Unearth Hidden Secrets: Embark on Smoking Meat for Beginners

by Matt

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Smoking Meat for Beginners

In this article I will cover pretty much everything you need to start Smoking Meat For Beginners. I cover various types of smokers, a handful of different woods used for smoking meat, we look at different types of meat best suited to smoking as well as covering the essential accessories needed when smoking meat. 

The best smoker for Beginners

There are many different smokers on the market today. There are also a few considerations to factor in when choosing which smoker is right for you. 

Whether you are a beginner or a long-time smoker, I hope this article gives you the information you need, when looking to make your next purchase.

Pellet Smokers and Kettle Smokers are the easiest to learn on. My passion for smoking meat involves the whole process. I don't find enjoyment from turning on a power switch and selecting a temperature. 

Now there is definitely a little more to it but that's my summary of Pellet Smokers. Instead, I prefer selecting the right amount of coals, dialing in the airflow, adjusting airflow as the cook continues and firing up more coals when needed. 6-12 hours in the backyard with a few beers and just making a whole day of it. 

Here is a great article to check out all about the best smokers for beginners.

Bullet/Kettle Smokers are the easiest introduction to “real” smoking. They are easier to control temps and really when it comes to smoking that's the challenge we deal with. Being a vertical style smoker, you will essentially have direct heat so a water pan is a must.

 If you see a bullet/Kettle smoker that does not come with a water pan then just keep on walking. The water pan is essential at stabilizing the temperature. You will quickly know when it's running low on water as your temps will start to sky rocket. 

Bullet/Kettle

My personal favorite, when it comes to ease of use, ability to control temps and versatility. The Kettle is a clear winner. One thing I absolutely love about my kettle smokers is the fact that I can do direct heat cooking as well. That perfect sear on a nice thick Rib Fillet steak is just something no other smokers can produce.

Kettle Smoker
Bullet Smoker

Pros of Kettle Smokers - Kettle Smokers are very versatile, smoking isn't the only option with these bad boys. You can grill, you can roast, you can bake and you can sear. 

Kettle smokers generally have great airflow allowing you to really dial in on the perfect temperature.

Kettle smokers are narrow and light, easily packed up and taken with you for a weekend away.

Cons of kettle smokers - I had to think long and hard about this one. The only downside that I have come across is the limited space. At times a rack of ribs or brisket may be slightly too long. But that's nothing a nice sharp knife cant quickly address.

In a bullet style smoker you do have 2 shelves doubling up the cooking area. A ttypical kettle smoker (one grill grate over coals) has plenty enough room to be able to smoke up 1 large piece of meat as well as some ribs, chicken portions or sausages. 

Offset Smokers

Offset smokers are often what people envision when they think of a smoker: a firebox attached to the side of the cooking chamber. These smokers provide ample cooking space and can be quite enjoyable to master.

Offset Smoker

Pros of Offset Smokers - As mentioned with offset smokers you generally get ample cooking room to be able to smoke up ribs, brisket and a pork butt all at the same time. Offset smokers also allow for very good temperature control though it does take practice to master the art. 

Cons of Offset Smokers - Offset smokers are not the best beginner smoker, they do require some practice. I class practice as great fun but I am also very passionate about this hobby.

Offset smokers tend to be more needy than other types of smokers, you need to tend the fire and make adjustments throughout. Offset smokers would be the most time consuming smoker out there but if keeping it traditional is what you enjoy then offset smokers are for you.

Pellet Smokers

Pellet smokers are undeniably the most user-friendly option in the world of smoking meats. While I personally prefer the hands-on experience and the dedication required in traditional smoking methods, I can see the appeal of pellet smokers for those with hectic schedules. They offer a convenient and efficient way to enjoy the rich, smoky flavors we all love. So, if time is a luxury and you're craving that delicious smoked meat, a pellet smoker could be your perfect solution.

Pit Boss Memphis Combo Grill

Pros of Pallet Smokers -
VERY easy to use, pellet smokers use compressed wood (pellets) as their fuel source. You fill the hopper and an auger slowly feeds the pallets into the firebox. Set the temperature and the smoker does the rest. Set and pretty much forget. 

Versatility - These smokers have come a long way and now have the ability to be used as a smoker or a grill and a lot of them will get hot enough where you can get a nice sear on a hot plate. 

Cons of Pallet Smokers
While pellet smokers streamline the smoking process, they do alter the traditional experience of spending a day actively managing the fire and monitoring temperatures. However, this can be a boon for those who prefer a more set-and-forget approach. In terms of cost, pellet smokers can be an initial investment, and the ongoing expense of pellets might seem higher compared to charcoal. But, if you opt for more budget-friendly pellet options, you might find that they're actually more cost-effective in the long run.

It's true that pellet smokers require electricity, limiting their mobility for activities like camping or picnics. But for home use, they offer unparalleled convenience. And for those outdoor cookouts, I personally love bringing my bullet smoker for quick smokes like fish, chicken, or steaks. These are great for dishes that need less than two hours of cooking time

For a full breakdown on different smokers read my article Smoker Buying Guide.

Types Of Meat Best Suited For Smoking

Meats suitable for smoking include everything. Some meats can handle more smoke than others. The easiest way to think about smoke flavor is how dense the meat is.

A big tough beef brisket is very dense and can handle a lot of smoke. Whereas a chicken being more delicate prefers to be smoked with lighter.

By lighter I mean less smoke time and not such a strong wood. 
Some cuts of meat that really benefit from low and slow cooking are. 

Beef - Brisket, Ribs, Tri-tip, Sirloin roast, top round and flank steak

Pork - Pork shoulder, pork loin, pork belly, pork ribs, Boston Butt/ Pork butt

Chicken - whole chickens are great but smoked wings are just that awesome quick starter dish before your main cook is done. 

Lamb - Lamb Shoulder and leg of lamb

Seafood - Whole smoked fish or nice thick fish filets.

Various Types Of Wood

There are so many different types of woods to use for smoking that it is impossible to list them all. Below I list some of the most common types. Always research wood before just throwing it on the smoker as some woods give a terrible bitter taste and some woods are even poisonous. Check out a comprehensive list of unsafe woods for smoking.

Oak - fairly strong flavor, better for denser meats - lamb, beef, brisket, snags

Hickory - strong flavor, can be overpowering if too much smoke is produced. Better suited to big cuts of meat that can take a lot of flavor. If lightly used, it adds a nice sweet and savory note.

Maple - light in flavor, perfect for lighter flavor meats such as chicken and pork

Mesquite - a wood you want to tread lightly with, it has quite a strong but unique flavor. When I use Mesquite I use a blend of Mesquite and ?? best used for beef

Pecan - Pecan has a sweet rich flavor with some nutty tones, this is one of my go-tos for doing my sweet smokes such as ribs or pulled pork. This is another word that blends well with something that has a bit for kick such as Mesquite

Apple - Apple is another mild wood with sweeter tones. To get the true value from apple wood you want to use it on lighter meats such as pork or chicken and really let that smoke do its thing for a few hours. If blended with another wood you will lose what the apple has provided.

Cherry - One of my personal favs to mix with hickory, i love this blend on my ribs and whole chickens. The slightly fruity mild flavor mixes so well with the stronger note of hickory. I usually 1 chunk hickory to 2 of cherry 

I have written a detailed wood guide From Hickory to Maple: The Best Wood for BBQ Smoking give it a read for more information.


Types Of Accessories Needed

Before you go out and grab your desired cut of meat it's best to make sure you have all the required accessories needed to complete your cook. Firstly you will need a heat source (charcoal, lump wood, pallets) then you need a way to ignite your chosen source. I personally use a chimney

A Chimney is a steel basket with a handle and air holes. You can use fire lighters, a flame thrower or the side burner of a BBQ (my method). Fill your chimney with charcoal and ignite the bottom coals.

The charcoal will slowly burn upwards and after 20-40 minutes all the coal inside the chimney should have a gray ash building up on them. Once this ash is visible then it's time to throw them into your smoker. 

Wood chunks or Wood chips - Once your coals are alight and placed inside the smoker it's time to throw your wood chunks in. This will allow them to burn off any nasties before the meat enters the smoker (I use wood chunks with bark on so I allow 10-20 minutes for that to burn off before adding my meat).

If using wood chips you should soak them in water for 25-30 minutes before hand and they can be added 5 minutes before the meat goes on. 

Heat resistant gloves - Over the years I have had my fair share of burns, a few quite bad. And 90% of them occurred due to me being foolish and not using my gloves. Heat resistant gloves do definitely come in handy.

There are many different cooks that require the meat to be removed and then placed back into the smoker. Dealing with the air vents to adjust the temperature is probably the number 1 spot I burn myself. 

Long handled tongs - These are pretty self explanatory, 2 pairs of tongs 1 long and 1 short is the best combination. At times you will be bringing hot meat out of the smoker to baste or wrap and this is where tongs really come in handy.

Thermometer - These are essentially a must have bit of kit if you plan on having any success with smoking. Most thermometers come with multiple probes, you can get the temp of the smoker itself (at the position of your cook) and also the temp of the meat as it cooks. 

Pit Boss Wireless Thermometer

I have used a few different thermometers and I must say value for money InkBird makes some fantastic products. You will also need an instant read thermo for checking temps in different areas of a large cook, or if smoking smaller cuts of meat like a steak.

Aluminum foil or Butcher paper - With a lot of cooks it's a great idea to wrap your meat once it hits around the 165-170f mark. Meat will generally start to stall at this temperature. Wrapping the meat keeps the moisture in and stops the meat “sweating” and self cooling. 

Wrapping will allow your cook to finish much quicker than not wrapping. I have tried both butcher paper and alloy foil. I personally just use alloy foil, I notice very little if any difference and alloy foil is far easier to locate. 

Herbs and Spices - The best spices for smoking meat could literally be anything you enjoy. But for most there are a few staples that you must have. Salt, coarse pepper, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, coriander seeds and mustard seeds.

With these herbs and spices you would be able to make pretty much any meat taste delicious. 

I occasionally mix things up with different spices but 99.9% of the time I am selecting from the list above.

Injector - These are used in large cuts of meat such as briskets or pork butts. You mix up a liquid blend often with apple juice, vinegar and sugar. This is then injected into the meat to add moisture and some flavor. 

Basting Brush and Spritz Bottle - Flavor and moisture are 2 things meat loves. Basting brushes are used generally on sweeter cooks where you may want to add extra marinade or a nice glaze towards the end of the cook. A spritz bottle can contain a number of different ingredients and just helps to keep some moisture on big cooks like Brisket or Pork Butt.

Grill Brush - I suggest a brass brush for cleaning down, as brass is softer and won't damage your stainless steel grill grates. 

I would highly suggest purchasing all of the items before doing your first cook. They all have their place and all come in very handy on pretty much every cook you do.

What Temperature To Run

When it comes to the best temperature to run your smoker it's one of those discussions I like to stay out of. I have tried temps between 200 up to 350 for smoking and there are definitely some differences on the extreme ends of those ranges. But I find anything between 220-275 produces a fantastic product. 

Temperatures Of Cooked Meat

The temperature of your cook will vary depending on the desired outcome you are looking for.

Do you want a fall apart pulled pork, a slighter firmer brisket or a nice medium rare Bone In Ribeye. 

The one main thing to know is that collagen will start to break down at about the 160f mark. It is recommended to cook your fall apart tenders cuts up to 201-205f this allows time for your collagen to totally break down.

Meat Smoking Guide

 “HOW DOES SLOW COOKING WORK?

When you cook, collagen begins to melt at about 160F and turns to a rich liquid,gelatin. This gives meat a lot of flavor and a wonderful silky texture. When cooking it is important to liquify collagen.

Denaturation of the collagen molecule is a kinetic process, and hence a function of both temperature and duration of heating. Cooking at low temperatures require long periods of time to liquify collagen.”

I added this quote from Science Of Cooking because it is so important to understand how the collagen breakdown works. 

And with all that said, I hope I have provided you with some valuable information you will be able to take onboard for years to come. If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email at matt@smokeygrilling.com

For now I am off to dry brine a pork butt before a day of smoking tomorrow. I will catch you in the next post. 

Stay Fired Up, BBQ Lovers!

Matt Barrell

About the Author

Matt Barrell

Hi, Matt Barrell here. A BBQ and Smoked meat enthusiast. I love grilling and smoking meat, it is not just my hobby its my passion. My goal is to share my passion with as many other like-minded people as possible.