Smoking meat is a great way to cook, but it's such a cross between art and science that knowing exactly how long to smoke different types of meat can get confusing. Taking your meat off too early will leave you with risks such as foodborne illness and too long of a smoke will turn the meat into a bitter bite. Thankfully, there are a few experts that have nailed down the timing and have shared some tips with us.
Cooking times and temperature vary from meat to meat and can be affected by other things like outside temperature and whether or not the piece of meat is bone-in or not. When it comes to picking out a smoker, we highly recommend splurging for a pellet smokers. These use wood pellets to allow for perfectly smoked food every time. Some popular brands of pellet grills are Traeger and The Big Green Egg. You can purchase a Traeger Grill for about $800 on Amazon.
Smoking Temperature and Timing
Low and slow cooking is the name of the game. The time windows are suggestions, so you'll want to double-check to make sure the finished internal temperature is in the safe zone before you take out the smoked meat. Use a digital thermometer, or meat thermometer to help you keep track of the internal meat temperature. When it comes to smoking, sometimes the temperature is higher than usual. For example, pork butts and shoulders are technically cooked at 145°F, however, you'll want to get it all the way up to the 200s for the connective tissue to break down into gelatin.
Optimal Internal Temperatures of Smoked Meats
- Beef Brisket- 195°F - 207°F
- Beef Ribs - 190°F - 210°F
- Beef Roasts - 135°F - 205°F
- Sausage - 160°F - 165°F
- Pork Ribs - 190°F - 205°F
- Pork Roasts - 195°F - 203°F
- Bacon - 150°F
- Poultry - 165°F
- Lamb - 195°F - 205°F
- Seafood - 145°F
- Vegetables -
Something to note: your smoker temperature will need to be higher than the finished temperature of the meat. If you don't keep your smoker temp constant and at the right heat level, your meat won't ever finish cooking. As tempting as it is to keep checking inside the smoker, keeping it closed except when absolutely necessary will help keep the temperature inside where it needs to be.
Your smoking time will vary depending on what kind of beef you've got in the smoker. Beef brisket can take up to 20 hours (but it's oh so worth it), while tenderloin usually takes 3 hours. Tri-tip, which is similar to brisket, becomes insanely tender if you smoke it for 2 hours. Some argue that the best meat to use is prime rib. It's a splurge, but well worth it for the rich and flavorful beef.
Grill Girl Robyn Lindars shares that while 203°F is the optimal temperature for brisket, it's best to bring the temperature down for high-quality brisket such as Wagyu. " It does better when you pull the meat earlier as letting it get to 203°F renders it a bit mushy." She shares, noting that pulling at 190°F and wrapping in foil is the best way to go.
If you're using frozen meat, make sure it's thawed completely before it goes in the smoker. You might also cut the ribs apart so they cook faster.
If you're smoking baby back ribs, spare ribs, pork shoulder/pork butt, or pork loin make sure you trim the excess fat off the meat and use your favorite dry rub to flavor the meat before you put it in the smoker.
If you don't want the extra clean-up, Justin of Salt Pepper Skillet notes that St. Louis style ribs are usually pre-trimmed, making them a great choice for beginners.
Lamb is one of those underserved meats. "Don't be intimated by lamb," Mary of Vindulge notes, "When smoked, it really balances out the traditional gamy flavor".
Lamb chops come to temperature in around 45 minutes, making it a pretty fast smoked entree. Mary notes if you are cooking to medium, remove the lamb when the meat reaches 135°F then sear it.
Most poultry takes less time to cook in a smoker than other meats, however, the smoker needs to reach a higher temperature because the finished internal temperature for poultry is higher than that of beef or pork.
A whole chicken makes a great item to smoke. You can satisfy the dark meat and white meat lovers, while also enjoying the crispy skin. Carrian and Cade from Oh Sweet Basil recommend adding a dish of apple juice to the smoker to add an incredible flavor. You can then incorporate the apple juice with the drippings for a knock-your-socks-off gravy.
Smoked turkey is excellent if you're not able to find a whole turkey outside of Thanksgiving, try smoking a turkey leg or turkey breast for something different. Smoked chicken wings also make a great party appetizer.
You can cook anything from a salmon filet to lobster tails in a smoker. A good brine or marinade can give the seafood great flavor, but it's best to dry it completely before it goes into the smoker. Jillian at Food Folks and Fun shares that basting lobster tails in cajun butter is the secret to juicy and succulent smoked lobster.
FRUIT & VEGETABLES
If you can grill it, you can smoke it; vegetables are a great example of this adage. Smoked potatoes and corn are an excellent way to round out a meal, but that's not all you can do with produce and a smoker.
You could, for example, smoke strawberries and then make jam with them. (You're welcome.) Smoking vegetables and fruit is less about getting it cooked all the way through and more about infusing the food with the smokey taste, so it generally takes less time. You'll also smoke fruit at a lower temperature for less time. When we say low temperature, we mean no higher than 250 degrees.
READ MORE: The 7 Best Smokers Under $100
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This post was originally published on April 2, 2019.