Just about any meat you can name has probably been smoked by somebody out there. (Shout out to you, guy cooking a possum in a homemade barrel smoker — we might not come to your cookout, but we respect your sense of adventure.) But here’s the real good news: Even if we’re only talking about meats that are commonly smoked, there’s still a pretty extensive list.
So, what different types of meat can be smoked, and what are the most common meats in the world of BBQ smoking? Let’s talk about the categories of meat that you’ll find pitmasters most frequently smoking today, plus a selection of pellet grill recipes to get you familiar with the delicious possibilities of each one. We’ll even give you suggestions on the best wood pellets to use for each type of meat!
Go to any BBQ competition (or any pitmaster’s backyard barbecue shindig), and you’ll almost certainly find smoked pork there. That’s because pork is the original BBQ meat and still one of the best. Its history, its versatility and the fact that it’s just plain delicious all combine to make pork a perennial favorite in BBQ circles.
What’s that about history? See, when the first pitmasters invented the cooking style known as southern BBQ, they were cooking pork, specifically tough and fatty cuts like pork shoulder and ribs. All that fat and connective tissue, however, made meat extra-delicious when smoked slowly over a low fire — and thus, BBQ as we know it was born. Today, you’ll find pitmasters who smoke just about every cut of pork that exists, including:
- Pork Butt/Pork Shoulder: A pork butt isn’t what you might think — it’s from the hog’s front shoulder area, which is why it’s usually grouped together with the cut called pork shoulder. Pork butt and shoulder become incredibly tender when smoked and can be easily shredded, which is how we get the pulled pork we love so much on our BBQ sandwiches, nachos and more!
- Ribs: Pork ribs are a staple of the BBQ world, thanks to their tender texture and delectable flavor. They’re available in two main cuts: the smaller, meatier baby back cut and the bigger, fattier St. Louis cut, both of which can produce delicious results.
- Pork Loin: This tender and tasty cut is a large section of the pig’s mid-back area, which is also where pork chops originate. Smoked pork loin is great for serving a crowd, and you can take it to a new dimension of flavor by brining it or using a meat injector to infuse it with marinade.
- Pork Belly and Bacon: From the pig’s underside, we get the tender and juicy pork belly. Slice it, and you’ve got bacon! Smoking is an ideal way to cook this fatty cut, and you can even make your own bacon if you’re so inclined.
Recommended Wood Pellets: Hickory, Apple, Cherry, Pecan, Competition Blend
The hearty taste and texture of beef makes it another pitmaster’s favorite. For those who crave a big, satisfying meal, there’s no meat that does it quite like beef. Texas brisket is the main attraction when it comes to BBQ beef, but there are all kinds of cuts that benefit from the slow-cooked flavors of smoking, including:
- Brisket: Brisket is the cut of beef you’ll find on the smoker most often. It’s packed with fat and connective tissue and, consequently, is one of the most time-consuming meats to smoke — it’s not uncommon for a brisket to take 12 to 14 hours. Fortunately, the reward is worth it: A classic cut of BBQ beef that goes great on sandwiches or by itself!
- Beef Ribs: These meaty ribs, sometimes called “dinosaur bones” for their massive size, make a great project for a more experienced pitmaster. They come in two cuts: the leaner back ribs and the fattier short ribs, the latter of which are more common for smoking because of their high fat content.
- Chuck Roast: Smoking is a great way to cook hefty cuts like chuck roast, which is also known as pot roast or Sunday roast. The roast’s high fat content makes it a great candidate for the BBQ treatment. Once a few hours on the smoker have made it fork-tender, you can serve it in a variety of ways, including slicing or shredding it.
- Burgers: Burgers, which are typically made from ground beef, can be incredibly delicious when smoked. Be aware that the many different types of ground beef have a significant effect on the burger’s taste. Fattier types, such as chuck and even short rib, will give you the juiciness you’re craving.
- Steak: Most backyard chefs cook their steaks hot and fast, but low and slow is just as tasty! Plus, you can still sear a steak at a higher temperature to get the crispy brown outer crust that makes a satisfying steak. Again, fattier cuts like ribeye tend to be a better choice than leaner ones like filet.
Recommended Wood Pellets: Hickory, Mesquite, Pecan, Competition Blend
3. Chicken & Turkey
Chicken is a beginner-friendly smoking meat that offers lots of ways to get delicious results. The relatively small size of a chicken and its lower amount of fat mean that it cooks much faster than pork or beef, so you’ll never have to worry about the all-day commitment required for a pork butt or brisket.
Another advantage of chicken is its mild natural flavor, which makes it a perfect meat for anybody who loves to experiment with sauces and rubs. Brining is also an all-star way to season a chicken; a few hours in a brine bath will give a chicken a depth of flavor unlike anything else. We’re getting hungry now, so let’s get to the part where we talk about the cuts:
- Whole Chicken: Smoking a whole chicken is incredibly easy and gives you some of every cut, so you can satisfy white meat and dark meat lovers alike. Spatchcocking, or splitting a chicken along its backbone, is a popular technique that helps cook the bird more quickly and evenly.
- Thighs and Legs: Thighs and legs are full of the fatty, succulent dark meat that was made for smoking. They’re a great place to start for any pitmaster looking to learn the secrets of making proper BBQ chicken.
- Breasts: The lean white meat from a chicken’s chest is one of the most popular cuts because it’s low in calories and cooks quickly. Since chicken breasts have very low fat, it’s essential to season them right and to watch your time and temperature so they don’t dry out. When done right, however, they’re super-tender and massively tasty!
- Wings: Smoked chicken wings can give any deep-fried wings a run for their money, and they come with a lot fewer calories! It’s super easy to smoke up a big batch, especially if you’ve got space-saving grill attachments like the Grilla jerky rack. Then, just choose some tasty sauces like our Kongo Kick or Gold n Bold golden BBQ sauce to go with them!
While we’re at it, let’s talk about chicken’s bigger, meatier cousin: turkey. Although turkey lovers may cry fowl (sorry) that we’re not giving this meat its own section, it’s so similar to chicken in most respects that you can apply most of your knowledge about chicken to turkey as well.
Turkeys do, of course, have some differences. Obviously, they’re much bigger, which means they’ll take longer to cook and require more of key ingredients like seasoning and brine. The flavors of turkey are also different from chicken, so it pays to experiment with your poultry seasonings and find one you like. In general, though, you can get by pretty easily with treating a turkey like a bigger, beefier chicken.
Recommended Wood Pellets: Mesquite, Hickory, Apple, Cherry, Pecan, Competition Blend
Smoke It All with Our Powerful WiFi Pellet Grills
Smoking is a fantastic way to cook seafood, and not just if you’re a Viking. The low, consistent heat helps these delicate meats avoid drying out and gives them a delectably soft texture. Note that seafood can be a little harder to handle when grilling, so think about grabbing a set of mesh grill mats to make the process easier.
As with other smoked meats, the fattier a fish is, the easier it will be to get perfect results, but lots of different types can work! Although hundreds of different fish species can be smoked and eaten, these are the ones that you’ll most often find on the smoker:
- Salmon: Salmon is one of the most commonly smoked fish because there are just so many things you can do with it! You could start as simple as a light dressing of citrus and spices, or go full pitmaster with a BBQ bourbon sauce. Either way, it’s a tasty, healthy and fast-cooking meat!
- White Fish: This category of fish, which includes species like mahi mahi, trout and tilapia, takes seasonings and sauces very well because of the naturally mild flavors of the fish. They’re great for serving up a quick and healthy dinner, although it’s especially important not to overcook them because they’re leaner than other fish.
- Shrimp: Non-fish seafood like shrimp and crab can also make a great addition to any pitmaster’s menu. Shrimp smoke very quickly, so they’re perfect for when you want a quick meal, and they’re great in a “surf and turf” pairing with meats like steak.
- Crab: Low and slow cooking allows the delicate taste of crab to come through in traditional seafood favorites like crab cakes. Serve them up with a remoulade and take yourself to seafood heaven!
Recommended Wood Pellets: Cherry, Competition Blend
5. Other Meats
Finally, here’s a few more miscellaneous types of meat that you can cook on a smoker:
- Sausage: One more awesome thing you can do with a smoker: Smoking your own sausage! Whether it’s pork, beef or something else, home-smoked sausage is a delightful snack that keeps for a long time and tastes great when it’s added into other recipes.
- Lamb: Lamb is a firm red meat that’s bursting with flavor and takes well to low and slow cooking. Smoking lamb is perfect if you need to cook something special, so try it out next time you’ve got folks over for the holidays or another occasion when you want to pull out all the stops.
- Game Meats: A smoker is an ideal tool for cooking lots of different types of game meat like elk, venison, boar and rabbit. Each requires something a little different in terms of cooking, so see our guide to game meats for more helpful tips on mastering these wild flavors!
Browse Our Complete Library of Grill Recipes
Whether you’re smoking a traditional BBQ cut or exotic game meat, Grilla Grills’ WiFi pellet grills are built to handle it all. With our sophisticated temperature control systems and double-walled construction, you can count on your Grilla Grill to always serve up just the right temperature for your smoking recipe.
Looking for a user-friendly guide to the fundamentals of smoking meat? Our beginner’s guide to using a smoker will get you started with the basics. Or, if you’re ready to get smoking now, check out our extensive library of pellet grill recipes and find tonight’s dinner!
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