The best cuts to smoke

You can smoke just about anything. But that doesn’t mean you should.

Cooking low and slow won’t do you much good when it comes to a porterhouse or T-bone, for example. They would dry out and become, well, not quite inedible—but not exactly enjoyable, either. And when you’re paying $10 a pound or more, that’s just a shame.

For those cuts, fire away with direct heat. Get ‘em on and get ‘em off.

But when you have a cheaper, tougher piece of meat, it’s time to think about barbecue, because that’s what turns an “undesirable” cut into pure heaven. The extra time breaks down cuts like brisket or pork shoulder, melting the fat slowly and keeping everything moist. The result? A big piece of meat that is tender, smoky, and savory—and sure to please the growing neighborhood crowd that followed the smell to your backyard.

So what goes best in your smoker? Here’s a quick guide:

Brisket. The favorite in Texas (and plenty of other places), a well-smoked brisket just might be the best piece of meat in the world. Look for the pinkish smoke ring around the edges of each slice, and if you get a chance, snag some of the bark. It’s dark, it’s chewy, and it’s delicious.

Ribs. You’ve got a few choices here—pork or beef, baby back or spare rib, etc. But don’t worry. All of them are good choices. If you don’t mind getting messy, slather the pork ribs in sauce. If you want to go pure carnivore, it’s hard to beat a massive beef rib. You can’t go wrong!

Pork shoulder. If you’ve ever had pulled pork, this is most likely where it came from. Be sure to let people add sauce on their own, because if it’s done right, this good stuff might not need it at all. (Especially for you, because you’re a purist, right?)

Salmon. Of course, this is one of the things that can turn out fantastic with a variety of preparations—smoking just happens to be one of them. Put a nice rub on, or even just some lemon pepper. Perfect for an appetizer while people await your main course.

Turkey breast (or whole turkey). We’ve seen it done both ways, and both were great—you’ve just got to be careful that you go too long and dry it out (just like when you’re cooking that Thanksgiving turkey in the oven).

The Bacon Explosion. Years ago, the New York Times had a story on this, and it became a minor phenomenon. (Note that as with most delicious things, moderation is key.) We won’t go into all the details here, but this ought to be enough to send you to Google: A ton of crumbled bacon, wrapped in a ton of ground Italian sausage, wrapped in a big lattice of bacon. Have fun.

You don’t have to stop with this list, of course. You can smoke nuts, cheeses, sausage, and more. Let us know what you try!

Ryan McCormack