus wet smoking

7) Know your wood

8) How it all works

9) Using a grill as a smoker

Know your meat

Remember that smoking meat is simply a different way of cooking. The same principles apply to smoking meat as with any other conventional cooking process.  You need to start with the right type of meat because not all meat is suitable for smoking. 

The main reason that smoking produces a fantastic end product is the long, slow cooking process. Low heat is transferred slowly to the meat indirectly. (Remember that grilling is high direct heat.) Because of this slow cooking process  some foods are simply not suitable for smoking. 

Different cuts and types of meat vary considerably in their size, toughness, and internal characteristics. It is the size and toughness of a cut of meat affects the time needed to smoke as well as how it is smoked. Thinner, leaner cuts smoke much quicker. Larger cuts of meat not only take longer to cook but need to contain a decent amount of fat to prevent the meat from drying out during the long cooking process.  

Less expensive cuts of meat are actually the better ones for smoking. These cuts of meat often contain more connective tissue and more fat. The connective tissue is slowly broken down and turned into sugars which makes the meat a little more sweet. The higher fat content keeps the meat moist and prevents drying during the long smoking process.  

That being said, I strongly recommend getting your meat from a good source.  Don’t purchase back-of-the-shelf ultra cheap meats. They are cheap for a reason.  Go to a good quality supermarket or a local butcher where meats are not full of fillers and additives that can affect your smoke. You do not have to invest a lot of money in prime cuts of meat in order to end up with a good end product just do not purchase the ultra cheap stuff.  

Now to the good part. Here are a few good guidelines for the best meat to smoke.  


Chuck roast

This is a smaller cut of beef relative to brisket. It still contains the right about of fat and collagen tissues to make it a good choice.  Most chuck roasts are going to take about 10 – 12 hours to smoke. 


This is generally a tough piece of meat with lots of connective tissue. There is generally not a lot of marbling but there is a lot of external fat which makes it a good cut for smoking.  Brisket is a fantastic smoked meat but one that is difficult to master.  It takes about 10 to 14 hours to smoke.  


Smoked ribs are highly sought after and are a favorite choice for smoking.  Although they are not as tough as other cuts of meat they still contain a large amount of fat.  Cooking time is about 5 to 6 hours.  

Tri Tip

This type of roast is not as tough as other cuts of meat. Although it is more lean it generally still contains a good amount of fatty tissue. It is very easy to cook and takes about 2 hours.  


Got any bacon?

Pigs have gotten some what of a bad rap for being fatty and unhealthy.  The truth is that modern pigs are being bred to be more lean. They do still contain a large amount of fat which makes them a great choice for smoking.  Pork also tends to be less expensive than beef and is more forgiving. This makes it a great choice for beginners. For smoking purposes, never select a cut that has been marinaded, injected, or cured by the manufacturer.  

Pork butt or Boston butt

This is a popular choice for smoking. It is the traditional cut in the Southern United States that is used for pulled pork. It comes in 4 to 8 pound chunks, has a high fat content and lots of connective tissue. Pork butt is also less expensive than beef brisket. It is a good choice for beginners. 

Baby back ribs

This is a great choice for beginners. These ribs have a high fat content and smoke very well.  The tend to cook evenly so they are a great choice for beginners. 

Spare ribs

These come from the underside of the pig.  They are larger ribs and contain more meat than baby back ribs. However, they are not as tender.  But they are still a great choice for smoking.  


Each type of bird has a completely different type of meat and fat content.  Consequently, the smoking temperature and time to smoke is completely different depending on your choice of meat. Apple and maple are good choices for smoking due to the mild flavor that they produce. 


This might be the best options for smoking poultry. Turkey has a low fat content so feel free to add some butter prior to smoking.  Smoke at 160 ℉ for 2 to 3 hours using maple or apple wood. 


Chicken tends to have very little fat. The down fall of smoking chicken is that the skin gets very dry and brittle during the cooking process due to the low fat content. A great choice is to marinade the meat prior to smoking. Smoke at 180 ℉ for 1 1/2 hours using maple. 


Duck is a great choice of poultry to smoke because it has just the right amount of fat content. Marinading duck prior to smoking enhances the flavor even more.  Smoke at 175 ℉ for 2 hours. 



Lamb is not as tough as beef but it is still a great choice for smoking.  It contains a good amount of fat for smoking. The shoulder is one of the more delicate cuts of lamb. 


This produces a delicious product. It is much tougher than the shoulder and contains a good amount of fat.  The end product of tender and juicy. Smoke for about 8 hours at 190℉. Oak is a good choice for smoking because it burns hotter than other types of wood. 

Sea food

Fragile white fish does not work well for smoking.  The best choice is a fatty fish such as salmon. It contains a lot of omega 3 fatty acids which makes it an excellent choice for smoking. 

Game Meat

Smoking game meat is worth the effort.  However, you have to remember that most game meat is very lean. Without some sort of additive smoked game meat will come out very dry. The solution to this is to lace the meat with pork fat, add pork fat to sausages, wrap smaller pieces of meat with bacon, and baste the meat regularly.  You can also marinade the meat or use a brine prior to smoking. This will also help to reduce the gamey taste to the meat.  

Smoke game meat at 180 ℉. Expect a cooking time of 1 to 2 hours per pound of meat.  

Preparing Meat for Smoking

Prior to putting the meat in the smoker there are a few things you should know as far as preparation. 


One of the first questions is whether or not to trim off the fat pad from a cut such as pork butt. First of all you have to understand that meat is far too dense to absorb the fat. Leaving the fat pad on will help protect the meat from any direct heat and help to retain moisture. If you are just starting out then perhaps trimming off the fat pad is a good idea. It will help to form a better bark. Additionally, any rubs placed on the fat pad are just going to be removed once the meat is cooked.  


Trussing or tying is used to neatly “package” the meat before placing it on a grill or in the smoker. It helps the meat to cook more uniformly. 

If large cuts of meat have loose ends or flaps, tying them up will prevent these pieces from cooking too quickly.  Trussing or tying is a vital part of smoking turkeys and chickens. Since these birds have an irregular shape, trussing up the wings and legs ensures even cooking and also makes them easier to turn.  

It’s all in the rub: using dry rubs 

Dry rubs are a fantastic way to add flavor to your smoked meat. The possibilities are truly endless.  You may find that after using a good quality dry rub that a barbecue sauce is just not necessary.  Additionally, a dry rub is a good alternative to brining.  

Instead of purchasing pre-made dry rubs, make you own. This is a great way to control the ingredients, limit the salt content, and fine tune the flavor to your personal choice.  There are no hard and fast rules for making a good rub. However, there are five things to consider when using a dry rub.  

  1. Salt/sugar ratio: Sweet rubs do not generally compliment beef, poultry, or fish. Instead, a higher salt ratio works better for these meats. However, pork usually does well with a sweeter rub. The best salts to use in rubs are those that are in a more natural form such as kosher salt, canning salt, and sea salt. Table salt has anti-clumping and other additives that sometimes add odd flavors to your meat. As a good rule of thumb, 1/2 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat.  As far as the sugar goes, there are many choices. If all you want is a sweet flavor, then white sugar is the best choice.  Brown sugar will add a little molasses flavor which works well with pork. 
  1. Desired essential flavors: These spices are the ingredients that produce the foundation of the rub. Think in terms of the basic background flavor. These ingredients tend to be milder. For example onion powder, chili powder, garlic, paprika.
  1. Amount of spice desired: hot, medium, mild: These are spices added to give the rub some additional heat. Examples are ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, ground jalapeño peppers, crushed red pepper.  Use these to fine tune the rub to your personal taste. 
  1. Special flavors: Use these ingredients in smaller amounts.  Examples are caraway seeds, fennel, thyme, oregano, Italian seasonings.
  1. Properly applying the rub:  For meat that has a fat pad, it is important to cut a cross hatch pattern in the fat pad. This allows the rub to effectively adhere to the meat so that it will penetrate the fat and be absorbed into the meat. For meat without a fat pad, simply apply a liberal amount of rub to the exterior portion and press the rub into the meat. Place the meat on a sheet of plastic wrap to minimize waste. Wrap the meat in plastic wrap or place it in a large food storage container. The longer the meat sits the more rub that is absorbed into the meat and the better the flavor.  For larger cuts of meat, refrigerate for one to two days prior to smoking.  For smaller cuts of meat, apply the rub and smoke immediately. 

Refer to the end of this guide for some basic dry rub recipes.

Brining Meat 

Brining meat is as simple as submerging it in a solution for a period of time to allow it to soak up some liquid. There are advantages and disadvantages to brining. 

To brine or not to brine 

The purpose for brining meat prior to smoking is to enhance flavor, texture, and moisture in the end product. Brined meat also tends to be softer.  However, some people do not want or like the added salt content. Lean meats, such as game meats, often need to be brined prior to smoking. Otherwise the end product is too dry. 

How to Brine Meat 

If using a salt and water solution, a good general guideline is one cup of salt per gallon of water. If you are making smaller amounts, use 3 tablespoons per quart of water. Kosher or sea salt is best because these tend to be natural products without additives. 

The salt will dissolve much easier if you warm the water slightly.  Be sure to make enough brine to completely cover the meat.  Never add the meat to hot water because it will actually cook the meat slightly.  If you over heat the water simply add a small amount of cold water or allow it too cool to room temperature. 

Once the brine is mixed add additional flavors of your choice. Common additives include vinegar, paprika, onion, thyme, black pepper, sugar, honey, and wine. But feel free to use your imagination and experiment.  

When soaking the meat in a brine, keep the meat submerged completely.  Soak for one hour per pound of meat. For larger cuts of meat, this is going to mean several hours of soaking time.  Consequently, you may need to place the meat in the refrigerator. Another alternative would be to use a meat pump for larger cuts of meat.  The meat pump simply looks like a very large syringe with a long needle. The “needle” has several fenestrations (holes) to disperse the brine. Simply fill the meat pump, insert it into the meat and inject. 

Once the brining is complete, rinse the meat to remove any excess salt. Pat it dry and it is ready for smoking.

A word of caution when using a brine. Prolonged brining does to generally result in a better product. It will soften the exterior portion of the meat to some degree.  This may result in a mushy, rather unappetizing end product. So, stick to the recipe but feel free to experiment.  

Refer to the end of this guide for some basic brine recipes. 

When to Get Saucy

Using a sauce when smoking meat can add a lot of additional flavor. There are endless varieties so feel free to use your imagination.  Additionally, if using a dry rub a sauce may not even be necessary. However, if you decide to add a sauce it can make a difference in the end product. 

Most sauces contain sugar. Sugar burns at 265 ℉/130℃. Since smoking is generally done a temperatures lower than this, there is not much worry.  However, the sugar will caramelize on the exterior or the meat which may produce an unattractive flavor. If using a sauce, apply it to the meat toward the end of the smoking process.

If you decide to get saucy, just remember that with true barbecue and smoking, a sauce is served as a condiment not as an ingredient. Consider serving the sauce on the side. 

Dry versus wet smoking

Wet smoking simply means that you place a pan of liquid in the smoker during the cooking process. This can be water, fruit juice, or whatever you choose.  The advantage to a wet smoke is that it tends to produce soft, juicy meat. Lean meats, such as game meat, may benefit from a wet smoke. Keep in mind that wet smoked products will have less of a bark. 

Dry smoking means liquid is not used during the smoking process. The advantage to this is that it tends to produce a nice, crusty bark. Often times the bark is the best part of the meat. When trying to decide on a dry versus a wet smoke, just remember that smoking meat is done at a very low temperature and should not dry the meat.  

Dry versus wet smoking may simply be a matter of personal choice.  The only way to become proficient at any thing is to practice and experiment.  As you smoke more and more foods, try both dry and wet smoking to see what you prefer.

Know Your Wood

There are numerous types of wood used for smoking meat. Each type of wood has very specific characteristics. Additionally, each type of meat has specific characteristics. Therefore, there are some general guidelines to pay attention to in order to produce the best product. 

Wood varies considerably in the type of smoke produced, the flavor produced and how hot and long it will burn.  Additionally, different meats have completely different textures and flavors, which is often referred to as the flavor profile.

Meats with stronger flavors include beef, game meat, and lamb. These are best smoked with a wood that produces a strong flavor such as hickory, oak, and mesquite.  Meats with a milder flavor profile are pork, poultry and fish. These meats are best smoked with wood that produces a mild flavor such as alder, maple, and the fruit woods. 

The following is a list of the most common woods used for smoking and their characteristics: 

Hickory is the most common wood used. It has a strong flavor and is good for beef, pork (especially ham) as well as lamb. 

Mesquite is in a category all its own.  It produces a very strong earthy flavor. It is best used when mixed with other woods due to its strong flavor. It makes a great choice for most game meats, beef and lamb. But due to the strong flavor it is a bad choice for light meats such as poultry, pork, and fish. 

Oak produces a medium smoke flavor and is good for game meats, pork, fish, and red meats. It burns very hot and is a good wood to mix with stronger flavored wood such as mesquite.  

Apple produces a mild sweet flavor and is often used for poultry, seafood, vegetables, and even cheese. It is also a popular choice for lamb.  The subtle flavor of this wood does not hold up well with beef due to the natural stronger flavor of beef.  However, it can be used to mix with stronger woods such as oak or mesquite. 

Maple produces a mild, sweet flavor and is good for poultry and pork. 

Alder produces a subtle smoke flavor with a natural sweetness.  It is best for seafood such as salmon. But it can also be use for chicken and pork.

Cherry produces a sweet, mild flavor and is a good all purpose smoking wood. It can be used for poultry, seafood, pork, beef, and game meat. 

Peach produces a very mild fruity flavor. Good for poultry and pork.

Pear produces a very mild fruity flavor. Good for poultry and pork.

Pecan is actually part of the hickory family. It can impart a very strong flavor. It is best used for poultry and pork

Walnut imparts a very strong flavor. Consequently, it is best used to mix with other woods.  But due to its strong characteristics, it is best used for beef and game meats. 

WOODS NOT TO USE FOR SMOKING:  Do not use scrap lumber.  Because of the processing, these woods can contain toxins.  Cedar and redwoods should not be used either.  Never use any type of wood from evergreen trees such as pine, cyprus, or fir.  Also stay away from elm and eucalyptus. The high sap content in these types of wood makes them a poor choice for smoking.

Chart of the Type of Wood to Use with Various Meats

Here is a quick chart for easy reference when trying to decide what wood to use for smoking. 


Type of Wood Beef Pork Game Meat Poultry Seafood Lamb Vegetable
Hickory ✅ ✅ ✅ ❌ ❌ ✅ ✅
Mesquite ✅ ❌ ✅ ❌ ❌ ✅  
Oak ✅ ✅ ✅ ❌ ❌ ✅  
Apple ❌ ❌ ❌ ✅ ✅ ✅ ✅
Maple ❌ ✅ ❌ ✅ ❌ ❌  
Alder ❌ ✅ ❌ ❌ ✅ ❌ ✅
Cherry ✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ ✅  
Peach ❌ ✅ ❌ ✅ ❌ ❌ ✅
Pear ❌ ✅ ❌ ✅ ❌ ❌  
Pecan ❌ ✅ ❌ ✅ ❌ ❌ ✅
Walnut ✅ ❌ ✅ ❌ ❌ ✅  

Wood Chunks, Chips, or Pellets

Once you decide on the type of meat to smoke and the particular wood you want to use, the next choice is what form of wood do you want to use. You have a choice of wood chunks, wood chips, or wood pellets.  All are easily available.  It comes down to a matter of personal preference and how long you want to smoke the meat. Keep in mind that smaller the pieces of wood have less burn time than chunks.  

Wood Chunks

Chunks are best if you want to smoke something all day. Chunks give you the longest burn and the most smoke. They will last longer if you soak them in water for at least 30 minutes. 

Wood Chips

Chips are best if you only want to smoke for a couple of hours. Soak the chips in water for at least 30 minutes.  

Wood Pellets

Pellets burn off very quickly.  Consequently, these are good only if you want a light smokey flavor to your meat. 

Soak the Wood or Not 

To some extent, this is a matter of opinion. I have the best results soaking wood chips and it seems to make them last a bit longer. Soaking wood chunks likely has little benefit simply because the water is only going to penetrate the surface of the wood. 

Keep in mind that if you add wet wood during a smoke, it is going to smolder for some time before it ignites.  This is going to lower the temperature of the smoke making it more difficult to keep a consistent temperature.  

If you soak wood for a smoke, I would recommend only doing it in the beginning and only doing it for short smokes.  For example, if using wood chips, soak them in the beginning and then start your smoke.  Then only add a few chips at a time in order to maintain the right temperature.  

How It All Works

When applying a source of heat woods burns through the process of combustion. Depending on the heat source, whether it is wood, propane, coal, or pellet, the flavor of the smoke changes. Smoke is a mixture of chemicals.  Some of those chemicals dissolve during the combustion process. The remaining chemicals attach to new chemicals found in the meat.  

The right combination of a heat source, the type of wood used to create the smoke, and the specific type of meat, is what creates a culinary slice of heaven. 

During the smoking process, you do not want a billowing cloud of smoke. You need to create a light blue smoke that is almost invisible. There is no hard and fast rule on how much wood to use.  It mainly depends on how long you need to smoke a particular cut of meat. Longer smokes are going to use more wood. The more smoke you create the more flavor added to the meat. To some degree this is a matter of personal choice regarding the flavor of the end product.  

Remember, grilling is direct heat that cooks meat quickly. Smoking is the use of indirect low heat in order to slowly cook the meat and slowly add that smokey flavor. Appliances that are dedicated smokers accomplish this by their unique design. However, if you have a grill, you can still accomplish the same thing by creating two different heat zones.

Using a grill as a smoker

The true advantage to using a smoker is that it makes this whole process much easier. For one thing it is easier to maintain a consistent temperature during the smoking process. However, if you already have a grill you can use that to smoke meats as well.

All you truly need to smoke meat is a pile of wood chips and a heat source. A grill can accomplish this just the same as a smoker.  That said, I have a grill and a dedicated smoker.  But I also purchased a basic smoker for $125.00.

Using a charcoal grill

If you are using charcoal, the coals need to be hot. Start the coals with something other than lighter fluid, unless you like the taste of chemicals in your meat. The coals need to be good and hot before you start the smoking process. When you can hold your hand close to the coals for no longer than 1 to 2 seconds they are at the right temperature.

During the smoking process, it is important to maintain a consistent temperature. When adding additional coals, make sure they are already hot. This can be accomplished by starting the coals on another grill and allowing them to get to the correct temperature before adding them to the smoking grill.  

Once the coals are hot, place them on one side of the grill. This is the direct heat zone. Place the meat and a drip pan on the other end of the grill. This is the indirect heat zone. Once you are ready to go, add the smoking wood directly on top of the coals. Another excellent option is to wrap small amounts of wood chips in an aluminum foil pouch and punch several holes in the pouch. Wrapping the wood controls the combustion process. The holes introduce oxygen and allow smoke to escape. This little trick will  produce a better smoke. 

Using a gas grill

When using a gas grill, turn all the burners on initially in order to preheat the grill for about 15 to 20 minutes. When you are ready to smoke, turn the burners off on one side of the grill and place the meat and drip pan on this side. The woods chips will have to be placed in a foil pouch or a dedicated smoke box since you cannot place the chips directly on the flame. I use a cast iron smoke box which can easily be ordered online.  

Using a Kettle Style Grill


If you already have a kettle style charcoal grill, you can purchase an insert in order to create 2 zones of heat. One side will have the charcoal for direct heat and the other side will be an indirect heat zone for slow cooking.  The folks at SNS Grill produce a fine product called the Slow N Sear.  (This is not an affiliate link.) 

What About the Bark

The bark on the outside of smoked meat is often the tastiest part of the end product. The bark is the dark, chewy, crusty outside edge that everyone craves. It takes a little practice and patience to produce a good bark. 

The bark forms through a process called the Maillard Reaction. This process was first described in 1912 by the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard. It is this reaction that creates flavor and changes the color of cooked food. The Maillard reaction begins to occur at temperatures about 285 ℉ (140℃ ). This reaction is different from the process of caramelization. However,  both processes add color and a crust to the outside surface of cooked food. 

From a technical aspect, the Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs between a reducing sugar and an amino acid in the presence of heat.  This is a non-enzymatic process that results in browning of the food. The reducing sugars interact with animo acids in the meat resulting in a flavor molecule. 

During this process, hundreds of different flavor compounds are created. Those flavor compounds also break down to form new compounds, etc. The type of amino acid determines the resulting flavor. Consequently, each type of food has unique flavor compounds that form during the Maillard reaction. It is these very compounds that flavor scientist use to create artificial flavors. 

Tips on Creating a Better Bark

  • Do not wrap the meat in foil. Wrapping the meat will speed up the tenderizing process but will reduce the formation of a bark. 
  • Do not put the meat in a pan. This limits the air flow around the meat.  A better bark is formed with improved convection air flow. 
  • Gash the meat in a cross hatch pattern and press the rub into the cut areas.
  • Remove the fat cap.
  • Create more surface area by removing any bones, then truss the meat into a tube shape. 

Smoking Vegetables and Cheeses

When most people think about smoked foods they commonly think only of smoked meat. Most never even think of applying the same process to vegetables and cheeses. However, there is a huge variety of veggies and cheeses to add to the smoker. 


There are a number of vegetables that can be smoked. Smoked veggies make a great compliment to any meal. Again the rule is low and slow. 

If smoking vegetables and meat at the same time be sure to place the veggies on the top rack.  This will help to avoid any cross contamination with uncooked meat juices. If the vegetables are cut into smaller pieces, place them in a smoking basket to prevent them from falling through the grate. 

There are numerous vegetables that can be smoked. Just a few examples are artichokes, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, chili peppers, bell peppers, potatoes, corn on the cob. 

Refer to the chart below on smoking times and temperatures and for suggestions on smoking a variety of vegetables. 


Smoking Cheese 

Cheese is smoked for several reasons.  The slow smoking process adds a unique earthy, toasty flavor. The smoking process also helps to preserve the cheese. This was important especially before the invention of modern refrigeration. Cheese makers also value how smoking affects the maturation process. 

The process of smoking cheese is referred to as “cold smoking” due to low temperature at which cheese is smoked. (See the Cold vs Hot Smoking section below for more details.) Cheese will begin to liquify at 90℉ (32.2℃) Consequently, when smoking cheese, the temperature of the grill or smoker must be kept fairly low. 

Cheeses that are commonly smoked include pepper jack, gouda, cheddar, and Swiss. However, any cheese can be put through the smoking process. Smoked cheese is great on burgers, pizza, nachos, or simply as an appetizer. 

The Process of Smoking Cheese

1) Place one of two lit briquettes inside the grill or in the smoking chamber of the your smoker. 

2) Place a thermometer inside the smoker to closely monitor the temperature. It must not rise above 90℉(32.2℃).

3) Place wood chips directly on the briquettes. For best results use apple, maple, pecan or cherry wood chips. It is best to use wood that produces a lighter flavor.  

4) Alternatively, you can use a smoking tube. This is a tube shaped metal device that is used to produce smoke without adding a lot of heat. It was initially designed for cold smoking. Tube smokers tends to function better with pellets instead of chips. 

5) Cut cheese into small bricks, no more than one inch thick. Place the bricks inside the smoker and allow enough room between them for smoke to flow freely. 

6) Smoke for one to four hours depending on your taste preference. 


Tips for Best Results

1) Since cheese is cold smoked, then smoke it while it is cooler outside. Choose a cooler time of year or a cooler time of day such as in the evening or early in the morning.  Smoking at a cooler time will help to keep the internal temperature of the smoker below 90℉.

2) Use a smoking tube, which provides only smoke and very little heat.  

3) Bring the cheese to room temperature before starting the smoking process. This will help prevent condensation from forming on the outside of the cheese bricks. 

4) Cut cheese into smaller bricks, no more than one inch thick. The smoke is only going to penetrate the outer edges of the cheese. Cutting it into smaller bricks exposes more surface area to absorb more smoke. 

5) Constantly monitor the temperature. 

6) Turn the cheese every 30 minutes to get even exposure of the smoke. 

7) Add pellets or wood chips a little at a time in order to maintain a light, constant source of smoke.  

8) Smoke for 2 to 4 hours. Reduce the smoking time for a lighter smokey flavor.  

9) Wrap cheese and refrigerate for at least 24 to 48 hours, preferably 2 weeks. The outside edge of cheese fresh out of the smoker will have a very strong possibly unpleasant taste. Allowing it to sit will mellow out that taste by allowing the smoke flavor to distribute throughout the cheese. Consequently, the flavor improves with time. 

Smoking Times and Temperatures 

Always remember that the smoking time is just an estimate.  ALWAYS use a cooking thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the meat. This is the safest way to judge if it is cooked thoroughly enough to safely consume.  

Always remember that the smoking time is just an estimate.  ALWAYS use the internal temperature as a means of judging the finished time. 

Abbreviations for the following charts:

Temp = temperature

Finished temp = finished internal temperature

Ch. = Chicken

Beef Smoking Times and Temperatures

Cut of Meat Smoking Temp Finished Temp Cooking Time
Brisket 225 to 240℉ 145℉ 12 to 20 hours
Chuck Roast 225 to 240℉ 145℉ 8 to 10 hours
Back Ribs 225 to 240℉ 145℉ 4 to 5 hours
Short Ribs 225 to 240℉ 145℉ 6 to 8 hours
Country Style Ribs 225 to 240℉ 145℉ 3 to 4 hours
Meat loaf 225 to 240℉ 160℉ 3 hours
Burgers 225℉ 160℉ 1 hour
Steaks 210 to 220℉ 145℉ 45 to 60 minutes
Prime Rib 225℉ 145℉ 4 to 5 hours
Tri Tip 225 to 240℉ 145℉ 2 hours
Tenderloin 225 to 250℉ 130 to 140℉ 2 1/2 to 3 hours
Sausage 225 to 250℉ 160℉ 30 to 60 minutes
Whole Ribeye 225 to 250℉ 130 to 140℉ for medium 25 minutes/pound

Pork Smoking Time and Temperatures

Cut of Meat Smoking Temp Finished Temp Cooking Time
Pork Butt 225 to 240 ℉ 145℉ 12 to 14 hours
Baby Back Ribs 225 to 240 ℉ 145℉ 6 hours
Spare Ribs 225 to 240 ℉ 145℉ 3 to 5 hours
Loin 225 to 240 ℉ 145℉ 2 hours
Whole Hog 225 to 240 ℉ 205℉ 16 to 18 hours
Belly Bacon 100℉ 145℉ 6 hours
Ham 250℉ 160℉ 1 1/2 hours per pound

Poultry Smoking Time and Temperatures

Cut of Meat Smoking Temp Finished Temp Cooking Time
Whole Chicken 250 to 275℉ 165 ℉ 3 to 4 hours
Ch. Legs,Thighs 250 to 275℉ 165 ℉ 2 hours
Ch. Wings 250 to 275℉ 165 ℉ 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Ch. Quarters 250 to 275℉ 165 ℉ 2 hours
Ch.Breast 350℉ 165 ℉ 1 to 2 hours
Whole Turkey 240 ℉ 165 ℉ 5 to 7 hours
Turkey Breast 240 ℉ 165 ℉ 4 hours
Turkey Leg 240 ℉ 165 ℉ 3 to 4 hours
Quail/Pheasant 225 ℉ 165 ℉ 1 hour
Cornish Hens 240 ℉ 165 ℉ 2 hours
Whole Duck 225 to 250℉ 165 ℉ 4 hours

Fish and Sea Food Smoking Time and Temperatures

Cut of Meat Smoking Temp Finished Temp Cooking Time
Salmon 220℉ 145℉ 1 hour
Tilapia Filets 220℉ 145℉ 1 hour
Whole Trout 225℉ 145℉ 1 hour
Lobster Tails 225℉ 145℉ 45 minutes
Oyster 225℉ 145℉ 30 to 40 minutes
Scallops 225℉ 145℉ 45 to 60 minutes
Shrimp 225℉ 145℉ 20 to 30 minutes

Lamb Smoking Times and Temperature

Cut of Meat Smoking Temp Finished Temp Cooking Time
Lamb Leg 225 to 250℉ 140 to 150℉ 4 to 8 hours
Lamb Shank 225 to 250℉ 190℉ 4 to 5 hours
Lamb Shoulder 225 to 250℉ 170℉ 5 to 5 1/2 hours
Lamb Rack 200 to 225℉ 135 to 140℉ 1 1/4 hours


Cuts of Meat Smoking Temp Finished Temp Cooking Time
Rabbit 200℉ 160℉ 3 1/2 to 4 hours
Meat balls 225 to 240℉ 160℉ 1 hour
Brats 225 to 240℉ 160℉ 2 hours
Hot-dogs 225 to 240℉ 160℉ 3 to 4 hours

Vegetable Smoking Times and Temperatures

Type of Vegetable            Smoking Temp        Smoking Time
Artichokes 225℉ 2 hours or until tender
Asparagus 225℉ 90 minutes
Bell Peppers 225℉ 90 minutes
Cabbage 225℉ 4 hours
Chili Peppers 225℉ 3 hours
Corn on the cob 225℉ 90 minutes
Egg plant 200℉ 60 minutes
Garlic 225℉ 2 hours or until tender
Portobello mushrooms 225℉ 90 minutes
Onions 225℉ 2 hours
Potatoes 225℉ 2 hours
Tomatoes 200℉ 45 minutes
Zucchini, Squash 225℉ 60 minutes

Cooking Suggestions for smoking vegetables

Artichokes: Trim spikes and cut off stalk. Steam for 20 minutes and pat dry before smoking. 

Asparagus: Cut off ends. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic, kosher salt, or any spice of your choice. 

Bell peppers: Wash, trim stalks, smoke with Mesquite wood

Cabbage: Cut in half and cut out the core. Brush with a small amount of butter and olive oil. Place 1/2 stick of butter on the inside. Wrap in foil and smoke with the top open. Smoke with mesquite wood. 

Chili peppers: Cut in half. Remove the seeds if you want to reduce the heat a little. 

Corn on the cob: Soak in the husk for several hours. Pull back the husk to remove the silk. Brush with a small amount of olive oil. 

Egg plant:Marinade with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with a mix of spices of your choice. 

Garlic: Remove ends and peel the bulb. Brush with a small amount of olive oil

Portobello mushrooms: Brush with olive oil, black pepper, and a mix of spices of your choice. 

Onions: Trim the stalks off the top and bottom. Cut into chunks. Wrap in foil with slices of butter. Sprinkles of black pepper and a mixture of spices. 

Tomatoes: Cut in half. Brush with olive oil and place in smoker with cut side down. 

Potatoes: Leave them whole or cut into pieces depending on the size. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a variety of spices depending on personal taste. 

Zucchini squash: Cut in 1/2 inch slices lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. 

15 Tips for Producing a Good Smoked Product

1) Be Patient

Smoking meat can take several hours.  The low steady heat helps to break down the collagen fibers in the meat thus making it very tender.  Larger cuts of meats such as roasts, chickens, and brisket can take several hours to cook.  Smoking meat to perfection is truly an art that requires time, patience, and practice.

2) Invest in a good oven thermometer. 

It is important to keep the smoker at a consistent temperature during the entire smoking process. Invest in a good reliable thermometer so that smoker temperature can be monitor accurately. 

3) Invest in a good meat thermometer. 

Cooking times in charts for smoking meat are only estimates. The only reliable way to check if the meat is cooked thoroughly is to measure the internal temperature.  You need a cooking thermometer that is reliable. 

4) Do not flip the meat during the cooking process.

Smoking is accomplished with low, slow indirect heat combined with convection air flow. Consequently, it is not necessary to turn the meat. 

5) Experiment with using dry versus wet wood. 

Some people prefer to always soak the wood chips prior to smoking. If you do this, you will not get as much smoke. This will help to produce a milder flavor.  Using dry wood chips means they burn more quickly and produce a stronger flavor. However, you will have to add chips more frequently.  

6) Experiment with marinades.

Smoking is a long slow process. Using a marinade can complement the smoking process and add a lot of additional flavor.  

7) Use a drip pan to help control smoker temperature. 

Liquid in a drip pan will help to keep the smoker at a lower temperature.  The more liquid you have in the drip pan, the cooler the temperature. 

8) Use different types of juices in the drip pan.

Similar to a marinade, a variety of juices in the drip pan can enhance the flavor of the smoked food.  

9) For a better bark, leave the meat uncovered.

When the meat is uncovered it is constantly exposed to the heat and smoke.  This is what helps to form a nice crusty bark on the outside of the food. 

10) Cover the meat during part of the smoking process to produce a juicer end product.

If you want less bark and more juice, cover the meat with foil during part of the cooking process. 

11) Do not check the meat during the smoking process.

The meat needs to be kept at a consistent temperature.  Every time the smoker is opened, the temperature will drop. Afterwards it will take some time for the smoker to recovery to the proper smoking temperature.

12) Weigh the meat prior to smoking.

Knowing the weight of the meat prior to starting this whole process gives you an accurate time estimate for cooking. Instead of peaking constantly, check the internal temperature of the meat toward the end of the estimated time.  

13) Experiment with sauces

Much like marinades, sauces can add additional flavors to the finished product. However, do not add the sauce to the meat until the last 15 to 20 minutes of the smoking process.

14) Meat needs to be at room temperature prior to smoking. 

This is the best way to ensure an even cooking and smoking process. Placing cold meat in the smoker may mean that the outside edge will be cooked and the internal portion will still be raw or undercooked. Additionally, meat at room temperature is going to accept smoke much more readily.  

15) Keep a journal of your experiences.

It is important that you keep track of your smoking trials and errors, notes on the finished product, the type and form of wood used,  and even weather conditions during the smoke.  This is the only way you will remember exactly what was going on so that you can make changes to improve your process.  This is what I did when I first starting making homemade bread. After 2 to 3 months of experimenting, note taking and making changes I perfected my methods.

Dry Rub Recipes

Dry rubs are used to add a lot of additional flavor to a smoke. The possibilities are truly endless. This is a list of a few of my favorite recipes. But, for more information about rubs, refer to the section above “It’s All in the Rub”. 

Properly applying the rub: 

For meat that has a fat pad, it is important to cut a cross hatch pattern in the fat pad. This allows the rub to effectively adhere to the meat so that it will penetrate the fat and be absorbed into the meat. 

For meat without a fat pad, simply apply a liberal amount of rub to the exterior portion and press the rub into the meat. Place the meat on a sheet of plastic wrap to minimize waste. Wrap the meat in plastic wrap or place it in a large food storage. 

The longer the meat sits the more rub that is absorbed into the meat and the better the flavor.  For larger cuts of meat, refrigerate for one to two days prior to smoking.  For smaller cuts of meat, apply the rub and smoke immediately.

Kansas City Rib Rub

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Barbecue Brisket Rub

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (mild or hot depending on taste preference)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Basic Brisket Rub

This recipes is one part of each of the following ingredients.  It can be be in any quantity needed and stored in an air tight container.  

  • White sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Chili powder (mild or hot depending on taste preference)
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Cayenne Pepper (optional, depending on taste preference)

Spicy Brisket Dry Rub

This is for a large brisket.

  • 1/2 cup onion powder
  • 1/4 cup of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup of garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup of paprika
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of freshly ground black pepper (peppercorns)

Smoked Chicken Rub

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder

Turkey Rub

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil 
  • 2 Tablespoons onion powder 
  • 1 Tablespoon paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 Teaspoons white pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/2 Teaspoon powdered sage

South Of The Border Beef Rib Rub

  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 t dried oregano
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on taste preference

Pork Rub

  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon powdered chicken bouillon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger

Sweet Chili Rub

  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4  cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

General All Purpose Rub

This recipes calls for equal amounts of the following ingredients and can be scaled up as needed. This is a combination that I came up with on my own.  It goes well with any kind of meat.  

  • Ground black pepper
  • Lowrys seasoning
  • Paprika
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder or flakes
  • Cayenne pepper

Brine Recipes

The basic process of brining

Brining meat is an excellent way to add additional flavors to smoke meat.  The process is really very simple: 

  • 1 cup of salt per gallon of water
  • Boil 2 cups of water 
  • Add 1 cup of kosher salt. Stir into the water until it is completely dissolved
  • Add the remaining water
  • Add spices, fruit juice, herbs, etc
  • Allow to cool completely before adding meat
  • Brine in the refrigerator for the recommended time.  
  • Whole chickens about 4 to 5 hours
  • Whole turkeys 12 hours
  • Pork tender loin 4 to 5 hours

Basic Sweet Brine


  • 1/3 Cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Kosher sale
  • 4 Cups water


Whisk together in order to mix all ingredients. Use as a brine for meat poultry, or fish.  Brine meat for at least 3 hours. Over night is better. 

Liquid Smoke Brine

  • 1 Bottle of Liquid Smoke
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Sea Salt
  • 3 quarts of Water

Basic Brine for Chicken and Turkey

This recipe makes one quart of brine.  


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 5 to 6 medium cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt


Stir ingredients together in a medium sauce pan. Slowly heat until sugar is dissolved.  Bring to a boil and allow to cool. 

Place meat in a large zip lock freezer bag or an air tight food grade plastic container.  Pour in brine and make sure the meat is completely submerged. 

For smaller cuts of meat, brine for 3 to 4 hours. Brine whole chickens for 6 hours.  Brine turkeys for 12 to 24 hours depending on the size of the turkey. 

Remove meat from brine and pat dry.  

Molasses Pork Brine


  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 7 cups cold water
  • 4 to 5 pounds pork, bone in or boneless
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


Combine salt, molasses and cloves in a large container. Pour in the boiling water and mix until all ingredients are dissolved.  Allow to cool to room temperature. Mix in all remaining water.

Simple chicken brine


  • 1 gallon warm water
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil


Place warm water in a large container. Add the soy and Worcestershire sauces and mix well. Add all other remaining ingredients and mix well until sugar and salt is completely dissolved.  

This makes one gallon of brine. This is sufficient for up to 10 pounds of boneless chicken breasts, about 6 pounds of bone in chicken pieces or whole chicken.

Brine at least 4 hours or over night for whole chickens.  Remove meat from brine and pat dry before smoking. 

Beef Brisket Brine

This recipe is for 5 pounds of beef brisket. 


  • 5 pounds beef brisket
  • 8 cups hot water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 8 cups cold water


Toast seeds lightly to bring out the flavors. Place 8 cups of water in a large pan. Add all other brine ingredients. Bring water to a boil. Make sure the sugar and salt are completely dissolved.  Add 8 cups of cold water. 

Submerge the brisket and refrigerate for at least 2 days. Remove meat from the brine and rinse. Pat dry and coat with your favorite dry rub.

Final Thoughts

Smoking foods and doing it well is an art that must be practiced. Time and patience is required in order to develop the necessary skill.  However, it is well worth the effort in order to produce what I call a culinary slice of heaven. Purchase quality equipment, experiment with proven methods, try different recipes and you are well on your way to being a master smoker.  Enjoy!

Additional Posts of Interest

Guide to Purchasing a Smoker

Guide to Home Canning

Guide to Freezing Food

Guide to Pickling Vegetables

Guide to Dehydrating Foods


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