When I first got my hands on my pellet smoker, my mind was taking a mental picture of all the meat I would cook in it. I was excited to try it and bought a large brisket, only to be disappointed in the outcome. While briskets are great in pellet smokers, I won’t recommend them for beginners. So, here are the best meats to cook on pellet smokers for both beginners and experienced barbeque enthusiasts.
The best meats to smoke on a pellet smoker are those with high-fat content and a high amount of collagen. The fats that break down while smoking the meat can help make the meat tender and moist.
While fatty and collagen-rich meat is the best meat to smoke, you can experiment with leaner and tougher cuts as you get more experience in smoking.
12 Best Meat To Smoke For Beginners
1. Whole Chicken
One of the easiest and cheapest meat to smoke on a pellet smoker that is perfect for beginners is a whole chicken. It is hard to fail with chicken, and if in case you still do, you won’t feel that bad about the money you spent.
Duck is another meat best for beginners because it contains just enough fat that will prevent it from drying out. However, since duck may lack in flavour, it’s best to marinate it first before smoking.
While most may think that turkey is best served during Thanksgiving, it’s a great meat to serve on any occasion. Turkey does not only have a delicious flavour but is big enough to feed a big crowd. However, since it doesn’t contain a lot of fat, you need to be careful when smoking turkey so it won’t dry out.
Yes, fish can also be smoked and salmon is the best fish to smoke for beginners. Why? Because it contains a lot of oil that will make sure it won’t dry out while smoking.
5. Pork Chops
Since pork chops don’t have too many connective tissues like other parts of the pig, they are great for amateur smokers. Fewer connective tissues mean an easier cooking process. Just make sure the pork chops are at least 1 inch thick to avoid drying out.
6. Beef Ribs
Beef ribs are not only a favourite during barbeque parties but are also perfect for beginners. They are full of fat and are more tender compared to other cuts of beef. This means they will break down faster and the fats will help keep the meat moist and flavourful.
7. Pulled Pork (Boston Butt)
More often than not, Boston butt cuts are well-marbled and are cheaper than brisket. If you are still new to smoking in a pellet smoker, you can start experimenting on pulled porks. By the way, don’t be too bothered as they are not actually pork butts. Start smoking Boston Butt with the bone still in if you want better texture and flavour.
8. Pork Ribs
You’re probably hoping this one would be on the list too for beginners because honestly, who doesn’t want a good smoked pork rib? Well, lucky for you pork ribs are also great meat to smoke for beginners. Later, I’ll show you how to cook it.
9. Lamb Shank
This is a classic favourite and very easy to smoke in a pellet grill. The best way to cook it is by braising, which I’ll tell you more about later.
10. Beef Cheeks
Similar to Boston Butt, beef cheeks are also well-marbled which is great for slow smoking. It’s also hard to go wrong with beef cheeks.
11. Beef Brisket
While beef brisket is on the list for beginners, I wouldn’t suggest trying it the moment you get your pellet smoker. This can be a bit tricky and it is wiser to start with the meats mentioned above first.
12. Tomahawk Steak
Another favourite that looks amazing on dinner tables is the Tomahawk Steak. Flavour-wise, it’s almost the same as ribeyes but if you want to impress your guest, then Tomahawk Steak can do that.
How To Smoke Different Types Of Meat
When it comes to smoking chicken, turkey, or duck, the ideal temperature would be between 160 and 175°F (71-79°C). Compared to other meats, smoking time for poultry would only take about 2 hours since they can dry out easily. I love using apple wood when smoking poultry.
For a whole chicken, brining it before smoking can help retain more moisture. Ducks tend to lack flavour so marinating them for at least 24 hours before smoking can help give it a nice smokey taste. For turkey, since it’s a lean meat with lower fat content, I recommend adding some fat such as butter while smoking. Add the fat before, during, and even after smoking it. The fat will not only keep it moist but also flavourful.
I like marinating my salmon with garlic, paprika, honey, and soy sauce before I smoke it. If you want a simpler flavour, a bit of salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon will do. Smoke it for 2 hours and pair it with cherry wood for a flavourful smoked salmon.
The best way to smoke pork ribs for beginners is to follow the 3-2-1 method. First, you smoke the pork ribs for 3-4 hours at 225°F(107°C). After that, wrap the pork ribs with foil or butcher’s paper and put it back inside the smoker. Smoke the ribs for another 2 hours. Then unwrap the foil or butcher’s paper then glaze the pork ribs with your preferred sauce or from the dripping. Return the ribs inside the smoker and smoke them for another hour.
The best way to smoke lamb shank is to braise it first in a pot with your desired braising liquid. Cook it for 3-4 hours at 374°F (190°C). As it cooks, it will develop a subtle smoke flavour inside your smoker.
Beef ribs will also go well with cherry wood but it is also perfect with other flavours of wood pellets. Smoke it for 5-6 hours at 205°F (96°C) for fall-off-the-bone beef ribs.
For a nice smoky flavour and smoke ring, start at a low setting and smoke beef cheeks for about 30 minutes. Then increase the temperature to at least 300°F (140°C) for 2-3 hours. Then braise them for another 2-3 hours on your desired braising sauce at the same temperature.
If you are up for a more challenging smoking experience, beef brisket will give you that. Since it is tougher than most beef cuts, it needs to be smoked for a longer time, at least 10-14 hours at 225°F (107°C). Depending on the flavour you want to achieve, you might want to pair it with oak, hickory, and maple.
What You Need To Know When Smoking Meat
Low And Slow Is The Key
For tender and juicy meat, there is no need to rush and crank up the temperature. The key is to cook it at low temperature and slowly. This will give the collagen and connective tissues enough time to break down.
It’s Not Always About More Smoke
Pellet smokers don’t produce that much smoke which is actually great. If there are thick clouds of smoke, it may result in bitter-tasting meat due to incomplete combustion. When smoking in pellet smokers, the goal is to achieve thin-blue smoke for a delightful smokey flavour.
Close The Lid
One common mistake many beginners make is opening the lid too often. Many first-time pellet smoker users do this for fear of overcooking their meat. However, doing this will result in fluctuations in temperature. When the temperature fluctuates, you need to cook your meat longer.
As I said earlier, low and slow is the key. You can’t rush great food. But if you are worried about your schedule, start earlier so you won’t be stressed out.
Use A Water Pan
Placing a water pan or tray inside the smoker can help meat maintain its moisture especially as the temperature rises. This can also help shorten the cooking time.
Give It A Chance To Rest
Smoking meat will definitely test your patience. After cooking it for hours, you may be excited to slice and devour it instantly but don’t do that. Allow the meat to rest first when it gets out of the smoker to give the meat juices enough time to be reabsorbed by the meat.
For beginners, it’s best to stay away from a whole brisket first as it could take more than 15 hours to smoke. Starting with expensive cuts such as prime rib roast is not also a good idea. Instead, start with pork loin tenderloin, chicken, or salmon steaks. They are easier to smoke and are less expensive.
Beef brisket is the hardest meat to smoke. Almost any barbeque enthusiast and pitmaster would agree that it is hard to get it right with beef brisket. This is because this type of cut does not have enough fat content and is too lean, making it tougher than most cuts of meats. It needs to be cooked the right way to achieve tender smoked meat.