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How to smoke meats safely for perfect barbecue

When it comes to grilling, getting up early and preparing for a long, smoky grill session is a rite of passage. Knowing how to smoke meats safely is not a quick fix for barbecue.

For many, smoking meats translates as too much work over the coals. But the payoff is oh, so worth the extra time and attention — tender, juicy and flavorful meats.

Take a look at what the writers at came up with for the ultimate in smoking meats.

Beef smoking times / temperatures

  • When cooking prime rib, pull off the smoker and finish with a quick stint on the grill or a hot oven to brown the exterior
  • For fresh sausages without cure added, cook them at hotter temperatures than sausages with the proper amount of cure

Pork smoking times / temperatures

Lamb smoking times / temperatures

Poultry smoking times / temperatures

Fish and Seafood smoking times / temperatures

Smoking meats starting points

Temperature charts are a great guide. It’s especially helpful as a relative newbie to be able to quickly check the time, temperature and average cooking time in one easy place.

But an experienced grill master will take issue with any temperature chart.

The fact is, you can produce excellent barbecue cooking low and slow at 225 degrees or hot and fast 350+ degrees. There is also no exact temperature when determining when a brisket or pork butt is perfect. The perfect temperature to pull your meat can vary by +/- 10-20 degrees.

It’s also difficult to give an accurate cook time estimate. The shape, thickness and diameter of the meat can all be as important as the weight. This means minutes or hours per pounds calculations are always just an estimate.

Smoke Time Factors

  • Are you cooking bone-in or deboned meat?
  • The thickness and diameter of the meat (rather than overall weight).
  • Know how much connective tissue and fat there is.
  • Know how well insulated your smoker is and the weather will play a factor in the time it takes (Allow longer if you are you cooking in the snow).
  • What is the humidity in the smoker? It can slow down cooking times.
  • What type of smoker? This can also effect timing and temperature.

Safely smoking meats temperature

When smoking meats, it's wise to have a dependable thermometer. The ThermaQ-Wifi from Thermoworks is your answer.
When smoking meats, it’s wise to have a dependable thermometer. The ThermaQ-Wifi from Thermoworks is your answer.

Because smoking uses much lower temperatures than other methods of cooking, it’s important to follow a few guidelines.

When meat lingers at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees harmful bacteria can quickly multiply. You have about four hours tops before things get dangerous.

  • Always completely thaw meat before adding to the smoker
  • Marinate meat in the refrigerator and never reuse marinade from raw meat or poultry
  • Cook poultry to the USDA minimum recommendation

Over the years the USDA have changed their recommendations several times, so it’s up to the grill master to determine the best way to serve up the goods.

Some of the ‘done’ temperatures in our guide above well exceed the USDA recommendation. For example we recommend cooking beef brisket and pork butt up to 205 degrees even though USDA says you only need to hit 145 degrees to be safely eaten.

The best way to know your internal meat temperatures is to use a digital thermometer. We suggest the Thermoworks ThermaQ WiFi.

There’s a big difference between ‘done’ and ‘ready to eat’

The long process of low and slow cooking melts the connective tissue found in tougher cuts of meat. This results in meats tasting amazingly tender even when cooked way beyond “well done” guidelines.

Meat is “done” when the temperature at its thickest point reaches the point at which it is safe to eat. That doesn’t mean it’s “ready”, though.

According to USDA, ribs are “done” when they are 145 degrees internal temp, but they may still be tough. If you take them up to 190 degrees to 203 degrees, the collagens and fats melt at this temp and make the meat more tender and juicy.

Depending on what your cooking, there may be more waiting even after the meat is technically ‘done’. Lots of people pull brisket off the smoker at around 185° F, and then leave it wrapped in a cooler for around two hours. The brisket continues to cook and becomes even tenderer.

Over smoking meats

Just because you need to cook something for 12 hours, doesn’t mean you need to keep feeding in more wood. In most cases after your meat has reached 140 degrees you will start to get diminishing results from extra smoke.

You also need to be careful you get the right type of smoke. Using green wood or failing to control the fire temperature can cause an excess of creosote (one of the compounds in smoke) which results in a nasty bitter taste.

Controlling the temperature smoking meats

Maintaining a stable temperature between 225-250 degrees can be a bit of a challenge.

Make sure to not freak out when you see a temperature spike. Often you’ll over adjust and close all the vents, choking off the fire. Then you get stuck in a cycle of over adjusting, which will keep you opening and closing vents all day long, and likely ending your passion for smoking meats.

While some will just switch to a more “set it and forget it” style smoker like gas, electric or pellet smokers, managing a charcoal smoker is actually very straightforward with a bit of practice.

  • Always get the smoker stabilized before adding your meat by letting it sit for 15 to 20 minutes with a thermometer away from direct heat until the temperature stabilizes.
  • Maintaining a full water pan in the barbecue chamber also helps to absorb heat and help moderate the temperature.
  • When temperature gets too high or too low, make very small adjustments to the valves and then monitor for several minutes before adjusting further.

Smoking Meats Resources

Why Is Electric Smoker The Best Smoker For Families?

Great 5 Outdoor Electric Smokers Review (According To Expert)

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Born in Mississippi, raised in Southeast Louisiana, I've been around good food my whole life. I’m enjoy sharing my love for the grill and the Grillax Lifestyle with my two boys.

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Born in Mississippi, raised in Southeast Louisiana, I've been around good food my whole life. I’m enjoy sharing my love for the grill and the Grillax Lifestyle with my two boys.

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