People have been smoking meats for thousands of years. The exact time period is unclear but there is evidence showing ancient cultures smoked meat.
The general thought is they used smoke to keep flies away while drying meat. Then they figured out that the smoke acts as a preservative. In a time without refrigerators, a good way to preserve meat was a godsend.
So why do we still do it today? With a freezer and refrigerator standard in American homes, why smoke meat?
The reason, it is delicious. Smoked meats are flavorful, juicy and so tender they fall apart. Smoking meat is a fantastic way to turn a not-so-great cut of meat into a culinary masterpiece.
Are you ready to venture into the wild world of smoking meat? We’ve got great tips on how to smoke meat. Then we’ll highlight 10 of the best smoked meats to get you started.
What Does Smoking Do To Meat?
Smoke has a unique effect on meat. The long process allows time for the collagen in the meat to break down.
Collagen is present in all the connective tissue and gristle and is what makes meat tough. It turns into sugars as it breaks down. So by breaking down the collagen, you make your meat both tender and sweet.
Smoke also infuses the meat with flavor, so it matters what type of wood you choose. Hickory, apple, cherry, pecan, oak, mesquite, and maple are all popular choices.
Keep in mind that not every wood works well with every meat. The resulting flavor combination is different for different meats. When we talk about the best meats, we’ll also give some suggestions for which wood to use.
How Do You Smoke Meat?
You have to realize that smoking meat is unlike any other form of cooking meat. It requires a lot of patience and good technique to get an amazing final product.
You smoke meat by placing it in an enclosed space with a fire. Don’t build up the fire too much. You have to keep the temperature low otherwise your meat will dry out.
Leaner meats will also dry out faster since they don’t have the extra fat. The way to avoid this is by soaking the meat in a saline solution first. Brine the meat well and you’ll get added flavor and better moisture retention.
The most important thing is to be patient! Don’t try to smoke your meat too fast or you won’t get the succulent results you wanted.
What’s a good rule of thumb for how long to smoke meat? You can expect the very minimum to be 30 minutes per pound. It is not unheard of to leave a slab of meat smoking for up to 20 hours!
What factors make the best smoked meats?
Another great thing about smoking meat is the cost. The best smoked meats are the ones that we often think of as bad quality cuts.
Remember what we mentioned about collagen earlier? The connective tissue and other tough stuff are undesirable in normal cooking.
But meat with lots of gristle is perfect for smoking! The meat gets more tender and sweeter the longer you cook it.
A high-fat content is also useful. It helps keeps the meat from drying out during the long smoking process.
Now let’s review 10 of the best smoked meats. By now we bet you’re itching to pick out the perfect cut and get started!
Meats with lots of collagen and fat make the best smoked meats. Pork ribs have plenty of both, making them perfect for throwing in the smoker.
Ribs come with a tough membrane along the back. Remove this before smoking your ribs or it will affect the flavor and texture.
You don’t have to brine pork ribs first, but if you want the best flavor possible, do it! If you’re going to all the effort you might as well make those ribs as awesome as possible. Leave them soaking for about 45 minutes per pound and then put it in the smoker.
Hickory and apple are both great woods to use with pork. Remember to keep the temperature low (225 degrees Fahrenheit or less). And go slow. Plan on smoking them for about 1 1/2 hours per pound.
You can make some amazing pulled pork out of the fatty pork shoulder. All that fat marbled throughout the meat keeps it nice and juicy while cooking. After about 10-15 hours of smoking, it will be so tender it falls apart on its own.
As we’ve mentioned hickory and apple are good woods to use with pork. But you can also experiment with pecan and cherry and see which one you like better.
If you are a hunter (or know someone that is) wild pig is really the way to go when smoking meat. The pork cuts we’ve talked about are fantastic. But if you want to try one of the best smoked meats out there, wild pig is even better.
It doesn’t matter if you get feral hogs, javelina, razorbacks, or Russian boar, they are all amazing. The flavor that you get from wild pig is way different than the domestic variety.
It may be a little harder to get your hands on a cut of this meat. But if you find some, smoke that baby! You will be so glad you did.
Keep the temperature under 200 degrees Fahrenheit and cook that baby for a long time. And by long we mean somewhere between 14 and 36 hours.
Beef brisket is notorious for being chewy, tough and flavorless. Smoking turns it into a culinary delight. All that collagen breaks down and injects deliciousness into the meat.
Think about what an awesome steak crossed with awesome roast beef would taste like. Plus it will be way more tender than both.
Brisket is also easy to prepare. You don’t have to bring it, although if you do the flavor will be even better.
Then you can start smoking away. Plan on about 1 1/2 hours of smoking per pound. Learn more about making the perfect brisket here.
Turkey is somewhat difficult to cook the conventional way. It dries out easily and sometimes doesn’t have much flavor.
Smoking it, on the other hand, makes it awesome! You do have to know how to prepare it. But if you do it right, you will never want to eat another oven-roasted turkey again.
Do brine the turkey for about 1 hour per pound to keep it from drying out. And be sure to keep a bit of water in the water/drip pan as it cooks.
Rubs work well with turkeys and any type of bird. Experiment to find your favorite flavor combination.
Keep your temperature at 225 degrees Fahrenheit and smoke it for 30 minutes per pound. Check out our super in-depth post for everything you need to know about smoking turkeys.
The process of smoking chicken is much like smoking turkey. It’s a tad less prone to drying out, but you should still plan on bringing it.
Like turkey, once you’ve had smoked chicken there’s no going back. But it’s so worth it. The flavor is top notch.
You can use pecan, maple, apple and cherry wood with birds. Experiment to find what you like best.
Rock Cornish Game Hens
When it comes to birds, Rock Cornish game hens make one of the best-smoked meats out there. The flavor you can get from these babies is something you’ll never find in turkey or chicken.
Use a good rub and try it with mesquite wood. You’ll be glad you did!
These cook well at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes per pound.
If you’re not a hunter, you should find some hunter friends. Deer can be dry and gamey when cooked in an oven. But just like with beef brisket, smoking transforms it into a delight.
Be sure to bring the deer first. That’s a must to keep it moist. Fruit woods like apple and cherry help to get rid of the gamey taste.
Do it right and you’ll have one of the best smoked meats you’ve ever tasted!
It may not be super common to eat goat in the United States. But if you can get your hands on some you’ll find it makes for one of the best smoked meats.
For best results, treat it like deer and try it with a lemon-pepper rub. Keep the temperature at 200?F and smoke it for an hour per pound. Make sure there is always a bit of water in the pan.
Carp is a fantastic fish for smoking. It’s firm and a bit fatty, which keeps it nice and moist in the smoker.
If you are very sensitive to the fishy taste, soak it in salt water and milk or buttermilk before smoking.
Smoke them over mesquite wood for amazing flavor.
Now… Get Out and Smoke!
We hope this list of the best smoked meats has inspired you. It sure made us hungry writing about them!
If you don’t have your smoker yet, go check out our list of the best smokers. Your smoker doesn’t have to be super fancy, but a good one will always turn out better meat.